In the past year, actor Hector Medina has starred in two of Cuba's biggest international coproductions. He played Yunisleidi, the transgender love interest in the controversial El Rey de la Habana. And now he stars as Jesús in Viva, which opens in Miami theaters tomorrow.
In Viva, Medina plays a young hairdresser working at a drag nightclub in Havana who dreams of being a performer himself. Encouraged by his mentor, Mama (Luis Alberto García), Jesús finally gets his chance to take the stage. But when his estranged father, Angel (Jorge Perugorría), abruptly reenters his life, his world is quickly turned upside-down.
New Times sat with the Pinar del Río native to talk all things Cuban cinema.
New Times: Did you study acting in school?
Hector Medina: I went to Cuba's national art school. The experience was very nice. We would take theater and art classes. Imagine a kid feeling good about what they were studying: It was maravilloso. It was the only experience I ever had where I really focused on something.
What was it like growing up during Cuba's Special Period?
Well, imagínate, I was born in '89. If one day it occurs to me to write a script about that experience, I think I can make a movie about it. A lot of things happened in my life: My parents divorced, I lived with my mom in her boss’ house in Sandino, then we went to live with my abuela, and in all that we were missing shoes and food. That was the biggest problem.
We raised a pig once, and we kept him in the bathroom. And when we killed him, I cried. He was like my pet. It was a very weird time. My mom is a strong woman, and she has experienced a lot. I appreciate everything that has happened. Every happy moment and suffering has helped make me who I am. It’s like living in a movie.
Did you always want to be an actor?
I never imagined I'd be an actor — I was never good at anything... I was in secondary school, 13 to 14 years old. I noticed that one of my friends would leave from school with permission. I went to him and asked how, and he said he was in a casa de cultura. He convinced me, and I went with him one day... And then I began to form a dream of doing a lot of theater. I started putting things in the camino, and I started going to castings. I didn’t [book anything] until Boleto Paraiso (2010).
What was casting like for Viva?
Olivia Batista, the great potency of casting in Cuba right now, supports me a lot. I had just finished working on La Cosa Humana, and I had gone to live in Matanzas. I’m only in Havana when I work. And they told me about the casting. I did a second part of the casting, where I had to interpret a song. I sang Elena Busce's "Yo No Quiero Hablar." I didn’t sleep; I spent a whole night practicing. And everything went well. Before my audition, I also had to practice the feminine gestures — theatricize the songs. Drag queens perform over the songs, put more passion it and transform it.
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How did you prepare for the role of Jesús and Viva?
To give life to Jesús was definitely a lot of work, because when I first read the script, every scene was harder than the next. And then when Jesús becomes Viva, it was even harder. Thanks to the choreographer, I only had two weeks in preparation before we started shooting. And in that time, I had to find a way to walk femininely in high heels and make it look normal.
What was the most challenging scene to film?
The final scene was a lot of work, when Viva sings the final song. We would start shooting at 6 a.m., and then I would get home at midnight. A lot of the hospital scenes were hard for me too. There was a lot of emotion — you have to be mathematical and calculating in not overlooking the melodrama. It's like a mathematical equation.
You've worked in some really intense dramas. Would you ever act in a comedy?
In school, I liked doing a lot of comedies, and I don’t know why I started focusing on drama. But I love comedy. I think it’s harder to make someone laugh than to make them cry — especially intelligently. Right now in Cuba, I did La Cosa Humana, and it’s not so much a comedy. I would like to try comedy one day. What I like most is to see myself differently. It's hard for an actor who is starting, they always have to do the same roles. I love what I do and try to give myself different challenging roles. Hopefully, someone will invite me to do a comedy.
Opens Friday, April 29, at AMC Aventura, O Wynwood, Regal South Beach, AMC Sunset Place, Tower, and Cobb Dolphin. Visit magpictures.com/viva.