The New Lead: Daniela Vega

The New Lead: Daniela Vega

Chilean star Daniela Vega is redefining 'Fantastic.'

Chilean star Daniela Vega is redefining 'Fantastic.'

Photography: Max Papendieck

Styling: Rebecca Dennett

Text: MATHIAS ROSENZWEIG

This article appears in the pages of V111 on newsstands now and available to order at vmagazineshop.com

In a powerful role as protagonist Marina in A Fantastic Woman, Daniela Vega harvests the fertile artistic grounds that lie at the intersection of human identity, desire for love, and indefatigable resilience. Her character, a transgender singer and waitress living in Chile, suffers both an emotional and physical beating after her significantly older lover Orlando (Francisco Reyes) dies suddenly of an aneurism, leaving authorities and Orlando’s family suspicious and hateful of Marina. It’s arguably one of the most compelling depictions of the human condition seen on the silver screen in years, and Vega is now being pegged as the first transgender actress likely to win an Oscar.

This performance stems both from Vega’s talent and her ability to relate to her character. “I would say that experience is actually fundamental and essential when it comes to giving life to a specific character in a movie,” Vega says about her portrayal of Marina. “By experience, I mean my experience as a person in life, not in terms of how many movies I have been in.” For the record, this is Vega’s second film (the first being The Guest). She began acting in 2011, but until recently, she was mostly seen on stage. Despite being a relative big-screen newcomer, she delivers like a long-time pro. “I think [this is] one of the reasons why we’re so surprised when we see children acting, because you think to yourself, How are they capable of expressing all of these feelings and putting them all into acting?”

Vega relates to her character in ways beyond just gender identity. Importantly to her, they’re both singers—Vega learned to use her voice primarily from her grandmother. “She was blind, and one of the things she helped me with was creating an image from sound,” Vega recalls fondly. “She taught me that sound actually has texture and you can associate it with an image.” Rather than using a voice-over, Vega does all of her own singing in the film, toying with the line between the actress and the character she plays—a boundary that director Sebastián Lelio regularly blurs throughout the movie.

Standing on the right side of history, it’s tempting to downplay Vega’s gender identity and focus on her craft, which is visceral, raw, and bone-chilling in a way that may be life-changing for certain viewers. We want to say, “Why does she have to be labeled a trans actress and not just an actress?” In Vega’s case, the reason seems clear: To do so would be to pretend that the battle has already been won and that trans people don’t face issues that cis individuals will never have to.

Vega is more than happy to discuss the relation between the LGBT+ community and the arts. “I think, basically, what’s happening is we are coming out of a very dark period in mankind,” she explains. “Art is the actual vehicle to get us out of there. In Chile, and many other countries in the world, trans individuals live on the edge of society for the most part. And some of us, like me, have been lucky enough to be in the spotlight, to become the center of other people’s attention.”

She does, however, distinguish between her role as a trans artist and the influence this may have in the political realm. “The thing about this is that I feel a lot of love coming towards me from every individual—not just the LGBT community, from everyone,” she says. “But I don’t really feel quite like a role model, because truly, I am an artist, I am not an activist.”

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