An Interview with Jac Avila, Star and Producer of Olalla
by Mike Haberfelner
Your new movie Olalla – in a few words, what is it about, and what can you tell us about your character in it?
Olalla is based in the story written by Robert Louis Stevenson, it tells the gothic tale of Olalla and her ancient family who need human blood to survive and live long. Olalla cannot control her urges, paying a heavy price for it. A hundred years later her daughter, also named Olalla, seems to be headed for the same destiny.
Felipe is a bit “victorian” in his behavior and outlook of life; he suffered the tragic loss of his sister/lover (the first Olalla) a century before, so he’s very concerned about his niece’s lack of control
What did you draw upon to bring your character to life, and how much of Jac Avila can we find in Felipe?
Playing Felipe was not a very difficult character for me to play. All I had to do is play the opposite of me. I’m fairly liberal open minded, sort of permissive in many ways. By becoming a hard ass, strict to the extreme kind of gentleman, I projected something I wasn’t, which scared and freaked out Amy [Amy Hesketh interview – click here] during the scenes where I beat and rape her. She was pleasantly surprised in a gross kind of way.
How did the project fall together in the first place, and who actually found the Robert Louis Stevenson story this is based on in the first place? And were you set to play Felipe from the get-go actually?
Amy had the story for some time, after she directed Barbazul and Le Marquis de la Croix, she was looking for her next story and she came up with Olalla, a story she read a while ago, she’s into gothic novels since childhood. I thought it was a very good subject for her fourth movie.
We were not planning to shoot it before other projects we had in pre-production, it was in the back burner, as they say, but a friend of ours, Rodrigo, who wrote his thesis on another of my movies, Martyr, was very insistent about us going to see his house. He kept saying that we would love it. So one day we decided to go and pay him a visit.
When we walked in we knew, immediately that we found Olalla’s house. We brought the script to the front. We also needed a hacienda for the “old times” part of the story and Amy had found a place in Potosi that fit the bill. I went there to see it and talk to the owners. It was perfect in every sense and a deal was made.
Amy and I had already decided to play the roles of Olalla and Felipe and we also Mila in mind for Ofelia, in fact, we had the entire cast in place for some time except for two of the characters and the extras. And again, Rodrigo came to rescue introducing us to Luis Almanza, and through him, we met Christian Del Rio. It all came together like that.
Alejandro played the young priest in Maleficarum, and a handsome soldier in Dead But Dreaming. He is a Delon type, for those familiar with French cinema, and I needed a handsome younger version of me, much younger of course, at least 100 years younger. So Alejandro was the inevitable choice. There’s also the fact that he asked me to play an older, handsome version of himself for a short film he was making back then, and I did. So, I can say that it worked well.
I gave him some tips about what I normally do to bring out certain attitudes to my character, head movements, eyes fixing in something specific point when talking to someone, the way I smile and why. Things like that. We had a hairdresser in the set to give him the proper hair look, his hair is very straight, mine, in the other hand, is kind of wavy in a sexy kind of way.
What were the main issues with Olalla from a producer’s point of view?
The look of the movie was important, the locations, the sets, the costumes, and so on. So organizing the shoot of the far off location was the most difficult, we had to go there, a 12 hour trip by bus, stay there for 1 week, shoot everything during that week, find local extras, lots of them, and two young girls to play the younger versions of Olalla and Ofelia.
My very first task after we settle in the hacienda in Cayara, was to go to the city of Potosí, 30 min. away by car, to meet our fixer. I was eager to find out about the extras and the two girls. There were plenty of extras lined up but there weren’t any girls. Panic! To give me some relief, the fixer mentioned that a friend of his was coming to meet with us and that he had a daughter. I waited. Patiently. The friend arrived and showed me the picture of his daughter, it was amazing, she looked a lot like Mila Joya, very pretty, tall, and a deadly serious look in her eyes. I told him to take his daughter to the set next day. I felt we found our young Ofelia, but was pretty much worried about our young Olalla.
As arranged, our man in Potosí brought his daughter to the location, along with a younger daughter of his. To our utter surprise, the second daughter looked a lot like Amy! It was amazing to say the least. The first morning of the production we had everything in place.
This time I took a stronger role as a producer, she did her part of course, especially in the production design of the movie, but I did the actual producing from day one. We work very well together, we trust each other professionally, that is very important. She can direct without the stress of not knowing how things are going outside the set. And it’s the same when I direct, although I’m a more troublesome director, doing unexpected things all the time and driving people crazy, particularly Amy, like in Dead But Dreaming.
She’s a good director, very calm and sure of what she wants, so I don’t have to second-guess anything.
What can you tell us about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
The first part of the shoot, at the house in La Paz, was a breeze, we had everything there, no rush, we could work at an easy pace, reasonable hours, break for tea, which is a must, and so on. At the end of the day we all went home and were basically happy all the time.
There was one awful event, however, when our Cinematographer was assaulted one night, he ended up in the hospital with a broken jaw, we had to stop the production for a few weeks.
The far off location was another matter. We had to take a very long bus ride to Potosí, and then another one to Cayara, with all the cast, crew, equipment, costumes, props, particularly a three meters tall cross that we had to manage to fit in the buses. The journey didn’t start well. I tripped, fell on a cobblestone terminal, hurt my knee, badly, and my thumb and I was in pain all the way to Potosí in the bus. Hell on wheels.
We got there, I’m in pain, and the very first day, after the happy encounter with the girls, we started shooting scenes with a donkey on loan from a villager, and this donkey was not exactly very cooperative, perhaps he was camera shy or something, and at one point the beast of burden actually dragged Amy a few meters over a rocky ground. She was badly hurt, but not enough to stop the production. But it was truly scary.
After those two horrible events, everything else went smoothly, our cast and crew were very efficient, the people at the location were fantastic, the owner actually had a crew build the cross for us at not cost, in front of the chapel, an amazing gesture. Fantastic.
All the normal difficulties with the shooting were balanced with a great attitude, camaraderie, and professionalism in the part of everyone in the set. Even the village dog became a very professional extra, repeating his action, which was basically attacking the priest, the same way in every take. Impressive.
We have some very amazing comments already, as well as your review. Some fans are emailing us, telling us how impressed they are with the film. Dean Andersson, the writer, had a great comment on FB: Yes, it’s amazing. Just when I thought Vampire films had exhausted the approaches they could take, Jac Avila did DEAD BUT DREAMING and now Amy Hesketh has done OLALLA. Both are unique and both renew my faith in this powerful subject..
It’s still too soon to know how everyone thinks but we have great expectations. I think it’s making an impact. We still have to see the audience and critic reaction to the theatrical release in January.
Any future projects you’d like to share?
We have a few projects in the backburner, the place where Olalla was long ago, and we might be having the same experience in finding the location that will propel the next project. One will be directed by me, De Sade’s Justine, yes, a new version of the famous story by the famous writer, my version this time, a very free adaptation of the legendary drama about the virtuous woman who only finds horror in her walk through life.
I’m also writing a very particular version of Pygmalion, the Bernard Shaw play, Amy will be directing that movie, we’ll both be acting in it, of course, I’ll be none other than Professor Higgins, teaching Eliza (Mila Joya) how to behave like a lady.
There’s also Aventura, a very clever action film that will be directed by Erix, who plays Bruno in Olalla.
Your/your movie’s website, Facebook, whatever else?
Anything else you are dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
I’m very sad that a great critic and admirer of our work passed away recently. He was becoming a good friend and confidant as well, we felt his encouragement all the time, he saw things in our work that most people have a hard time seeing or simply overlook. His last words to me came in an email, a month before he left us, he said: Dear Jac, Hope Amy is enjoying her down time and gathering her strength. Your editing approach translates her directorial vision into a digestible format for mainstream audiences. I’m sure this will be a plus. With what you have in the pipeline, you are operating at a level of pure inspiration not seen globally in decades. It promises to be one winner after the other. Charles
We can only hope, that those kind words will become fulfilled prophesies.
Thanks for the interview!