She plays a 16-year-old peasant girl in search of happiness on the smash Mexican soap opera "Marimar," now airing weeknights on KMEX-TV Channel 34. But a poor peasant girl is not all that 22-year-old Thalia plays.
Off the set, she also plays a sex goddess--and does so well enough to have become the throbbing hub of an entertainment empire spanning movies, television and music.
Thalia's technique in an interview is to tease the inquisitor, telling the most outrageous tales about herself and seeing how much of it flies. During a recent two-hour conversation, she shared her wholehearted belief that she was "born sexy" and that she cannot walk the streets of either Los Angeles or her native Mexico City without crazed admirers swooning over her--and maintained that none of this is an act; it's simply her lot in life.
She said all this not in the intimate confines of a private one-on-one meeting but in front of two publicists and her mother, who listened in from a nearby couch--and didn't volunteer a word until she was spoken to.
Thalia--she needs no last name in Mexico--has just arrived in the United States. And although many in this country have never heard of her, her act--both on and off the screen and concert halls--has made her something of a Madonna in the Latino community.
"Marimar" has scored smashing ratings here since premiering in October, KMEX officials report, and is the most popular show broadcast across the country by the station's parent network, Spanish-language Univision.
To hear Thalia tell it, it was always like this.
Her fame began at age 10 when she picked up on the singing career at which her mother had tried and failed. With Thalia as lead singer and bass guitarist, Timbiriche soon became one of the top groups not only in Mexico, but in all of Latin America, she says.
Two and a half years later, Thalia appeared in her first soap opera, then appeared in a touring production of "Grease." She went on to star in "Maria Mercedes" and then "Marimar," soap operas named after her character.
Recently moving her mother into a secluded, hilltop house that she bought in Bel-Air, Thalia has begun shuttling between Mexico City and Los Angeles. She is also taking private English lessons--the better to nab a starring role in a Hollywood movie.
When she does start knocking on Hollywood doors next year, she may be difficult to turn down--coming in with a built-in Latino fan club. Her sales pitch here is not expected to differ much from the one that worked so well in Mexico: sexual fantasy. A recent photo in the widely circulated TV y Novelas , a sort of cross between TV Guide and People, features her wearing a black leather cap and see-through blouse while holding three dog leashes. At the end of the leashes are men on all fours, clad only in their underwear.
"This is the fantasy of every woman--to hold at our feet servile and tame slaves, like in Roman times. And the worse we treat them, the more passionate they become," she says.
Not that her views are universally popular in Mexico. Many radio stations, she says, would not play two tunes from her best-selling CD, "Thalia." The first song, "Saliva," is about a man and a woman getting drunk on champagne and kissing. The other, "A Pact Between the Two," is about a woman being beaten by a man--until she discovers that she was only dreaming.
Critics, she volunteers, decried "Saliva" as overly suggestive, and "Pact" as sadomasochistic.
So were they?
"I don't know. Maybe," she says with a smile and a shrug.
Either way, the controversies have only pushed her popularity forward. And she's importing the formula that worked so well in Mexico to this country.
Thus, she volunteers that, unlike her, American women often tend to be "beautiful but tranquil," lacking the Latina sexiness "that starts in the stomach like a fire, and then explodes out." She likewise offers that she has little use for narcissistic actors who lack true sensuality. Rather, she prefers her boyfriends to be uglier and authentic non-actors with "strong souls."
But she doesn't believe in going out with just one guy at a time, Thalia says. Rather, she prefers being surrounded by up to 10 men.
"I love to know that in all parts of the world, people want me. I need the attention."