Many will already know Patricia Rae for her role in the Oscar nominated feature film Maria Full of Grace, for which she received an Imagen Award nomination. She is now all set to provide some hearty laughs in the latest comedy The Big Wedding opening in UK cinemas tomorrow, May 29. Patricia stars as Madonna Soto, who, without giving too much away, plays the pivotal spark that set’s the film’s hilarious predicament ball rolling with the vast ensemble cast, including Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon, and Robin Williams, going out of their way to ensure Madonna never becomes privy to their collective secret. Will they manage to keep everything a secret?
Cinema Sauce had the pleasure of speaking with Patricia who was kind enough to share not only a few moments of her time but also her more than 25 years of acting experience and some anecdotes of what it was like to work with such seasoned talent in The Big Wedding.
I think you’d agree that this is the biggest film you have appeared in so far. Having said that, you have been in the business for a good 25 years. I also understand that you wanted to get involved in the film industry from a tender young age. What was it that drove you in that direction?
I guess it was always a constant in my life and something that I could do alone. I was raised in a very strict Catholic family and my mother and grandmother were both immigrants and I was 1st generation American. Neither my mother nor grandmother spoke the language so they certainly kept a watchful eye over me. This meant that I didn’t really have a lot of friends and I found myself spending a lot of time alone pretending things and this made both my imagination and creativity blossom.
I also guess I gravitated more towards comedy because I loved how people responded to that. People were always happy and funny and I found, through comedy, I could affect people.
I believe you got involved in your first theatre group at the age of 15 but I understand you were pretty exasperated as, being Latina, you found it harder to get the roles you wanted to play.
That’s right. It was very disconcerting to me, even at such a young age, having to confront stereotypes and typecasting. For example, I really wanted to play Helen Keller in a production that we were doing at high school and my teacher told me there was no way I could play her as I wasn’t American. In my own mind I didn’t understand how this young blonde girl at school got the part when in reality she wasn’t even really blonde. I suffered the same in college so in the end I just thought I may as well get out into the world and start tackling it.
To be honest, rather than discouraging me it fuelled me. It made me really angry. I wanted to prove everyone wrong. Art is something creative and nobody should be allowed to tell you that you can’t create it.
Early on, I wanted to appear in a commercial and I was told that I could never be in commercials because I was Latina. I thought “Right! We’ll see about that.” and years later that very same person who had said no previously went on to cast me in a commercial. Having said that, I’m not one to bear a grudge. I welcome being able to change people’s minds and people’s hearts.
Talking of your experience of getting into cinema, I believe you have been writing memoirs with a view to publishing a book called “How to Make it to the Middle”. Can you tell us a bit about that and why “the middle”?
Well I’m referring to the middle of the pack. You have to make it to the middle to get to the top. People just don’t understand that there are so many amazing working actors that are not hugely famous. That doesn’t discredit their talents in any way.
Basically these memoirs are anecdotes and stories I have picked up during my career. An example is when I was working as an extra on an episode of Miami Vice. The casting director just happened to be going around asking people to read for a speaking role and I tapped her on the shoulder to tell her that I wanted to read. She was horrified at first but I got to read it and eventually got the part.
Apart from writing this book, I have various other writing projects on the go. Currently I’m writing a script with my partner which is a feature film I’m very happy to be starring in about a female gangster.
But does than not go against the stereotypes we talked about?
Well, I’m not saying that stereotypes don’t exist. It’s just that there are some stories that need to be told. I just don’t think you have to be a certain race to portray a certain race.
Right now we’re looking for financing for this project but the script is called La Reina (The Queen) and it will be a bi-lingual script in the same vein as Babel.
So, getting to The Big Wedding which is released in the UK tomorrow, it’s already been released in the US so can you tell us how it’s been received so far?
Well I think really well. All my fans, friends and family have really enjoyed the film. It’s been nothing short of fabulous for me.
So your character, Madonna, is a Columbian mother who is strictly religious, particularly as a result of her having given up a son for adoption. For a comedy, this sounds like a particularly straight role.
Yes she is very serious and she doesn’t have all the gags but her reactions are what make her so great. She’s coming into the film from a different culture of different socio-economic class and she doesn’t even speak the same language so it’s difficult for her to embrace what’s going on around her. Essentially, she tries to be very open-minded and open-hearted and for me the film deals with misconceptions and miscommunications. People think she is very close-minded and has a very antiquated view of the world but no one really asks her.
Is it true that the character is very closely based on your own grandmother?
Oh yes. Essentially I play my grandmother in this film. I mean, she was a hugely devout woman, hugely attached to her faith. She lived her life very morally but she’s such a warm and happy, gregarious person.
I really thought the film needed to make the character a little more modern and open-minded though because they really wanted to make her very dowdy. They even wanted to dress her in a black veil and make her look hideous and I was like “Have you ever been to Colombia?”
It’s possible to be very religious yet very loose at the same time. She didn’t have a child out of wedlock because she was living in a cave. I remember when I first met Robert De Niro he said “Wow. I already had an idea of what Madonna was going to be like but I think this is so much better.”
I also think Justin Zackham also changed his mind as to what a woman of faith should look like. I opened their eyes to what a modern Catholic looks like. In the end Justin had complete faith in me and I would be very modest in my approach but at the same time modern, accessible and pretty.
I worked very closely with Ode Bronson, the costume designer, and she completely understood where I was coming from. I was very happy that my character could be as good looking as the other female characters without being overly sexual.
Talking of the direction, I think Justin Zackham he was pretty quick to decide exactly who he wanted to play Madonna, was he not? Also, were you aware of just how many big names were involved before you headed over to the casting process?
I already knew that De Niro, Keaton and Sarandon were on board so it was a really big kudos for everyone. This knowledge certainly added a certain amount of pressure but in the end I just said to myself “It is what it is. I’m just going to go out and be my grandmother.” I knew what characteristics they were looking for so I just wanted to interpret it in a more accessible and modern way. I remember when I read my lines in Spanish Justin said to me “I don’t understand a word you are saying but at the same time I understand EVERY word you are saying.” Afterwards he stood up, hugged me and said “I’m going to see you real soon.” That was when I knew because no one would say that if they weren’t going to follow through with their word.
It must have been quite an amazing feeling when you heard that you would be starring alongside all these actors.
Oh my God. I was walking around Manhattan and I just felt numb. I kept having to ask myself where I was going. I was supposed to be going to catch the train but had no idea what I was doing. It was a real life changing and career changing moment for me.
I’m sure it was but not long afterwards it must have been an even bigger eye-opener when you then found yourself on set with these amazing actors.
Sure. It was daunting standing next to Diane Keaton, for example, just before we were getting ready to go onto set. I was like “My God. I don’t know what to say to her.” But then I thought “Well my character doesn’t speak English anyway so it doesn’t matter.” *laughs*
Having said that, looking back, I kind of captured this thought of isolation and used it in my performance a lot.
So, having worked with these great actors, would you say you have picked up any experiences from them that you will take on with you and use in the future?
Well, Diane always used to be with her headphones listening to music which helped her create a kind of private space even though there were all the crew and people walking around. I guess it’s a great way to set the mood using music. This is something that I will use so thank you Mrs. Diane Keaton for that.
I believe you are also very dedicated to yoga and also teach it. How did your interest for this arise and do you use it to help you prepare to act?
I’m a certified yoga instructor and have been practicing this for around 20 years now. I always used it to prepare for a role to relax my instrument and to centre myself. I always wanted to teach so I decided to take a 20 hour course and went on to teach it. I later realised that I could help people to transform with these skills. An example is my daughter who suffers from scoliosis. I was able to help her relieve a lot of pain, particularly in her back, as a result of her work. I just wanted to be able to help people by sharing my knowledge.
Finally, you have appeared in a lot of television shows such as Touch and Blue Bloods. Would you say film or television work is harder?
The main difference really is that when you go to audition for television you don’t really audition as such. Basically you go in prepared to do the work right there and then. You get very little direction on the set and you have to come in with your performance ready to roll.
For a film, the director and the producer certainly give you more of a cushion. There is more of a chance to rehearse things and to collaborate with the director whereas for television you are self-directing most of the time.
So although you have had single episode guest parts on most series, would you be keen to play a character in a full series?
Oh, absolutely. My friend Dennis Leone, who is a producer, who created Resurrection Boulevard, has recently signed a deal with PBS to bring a show called Alta California to the television. It’s about how Mexico was divided in the 1800s. I would love to be in a period piece like that and to be able to work though an entire character arc.
A personal favourite of mine at the moment is the series Elementary. Jonny Lee Miller’s character comes to mind as it must be such a daunting task keeping the exact same character traits for one season, let alone various seasons.
Oh I LOVE that show. He has so much dialogue and I really commend him for his preparation and the character. Everything he does, every nuance, every tick is part of his character. I really hope he picks up an Emmy for his role.
Yeah I’ve been a big fan of his since Trainspotting.
Well yes. That’s my point exactly. You see how long ago Trainspotting was? That is “the middle” we were talking about before. With regards my own future television plans, I don’t have anything on the cards at the moment but I’m very hopeful that my appearance in The Big Wedding will bring a few new offers my way.
We’d like to say a big thank you to Patricia for speaking to us and hope that the interview has piqued your interest in tomorrow’s release of The Big Wedding. We’ll leave you with the latest trailer: