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Shedding light on the crumbling state of affairs in Mexico is contemporary director Gerardo Naranjo. Set in Mexico’s border city of Baja, Miss Bala chronicles three terrifying days in the life of Laura (Stephanie Sigman), who falls in the hands of a sinister kingpin whose gang is notorious for terrorizing northern Mexico. Bala is one of those unapologetic movies: drug lords aren’t heroes, you know the bad guys from the good guys, and melodrama isn’t welcomed.
I had the opportunity to talk with Sigman recently, as the movie was released on DVD earlier this year. The charming, former Mexican model turned actress was eager to express her love for her first feature film, the challenges faced during filming, and her absolute keenness to tacos and Quentin Tarantino.
When Bala made its way through various film festivals last year in the U.S. and abroad, including Cannes, it promptly received rave reviews. But audiences in Mexico had mixed feelings about Naranjo’s depiction of the Mexican criminal underworld.
“It was controversial,” said Sigman. “A lot of people went to the movie theater to watch the film, [and] a lot of people said we shouldn’t be making movies like that because we’re only depicting fear and that we should do prettier movies like romantic comedies. The other 60% said it’s good to make films like Miss Bala so that people can be aware of the problems.”
According to Sigman, Narajo purposely made the film to spark a dialogue.
“I think Gerardo made the movie to show people that it’s not a glamorous world but actually pathetic, dark, and those involved aren’t having any fun,” said Sigman. “He told the story through another perspective, which makes the movie even more interesting.”
Bala is Sigman’s first starring role, the novice actress proved she can carry a film without screaming her guts out--though she may have wanted to.
“It was crazy. It was my first film and I was in it all the time,” said Sigman. “It was very hard to be in pain all the time. Sometimes [I] just wanted to scream, cry and [I] became frustrated. Gerardo was always asking me to not be melodramatic and to be as realistic as possible, which for him is to be contained. Sometimes you just want to let it all out but we wanted to keep the character with dignity without melodramatics because that’s already been seen."
Naranjo has been very public about his distaste for melodramatics and sought out to make a film that didn’t mirror a soap opera; a film that would offer a new alternative, a new set of eyes.
“You’re seeing things through the eyes of Laura, who has no idea what’s going on. She was at the wrong place at the wrong time,” explained Sigman. “When I read the script, I thought it was a great story. It had the beauty pageant world and the criminal world together. I feel in love with Laura because she’s naïve, she’s not a worldly woman; she’s just a girl in a town. To live in the world that she lives in that’s a flaw. Her world is filled with corruption. I think that made me want to do that part.”
Mexico’s long battle with drug trafficking has claimed many lives, assassinations of public figures have paralyzed the country, and police forces continue to be heavily infiltrated by corruption. The widespread poverty and lack of education fuels the problem and it’s this exact backdrop that set the stage for Miss Bala.
In terms of the film sparking social change, Sigman believes it’s a step in the right direction but doesn’t see a radical change in the future.
“It at least makes you think about things and be aware of what’s happening. I think a lot of people aren’t aware of what’s happening [in Mexico]; they don’t want to see it. I don’t think it’s going to solve the problem but it creates dialogue,” said Sigman.
Sigman was born in Obregon, Sonona, Mexico and began modeling at age 16. Thanks to the Elite Model Look competition she got the opportunity to leave Mexico City.
“When I was 16 I stared to model and travel. I enjoyed a lot of it but there was a point in my life that I wanted more than that,” confessed Sigman. “I decided to take acting classes and then I did Miss Bala.”
But if you think her modeling days made her a shopping junkie, think again.
“I don’t like to shop that much. It’s kind of a pain in the ass for me,” laughed Sigman. “I love to eat. I love food.”
“Tacos, I could eat tacos all day. I love chiles en nogada and mole. I love all Mexican food but I also love Japanese food and Italian and hamburgers. I’m crazy about food,” said Sigman.
So how does this beauty queen stay in shape?
“I try to do exercises when I have the time. I don’t know. I guess…I’m young. I don’t know. I need to take care of myself.”
Sigman just finished shooting a movie in the Hamptons, she couldn’t talk much about the project but did say it was a comedy with Mexican actors and an American director. Back in Mexico, she’s steadily auditioning and looking for her next big role. She was quick to say that she would love to work with Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mamá También) and Quentin Tarantino.
“There are a lot of directors that I would love to work with,” confessed Sigman. “Alfonso Cuarón and I have big dreams of one day working with Quentin Tarantino. It would be my dream come true.”
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