Starting her professional acting career in a number of different Spanish-language soap operas, Ana de la Reguera, 29, has worked her way up and, after 10 year, will be featured in her first Hollywood film, “Nacho Libre.” The film opens June 16.
In “Nacho,” de la Reguera portrays Sister Encarnación, a Mexican nun, who is transferred to work at a poor orphanage in Oaxaca. Here, she meets Nacho, a friar who becomes a lucha libre wrestler to help feed the orphans something other than stale chips and goulash.
During a visit to San Antonio, de la Reguera sat down with me to talk about her new film, working with funny man Jack Black and teaching him bad words in Spanish, and what she thinks about people comparing her to actress Penelope Cruz.
Growing up in Veracruz, were you exposed to the sport of lucha libre or was it something that was just there that you didn’t pay too much attention to?
Well, I knew what lucha libre was, but I was never a fan of it. I didn’t go to the matches or I didn’t have brothers. But it is just part of us. It’s always just there and you don’t think about it. You go to a restaurant in Mexico City and you see a luchador. I do like it now because of the movie, but when I was a child, no.
So, you were more of a girly girl than a tomboy?
I was more of a girly girl. I went to dancing lessons every afternoon. I would play with my friends.
So, luchadores actually walk around town dressed in their wrestling uniforms?
Yes. Of course. It’s a really big deal. It’s a tradition. There is a fantasy around them. They are like their heroes. It’s like Superman. They are like these action figures. They are these idols.
What was it about this role in “Nacho Libre” that made you want to take it?
I found it attractive because it had Jack Black in it. Also, that Jared (Hess) was the director. I also liked it because the character was this nun. She was a sweet, innocent girl. That was a lot of fun. I loved the script when I read it.
There is a scene where you’re character and Nacho are sitting in his room eating toast and there is this very awkward silence, which is very funny. How do you get through those scenes without constantly laughing on the set?
I was just trying to be professional. I was trying to be really focused. It was my first big Hollywood movie, so I wanted to show my best. But sometimes the crew was laughing and it was hard and I had to laugh.
When it comes to the comedy genre, there are a lot of different ways a director can make his audience laugh. What was it about Jared Hess and his style that you liked?
I love this type of comedy. I knew when I read the script what it was about. It wasn’t that weird for me. I think I got the part because I knew the comedy they wanted to do.
You started acting when you were 16. Did you look up to anyone on television or from movies that made you want to pursue a career in this field or was it more natural for you?
It was just natural. I wanted to be an artist my entire life. I didn’t know in what. I started dancing when I was little. But then I knew I wanted to be an actress. I don’ know why. I just knew I liked being on a stage in front of people. I enjoy the attention.
You have a long background in Spanish-language soap operas. What is more exciting – Seeing yourself on the big screen for the first time or seeing yourself on TV for the first time?
Everything for the first time is just amazing. But to see yourself on the big screen is just a shock; in this movie in particular because (Jared Hess) does these big, long close-ups.
Did you have to do any research to play a nun? You didn’t have to spend like six weeks in a convent or anything like that, did you?
No. But I did grow up studying in Catholic school all my life. I knew the behavior. I knew what it was all about. It wasn’t that hard. They only things I did before the film was I watched “Napoleon Dynamite” a lot and watched Jack Black movies a lot. I saw a lot of comedies. I just tried to pay attention in the rehearsals.
What was it like to work with a group of young children? Had you done that before in your career?
Sometimes. It was really easy. They were good kids. Most of them were from Oaxaca. They loved Jack Black. They were amazed with him. He would try to speak to them in Spanish.
How’s Jack Black’s Spanish?
At first it wasn’t that good, but after two months he picked up on a few things.
Did you teach him anything?
Yeah. Of course.
The bad words?
I tried to, but he never trusted me be.
Oh, so he would ask you how to say, “Can I go to the restroom” and you would tell him to say something else?
Yeah, or I would say, “You should learn this. It’s a good word.” Then he would repeat it and we would all start laughing. Then he didn’t believe me anymore.
Since “Nacho Libre” was shot in Mexico, did you ever play tour guide for the crew and let them know where the best places were to go?
Not much. Inside Oaxaca I told them where to eat. But we didn’t have time to go around and see things. After two months, I didn’t need to tell them where to go because it’s such a small town.
You recently moved to L.A. What do you miss most about living in Veracruz?
The food, my house, my bathroom, and my family. My mom still lives in Veracruz.
I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m sure you’ve heard from others that you have the same look as Penelope Cruz (“Vanilla Sky”) and Paz Vega (“Spanglish”). Would you rather not be linked to other actresses like this or are you fine with it?
I don’t care really. I get that a lot, but I would get that even before Penelope was famous here in the U.S. We are different actresses. Penelope has an amazing career, so I hope that happens to me, too.
Are you at that point in your career where you can turn down roles or do you try to stay busy and take on anything that is offered to you?
Many times I refuse to do some movies because I am not interested. I would really like to do some very great Mexican movies. I want my movie to be nominated for an Oscar. Not me, but my movie. I would love to be in a great movie that everyone can see here and all over the world.
Now, when it comes to Spanish-language films, here in San Antonio, where the Hispanic population is the majority, we don’t get too many in the theaters. I think only two have come to theaters this year. What do you think about the lack of these Spanish-language films coming into the U.S.?
It’s a shame. I think really, really soon that is going to change. [Studios] are noticing that [Hispanics] are a very big audience. I think that will change. I hope so.