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Acting Without Shame: HIV-Focused Bilingual Telenovela Informs and Entertains

An Interview With Actors JM Longoria III and Joanna Zanella

January 16, 2013

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Mathew Rodriguez: From an acting perspective, what was it like to have to do the scenes in both English and Spanish?

Joanna Zanella: We'd have our scripts, and we'd read it in English and in Spanish. My first language is Spanish, so I was more comfortable with it, and would memorize the Spanish lines more easily than I would the English. Sometimes when I'd start a scene with the script in English, Paco'd say "Joanna, do it in Spanish first."

Then we'd do it in Spanish, and he'd say, "OK, now you can do it in English." Because I think I gave him what he wanted exactly in Spanish. I think it's just because my first language is Spanish, and I'd feel more of the novella style of it in that language. And then he'd say, "OK, now do it in English. All of us had our little niches in certain languages, which was fun to see.


JM Longoria III: I know my strength was definitely more in English. Spanish was my first language, and then I went to public school; at home, all we speak is English. I had a little more trouble with Spanish, but luckily I had Joanna, because she's so fluent. I'd ask, you know, "How do I say this?" So, Joanna, thank you for being such a great coach for me.

It's interesting: In a conversation with Paco, one of my roommates, also a director, asked him, "Which of the two was harder for you to edit?" Paco said he had a lot more trouble with the English because we did all the English scenes first, and by the time we did the Spanish, we already were in it, and understood the scene, and where our emotional level should be. It was great.

It's interesting if you watch both languages, because you think you're watching completely different episodes, but it's the same line. The change in language changes it a bit more. It was so much fun, and I'm glad we were able to do it in both languages.

Mathew Rodriguez: Had either of you done any telenovela acting, or anything in that format, before? According to Paco, you guys wanted to pay homage to the genre and update it and make it more accessible, and pay homage to telenovela acting in particular. What did you do to prepare for it?

Joanna Zanella: I had actually worked on a novela when I was 15 years old. Because I come from a very Latin background, and I've always been involved with novelas, I was already kind of used to the novela acting in Spanish; but in English, it's completely different. In Spanish, it's mas pacionado. It's more passionate. There's more feeling, and in English, even though it's the same script, it's not so much like you're being passionate; I would say it's a little more toned down. To me, not that I would struggle, but I always had to keep that in mind, because in Spanish it was a different read than it was in English. Even though it was fun, it was a challenge for me, because I always had to come in and out of both. And I think the same thing happened with JM.

JM Longoria III: Definitely. I had a little more of a struggle in Spanish, because the language itself makes it more passionate in Spanish. So, for me, I felt kind of the opposite: I always felt like I had to tone it down a little bit in Spanish, because I didn't want it to be too aggressive or too overdone.

I did a small pilot back in Austin before I moved out here to L.A. It was called Mundos diferentes. It was a Spanish telenovela about kids in a high school, so that was my first little introduction to it. But it was the same thing: How do you play true to the reality of the scene but pay homage to the telenovela style? It was a little prep for me to do this project.

Mathew Rodriguez: What have you taken away from this whole experience? What changed you during it?

JM Longoria III: I think a few things. As an actor, it's a validation that, when something is meant to be, it's meant to be. As actors, we go into auditions hopefully on a daily basis, and you may not hear anything about some jobs, it may not be you that's chosen -- but when it's meant to be, it's meant to be. I went into this not knowing, and then having talked to the clients afterwards, they said, "The moment we saw your audition tape, we knew you were Enrique."

As far as the project as a whole, I think we have to continue learning and wanting to explore and educate ourselves, and finding out more about HIV and STDs [sexually transmitted diseases]. I thought I was educated, but I'm not, and I'm constantly having to ask Hilda and Natalie: "Is this safe practice? Is that?"

I'm trying to get as much education as I can to put out to the world. To be that voice. That's what I've taken away, that I had that opportunity to do that.

Joanna Zanella: I agree with JM. You can go into a thousand auditions and you may not get one, or you may get five. But, when it's written for you, there's no way on Earth to get away. When they see you, and it's for you, that's it. You are that character.

Also, working with Eliana, and Daniel: They are such amazing actors. It was such an experience. They're just so passionate about what they do that it made me become a better actress, as well. It made me step it up and say, "Oh my God, I have to bring my A game, because everyone's an A game here." It also made me realize that with every character, you have to learn about that character's life. And I'm glad that I was able to ask Hilda and Natalie everything about Christina's life.

Mathew Rodriguez is the editorial project manager for and

Follow Mathew on Twitter: @mathewrodriguez.

Copyright © 2013 Remedy Health Media, LLC. All rights reserved.
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This article was provided by TheBody.
See Also
A Series Without Shame: Episodes and Interviews From HIV-Focused Telenovela Sin Vergüenza
13 Moments in Black Celebrity Activism
History's Biggest HIV-Positive Celebrities
More About HIV on Television

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