‘My acceptance speech is always percolating – isn’t everyone’s?’: Interview with Talisa Garcia
From Chile to Swansea to the lofty heights of Disney+, Talisa Garcia has spent a lot of time near, far and in other worlds. Though she grew up predominantly in Swansea, Talisa was born in Chile and was adopted by her parents, a university lecturer and an engineer, after being found on the streets. The family then fled Pinochet’s murderous regime to Swansea in the ‘90s – but this tumultuous childhood didn’t knock Talisa from her dreams. She recently appeared in the BBC’s Baptiste, Starz!’s The Girlfriend Experience, and the 2021 film Decrypted. And now, you can see Talisa playing Queen Arianna in Lucasfilm’s Willow on Disney+, a sequel to the 1988 film of the same name. Among all of this, Talisa revealed in 2019 that she is trans, after being assumed cisgender for many years. We sat down with Talisa to chat all things Willow, returning to Chile, and how the media industry (and the world) is changing regarding LGBTQ+ issues.
Interview: Talisa Garcia of Disney+’s Willow
Hi Talisa, it’s good to be chatting with you. Firstly, what can viewers expect from Willow?
Willow is an unforgettable fantasy adventure. If you saw the original movie you’ll know it’s a magical world full of incredible characters. If you’re new to Willow, well… Lucky you!
What drew you to Willow?
To be honest, I didn’t know what I was auditioning for – but I knew it was something big because of all the secrecy. I was a huge fan of the original film, and when I was told I had got the role and what it was, it was an emotional moment. I’d dreamed of performing the role of a queen since I was very young – and not only were my dreams coming true, but it was in a Lucasfilm production! My first experience going to the cinema was with my dad and brother to watch the Lucasfilm Star Wars (1977). It was epic.
Is it exciting to be part of a Disney production?
Wow, yes! It felt like something had come full circle. It’s truly what dreams are made of.
What was filming like?
I got on with everyone, really! Whenever I see interviews and hear that they all got on like a house on fire, I’m always like ‘yeah right, come on and give us the juicy bits!’. But really it was like being a kid again – we all got on so well, like going on a school trip with all your mates. Everyone was excited to be there, and the actors and crew just clicked as if we’d known each other all our lives. Something of the magic and wonder of the story must have permeated the set!
Any funny on-set stories?
My outfits were made with hoop skirts underneath to give it that huge, round look. I couldn’t really do a lot in them apart from stand and maybe slightly sit. Waiting to do our scenes, we found a stool with wheels, which was super handy as it was taller than a chair, so I could sit on it with my dress and hoops around it. Niamh McCormack (The Witcher) and Olivia Chan (Penny on M.A.R.S.) started dragging me along while sitting on stool, and made me look like something out of Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride! It was hilarious and we couldn’t stop laughing. I won’t even begin to tell you how I used the loo… Let’s just say I was on intimate terms with several helpful crew members!
Which character that you have played in the past do you relate to the most in your own life?
Kim Vogel (Baptise) – not her bad traits, but the good ones. Kim is a courageous woman who has left her past behind her and wants to start a new life, and has a wonderful boyfriend who doesn’t know about her. But she’s also vulnerable. Living with a big secret is something I did a lot growing up, particularly with my boyfriends. That moment when you tell them your past can be heartbreaking, especially when they don’t accept you. Some of my saddest moments have been losing relationships when they can’t get their head around my life decisions.
Who has been your favourite actor to work with?
All of them have been incredible, but the one that I’ve connected with and laughed with the most was Trystan Gravelle (The Rings of Power), who played my fiancé in Baptiste. I should never have told him that I get the giggles on set – once it starts, it’s very difficult to stop. He could control himself so well, but with me it’s another story! I would melt laughing… Especially when he would make his already strong Welsh accent even stronger. He was the first person I told that I’d got a part in Willow. And, of course, he’s Welsh, so we had so much to talk about.
Yes, you grew up in Swansea! Do you still get to spend much time in Wales?
Unfortunately not. I’ve been to Cardiff a few times before Willow, but always flying visits. Filming Willow was my chance to spend some real time there. Some of my primary school friends came over from Swansea to spend the weekend with me and we had an absolute blast. It was a rare privilege to be able to reconnect with them – it was as if time stood still and we were all kids again.
Do you live in the town or the country? Which do you prefer?
I live in town, but as I’m getting older, and especially post covid, living in the countryside is becoming a lot more appealing. I want to be near nature, and would love to eventually have my own little farm and grow my own food, so I’d know exactly what I’m eating. And, who knows, maybe I’d meet a friendly farmer (or two)!
Have you returned to Chile many times since your family fled in the 70s? What was it like?
Yes, my family moved back in the late 90s and I went to see them in early 2000. The country was very different to what I’d been taught in school in Wales, where it was portrayed as a ‘third world country’ – a phrase I don’t think people should use about any country. My first time back, I was shocked to see how modern and beautiful it was. The south of Chile is a stunning postcard, and the North Atacama is spectacular. You have all the seasons in one country, and communities that are as welcoming as any on the planet.
Do you remember much about growing up there?
I have one memory that has stuck with me forever, which is during Pinochet’s regime, when the military would come to our house and take my dad away for questioning. I would hear the sound of the engine and then fists banging on the door. They would put my dad in the back of a military jeep and soldiers with machine-guns would hang out the back as they disappeared down the street. Mum would put my brother and I in a wardrobe and tell us not to come out. But, being the inquisitive child I was, I would immediately step out and look out the window.
You first spoke publicly about your transition in 2019, having transitioned long before. What inspired you to speak on this?
Times have changed so much since I had my operation. Back in the 90s, it was very taboo, but I felt it was the right time. Also, I didn’t want to live under the constant threat of being outed. I wanted it to be my choice, and a positive one.
How did it feel when you first spoke publicly about it?
Like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Finally, I felt that I could be open about who I truly am and be proud. Meeting new people and not having to explain my past was truly liberating.
Has your experience of the industry and the media changed since you openly spoke about being trans?
It’s always changing – slowly but surely. LGBT+ stories are being written, and fellow actors from my community are also getting more work. We still have a long way to go, particularly at the moment with all that’s happening around the world in terms of the Qatar World Cup and the shooting in Colorado. LGBT+ visibility and solidarity is more important than ever before.
How do you find balance in your personal and work lives?
Being of a certain age, I know what’s important to me: my family and friends are everything to me. They don’t really care where I am in my career as long as I’m happy. It’s impossible for anything to go to my head, as my brothers would soon bring me back down to earth.
I’m reading… Tales Of Power by Carlos Castaneda
The last thing I watched was… The Northman. I wasn’t sure at first, but ended up loving it. The cinematography and lighting reminded me of the movie Macbeth with Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender.
I’m most looking forward to seeing… The movie of The Color Purple Broadway musical – out in December 2023.
My favourite film of all time is… The Pride & Prejudice 2005 version – but, to be honest, I think I could watch any version and love it. Jane Austen understands human nature like no-one else.
The singer I always have on repeat is… It really depends on my mood. If I’m reminiscing, then it has to be Lisa Stansfield and Drizabone. Currently, I just can’t get enough of Becky G – it’s a daily ritual to listen to at least three of her songs, probably a lot more!
My ultimate cultural recommendation is… The Dalí Theatre Museum in Figueres, Girona, Spain. It’s like spending a couple of hours inside Salvador Dalí’s head. His work is phenomenal and, as with all the best artists, the more you look, the more you see.
My cultural guilty pleasure is… Little Mix – I adore them. And I can’t miss an episode of The Voice. It goes without saying that Tom Jones is a legend.
What’s next for me: Running The London Marathon. I’ve done a few 10k runs, and I’m doing my first half marathon in 2023. The plan is to do ten 10k runs, four half marathons, and then one full marathon, but I’m starting with baby steps. And, of course, to become a Bafta and Oscar winning actress. My acceptance speech is always percolating – isn’t everyone’s?
Willow is streaming now on Disney+.
Featured Image: Talisa Garcia. Photographer: Joseph Sinclair. Stylist: Emily Evans. Hair: Jon Chapman. Makeup: Maria Comparetto.
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