Had ‘Roma’ Star Yalitza Aparicio Ever Acted in a Movie Before?

Yalitza Aparicio in a scene from Alfonso Cuarón’s ‘Roma’ | Netflix

If you’ve seen Roma, the 2019 Golden Globe winner for Best Foreign Film, you know what a natural feel it has. That’s because (among other things) Alfonso Cuarón cast nonprofessional actors in the production and shot the film in chronological order to make it feel like events were unfolding as they would in real time.

(For those who haven’t seen it yet, you can stream the film online or see it in select theaters.)

That includes Nancy Garcia, the actress who played Sofi, the best friend of Cleo, the main character played by Alitza Aparicio. But what about Aparicio herself? Would a renowned Hollywood director dare to cast a nonprofessional in the lead role of his most personal film?

Cuarón did exactly that for the lead in Roma. The 24-year-old Aparicio had never acted in a movie prior to this production.

Aparicio’s first acting role of any kind

When you hear of breakout performances by actors, you often hear about getting turned down for roles or stories about struggling in local theater. Aparicio has no such stories. In fact, she had never acted in anything — or even considered acting — prior to Roma.

In an interview with The Guardian’s Simon Hattenstone, she described how she never planned to show up for the audition at all. Her sister, by then too pregnant try out for the part, insisted she make the casting call in her place. (Cuarón had sent casting directors to Oaxaca, where Aparicio lives.)

After making it through a second audition, she met Cuarón, who offered her the part after seeing her play Cleo. Even though she was excited, she described feeling “a little sad” as well. The reason was, she had just finished her degree and was planning to start work as an elementary school teacher.

Now that Roma has won the Golden Globe for best foreign film (and Cuarón for Best Director), all eyes will be on the Academy Award nominations. Many people think Aparicio could land a nomination for Best Actress.

Awards and nominations for Aparicio in ‘Roma’

Yalitza Aparicio attends The BAFTA LA Tea Party on January 5, 2019 in Los Angeles. | Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

While Aparicio did not earn a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress, she’s received 17 nominations and won three awards. The list includes a Hollywood Film Award for new stars and a Broadcast Film Critics Association Award nomination for Best Actress. These honors are nothing to take lightly.

With those accolades to her name and Roma continuing to win over everyone who sees it, the odds of Aparicio getting a Best Actress nomination are increasing. Certainly, it’s impossible to pull off a performance with less affectation. There is not a second in Roma when you don’t believe Aparicio as Cleo.

Cuarón based the role of Cleo on Libo Rodriguez, who was his own family’s nanny when he was young. Once he saw Aparicio reading the lines, he knew he had his star.

To make things even more natural for Aparicio, Cuarón cast Garcia as her coworker and friend Sofi in the film. (In real-life, Garcia is Aparicio’s best friend.) But she connected to Cleo on the most personal level.

“My life was similar,” Aparicio told The Guardian. “We were both poor, and we both wanted to go to Mexico City to improve our family’s lives.”

By pulling off her performance of Cleo, Aparicio ended up making it happen — in the most unexpected way imaginable.

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