Monday, August 17, 2009

Latina masters several media platforms

A Jack of All Trades; Hollywood's Lidia Pires, flying high under the radar
Al Carlos Hernandez

Lidia Pires may not be a name you recognize but she has been a recognizable face on numerous international TV commercials, network TV programs and more than ten feature films. She is most recently featured as one of the stars in the cross-over heist film Ladron que Roba a Lardron. There is no doubt that she will flirt with A- List notoriety in her upcoming feature, the comedic romp, Lean Like a Cholo.

In a time of media myopia and typecasting, Lidia is a transcendent Latina, a jack of all trades, an artistic multi-talented chameleon who can reinvent herself through many genres while mastering several media platforms.

She has worked as a model, writer, script doctor, producer, PR executive, and on-air host. She is a painter as well as a successful casting and production associate. Lidia says that acting is her first love and she can say it in three languages: English, Spanish and Portuguese. Ever active and engaged with the world around her, she takes time to give back to the community

Pires tells LatinoLA:

I was born in Asuncion, Paraguay but at the age of two my father joined the United Nations. We started to travel and we lived all over the world. I was raised in numerous different countries.

Growing up in many cultures has enriched me in many ways. I was an only child and that thrust me into situations I had to face alone. I was extremely shy and realized that either I retreated with my uniqueness or I had to learn to observe, absorb, and transform myself into one of "them" so as to fit in with the crowd. I found that the latter worked best.

I am completely bilingual. I think in English when I speak/write in English and in Spanish when I speak/write Spanish. When I was six my parents put me in a painting class that was offered at the Museum of Fine Arts in Rio de Janeiro. My artistic side was born.

I always loved film; nothing compares to immersing myself in other people's lives. I am inspired by Kathryn Hepburn. Her life on and off screen touched me in a personal way. I was enthralled by the hugeness of film, both on a physical and emotional scale. I approached my parents to tell them of my desire to enter the acting world. They were appalled so I took a secretarial course and travelled back to my country.

Started my working career in Paraguay and joined an advertising agency as its public relations liaison. From there I joined a production company as producer. Television production there, at that time, was in its infancy. To get something done you had to be a jack-of-all-trades. There I became friends with a marketing director. He convinced me to have a renowned photographer take some photos of me. My modeling career was born.

Through modeling, a production company approached me to be in one of their commercials. Since I was very vocal about what could be done to improve it, they hired me to produce. Hence my production and sort of acting career were born. At the time there were only two production companies and the industry was really in its infancy. So you ended up being in charge of pretty much everything. You had to scout locations, you had to find props, you had to cast the commercial, you had to feed the people, pick them up and take them back, you had to light it, you almost had to film it too! There were no demarcations of "this is your job and this is mine" or any hierarchy.

I remained in Paraguay for two years. I had difficulties adapting to the way things were done. I'd come from New York (my father's last post in the United Nations) so the adjustments were hard, plus I really loved New York. The city fascinated me. It offered so much. The museums, the parks, the theater, the foreign-films, everything that excited me was there. So there I returned.

When I moved from NY to Miami, I was a fish out water. There's a very different attitude, so when I was offered a job in Los Angeles I jumped at it. And here is where I found the happiest of mediums. Everything is so geared to the entertainment business and most everybody in the business understands what you need.

In LA I was offered a job as a producer where I produced commercials (both local and international), a worldwide documentary, and a movie in Venezuela.

I liked working in commercials as a producer for their quick turn around and variety. What did not satisfy me much was that I did not have much creative input in them.

Documentaries are a labor of love. I compare them to raising a child because you put in a lot of time and money and you just hope that maybe they will go out into the world and do good. At the time I was doing TV production it was incredibly time consuming. Now it is all high tech. I loved them all in their own way.

I started producing independently and had a program Gems Spa on Gems Television (a US based international network) where I also served as its host. I also produce a local access program Entre Amigas where I am again one of the hosts. Gems Spa came about through a contact in Miami that was looking for programs for Gems Television. I didn't have a concept at that time but turned to my producing partner to find a subject matter that was accessible, of interest, and feasible to get permits quickly. We headed off to Dessert Hot Springs for a story on one of its spas.

It was so quickly done that one of the hosts had to be me. We sent it to the programming person explaining that we were going to replace me as host. She called saying that she would purchase a season for the network and wanted me in it. So now I was producer and host. Since we travelled with a very small crew I found that producing and hosting was challenging indeed.

Recognition (for I have no fame) has been wonderful. Though I don't get it often, when someone approaches me and treats me as if they know me because I have been in a tiny part of their day, it is incredibly rewarding.

As an actress I am partial to film. I like the process; the minuteness of the shots and the immensity of the result. I like to see how so many can work so well toward one result. Almost like observing an ant farm or a mass of freeways intertwining.

Stage has my full respect because I tend toward stage-fright and have had to overcome it. I started doing theater in school and then continued in Spain with an experimental group that went to little towns and set up in the town plaza. I like that you can form a true bond with your fellow actors. I like the immediacy of the response. It’s almost like a rollercoaster where you go, "Wow, what a ride!" I would add, "I'm so glad it's done," and then, "Let's go again!"

I like TV hosting if I have creative/writing input, but that rarely happens in the real world. I was fortunate to have that when I did.

There is no escaping that fact when you look at me, I am a Latina actress, and I am proud of that. I like to think of myself as one of those wise Latinas that Justice Sotomayor refered to. I have been fortunate due to the fact that I'm good at adopting other cultures and accents.

I have played roles where ethnicity does not take a prominent role but there is a lot more that can be done. In real life we are placed more and more in pivotal positions where we just happen to be a minority - not because of it. However, the television and film world has been slow and reluctant to recognize that. The tides are changing with the advent of digital which makes it economically possible for minorities to create roles for themselves that do not fall into stereotypes. Ultimately, I have no problem in being hired because I am a Latina and I am choosing a lot of projects that show us in a good light as with Rollout!, Flights of Fancy, and Divina Crane.

I may be falling into a cliche here, but because of the nature of the business and its unreliability as to steady roles, I consider each acting experience "big" and give it great importance.

The first time that I was on set as an actor in a commercial and had the luxury to shed my producer hat was huge. The first time I was in a major film on theater screens in the United States and worldwide was huge. The first time I stepped into a town square and conquered my stage fright was huge. I love drama so, as an actress, I tend to gravitate to those roles, but some directors have discovered my comedic timing and are willing to pursue that as well.

I have a knack for seeing in some people what others don't. A friend of mine, Rosalinda Morales, has her own company, Far More Casting & Production, and was getting extremely busy at one point and - knowing my involvement in the industry - brought me in as the casting associate in a few projects. We worked well together so continued working in many others.

I look for honesty in an actor. I don't want to question who they are when they are in character. If you can hook me by provoking a strong reaction in me with a writer's line you will have me as a fan for life. As a casting director I look to see if you have respect for your craft and the auditioning process is very important. With that comes being on time, and having the sides and the headshot if requested. Knowing the etiquette in the process and the ground rules is important as well. Come rested, and if frazzled or tired, make sure it doesn't show.

In casting there are always scripts that come into our hands. In reading them I started correcting and giving notes to the writers. That started another side career which I enjoy almost as much: script analyst and copy editor. Since I am fully bilingual (English/Spanish) and knowledgeable of the way people say things and what words they use in different countries and regions, I segued into translating and doctoring scripts as well.

Again, chance and luck played a substantial role. We received a short film script that I thought had great value as a story but needed a lot of adjustments. I asked the filmmaker if he wouldn't mind if I gave him some notes. Since he welcomed them, I gave them to him and from then on, through word of mouth I have done so with many others.

I am a firm believer that not only as a human, but as double-minority, a Latina woman, I have to give back to my community. My way of doing so is by volunteering. I have volunteered with The Flying Samaritans going to remote towns in Mexico and being the interpreter between the patients and the doctors who come from the U.S. I have recorded newspapers articles for a service the Braille Institute offers, as well as textbooks that another organizations offer. My indigenous roots brought me to the Native American Voices program at the Autry and I am very involved with their Young Native American Playwrights Mentorship Program.

I have various projects coming up such as Flights of Fancy, a film written by Diana Lesmez and based on the true story of world renowned, Dr. Ricardo Saca –an inmigrant from El Salvador; Divina Crane, a webisode based on a psychologist who works as a social worker in the inner city (a Latina) along with a detective appointed by the Governor’s office (a Native American); Walking on Turtle Island, a TV series on Iktomi (the trickster) in the Lakota world; Rollout!, a feature film based on the true story of handball coach Tony Huante who, for two decades, mentored East LA kids, ultimately producing several national pro champions.

You can also see me in the soon to be released feature film Lean Like a Cholo, a movie directed by Demetrius Navarro (ER). The film is starring Kilo (aka Down) a rapper who had the hit "Lean Like a Cholo." I play the role of Kilo's mom. Demetrius, Kilo's real life son, Valente Rodriguez (George Lopez show), and Erlinda Orozco's mom is my role as well. My husband is played by Rick Najera (Latinologues).

What I do get is recognition as one of the few Paraguayan actors to be part of SAG and AFTRA. For that I am grateful. I have been able to represent my country well.

It has given me the opportunity to let budding filmmakers in my country know that the film business in the United States is in fact open to all who are willing to put the training and effort into it.

As for me, I want to be have the traits of a chameleon; always adapting and changing, hopefully for the better. I want to work in this magical world of entertainment until my very last breath.

If I were to leave a legacy it would be that I wish that I have touched someone's heart in some way. I hope that perhaps I've instilled a work and life ethic with which I have been able to achieve many goals. That being a minority shouldn't stop us and, on the contrary, make us better. Our essence and character is judged in how we take our life journeys and not so much as to where we reach. I hope they say she took the journey well, enjoyed it all the way and planted so many seeds along the road that we are blessed with the shade from these tall trees thanks to her.

My advice would be to not be stifled by the preconceived notion that because of being a double minority (a woman and a Latina) we have the odds stacked against us. Prepare yourself through training and read as much as possible in the branch of the arts you want to concentrate on, stay on top of the latest developments, and forge ahead! If we put our minds, our hearts, our efforts to it... si se puede! Yes, we can do it.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for such a wonderful & insightful journey of a life in Hollywood! Latinas like Ms. Pires have a voice we need to hear & appreciate the never ending struggle of the Hollywood entertainer. This article captures her unique & diverse route to the mecca of film & television as well as the many hats one has to learn to survive. Thank you Mr. Hernandez & Mr. Perez for the chance to read such a wonderful journey!