In “Bless Me, Ultima,” celebrated Puerto Rican actress Miriam Colón (“Scarface”) plays the title character, a curandera who brings her healing powers to a village when she moves in with a local family. Based on the well-known 1972 novel of the same name by Rudolfo Anaya, the coming-of-age story is considered by many as one of the most important pieces of Chicano literature ever written.
Were you already familiar with Anaya’s novel?
No. When I read about the film I started reading more information and learned that it was a famous novel. I started reading the script and then someone brought me the book and I loved it. I felt very fortunate the adaptation for the film was very respectful of the heart, soul and spirit of the novel.
What is it about the novel that has resonated with so many people over the years?
The book speaks about people with great courage, simplicity and honesty. What is amazing is that you really care about the family [in the novel]. The society is not very stable. There are problems. There are villains. There are gossipmongers. There are people there who are always criticizing and always watching what others do to try and diminish their valor and honor. But [with the family], you care about their code of honor and their relationships with each other. They secretly long to bring change to their lives. It’s very touching.
Was there added pressure on you as an actress to capture the story in a way that would make readers happy, since this novel has such a strong following?
I always go into a role with great care because I never want to miss any of the traits, especially with a character like Ultima. I wanted to make her an exemplary and admirable woman and human being. I do that with any character I am interpreting. I fell in love with Ultima at first sight. I love women like Ultima. I have seen them in my own family and community. They hold ideas in their hearts that are sacred and important. To me, women like Ultima are the ones who are holding up our society and our families.
Growing up with women like Ultima in your life, were you familiar with the healing practices she uses from her culture?
Sure, treating people with herbs and branches and plants was something natural. As a child, I remember my mother taking me to see a woman that lived in the outskirts of town. She was highly respected. She was not a mysterious woman or something like that. You would bring the branches she gave you home. You would boil them and bathe in them. It was something good. It was very soothing and healing.
Ultima’s relationship with the young boy (Luke Ganalon) in the film is extremely important to the story. What did you think about what Luke brought to his role?
It was so wonderful because he was so close to what I sensed his character was like from the book. That doesn’t always happen. He is a beautiful child. He is very intelligent. There is a lovely relationship between him and his mother. She was around the set, but she wasn’t like a policewoman. There was openness and freedom and laughter. I thought, “What a wonderful relationship that is.” There was a wonderful atmosphere.