Newcomer America Ferrera and veteran Lupe Ontiveros star as mother and daughter in “Real Women Have Curves,” which won several awards at Sundance this year and will be released Friday. When we caught up with them, they’d just returned from the San Sebastian International Film Festival in Spain.
In the film, your relationship is pretty contentious, yet in real life you get along so well. Was it tough switching back and forth?
Ontiveros: I’m the kind of actor that walks away from the character once I have done it. If I have to be distasteful to her, I do it at the time it is called upon. If I would have been nasty to her in real life, she is a young lady and impressionable, and she would have been uncomfortable with me. I would kid her, call her gordita [little fat one] now and then. She was short like me, and we are both big-boobed -- that was a requirement -- and rebellious, so she was perfect.
Ferrera: Our relationship off screen is what made the relationship on screen work. We trusted each other. We tested each other to see how far we could go.
This movie is about celebrating women with plenty of meat on their bones. Are you sending a message to all the girls reading Vogue, thinking they have to look like Kate Moss?
Ontiveros: I think to some degree we have to break those barriers and say, “Be who you are in spite of cultural, religious barriers in front of you.” I live life to the fullest. But there is a certain behavior seniors have to follow because of the attitude in this country toward age.
In Europe and Latin America people who are middle-aged are respected. Here, if you go to a nightclub people look at you saying, “What are you doing here? You should be in a retirement home.” In Spain ... the DJ [in the nightclub] remembered me because I had gone there so many times.
Ferrera: [The obsession with youth and being thin] is so apparent in our society. It’s in everything we do. The magazines we read, the diet pills, the exercise machines, the clothes we buy. It’s like a cult where we are encouraging everybody to look the same and think the same.
Ontiveros: We are a product of the malicious culture that has set itself on young ladies because of the image that is portrayed in films and magazines. Like the Britney Spears look. If she were chunky, would she be as popular as she is? Everything has to do with inhibitions -- maybe they are not taboos, but they do tell you do not take your clothes off unless you have something beautiful to show.
America, tell me about filming the scene where you strip down to your underwear and bra at work ...
Ferrera: Exactly what the audience feels, that is what I felt. At first they are scared. They think, “What are you doing?” But then they have fun. At first I was looking at myself from the outside. It was nerve-racking at first, but then we had a great time. I saw myself with different eyes and a greater appreciation of myself. When you watch the scene, the bodies are the last things you look at.... You see people. It’s a celebration.