‘ENDGAME’ Q&A: Justina Machado On the Importance of the Film and Education

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EG_familyPreston Barta // Editor

ENDGAME premiered at the Dallas International Film Festival back in April, and brought an inspiring, true story that took place in Brownsville, Texas, where a community was forever changed by an unlikely game– chess.

Featuring the talents of Rico Rodriguez (MODERN FAMILY), Efren Ramirez (NAPOLEON DYNAMITE) and Justina Machado (THE CALL), ENDGAME embarks on a journey of self-discovery, acceptance, and the importance of community and family.

The film tells the story of a boy named Jose (Rodriguez) who is trying to find a way to connect with his mother (Machado) and his peers. When Jose is taught about chess by his grandmother (Ivonne Coll) as a way to connect, it becomes much more than that.

Fresh Fiction had the opportunity to speak with Machado, who plays Jose’s mother, about the life lessons she takes away from the films she’s in, the importance of education, and her genre transitions.

Justina Machado the premiere of Avila Entertainment's ENDGAME at AMC Burbank Town. Photo courtesy of Imeh Akpanudosen/ Getty Images.

Justina Machado the premiere of Avila Entertainment’s ENDGAME at AMC Burbank Town. Photo courtesy of Imeh Akpanudosen/ Getty Images.

You said you’re in Dallas, right?

Justina Machado: “Yeah, I’m in Dallas right now filming a new show for USA called QUEEN OF THE SOUTH.”

Oh, cool. I didn’t know if you were a part of the filming downtown for James Franco’s JFK mini-series or not.

Machado: “Oh, really? When was that?”

This was Monday through yesterday, I believe.

Machado: “Oh, wow. Yeah, I did see some action going on. I didn’t know that’s what it was. No, no. This is a new series that we’re filming out here until February.”

Oh, how fun. That’s great. To get to ENDGAME, though I imagine most people probably believe it’s a simple story about a chess tournament, I felt like it was much more than that. It portrays painfully real heartaches, jealousy, loss and immigration. It’s a very rich coming-of-age story. Is that part of the reason that attracted you to the part initially?

Machado: “Yeah, because I wasn’t even really thinking about the chess thing. I didn’t even think of that. It was just a story of trial, and all of that, of favoritism, jealousy, everything you said. Everybody growing up. Everybody becoming their best self, and so that what really attracted me to it.”

I love that this story focuses on impacting society through education. Was there, perhaps, a instructor or teacher that gave you the most useful guidance through your upbringing?

Machado: “Yeah. I was lucky enough to have a lot of teachers. I’m from Chicago, and one of the teachers that I really remember is my– she happened to be my fifth, seventh and eighth grade teacher. I don’t know how that happened, but she, Mrs. Madison, inspired me. She totally inspired me when I was a young girl. Then, when I went into the theater; I had other mentors. Juan Ramirez, who really helped me get into acting and supported me and mentored me. I’ve been lucky to have a lot of people around me to bring it out.”

That’s wonderful. I feel like there are so many great life lessons within this film. Even if it’s not this film, but any film in general, do you take a lot of these life lessons away with you and apply them to your own life?

Machado: “Yeah. I do, but also I think what’s important is I’ve lived a lot of those life lessons. It’s easy for me to portray them. I’ve had a lot of life and because of that, it always goes, ‘Oh, wow, yeah. I was right’ [Laughs]. It’s just a journey. The journey of everybody is just trying to be their best. You know what I mean? Sometimes I do walk away with figuring things out. Other times, I’ve already figured it out and, you know, I’m just reaffirmed. I do take something from everything I do.”

I saw this film is inspired on a true story. Is Karla, the character you play, a real person?

Machado: “You know, it’s funny. I never really asked that question because I don’t know if it was actually based on an actual boy. It was actually based on the story. These were kids that did this, but it wasn’t really based on a certain child.

For my character, I kind of wanted not to make her likable towards the end, just to show a little bit of reality when somebody’s faced with not having any money, being a single mother, holding onto one son thinking that it’s going to make it better, ignoring the other one. I just didn’t want to be like the cookie milk mom. I tried to make her unlikable sometimes because I’ve seen those kinds of women, and it’s not that they’re unlikable, it’s just that they’re just hard, you know. It takes a little bit to break through that armor, but when you break through the armor, you could see what’s really there. I think I grew up with a lot of those women so it was easy for me to look really tough, and the exterior and all that, but truly, they’re a softy.”

Rico Rodriguez as Jose, and Ivonne Coll as Abuelita. Photo courtesy of Avila Entertainment.

Rico Rodriguez as Jose, and Ivonne Coll as Abuelita. Photo courtesy of Avila Entertainment.

To what degree is a movie affected by when you make it? If you had made this movie, maybe earlier in your life, how different do you think it would’ve been?

Machado: “That’s a good question. I think that I probably still would have done the same thing because, like I said, I grew up with women like this. With something that I already knew, it was something that, a hard kind of love. I think that I could’ve probably done this ten years ago or whatever. I think so.”

I got to ask about your transition of going from THE PURGE: ANARCHY, which I think is a great movie by the way.

Machado: “Oh, great!”

If we watch a thrilling, horrific film, a lot of times, for me, I’ll watch something like THE PURGE: ANARCHY, which kind of strikes a very unnerving chord with you, and you have to cleanse your mind after it by watching a feel-good movie like ENDGAME.

Machado: [Laughs]

Was this kind of like that for you, going from THE PURGE to ENDGAME?

Machado: “No, because I feel like I have all of that in my personality. What I love about acting is that I get to show all of those. In real life, I would be psychotic, but in acting, I’m just acting. These are just levels of the fun-loving to this to that so I feel really honored and I’m humbled by the fact that I can show different levels of human beings and different motions. That’s the cool thing.”

I bet it is. I always kind of wondered, because I don’t think I could ever be an actor. Watching these shows, you kind of live through these characters vicariously, but you’re doing it more to the nth degree.

Machado: “It’s so great too. It’s so great to be able to play somebody who’s not, you know, that you have something of them and then exaggerate it and go for it. It’s just a really great feeling.”

Have you ever utilized your acting skills in real-life situations?

Machado: “No, because I’m a terrible actress when I’m not acting. I’m honest to a fault, so no. I’ve never applied it. I’ve applied my life to acting, but not acting to my life.”

Lastly, if you could teach a class of your creation, what would you teach?

Machado: “I think I would teach a class with a bunch of kids from the inner city who actually don’t think there’s any hope and don’t think that things can happen. I mean, I don’t know if it would be like an Oprah thing, you know what I mean? I think it would be kind of like that. I think it would be kind of like believing in yourself and anything can happen and dream big. I think it would be a motivational class. If I could do that, I would love to do that.”

ENDGAME is now playing in limited release.
Texas: Carmike 20 in Edinburg, TX.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.