Talking women in the genre, onscreen violence, the cathartic power of horror and more with Chilean model, actress and “Trauma” star Ximena del Solar.
Trauma has found fans far and wide who appreciate extreme cinema, a brand that director Lucio A. Rojas has continued to bring. Continuing along this journey is Ximena del Solar. The talented, beautiful, well educated actress and model from Chile has been a part of some terrifying pieces of horror; willing to endure some brutal onscreen confrontations. Recently it was announced she will also expand her professional resume, co-creating a segment with Rojas for the upcoming extreme horror anthology, ILL.
We were thrilled to have Ximena sit down and answer some questions, helping us celebrate Women In Horror this month.
Note, there may be a few spoilers for TRAUMA in this interview. So, if you haven’t seen this shocking, brutal tale of political and sexual abuse, I urge you to check it out (available now on DVD, Blu-ray and digital streaming) — then come back here to read this provocative and in-depth interview with the wonderful Ximena del Solar.
INTERVIEW WITH XIMENA DEL SOLAR
1. First of all, how did you prepare for your role in Trauma, which is such a powerful film?
I think that more than being 100% prepared is rather being 100% willing to face what a role like this entails. Let me explain myself: some of the experiences of Julia’s character (and other actresses and actors, by the way) depended a lot on the moment in which everyone involved in a certain scene managed to perform as a team.
The violent nature of some scenes in Trauma, as well as others of great intensity (like the lesbian scene), required keeping some of the naturalness for the moment of the shooting itself. So there were theoretical discussions and some choreographic planning, but without reaching the extreme and without developing the performance itself.
The previous preparation, before starting the shooting, included some days of group script reading (victims and villains in separate teams) with Lucio. There, the girls read and analyzed real psychological reports of rape cases perpetrated during the military dictatorship, as well as other cases without political factors involved.
We also shared personal experiences that contributed with more personal points of view on the topics that we had to address later as a team. Sadly, we all had our own experiences of abuse to tell, so we used that experience to reinforce the script’s treatment and the psychology of the characters.
2. Trauma is the third film created by Lucio A. Rojas that you have been featured in. What does he bring to a movie set that makes you comfortable enough to return and perform in these tense, violent films?
Well, I’ve known Lucio for many years. The reason was precisely our mutual love for genre films and horror. I feel that Lucio is developing today a very solid career and that he has managed to surround himself with very good elements, talented and capable people. I know his personal progress, and until now I have been able to have access to his ideas since they are a seed that germinates in his head. We are very different people, but we have managed to get creative together. My work, therefore, goes beyond the acting role I play in his films (especially in Trauma). No doubt we have common interests and we complement each other well when it comes to creatively discussing the ideas.
3. Was there any questions on the level of brutality in the script from yourself or anyone else on Trauma?
Yes, there were questions and the need to talk and understand elements related to such brutality. Catalina Martin, the main actress, raised the question of “Why” killing a baby, for example (too much spoiler, maybe? Sorry for that!).
I remember when Lucio told me that he added the bite on the cheek of the character of Magdalena (played by Dominga Bofill), I just cried (I’m not kidding, I imagined it and my soul hurt). That scene already seemed too hard for me to incorporate the cannibal element. As a director, Lucio is able to cross very complex borders, as you can see. And, well, he managed to convince us all — and we launched into the madness holding his hand!
Many things were discussed, but we finally agreed to portray violence as never before in Chilean cinema. We all assume the challenge. In that sense, I am particularly impressed by the work of our male colleagues who played roles that distilled so much evil.
4. What do you say to people that believe these types of films promote violence, especially among women?
That is a very complex question. I suppose there are as many points of view as people and sensibilities. As an actress and model, I have seen myself in a position to be able to represent hard and even violent concepts through art. Undoubtedly, art is a tool that allows us to channel in a positive way primitive pulses that beat inside. But sometimes I wonder what happens to individuals who, for various reasons, fail to find a healthy mode of expression for those drives.
I absolutely defend the freedom of the creators, and I am really afraid of the possibility that someone could imitate a movie to commit a crime or a felony. I think that, rather, the cinema takes inspiration from reality to recreate situations by means of an aesthetic placed at the service of an ethic. The possibility that Trauma promotes violence towards women only by its trailer has been discussed. Well, I refuse completely to accept that partial vision of our work. If you see the whole movie, you understand that despite the brutality, there is no encouragement to praise the acts of violence portrayed in it.
I understand that the fantasized mentality of a teenager can be bombarded by the stimuli of cinema, advertising, TV, comics, etc. But families cannot evade their responsibility to educate within a framework of love and responsibility in the face of their own actions. And I feel that is what is failing today, the delivery of values and emotional support. That the cinema shows it does not make it responsible.
I refuse to imagine that a person becomes a murderer, for example, just because he/she saw it on a screen. I tend to think that this drive and imbalance are already lodged in his/her head beforehand. I myself have watched many violent movies, and I even participate in one with Trauma. Ask me if I have a criminal record!
Well, the worrying thing is people who do not know how to find a means of expression and live in a total of lack emotional support. Therein lies the problem: mental health, education, social welfare.
5. The scene in Trauma where the characters of Juan and his son attack the group of you at the villa is truly disturbing and uncomfortable; you are incredibly successful at portraying sheer terror. What was that particular scene like to shoot? How many takes until you achieved what was needed?
That is because I felt sheer terror.
The hardest scene of rape and aggression inside the women’s house was carried out in a very theatrical way. We shot for two night, without interruptions or cuts and with two cameras rolling permanently, just for that scene. The challenge was giant. Get to enter and fully believe the state of dementia and terror that was generated when all the characters develop our part. For that particular scene there was no need to repeat any takes. The director selected all the material necessary to compose the final record. If you could watch it or hear it, it would shock you. Almost half an hour of uninterrupted registration, for each night, full of aggression, insults, screams and pain. It was impressive.
When we finally finished that scene I had to cry for a while to calm myself down and take out the anguish I had inside. My approach as an actress is to faithfully convince myself about the truth of the situation the character faces. That scene was one of the hardest for me because Julia lives it from a total impotence and faces a crushing vision of reality that fractures all its security and self-esteem.
In my head, for a time, I simply lived that situation as the only existing reality. It’s my way of working emotion as an actress. And, well, the men’s team did a perfect job on their own. That was the first time we faced each other on the set. Some things were improvising on the fly because they were reactions that naturally sprang up.
6. Besides acting, you are also very photogenic and model for photographs. When did you begin to act? To model?
I always liked acting, from school. For some it’s hard to believe, but at that youthful stage of my life, I was too shy to dare to study Interpretation (acting) as a serious career. So I opted to follow a more formal course. But deep down, I knew that I needed to channel that passion in some way. I’ve finally been able to do that as an adult, by preparing myself with different teachers and learning to always trust my own intuition.
During my university stage, I discovered that in Photography and Modeling, there was a space that allowed me to develop interpretive skills in a more intimate and safe way. I started experimenting with that side, and with time I started putting together a very interesting portfolio. After finishing my university studies, I went to live for 5 years in Spain (Barcelona). There I finished polishing that talent, although the formal studies of Interpretation were done when I returned to Chile.
7. What did you study while in University?
I have a degree in Linguistics from the University of Santiago de Chile (USACH). This preparation simultaneously included the study of two foreign languages. In my case, English and Japanese. It is very beautiful to study other languages. It gives you a much wider dimension of the different visions of the world that implies an X culture, specially if it differs that much from yours. Nowadays, I have mostly forgotten my knowledge of Japanese, and I give more use to my English skills.
8. I see that we share a love for the classic film, The Exorcist. What is it about this film that that makes you enjoy it so much?
Well, there are aesthetic aspects of undeniable value such as the wonderful quality of the makeup and the practical effects. But, above all, it is the series of topics that elevates the story — topics that are timeless, like the loss of self confidence, doubts about your true vocation, and feelings of guilt. These are frequent thoughts in daily life and common to all social members. Here they are put to the test in a context of questioning the logic and forcing the individual to take refuge in the faith.
All the performances are great, too! Very realistic. More than the striking aspects such as green vomit, or the head that rotates in 360 degrees, what guides me the most is the whole context of seriousness that develops around this extraordinary phenomenon that is the possession itself. I need to mention Music, Sound Design and Photography, too. What can I say? It’s a wonderful movie (which I still attribute some of my worst nightmares to).
9. What are some other horror films that you admire?
Oh, there are so many! Some titles without a specific order: Carnival of Souls (Herk Harvey), What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (Robert Aldrich), Psycho, The Rope (everything from Alfred Hitchcock, really), The Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale), Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton), The Babadook (Jennifer Kent), The Voices (Marjane Satrapi), The Omen (Richard Donner), The Changeling (Peter Medak), Calvaire (Fabrice du Welz), REC and Romasanta, la Caza de la Bestia (Paco Plaza), La Casa del Fin de los Tiempos (Alejandro Hidalgo), Wekufe, The Origin of Evil (Javier Attridge), Errementari (Paul Urkijo Alijo), Mal Nosso/Our Evil (Samuel Galli).
10. It is known that women make up for a large number of horror fans; why do you think this is?
That is quite interesting, really. I think it’s because, and I really believe it, that women are less violent (at least physically speaking). Then they find a kind of means of channeling their aggressive instincts through the visualization of horror movies. That, added to our powerful imagination and emotional intensity, makes us a perfect and refined audience. Moreover, I would say that we even have a relationship with pain that is different from that of men. We support higher thresholds of pain, and we are more courageous and resilient in general.
11. Do you believe there is any cathartic value to horror films?
Absolutely — for those who work in the movies, as well as for the audience. Genre films (horror, fantasy) allow us to release the imagination to the maximum, and also pose quotidien situations through metaphor and exaggeration. You can hide very deep issues in a horror film that, at first glance, seems inconsequential. I love when that happens!
Apart from the intellectual value that a horror film can have (sometimes more, sometimes less), there are other valuable elements in them. This is related to the fact of lighting and stimulating the emotions in the viewer, who can live for a couple of hours an extraordinary story. I’ve read that it even helps burn more calories than any other cinematographic genre! (I don’t know if that is cathartic, but at least it is very useful. Hahaha!)
12. Trauma has been very successful in finding fans all over the world. Tell us how this has been for you.
It has been incredible. A totally new experience in my life. I always trusted the result of our work with Trauma, but my expectations were exceeded. The most wonderful thing is that this film allowed me, for the first time, to travel to different countries to present it at festivals — so I was able to meet spectators and creators from many countries and different cultures and share opinions and experiences with all of them.
Making movies in Chile is very difficult. I feel privileged. It has been wonderful to receive the respect of the people. Sometimes they tag me or write me on Instagram (@ximedelsolar) to tell me how much they liked Trauma.
Certain topics of the film, mainly those related to torture and the coup in Chile (1973), have generated curiosity in the foreign viewer. They ask us a lot about this and also about my acting personal experience. People express to me their feelings and how certain scenes of the film impact and even tear them up. This is priceless and totally enriching. It could be said that it is even a bit ironic that such a violent movie has allowed me to have such human and warm experiences. Makes me feel grateful.
13. How do you feel about the idea of Women In Horror Month, and do you have any females in the industry that you personally admire?
I think this is spectacular! In Chile, it would be impossible to have a WiHM for the simple reason that the film industry is very small and the segment dedicated to horror is tiny.
About women to admire…a while ago I read about Milicent Patrick, the illustrator who designed the Gill-Man of Creature from the Black Lagoon, and how, by the mere fact of being a woman, her extraordinary contribution was omitted for more than 50 years! She wasn’t credited in the original movie. Situations like this are simply abhorrent. Like her, millions of women make contributions in technical or creative areas, etc. Although times have changed, it is still harder for us.
So it seems to me that WIHM is a way to give visibility to our work, and that is appreciated a lot!
14. If you could work with any director, living or deceased, who would you pick and why?
I always answer the same. I don’t hide my tremendous admiration for Alfred Hitchcock. But on this occasion, and maybe because WiHM calls us together, I have seriously started to thinking about a factor that is relevant. I mean the presence of Alma Reville in his cinematography. No doubt Hitchcock possessed a great talent, but Alma was a perfect companion who polished and enhanced that talent with her own (which was equally great as art editor). She was known for her perfectionism and intelligence. It is obvious she get involved in each aspect of the movies they made together. I would choose the Alfred who worked side by side with Alma (it is very significant that Alma means “soul” in Spanish).
15. Finally, what do you have coming up in the future for all of us to keep on the lookout for? Any projects on the horizon?
Yes, there are some projects. I have already told you that in Latin America it costs a lot, but we put a lot of heart into this. Things take more time than in the USA, so be patient, please!
The closest thing is a short film that will be part of an Anthology that will be released in Europe. The name of the anthology is ILL, and our collaboration will be the first story, entitled “Contagium”. Here I am not only an actress, but also a co-creator and co-scriptwriter together with director Lucio Rojas. Shooting is expected during the first half of 2019.
For me it means taking a more formal step towards the construction of a profile oriented to my great interest in the development of genre films in my country. I take this responsibility and challenge with great passion, and it is not so strange what I am doing since to date I have always had a high level of collaboration in the pre-production creative stages of the previous projects I’ve been involved.
After the success of Trauma at the Optical Theatre Festival (where we won 3 major awards: Best Feature, Best Extreme Film and Best Supporting Actor to Felipe Ríos), Lucio was invited by Italian producer Domiziano Cristopharo to join this project. Then Lucio and I created a story, and right now we are working on the script.
I am also part of the cast of a very beautiful project of the Onetti Brothers (Nicolas and Luciano), from Argentina, called Selknam. It is a story that mixes drama and fantasy. The Onetti brothers are currently touring festivals with their film “Abrakadabra” (they are known for being exponents of the Neo-Giallo trend). In pre-production.
There is another very interesting project (also in pre-production), in Chile, called “28”. An anthology of short films directed and performed by women. The promising Chilean director and scriptwriter Sandra Arriagada Nuñez has invited me to be part of the project. I hope the best for this one because it is very important that the work of women is gaining a more leading role in the industry. So, I recommend to keep an eye on Sandra.