If anything was consistent during actress Lupe Ontiveros’ childhood, it was religion and food.
Growing up in the Catholic church in El Paso, Texas, Ontiveros learned that her faith in God and her own abilities would lead her a noteworthy career in Hollywood. She also learned about hard work and sacrifice when she visited the tortilla factory owned by her mother. It was a recipe for success that would launch Ontiveros into some memorable cinematic roles.
Best known as Nacha in 1983’s “El Norte” and as Yolanda Saldívar, the murderer of Selena in the Tejano singer’s 1997 biopic, Ontiveros says she is thankful for the work she has earned in the last 30 years. In her latest film “Tortilla Heaven,” which was actually finished in 2000, but only recently found a distributor, Ontiveros plays Adelfa, a desperate woman who witnesses a miracle in a small New Mexico town.
From her home in Los Angeles, Ontiveros spoke to me about what it’s like having to wait eight years for a movie to find an audience and if it’s corn or flour tortillas that warm her heart the most.
This movie has been finished for quite a while. How does it feel to finally see it come to DVD?
That’s the mystery of the business. You complete a film and unless someone is there to take it off your hands and put it in distribution, you’ll have to wait. But I’m glad it is going to DVD where the general public can certainly enjoy it and it’s not a loss. Now, it’s become a reality.
As an actress, is it frustrating to see a project shelved like this for so long?
Well, you want the world to see your work. A lot of times we go in and out of a project like a fireman and try to do our best. A few years ago, I did a film called “The Craft” and I had a scene in it where I play a 100-year-old indigenous person, but I never saw it. I got a call and they decided to edit the scene out of the film. That’s another situation that arises. Sometimes the scene doesn’t work. It has nothing to do with you personally, but sometimes the formula doesn’t work.
Well releasing “Tortilla Heaven” eight years later can’t be all that bad. Now, the entire cast can watch it and say, “Look how young I look!”
(Laughs) That’s what I said about “El Norte” the other day and that was almost 30 years ago. Oh, my God!
Do you believe in miracles?
Yes, I do believe in miracles. Everyday we are alive is a miracle. Choosing to believe in different philosophies is a healthy thing to me. To find a peace of mind in the spirit is very important especially in these trying times. We have to rely on our faith and believe in our leaders and their leadership.
How are your tortilla-making skills?
Well, my mother had a tortilla factory in El Paso so it was something we grew up with. Nothing nurtures you like a nice, warm, delicious tortilla. It takes you back to your roots and to your family.
What was it like working in a tortilla factory?
It was the nature of my life. I guess you might say I grew up around food. The people that came with the factory, the labors, they would work all night and then cross the border to the colonias and risk their lives. I learned a lot about hard work.
So, which tortillas do you like better, flour or corn?
(Laughs) It depends what you’re eating, you know. If you’re eating menudo, well then tortillas de maiz. If you’re eating frijoles con queso and chorizo, well then a tortilla de harina.