Live by Night is a movie currently in cinemas set in the roaring 20s. The movie stars and is directed by Ben Affleck who is joined on-screen by Zoe Saldana and many more famous faces set in a gangster movie about revenge, ambition, romance, and betrayal.
Zoe Saldana portrays the role of Graciela Corrales in the new movie and these were her thoughts.
QUESTION: When Ben Affleck first approached you about Live by Night, what drew you to the project and made you want to be part of it?
ZOE SALDANA: Ben Affleck is a great filmmaker, so when he called asking to meet with me, I agreed, even though I was pregnant and the timing didn’t seem to work. But Ben was confident we could work that out, and told me, ‘Graciela is a great character for you and, quite frankly, there’s just no other actress I want for the role.’ [Laughs.]
When I read the script, I thought there was a real integrity to the way Ben chose to tell this story.
He’s shedding some light on the struggles so many people were going through during this era, like how the so-called ‘righteous’ were often so wrong, violent and vile towards people who were just trying to survive and make a better America by being better people. That was something that Ben and I talked about early on.
Ben and I also talked a lot about Graciela – who she was and the things that are important to her. If I am going to play someone’s love interest, as I do in Live by Night, then it must be a meaningful and strong character, and he promised me that together we’d strengthen the role – that we’d rehearse it, talk it through, and do whatever it took to make her come alive. I really appreciated that openness.
QUESTION: Did working with costume designer Jacqueline West and wearing Graciela’s beautiful vintage wardrobe help you find your way into the character at all?
ZOE SALDANA: Working with Jackie, as well as with makeup department head Kate Biscoe, my makeup artist Vera Steimberg, and hair department head Kristen Berge broadened my imagination. I know a little about the 1920s and ‘30s, but not as much Jackie or Kate or Vera or Kristen. With their help, it all came together. Graciela would not exist without their essential contributions.
Jackie is just so talented, and she loves what she does. I like that she’s uninhibited in terms of giving you references, such as photos, which she uses to help her conceive the costumes.
They were incredibly useful to me. My favorite piece is a long art deco dress, with cutout arms, which Graciela wears to a speakeasy.
QUESTION: When we spoke with Ben, he said that with Graciela, Joe Coughlin – the character he plays in the film – experiences an honest, adult kind of love for the first time. What do you think she comes to represent for him?
ZOE SALDANA: Graciela teaches Joe the true meaning of unconditional love. Joe is a very intense character because he is looking for a reason to live, even though he lives every day like it’s his last. What he’s looking for are true and genuine answers about the life he’s been living, but it’s not until he meets Graciela that he gets a sense of what’s real. She tells him, ‘It’s okay to be what you are – just set higher standards for yourself!’ [Laughs]
QUESTION: How did you find working with Ben as both an actor and a director?
ZOE SALDANA: Ben makes you feel very safe. At first, I thought it must be so hard to direct and also star in the piece that you’re building because your mind is probably divided in so many ways, but Ben handled it all with grace and intelligence. He’s chosen a very challenging character to portray and handled it all with so much grace. With this film, he’s allowing us to witness a human being transformed completely, and I love that about this story and his performance.
Joe is just such a screw-up [laughs]. You witness all the mistakes he makes in his life, but, like Graciela, you also see him regretting it and looking for some kind of redemption. I find myself feeling for Joe, and Ben did such a beautiful job bringing that journey to life.
QUESTION: The other man in Graciela’s life is her brother Esteban, played by acclaimed songwriter and musical artist Miguel J. Pimentel. Can you talk about shaping that relationship with Miguel?
ZOE SALDANA: When Ben cast Miguel, I was very pleased because I love, love, love his music. I’d been aware of him as an artist since I got his album Kaleidoscope, and his background and heritage are so similar to my own. He has a real love for his culture, and that informs his music. So it was very easy for me to connect with Miguel.
I told Ben that I saw Graciela and Esteban as being really gracious immigrants. They’re well- traveled, grew up on a great plantation, and come from generations and generations of rum- makers. They’re educated, political and love the United States. They also love their own culture.
Esteban is the artist in the family – a gifted photographer and dancer. He is a few years younger than Graciela, so she carries most of the family responsibilities because it’s just not in him to do it. And she is very protective of him. Graciela’s attitude is, ‘You’re Esteban; this is your club; you dance like nobody’s business; and you’re an amazing photographer. You make the sickest rum, and we have a blast. We’ve been to Paris; we read; we know about everything. And we’ve come to Florida because this is where business is.’