Manuela Vellés

Q&A with the star of Chaotic Ana

Jun 01, 2008 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Although 21-year-old Spanish actress Manuela Vellés dreamed of starring in films while growing up in Madrid, she could not have anticipated the unique demands and challenges of her screen debut as the title character of Julio Médem’s latest film Chaotic Ana (Caótica Ana). Ana was inspired by the director’s sister, Ana Médem, a painter who died at 22 years old in an auto accident on the way to her own exhibit in 2001. If honoring the deceased sister of an internationally renowned director—under his watchful eye—wasn’t daunting enough, Vellés had to grasp the fictional complexities of her character, who first appears in the film as a free-spirited 18-year-old island bohemian before gradually being burdened by her recognition, through hypnosis, that she is channeling the spirits of young women who suffered violent deaths throughout 2,000 years of history. The role requires Vellés to portray not only four years of Ana’s own self-discovery—as she leaves her father for Madrid and then mourns the loss of her first love—but also to depict the pain of the women who haunt her subconscious. In a video montage, Ana acts out a series of various deaths while under hypnosis, and the film’s climax, which has polarized Médem’s fans, is a sexually provocative encounter between Ana and an American politician. On top of all that, newcomer Vellés shared scenes with revered English actress Charlotte Rampling, who plays a mentor to Ana.

Under the Radar met with Manuela Vellés while she was in Hollywood for the American Cinematheque’s screening of Chaotic Ana as part of its Recent Spanish Cinema XIV series. In person, Vellés’ most striking characteristic is her green eyes, which were wide with ebullience as she discussed the film. She was cautious with her English, occasionally pausing to ask if she was being coherent, but otherwise remained all smiles through the interview.


How were you cast in the film?


It was a massive casting. I think there were 500 girls. The first call was with the casting director. Then I did two more auditions with Julio Médem. The process lasted a month. The last audition was with Nicolas Cazalé, who is the hero in the film, the love.


How much acting experience did you have before this role?


Nothing. [laughs] It was my first job. I haven’t done any short movies or ads.


Did you study in school?


The thing was, I just finished school and I wanted to start studying acting. But the beginning of the course was in September [2005], and the audition was in September [2005], so I didn’t have time to study then. Now I am in a school of acting. It’s in Madrid. There are 30 of us, and I like it. It’s four years, and now I’m in the second year.


Were you nervous about playing a character that is so close to the director’s heart?


My fright was not because of that. The first interview we had—the director and I—he told me about his sister, that the essence of the character was from his sister, but the story has nothing to do with her. The essence is Ana’s freedom, the innocence, she wants to be happy—that is his sister. But the story has nothing to do with his sister.


Did Julio Médem allow you freedom, or was he very specific about how the character should be played?

He’s very specific because he knows what he wants, he’s very concrete. And the dialogue is very poetic, so I cannot improvise, because he wants to say those words. Every word has meaning in the film. Yeah, I could say things differently, but not many.


What was your experience like working with Charlotte Rampling?


Wow. I can remember, the first time I saw her was in the makeup room. Her presence made an impact on me. Her way of working is very serious, and her concentration is very strong, yet she was very close with us. During lunch we could speak with her, and that was amazing.


Did you do any research on hypnosis for the role?


Yeah!


You were hypnotized?


I went to a psychologist who did hypnosis, and it was only once. The thing is, I could sense the calm, like I was sleeping, and he started to ask me about my past, and I could remember things in my past that I have never thought about. It was the first time I said, “Wow, that happened to me.” But it was in my life, not in another life. In this case, Ana remembers things in the past of other lives. In my case, it was my life. [laughs]


I wanted to ask about the hotel scene near the end of the film with the American. What were the challenges of that sequence?


Wow, it was very, very hard. Julio Médem told me that, for Ana, it was a game. She was playing a performance. I was Ana, but Ana acting another role. It was hard. It was in English, it’s not my language. The other actor [Gerrit Graham] was very nice to me, that was very important. At the beginning, I didn’t like this part of the film. But then I understood. She’s playing, and she wants to do something; she doesn’t know what. She’s improvising. It’s like a performance for her; it’s like a play.

When you say that you initially didn’t like this part of the film, was it based on the script that you weren’t sure about it?


At the beginning I thought, “Ana is not like that.” And the story is another thing. The last chapter is about the past lives. At the beginning, Ana doesn’t want to see what is happening to her because she’s suffering, and she doesn’t want to suffer. She’s very happy, and it’s not the way to live for her, to suffer. But during these four years in her life, she understands that she has to do something for the other girls. She’s like a god or something, but not a god. She has a mission because the girls from the past are calling her, are asking her for help.


In the film, there’s a video montage of Ana dying multiple times while she’s under hypnosis. Were these scenes performed within a short period or done sporadically throughout the shoot?


They were all filmed in sequence. We were improvising. He [Médem] would say to me, “Now die in flames, now die like you are being hanged.” It was like acting class.


Will filmgoers get to see you in anything else soon?


Yeah, I did one film [Camino]. The director is a Spanish director called Javier Fesser. He has done two films before. They were comedies, and this one is a drama. And it’s going to be released in Spain in autumn, for now in October, I think.


The American Cinematheque’s Recent Spanish Cinema XIV series continues through June 22 at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.



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medyum
May 27th 2009
8:12am

Thank you very much.

Acting Schools in La
June 29th 2009
6:54am

Manuela is very talented actress. Thanks for sharing.

Tranceformed Perceptions
July 16th 2015
7:57am

An interesting article around a film that I have not yet seen, but certainly shall now.

As a <a > hypnotherapy practitioner in West Lothian, Scotland,</a> I find myself always amazed by what memories people are able to re-construct. I personally love taking people on a spiritual journey and helping them to find out who they are in this life.

Thanks and Blessings
Colin