Patricia Velasquez took spooky methods to understand her character in ‘THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA’
Preston Barta // Features Editor
Opening in theaters this weekend is THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA, the latest addition to the CONJURING universe. It revolves around the family of a social worker and widow named Anna Garcia (Linda Cardellini). Anna is called to look into one of her cases and later suspects foul play after finding that the mother, Patricia (Patricia Velasquez of THE MUMMY franchise), has been locking her two young boys inside a closet.
The mother warns against freeing them, but Anna takes the children to a safe place while the police investigate the situation. However, all Anna’s worst fears surface as the mother’s two children are drowned in a river by the evil entity La Llorona (Marisol Ramirez), and the weeping woman is set to haunt Anna’s two children (Roman Christou and Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen) next.
We recently had the opportunity to speak with one the film’s stars, Patricia Velasquez, to talk about the precautionary measures they took on set of the spooky film, how being a part of the film affected her personally, and the methods she took to understand her character.
Preston Barta: At the screening of the film at the South by Southwest Film Festival, they brought out a faith healer to make sure bad omens wouldn’t follow the audience home. Were there people on set that did that on a daily basis?
Patricia Velasquez: “Definitely! I tell you, even a little more scary than that. Because when you go in your trailer, in your dressing room, you’re on your own, and you’re shooting at night. I remember the place where they are under the bridge [in the film]. That was a really scary place. There was another place that we shot, I believe it was Pasadena, also under another bridge. That was a really bizarre place. The house itself felt really haunted. I don’t know how people can live in that house, for real!
We had someone bless the set [before we started filming]. It’s so interesting, even when we were in the house at the end of the day, the catering service, they would do all these [healing things like that] for people in the neighborhood. We were constantly surrounded by a lot of people on set. Then, all of the sudden, [Marisol Ramirez, who plays La Llorona] would walk by and the kids [in the neighborhood] around would scream, “Ah! There she is! There she is!’
Even though we know we’re shooting a movie, the presence and the story and the entity of La Llorona for us is someone so, so important that when you do this sort of project, when you’re referring to a nation or a story, it’s almost like we have to be very respectful because it was no joke. This is a true entity, and we believe in her. It’s not like she stays in Mexico; she crosses the border. She goes with you everywhere. She’s very real and, therefore, we have to be respectful of her. And her presence was there, I don’t doubt it. No, no question.”
I’ve listened to a couple of other interviews you’ve done, most of them coming from Comic-Con. You specifically mentioned that La Llorona was someone that was brought to your attention when you were very young. A lot of the other cast members had mentioned that they heard about her from their abuelas. That’s how it was for me, too. I’m curious to know what kind of impact the film had on you. Did exploring the mythology further heighten you anxiety about the legend?
“It did something for me before the film started, because it’s almost like we have to understand what is it like and what is your role and why have you been chosen to be in this story that is so important to us?
We are losing a lot of our stories to the new generations. The truth is that this is just a really wonderfully simple story. The truth is simple. The only layers here are the layers of La Llorona and what she symbolizes for us.
We do this sometimes as exercise as actors: the night before we started shooting, we would write down on a piece of paper and say to your inner self, ‘If it’s your will, please, allow me to see in a dream tonight the struggle of the character of Patricia in La Llorona so I can get closer to you.’ Then, you put, “Love and respect”, sign it, date it, and put the time. You put this next to your bed. And then, most of the time (I would say 100 percent of the time. There has never been a case where it hasn’t), you have a dream that really makes you understand the struggle of this character, and it’s a way to make it organic.
For me, I did that, and I was asleep and I got woken up by a scream, a terrible scream. Immediately, I went to get my daughter. I was so scared because I heard this really loud, almost a cry. I rushed out of bed, I hit myself in the shoulder, and then when I arrived to my daughter’s room, I tripped and fell on my knee. Then, I look at my daughter because I thought she had, you know, I don’t know where the scream came from. Then, [my daughter] kind of starts moving around in bed. She goes, ‘Momma?’ Here I am on my knees, [to not scare her,] I just pretended and said, ‘Oh, are you cold?’ She’s like, ‘No, momma.’ Then she says, ‘Can you lay here with me?’ So, I laid in her bed, and just as I lay, all of the sudden, my shoulder starts hurting like crazy, and then my knee started bleeding. I’m thinking, ‘I gotta get out of this bed. Oh, my God. What had just happened? What was this?’
I waited for a few minutes, which were torture, honestly, but I was so grateful that she was fine. So, as soon she fell asleep, I literally took just a few minutes, I walked back to my bed. I’m rubbing my shoulder, and then I look toward the left and I see the note. I thought, ‘Oh, my God. I got it now! I got it! I understood the pain of this woman.’ This is what made me rush out of my bed and go protect my daughter.
When I woke up the next day, I went to work for the first day, I understood in my pain what was the struggle of this character. It became so much more organic. This might sound a little odd, but not only did I understand her, even though the role in the film is to fight her, it’s almost like she became my ally in a way. It’s something my character does, too. [My character] begs and begs for [La Llorona to] take [Linda Cardellini’s character’s] children and give me mine instead.
I think you see the result on the screen, in the performance, it’s almost like I understood her. It was a very profound experience that I had. That’s why, when you asked the original question about how did it changed everything, well, now I can look back and think, ‘Well, what is it that I have to learn?’ What I am taking away from this experience is that sometimes in our lives, we go so far because of our emotions. How far are we willing to go?
At a very early age, it’s almost like we destroy the little girl (or boy) within us, and then we spend the rest of our lives trying to find this innocence again. I think that’s what I’m taking away from this whole wonderful experience, actually.
That was intense! I hope you share that story in the DVD extras.
I really found your character to be the most fascinating. I was putting myself in her shoes as a parent. I thought, would I put myself at risk of being labeled insane by locking my kids in the closet, like your character does to protect her children from La Llorona? The answer is absolutely, but your character putting herself in that position was a dark rabbit hole of thought to go down.
“Yes. I think, especially when you have children, you do anything in order to protect them. Whatever that makes us be – insane, crazy, controlling, whatever it is that we get called, it doesn’t really matter because that’s what happens when you become a parent, you’re not important anymore. Well, you are, but everything is about trying to take care of the children.
I think there another element in the film that is so interesting, too. When you think that we are getting a message across, when you look at it, it’s a really empowering story for women. Women that are strong that are fighting for their children. Even when my character, we don’t want to spoil the film, but we help each other, in a way. There’s a friendship, a very strong female characters, and that’s very empowering, especially nowadays. It’s almost like it’s part of this movement that is empowering women around the world. So that the fact that we can do that in such a wonderful horror film, then that means you’re doing the job.”
THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA is now playing in theaters nationwide.