‘Emilia Pérez’ Star Karla Sofía Gascón Jokes That She Had to Get Out of Character ‘Through Exorcism’: ‘I Didn’t Know Who I Was’

Karla Sofía Gascón, who delivered a breakthrough performance as a ruthless narco gangster transitioning in Jacques Audiard’s crime musical “Emilia Pérez,” has revealed how she fought to get the part.

“At the beginning, (Audiard) did not consider me for the role (of Juan “Manitas” Del Monte), he only wanted me to play the female role after the transition,” the Spanish actress said during a masterclass at the Biarritz’ Nouvelles Vagues Festival, speaking in a packed theater. “It took me a long time to convince him that I could do both, and thanks to… I don’t know what, thanks to this universe, I ended up convincing him.”

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Gascón’s performance in the film would earn her the best acting prize at the Cannes Film Festival (shared with Selena Gomez, Zoe Saldana and Adriana Paz).

From the start, she felt that it was “absolutely obvious” that she had to play both roles. “I do not see which actor would not have had this desire to follow their character in all its evolution,” she said, adding that “very few actors and actresses” get roles like the one she got in “Emilia Pérez.” “I haven’t seen many roles like it, not even with Javier Bardem or Marlon Brando’s careers.”

Gascón admitted, however, that she dived into the role so deeply that she struggled to come out of it once filming wrapped.

“There were times when I didn’t know who I was and neither did my co-stars. I was too deep in that character that it was very hard for me to get out of it,” she said. Gascón joked that she “managed” to pull Emilia Pérez out of herself “through exorcism.” The experience was such that when came the time to do some dubbing and final takes, “there was a part of (her) that rejected these characters, who didn’t want to know anything about them.”

Prior to starring in “Emilia Pérez,” Gascón was best known as a star of telenovelas, most notably Telemundo’s International Emmy-winning “El Señor de los Cielos” and the Netflix Mexican teen drama “Rebelde.” In the film world, Gascón starred in Gaz Alazraki’s 2013 dark comedy “Nosotros los Nobles” (“The Noble Family”) for Warner Bros. Shortly after Cannes, she signed with UTA for representation.

During the masterclass, Gascón discussed the process behind the creation of her character in the film. She said she started rehearsing with Audiard earlier than the rest of the cast. “(Audiard) gave me the freedom to propose, to create these two worlds,” she said, adding that she also worked with “teachers of all kinds — for singing, movements, dance.”

While Audiard has worked in languages other than French before, such as “Dheepan” (which won the Palme d’Or) and “The Sisters’ Brothers” (with Jake Gyllenhaal and Joaquin Phoenix), “Emilia Perez” marked his Spanish-language debut. Gascón said she was initially concerned that she and Audiard wouldn’t be able to understand each other due to the language barrier.

“I told him, ‘Listen, sir, you want to make a film in Spanish, but you don’t speak a word of Spanish, and me, I don’t speak a word of French, and neither of us really speak English. How are we going to make a film together?'” She said Audiard looked at her and told her that Phoenix had asked him “the exact same question” when they made “The Sisters’ Brothers,” and that his answer to her would be the same: “telepathy.” Gascón said Audiard delivered on his pledge as they hardly needed to talk to understand each other throughout the shoot.

“Born under a dictatorship in 1972,” and growing up in the Madrid suburb of Alcobendas (where Penelope Cruz also comes from), Gascón said she “didn’t have any point of reference for starting an acting career” but she always had a desire to “multiply her ways of being and experiences of life.”

Self-described as a “guerilla person,” Gascón said she took her fate in her own hands at the age of 16, calling Televisión Española, “the only place where television was being made at that time,” and asked for an acting job. She began getting gigs as extras on a variety of programs, and worked her way up.

“I started there, and to this day, I never gave up and look what’s happened to me,” she said.

Reminiscing on her time in Cannes, she said her festival highlight was seeing the emotion on people’s faces after after the world premiere of “Emilia Pérez.” “I don’t know how many people fit in there, whether 2000 or 3000 people, but when the lights went on, so many were crying. I think it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in a movie theater in my life,” she said”

“The first thing I saw when I got up from my chair, was Rossy de Palma and Justine Triet who were crying like crazy. I couldn’t believe I did that to them!”

Going forward, Gascón says she’d love to “work with all the best directors in the world” and would love to “do part two, part three and part 24 of ‘Emilia Pérez with Jacques Audiard.”

“But since we are not in the United States, it’s going to be very complicated because he’s not going to want to do any more of this,” she quipped.

“Emilia Pérez” was picked up by Netflix for the U.S. and the U.K. at the Cannes Film Festival.

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