Written by: Matt Patti | October 13th, 2020
I recently had the opportunity to speak with actresses Carmela Zumbado and Marisol Sacramento about The Wall of Mexico, a film in which they both star. In the movie, a wealthy Mexican-American family builds a wall to stop the impoverished townspeople from stealing their well water, which supposedly has special properties. The film is an inverted look at the American-Mexican relations that exist today and functions as a subtle but effective metaphor about the views of immigration. Below is an abbreviated transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
Matt Patti: What do you think directors Zachary Cotler and Magdalena Zyzak’s inspiration for this film was?
Marisol Sacramento: So Zach is a born-and-bred American, but he is a total expat. He is engaged to a Polish woman named Magdalena even though they both studied in the States. They live in the UK, they live in London, and I just feel like they both, including Zach, love to see things through a kaleidoscope lens. I think they saw what was going on in 2016 with the election and saw how sort of farcical and ridiculous it was and wanted to talk about it, sort of shake things up and look through a different lens. Right, Carmela, don’t you feel like they were kind of very fascinated with the circus element of it?
Carmela Zumbado: Yes, I think since Zach and Magdalena don’t live in the United States, they do have this really beautiful perspective of an observer of our political ecosystem and what is cool is that saying all of this, you would think The Wall of Mexico would be a lot more of an on-the-nose political piece, but it is really not. It is really cool that you are able to gauge their commentary on our current political state in a really artful way that is not necessarily very blatant about what their thoughts are, but a commentary, nonetheless.
MP: Carmela, your character, Ximena seems to have a lack of care for some things, but is also highly intelligent. She seems kind of emotionless and cold at times, but also has some very interesting thoughts. Can you talk about playing this role and if you had any difficulty with her sort of strange persona?
CZ: That is such a great question. It is such a deviation from most of the roles I auditioned for and I think Marisol auditioned for and most Latina actresses in LA audition for. She definitely breaks the stereotype. Actresses like ourselves typically are presented with specific opportunities and she definitely breaks the mold of this stereotype of how Mexican women are really portrayed and seen in films. She doesn’t lead with her sexuality, she doesn’t use that as what defines her necessarily and, yes, she is weird. She is bizarre. She is emotionless, but is also a huge break from stereotyping what Latin women can be. She kind of reminds me of a cyborg or some type of artificial intelligence that deviates from being driven by pure emotion and is driven by your philosophical thought, and what is interesting is she actually reminds me a lot of both of our directors in a really bizarre way. I know they didn’t intend for that to come through, but…
MS: We think both of the directors are Carmela’s character.
CZ: Yes, for sure. I know they didn’t intend for it to be that way, but that is kind of how they are. They are purely thought-based in a really atypical way.
MS: Great, cat’s out of the bag, Carmela, they’re Cyborgs.
CZ: But intentionally.
MP: Following up on that, Carmela, why do you think your character has so many complex theories? Does she have a vivid imagination, or perhaps is she highly educated due to her family’s wealth? What do you think she might represent in real world society?
CZ: I think she’s definitely highly educated due to the privilege of her family’s wealth. That is definitely a byproduct of her life experience. They are an American family, so they are Mexican-American, so they have had plenty of opportunities to go off to school and travel to Europe and read incredible literature and so that is kind of a culmination of how she has been able to live because of her wealth.
MP: Marisol, your character of Tanya is very seductive, cunning and a little exploitative, especially with the groundskeeper, Donovan. Can you talk about your experience in playing the character?
MS: Originally, they had me audition for the part that Carmela played, Ximena. Echoing what Carmela said, the industry is changing rapidly, and for the better. We don’t get roles like this. They do lean more towards Latinas as a side character, someone who is very sexy or maybe someone who is very much from the street, not that those stories don’t exist. This was so fun and I asked them if I could read for this character just because I haven’t had someone who is so devious and so decadent, just like a poetic sort of nihilist, and I love that. If I can say so myself, she is not very much like me. So, I just really, really wanted to play someone who wore tons of makeup and did tons of cocaine, because I don’t do that in real life that much, so it was a bit of a stretch and I felt a little intimidated by it, by how she carries herself with such confidence, but I hope I did okay.
MP: So bouncing off of that, the sexuality of Tanya and the sexual tension between her and Donovan is very prevalent in the film. What do you think the directors meant to represent with that?
MS: Well, I think that both directors are fascinated by the power of a woman. I think that they love to explore the body in a way that doesn’t feel shameful and I think Tanya is not ashamed of her slight lack of intelligence compared to her sister and not ashamed of what she wants to do, like a man, like she wants to do whatever she wants and it doesn’t matter. She wants to, like, lick tequila out of Don’s mouth, she wants to keep you stunned for five minutes and then she wants to move on and kind of hurt Tony. She gets to do exactly what she wants to do without worrying about being a lady or trying to do things the “right way.”
MP: These sisters have some really interesting conversations between each other about society. Do you think that even though their family is rich they wonder maybe what it is like to be in a lower class or do you think that it makes them feel powerful to think about those who are less fortunate?
CZ: Yeah, I definitely think they are fascinated by that dynamic and by a world that they will never truly understand, but can attempt to and theoretically understand, but also take some type of delight in the fact that they are not of that world and I think they are amused by the dynamic between the different class systems and what we as humans can observe from these ideological constructs that tend to physically separate us, as well. It is another type of wall; it is another type of barrier and I think that they are intrinsically fascinated by that.
MS: Yeah, I feel like Ximena is much more sort of looking at it in a petri dish. I feel like Tanya sort of deals with it in a liminal way, like sometimes if Don gets within her orbit, she’ll turn, and then think about them and be like, “Oh my gosh, these people are different than us, they are not as smart as us or as attractive as us, oh, let me go run over here and put on a hat.” I think that Ximena drives the thought and maybe brings Tanya to her world of wonder when it comes to other people.
MP: This film has a ton of metaphorical aspects in regard to immigration, poverty and sharing wealth. Do you think that this film will give some viewers a new perspective on immigration?
CZ: I think yes, without telling you what to think. I think the visuals in this film and the things you are able to grasp, not only just the writing and the thoughts that are provoked, it’s done in a way, where it’s not, like I said before, it is not on the nose, I don’t think it is preachy. So, you could enjoy the film, expand your mind in the sense where you might be thinking about things you’ve never thought of before, especially with an inversion of a wealthy Mexican-American family that has white laborers and different inversions that are common motifs in the film, can make you see things from a different perspective without telling you that you should.
MS: Yeah, that is well said. I think it is really hard to change hearts and minds and I think the type of person who is coming to see our film, you know it’s in an indie vein and hard to get to so it might be sort of a likeminded audience. Immigration, I think, is about territory, it’s about protecting your territory, protecting what you have from other people who want to take it from you. That is the negative connotation of it. I just think this family is fighting for something and fighting against the other and the people on the other side of the wall are really trying to get in and get what this family has. It just shows you the elements of the human experience like how we want to better ourselves for our families and it shows you both sides and it shows you a beautiful Mexican-American family and I really love that. I love that perspective.
MP: Carmela, this goes along with what we were talking about earlier with your character Ximena. Most of America likely knows you from Netflix’s hit show, You. Your character, Delilah, on that show is quite different than Ximena in The Wall of Mexico and I think it really shows your range that you could play both characters. Which character do you think you resonate more with?
CZ: I definitely resonate more with Delilah because I am the oldest of 3 sisters and so that protective, fiery nature really was not a true deviation from how I am with my two younger sisters, and I just channeled my relationship with my sisters into how I was able to act opposite Jenna Ortega. But I also really adore and appreciate the sister dynamic that Ximena and Tanya share because I remember in the audition process how the directors explained to us the dynamic of these two symbiotic entities that kind of exist in the way that you do with perhaps your dog, where you just sometimes don’t even need an exchange of words, but you have this incredibly comfortable relationship with each other because you are physically within the same vicinity of each other, but also mentally sharing a space, kind of how you are with your dog. It is somebody you could be as close as possible to without needing to exchange words and there is just a beautiful shared understanding of each other’s attentions and I definitely relate to Tanya and Ximena’s dynamic in that sense too.
MP: Great comparison. Thank you for that. What do you think that the special well water at the center of the film represents in American society?
CZ: To me, it is that anything can be made to seem like something that it is not. It is a matter of where your mental tenacity can take you as far as believing something that is a myth or illusion. Once you have fully accepted something as a belief it is no longer an illusion anymore, it can become reality and maybe that is what it is for the American dream. I think you can come here and achieve greatness and achieve opportunity, but as we see with so many immigrant families who flee dire living conditions, they come here and are treated as subhuman and there is nothing dream-like about that. So, in a sense, to some people, it can be an illusion, it can be something that is so hard to attain and at the same time a more beautiful, perfect reality to other people. So, it is really a matter of perception, a matter of circumstance and a matter of situation and I truly wish we were able to provide anybody seeking asylum or anybody trying to come live “the American dream” with nothing short of relief, and we don’t do that as a country currently and it is a huge problem.
MS: That was perfect. I agree completely: it is just a messed-up paradise. Things here are really difficult for all levels of socio-economics, everyone is feeling the hurt, but especially people who try to come here, and try not only to improve themselves but improve our country.
MP: Awesome, thank you both for those interesting answers and for agreeing to do this interview. I appreciate your time.
MS: Thanks so much. It was an honor for both of us.
CZ: Thank you for watching the film.
MP: Best of luck with the release. I hope everything goes well; I hope a lot of people see the film. I think it is very interesting and I think it will raise a lot of eyebrows and raise a lot of questions.