Exclusive El Candidato Interview: Sofia Sisniega. In the dark days of lockdown, many have turned to movies and series to keep them entertained and what better than a good series to keep you going! El Candidato made it’s way to Amazon Prime and has many on their toes.
A favourite bad ass character, Natalia Portillo caught our eye played by the talented Sofia Sisniega. We wanted to know more about the amazingly talented actress and this is what she shared with us!
How would you describe your work as an actress?
I try to have as much range as possible. Also, really attempt to play different characters as much as possible. I try and build up different characters even if they seem similar on script. The changes I go through for character development could go from personality to physical changes as well.
A lot of people might not know the differences in characters I have played and recognize me because of one particular role. They tend to get confused when they meet me because of the change in characters and the roles I have done because of the attempts I make to change up my characters and their development.
What inspires most of your work on screen and how do you prepare for roles?
It depends on the character. There are characters that require a lot of preparation and research as well. I once had to play a neuro-scientist and had to get acquainted to neuro-scientists and neurologists to learn more about what they do and their lifestyle. Many times, we get these scenes that are done very similar to what is done in real life in various occupations and then you go and learn more about it so that you are aware of the differences and what it’s all about.
You learn things that your character needs to learn. If you’re playing a chef, you need to go into a restaurant and learn more about how to be a chef. I really love that because I get to learn more about what others do and emulate that into whichever character I am portraying on screen. You get to experience what different types of people experience and learn different things.
Sometimes learning and unpacking things that others have to do might not always be fun or exciting. You get to see the good and bad behind what people have to go through on a daily basis and the work they have to do. Especially a lot of characters and stories that have to do with violence or sexual abuse. Things we might not read about or see but as an actor, I have that responsibility to research more on certain topics. We have to have a certain level of understanding in order to portray someone that has been through anything of that nature.
Research is a very big part of preparation and then again, some characters do not require much research either. Some might be similar to you or some have similar backgrounds, making preparation much easier as well.
You’re known for your role as Sofia Lopez- Haro in the Mexican adaptation of Gossip Girl – Acapulco. What was that experience like and how did it shape you as an artist?
Firstly when we actually did Acapulco, nobody was making series in Mexico at that time. Networks weren’t use to making something of that nature with that big of a budget. It was challenging because it was very new and different to what people were use to.
Fortunately, Warner Brothers were involved and it was one of the biggest TV productions happening at that time. We also had some issues with producers and other Mexican networks, who were not quite sure how to broadcast it as they were so use to broadcasting soap operas on TV. It was a whole confusion as to when broadcasting would happen. “Do we broadcast once a day or once a week?”. It was a problem because it was something new at that time in terms of series and there was a lack of promotional work done.
“Nonetheless, the show was successful and people loved it.”
There were some issues surrounding people wanting to boycott it for political reasons as well because some found it hard to watch. The show could have been so much bigger had it been given a fair chance to be promoted properly at the time.
We did not have many digital platforms at the time. There weren’t many ways to broadcast it and it was complicated but a great experience.
Personally, I tried to not imitate anyone. I wanted to know it from a different standpoint rather than a centric version that just adapts from another. I wanted to do better and allow people to watch it and figure out their own comparisons in terms of what they like and dislike about it.
We made it our own and more relatable to home. The characters and their development were completely different to the Mexican audience. I took the script and tried to take into consideration the work done by other actors and production companies regarding the US show and building it up from scratch in terms of our own audience and making it more relatable for us.
It was a great project and I enjoyed the experience and working with such a great time. I feel as if the series would have been extremely huge if it was done now since we have access to so many digital platforms now.
Since Acapulco, you’ve gained so much of experience on screen, not to mention in the new show El Candidato which is know on Amazon prime. To those that might not know, what is the show, El Candidato about?
El Candidato is basically a political thriller. It’s about the fact that the drug cartels have not yet entered Mexico City. It showcases the story of how cartels are everywhere in the country except Mexico City.
Mexico City use to be extremely unsafe and the rest of the country was considered safe and now it’s vice versa. It depicts the story of drug cartels and the series is about what would happen if the drug dealers were to start dealing in Mexico City.
The series shows the happening of them coming into the city and it basically depicts the reality of Mexico City as we speak. We are seeing more of a presence and within the current Government regarding the fight against corruption. It shows the attack on the government and the issues around drug cartels.
The show also shows a big presence of the American CIA working with the local Police. Them trying to boycott the cartels.
You play the role of Natalia Portillo in El Candidato. Your character is very intimidating to the naked eye and well framed around the issue of narcotics and gangsterism that is prevalent today. What would you say you loved most about playing Natalia in the show?
My character Natalia is basically a narcotic banker. She is the narco money maker. She plays the bit of a “banker”. What I love about her is that you basically can’t assume that she does what she does because she seems to have this normal life and banking job but there is more underneath the surface.
Natalia looks like a rich, educated woman and it dismantles the idea behind being educated with a sense of morality in her case. She has the qualifications and uses it with different intent. She is educated, prepared but also careless and inhumane.
I love playing characters like Natasha because it allows you to dig deeper and find out what else goes on beneath the surface level of who she is. She is someone who does everything with a purpose and the audience gets to watch it all unfold as Natalia develops as a character which is fun to watch.
As a foreigner watching the show, there were many scenes that seemed prevalent to the society we live in today regarding violence, gangsterism, narcotics and more. Why do you think the entertainment industry focuses on these issues?
One of the reasons why I enjoy drama more than anything else is because the story becomes more relatable to society. It is important to be able to relate to prevalent issues in society. Allowing us as actors to tell those real and relatable stories that deal with world matters. It reflects society and the issues that matter to people.
What happens is that the audience watching basically ends up having this thought process and show a sense of empathy that generates a change. That’s why it is so important to portray reality.
It might be tough to grasp and watch but it is reality. I know that in Mexico, people did not want to watch anything related to sex, violence, drugs or anything similar for a while because it was such a big issue in society at the time. At the same time, if we don’t showcase these issues, there won’t be any sense of empathy or change in the long run.
As an all-round entertainer, especially in the Mexican spectrum, have you ever faced any stereotypes or challenges within the industry?
Firstly, as a woman they usually make you portray characters that are not that smart. Many times in the industry, people tend to use the word ‘actress’ with negative connotations in an attempt to put you down. They tend to say things like “oh, well that’s why you’re just an actress” or “you should dedicate yourself to only being an actress”.
They often don’t allow you to have an opinion on anything else that requires you to have any sense of intelligence or brain power. It is definitely something that needs to change. Actors work really hard, they prepare, they do their research and work long hours.
A lot of people criticizing actors, won’t even be able to do what they do. For example, I would not fully be able to be a neurologist unless I studied for years. The same goes for acting, one thing does not make it more valuable than the other.
People always want to put you in a box or offer you a certain type of role. It is something that I have been aware of my whole life, especially in Mexico. There is a lot of prejudice whereas in the US, actresses can really look gorgeous and made up in beautiful outfits and it does not make them portray a “stupid” character. In Mexico, if you look a certain way or “too much” then your portrayed as someone that might be “stupid” or less than.
Throughout my career, I have tried my best to play different characters and break those stereotypes. I can play a dolled-up, upper class character and I like playing characters that have more going on inside, whether they are evil or broken inside yet still human in a way. Being able to see their actual development as a person over time rather than just the outer appearance. Actually giving more to the character than what they expect.
What are some of your favourite scenes or moments on El Candidato?
One of my favourite scenes on El Candidato would have to be the one where she confronts the dog walker because she left poop on the floor. It’s all built up because the show is a political thriller so it makes you wonder about the characters. That scene was a favourite of mine because it shows a bit of a comical side to Natalia. It shows a bit of a comic relief. It makes her character more real because of the situation at hand.
That scene kind of makes the audience laugh and I wanted to make her a bit ridiculed in a way because she is just seen as mean and nasty. I wanted her to be a bit laughable in a way. I felt like that scene just showed a completely different side of Natalia which is nice.
You could use that scene as a sign of what society is like and privilege in various forms between people. The power that Natalia feels she’s entitled to in that scene and the privilege shows which was fun to play out.
We also shot scenes with a dog and being an animal’s rights activist, I always ensure that any animal on set is treated properly. The dog on set was so nervous and we kept petting him to make him more comfortable with us.
What are a few tips you’d give other actors/ actresses regarding preparing for roles or working on new projects?
- Study a lot.
Do your research and go to acting school. Take classes. The more practice, the better you will become.
- Stay true to yourself.
Many times people want you to change things or look a certain way to book work. If you’re trying to sell yourself as an actor, you want to be a blank canvas. You want to be as transparent and honest as you can.
- Followers and Social Media Validation means nothing.
Social Media presence can surely open doors sometimes but it is not sustainable. It does not give you a career. It might help you gain exposure but it does not sustain you long enough towards a big acting career with different genres. Don’t fall for the hype.
- Work in Film
People don’t take the time to actually work on set rather than just thinking about acting. It is something that actors rarely do. Work in film, work on set. Learn how the industry works and how life on set works. Prioritize more than just acting and head-shots. Also work in theatre to gain more experience. It is truly important and helps you a lot more.
Since lockdown, what have you done to keep yourself occupied?
I’ve been doing a lot of writing. I thoroughly enjoy writing. Currently developing a series and having numerous zoom meetings with other writers as well. I have also been working on a movie and film script, which is very exciting!
I have also done a few short films from home using my cell phone. It’s refreshing because you start to realize that you don’t always need a lot of people around you to create something yourself. It all depends on what you want to do and I am fortunate enough to have a partner that helped me film and put my writing to work!
I also have a rooftop garden and that keeps me occupied most of the time. Enjoy working on it, as well as taking some online courses. I have been using this time to be more productive and educate myself by accessing courses. I am usually so busy and do not have the time to take any classes so it’s really exciting to be able to use this time to learn something new.
What are some of your hobbies?
Organic gardening. Growing food and cooking. Writing, I enjoy writing a lot of fiction. It is something I am extremely passionate about.
In general, people underestimating me. That is something that really annoys me.
Animal Cruelty and ignorance as well. Ignorance in the sense of intentionally being ignorant. You have access to the research and you are aware of certain issues yet choose to be stuck in your way about the issues despite the information being there. Some people don’t want to deal with the reality of certain things and refuse to change.
Favourite movie of all time?
I have so many. One of my favourite films is Cold War directed by Pawel Pawlikowski. I also love We Need To Talk About Kevin, it’s a great psychological thriller. The Florida Project. The Salesman. I also love a lot of Wes Anderson films, that’s my level of comedy. I have so many!!
Actors or actresses that inspired your career in film that you’d love to work with someday?
I’d love to work with Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman, Michael Shannon and Argentinian actor Ricardo Darin.
If you could change anything in the film industry over time, what would it be?
Stereotypes. Breaking the stereotypes that exist in the industry and society in general. You can analyse reality but also be careful of what you’re showcasing or condemning. Showing more diversity in what we do in the industry.
I would also change the way in which we work. The long hours could change. Sometimes in Mexico, we work 14 to 16 hours a day and end up sleeping 4 to 5 hours. It is truly so exhausting for us as actors and I can only imagine the catering and the crew as well. Those hours need to change especially since sometimes people don’t get paid extra hours and it can affect their health or mental health over time. People want to spend time with loved ones as well.
We hardly ever get to work less than 12 hours and it can be draining. The hours change as well. One day we will start shooting from 3 am and the next day, 11pm until early morning. It is so exhausting and needs to change to help all of those involved.
Future projects that we can look forward to?
I shot three movies last year. Two dramas and One Comedy. I am not sure when they will be premiering because of the current pandemic. The one film might be out this year.
It is a comedy about two girls from different backgrounds that met in school and never liked each other but meet up years later, they get into a fight and switch bodies. It’s a similar Freaky Friday set up but two girls. It’s a real comedy seeing how they deal with each other’s world and different family dynamics. I cannot wait for everyone to watch it because it was so much fun to make!
Furthermore, Sofia has certainly brought some flavour to the screen. Her passion for writing and film has truly inspired many in the industry. The beauty of change in the industry is definitely needed and Sofia knows how to stand her ground as an entertainer. Be sure to check her out on El Candidato on Amazon Prime and follow Sofia‘s journey on social media!