Currently, up-and-coming actress Andrea Suarez Paz takes on the role of an immigrant mother in New York City, whose autistic son, marvelously depicted by Jesus Sanchez-Velez, wonders off into the baffling depths of the city's subway system -- a means of transportation that in so many ways resembles the complexities this metropolis throws at her patient residents. The New York Times calls Sam Fleischner's tranquil account Stand Clear of The Closing Doors, a "small miracle of a film." Suarez Paz was recently nominated for the much-sought after Independent Spirit Award for best supporting female, alongside Jessica Chastain, Emma Stone, Patricia Arquette and Carmen Ejogo. In an interview she reveals passions and insights.
What was your first reaction to the nomination for the Independent Spirit Award and how are you feeling now?
I was shocked and ecstatic! I found out about a minute before my four year old son got off the school bus, and it was hilarious trying to explain to him why I was jumping up and down. I now feel a really luxurious sense of relief that my work actually translated, that it was felt by the audience.
While acting, you have a very strong presence, on stage as well as now in your first feature. Where is that place of strength within yourself you seem to draw from?
Actually, I always try to remain conscious of the tools I have at hand: breath, body, voice -- and I just incorporate them as I perform a particular story, or lines. I strive to be purely honest and I think there's a lot of power that comes with that.
Why did you come to New York City to pursue this career? Had you also considered alternative places, as well?
I am really bad at alternatives. I get confused picturing all kinds of different scenarios. So I decided on New York City, because I was young and I fell for the mystique of Scorsese and De Niro, acting conservatories, the grime, the subway and the streets of New York. I was feeling empowered when I made the decision to make a radical change and move to New York City, without having any money or knowing anybody out here. That was over ten years ago and these have been some of the hardest, most grueling years of my life.
What drew you to your part in "Stand Clear of the Closing Doors"?
Everything. It was a movie about being lost in New York City. The child is lost, the mother is lost and the vastness of the city is the backdrop of their drifting. You see the subway and the beach and they are both limbs of the same monster and it just made me wonder, what the hell is this merciless, amazing universe of a city? Where you are afraid to be found, even if nobody sees you? What would it be like for me to lose my precious child and to have to keep my cool, because my only chance of ever touching him again, relied in me not being deported? Not calling attention? Parts like these are an actor's blessing!
How was working with director Sam Fleischner and what particular qualities does a good director have, in your opinion?
I think the quality I identify with the most when it comes to working in a team, is flexibility. In my opinion, a great director has a nice balance of a well set vision and the willingness to have that vision molded and changed by circumstances, the environment, other people's input, etc. Sam actually taught me that. He made me realize how nurturing an attitude of flexibility is and how expanding. This also permeates into every cell of the process.
Who would you like to work with next and what type of character would you like to play?
It's hard to say. I hope to be able to play something really multilayered, something impossible, that's what I always wish for.
What part of the experiences as a mother in real life were you able to integrate in your part?
Well, I am a relatively new mom, but I remember when Sam and I started talking about the character and how he wanted to keep her very naturalistic and internal and sort of calculating. I thought, "Sure! That sounds very interesting, no problem," and my son was about 9 months at the time. Then the film was postponed for a year for a few reasons and I was kind of bummed and he said to me that this time would be important, because I would have more experience as a mother. I thought, "a mother is a mother." I didn't think there'd be much difference. The months passed and I had been thinking about my character and how I would want to do things, considering she had to act so thoughtfully, so not from her gut, because she has so much at stake and she wants and has to keep it all together and I was having fun just making random cerebral choices here and there. In the meantime, my son had gotten better at walking, and one day while shopping at the supermarket, I suddenly lost him. Immediately my mouth went dry and my heart started pounding in my throat. It was a matter of seconds before I was screaming his name down the aisles and saying, "Please help, lock the doors, call the manager," to other customers. I found him smelling coffee a few yards and I thought, "Oh, keeping it in is going to be harder than I thought." Subsequently, I used that a lot, that having to quiet myself down, because that was my only option and what worked best, in order to find my son.
What type of preparation do you undertake to get into character?
I usually read the script many times and make many notes and then I spend my time ridding those notes of what comes from my own opinion rather than the character's according to the story. That's the hardest part, usually, letting go of my judgment. I try to work hard on staying true to the story and away from "what I would do." It's not what I would do it's what this person is actually doing. That helps me free myself up.
In the film, your son Ricky is suffering from autism. What did you know about Asperger's/autism beforehand?
I knew nothing about Autism or Asperger's when I started the process. I read a lot of books in the subject, all varying widely in information. Nobody really knows what Autism is exactly or what to do about it in order to get the best outcomes as the child grows. I learned that no two brains are alike, autistic or otherwise, so in my research I found all kinds of stories and realized that even though every parent's journey is different and personal, there is that common ground of not knowing how your child will develop. That is very stressful and it can, and usually does completely take over your life.
How do you feel are Latin American/Hispanic actresses represented in Hollywood these days? What are the perks, what are the obstacles?
I see mostly a lot of typecasting but I also see a lot of change happening and a lot of opportunity being shaped up. There are actresses doing a fine job of the sexy Latina stereotype and stuff like that but there are also women willing to push those boundaries and present the wider spectrum of what a Hispanic woman is, or are simply saying, "I am a woman with life experiences, I've lived a life that involves everything," or you know, many of us are New Yorkers whether by birth or by transplant. We live in a city full of people from every corner of the world and we share the same experience of living, struggling and falling in love in the city, or whatever. I try not to see my ethnicity as an obstacle and I hope I can find empowering roles to play, just as many others like me. I think we have a good thing going and I'm willing to keep searching for those roles.