Never Forget You

The Americanization of the telenovela: in Spanish, in Miami

For even greater efficiency, actors rely on a small microphone in their ear through which an apuntador, or prompter — in this case a tired-looking man in a foam-walled sound booth — reads them their lines. The director gives actors instructions through the system as well.

In the apuntador's closet in the command center is a small monitor that allows him to hear both Rojas's comments and the actors' performances. The screen presently features a scene between the telenovela's two villains: The nefarious Gonzalo Montero is paying a visit to rival villain Renato, who wears the orange jumpsuit of a prisoner.

Mexican actor Héctor Soberón, a meaty, thuggish-looking Bruce Willis type, plays Renato. Equally deep-voiced and imposing is Sebastian Ligarde as Gonzalo. Ligarde is a Mexican-American from Texas. Both stars are veterans of the genre (particularly in the role of villain) and both had their start in Televisa soaps; their appearance in a Venevision novela is a defection of sorts.

Guillermo Murray (as Gregorio Montero) and Carmen D. Rodríguez (as Crista) on the set of Olvidarte Jamás
Guillermo Murray (as Gregorio Montero) and Carmen D. Rodríguez (as Crista) on the set of Olvidarte Jamás
Sebastian Ligarde and Sonya Smith watch a playback from a 
scene together
Sebastian Ligarde and Sonya Smith watch a playback from a scene together

Through a microphone, Rojas counts down to filming. The actors assume dark expressions.

"Action," says Rojas.

The apuntador waits for the two characters to glare at one another. He checks the script and then leans into his microphone.

"It's not fair," he says, blandly, in Spanish.

Renato's face contorts with rage. ("Good," says Rojas.) "It's not fair," he hisses.

"Who told you that life was fair?" says the apuntador, in quick monotone.

Gonzalo chuckles wickedly. "Who told you that life was fair?" he pronounces amid evil guffaws.

In the bowels of the sound stage, on a set designed to replicate a hospital room, Sonya Smith, the Venezuelan actress who plays Luisa/Victoria, is freshening up between takes. She pulls a can of hair spray from beneath the covers of an electronic bed, where Gabriel Porras, as Diego, is reclined in a hospital gown, a badly made-up bruise over his left eye.

Arquímedes Rivero first cast Smith at age thirteen in 1986's Cristal. She was something of a Venezuelan Elizabeth Taylor, growing up in front of the cameras and acting in more than a dozen novelas. She speaks English fluently because of her American father.

This is Smith's first project in Miami. Pay for a protagonista varies, but averages about $20,000 per month. Before being cast as a lead in Olvidarte Jamás, Smith, now in her early thirties, was living in Los Angeles, auditioning for English-language roles in film and theater. She starred in one movie last year, called Cyxork 7. Her role was Angela LaSalle, a film director attempting to shoot the latest installment of a sci-fi movie franchise before a cataclysmic earthquake hits LA.

Now wearing a peasant shirt under a brown vest with jeans and cowboy boots, Smith sprays her hair and dabs at her makeup. Porras, age 37, sips coffee and tugs at his covers, complaining to no one in particular that he's hot. Olvidarte Jamás is Porras's second Miami novela. His first was in 2004. Telemundo cast him in La Prisionera midrun when its original hero, Mauricio Islas, was fired. Islas, age 31 at the time and married, was indicted for sexual activity with a sixteen-year-old. Porras saved the day.

Just as filming is about to begin, a black Labrador retriever, an informal resident of Venevision Productions, weaves his way around the actors, cameramen, and the grip, who affectionately shoos at it with his foot. The unit director counts down to action. Smith hides the can of hair spray under the covers and assumes character, gazing longingly into Porras's eyes.

"Soon, my love," she croons. "Stay strong just a little longer. Soon we will finally be together."

The three cameras roll for a moment on dewy-eyed reactions from Smith and Porras.

The director yells, "Cut!"

On January 19, the day after shooting of Olvidarte Jamás ends, the cast and crew gather for a wrap party on the patio of Diego's, a Spanish restaurant in Coral Gables. The actresses are parrotlike in a brightly colored assortment of asymmetrical dresses and jeweled stilettos. The men favor half-buttoned linen shirts or graphically ambitious pectoral-defining tees. Sipping champagne, they mill around two enormous vats of paella, laughing and air-kissing. Telenovela stars are beautiful in a carved and tan way, and it's difficult not to stare in their presence.

In 1998 only one company, Fonovideo, produced telenovelas in Miami. Nine years later, Fonovideo, which today coproduces with Televisa, is the smallest game in town. Its studios are almost rustic compared to the massive and sleek sound stages of Venevision Productions and Telemundo, which are both less than five years old. Today, says Jeff Peel of the Miami-Dade Mayor's Office, Brazil's Globo is the only major Latin broadcaster that does not have ongoing telenovela productions in Miami.

Gustavo Cisneros, the billionaire CEO of the Venezuelan-based Cisneros Group, has told the Miami Herald he hopes to start a production facility for Chinese novelas in Miami sometime in the near future. With a pool of talent now gathered here, the idea is not as radical as it may seem.

Shortly after 9:00 p.m., Arquímedes Rivero, flanked at each elbow by two of his grown children, ascends to a podium for a brief speech. Peter Tinoco, president of Venevision Productions, has just announced that Olvidarte Jamás broke a Univision ratings record for its time slot in its first week on the air, hitting a one-day high of 1.2 million viewers. But Rivero seems unfazed. He could well be in his office, half-reclined at his desk, looking toward the cut-out photos of the cast taped to the wall.

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