Greta Fernández delivers a powerhouse performance in Belén Funes’ “A Thief’s Daughter”. Her character Sara takes us through so many pieces of her life. While we follow her, we are exhausted, but we choose to stick around for the ride because we fall in love with her character. This film from Spain is a unique and important gem that I hope will be seen on screens all over the world, including the United States. I had the opportunity and pleasure of speaking with Fernández at the Chicago International Film Festival back in October for their US premiere. Like her character, Fernández is a strong and powerful woman. I’m very excited to to share our conversation below.
REBECCA MARTIN: What brought to you to this project?
GRETA FERNÁNDEZ: I did a short film with Belén, long ago. I think it was two years before we did the film, and I auditioned for the short film. She said, “I don’t really have a part for you in the short film, but I’m going to write a character for you.”
The character was really really small, but we just got to know each other a little bit more during that time. A year after the film, she reached out to me saying she had this script she had been working on for five years, and she’d love for me to play the main character.
And I was like, ‘Wow, this is the first time anyone has given me a part without asking me to audition.’
MARTIN: So she wrote the film with you in mind for the part?
FERNÁNDEZ: Yes. I read the script and was like, ‘This is an amazing opportunity for me,’ so I said yes to the part. Then I thought of my father [Eduard Fernández] to play my father, because my father is one of the best actors in Spain. So I asked her, ‘What if my father plays my father?’ She thought it was a great idea and my father accepted the part.
MARTIN: Can you talk to me about how you put your energy into the main character Sara? She’s so intense, in a good way. Like go, go, go for the whole film until we reach the end.
FERNÁNDEZ: I think that was something Belén had really sought for in the character. She really wanted to have the audience feel exhausted–to have you and the film feel exhausted. It was really important that we had lots of locations for example, to feel that she doesn’t stop at all.
MARTIN: How was it for you to be a part of that, being an exhausted character?
FERNÁNDEZ: I didn’t know it was going to be that exhausting. I read the script and I was like, ‘Wow, this is going to be really heavy to play.’ But it was a lot easier to play than I thought because Belén is a really great director. We were rehearsing all the scenes for five months, and I understood what Belén was trying to convey through the character, how Sara had to be. Sara is so different than I am. We are totally different people, but–
MARTIN: You sometimes need to take a break sometimes?
FERNÁNDEZ: Not in that way, because you always find things in common with the character. I think I’m a powerful woman too, as Sara is, just in different ways. It was very exciting to play a character that has lived so many different lives that I hadn’t.
MARTIN: Throughout the film I could see a constant theme of the idea of “home.” It seems to me a lot of the anxiety and strain she has in her life is because she is looking for that place she can call home. Could you share your thoughts about this idea of “home” for Sara?
FERNÁNDEZ: That’s why Sara has a baby. That’s why these girls have this kind of life. They have children, but they don’t have any kind of attachment to them because they don’t know how to love them, because no one has taught them how to love their babies. I think she had a baby because she wanted family, between her, the baby and the father Dani. She is able to take care of the baby, keep it clean, give it food, but to love the baby is something else. Her parents never loved her.
MARTIN: Can you share more with me about your process of working with Belén? Cinema Femme is a platform for women in film to share their stories and to inspire emerging filmmakers.
FERNÁNDEZ: Somebody asked me yesterday, ‘What do you think happened to the mother of the film?” And I think it’s best not knowing all the answers. That’s the best thing about the film, it leaves you with a lot of questions.
But me, I needed to know. In the beginning, Belén explained to me about the film. I was writing everything, like where Sara had lived, where she was born, what happened to her father. It was important for me to understand where Sara came from, and how that got her to the end of the film.
That was the first step. My job was to listen to Belén closely about what she wanted for the character. She probably wanted me for this part because we connect well as actor to director. My way of acting is always really realistic, kind of like documentary-type of acting.
MARTIN: When you say “documentary” type of acting, what does that look like?
FERNÁNDEZ: I would say it’s like when you’re watching a character, the actor, you feel like it’s real life, it reflects real life. The way of shooting is in some way like a journey. It’s not like cinema, it’s like following someone during their daily life.
MARTIN: Yes, we follow Sara to so many different places–one minute she’s cooking, then she’s bathing her baby, then she’s hosting a party…
FERNÁNDEZ: She never stops. That’s why when she stops at the end of the film, it’s so meaningful.
MARTIN: Who was the cinematographer?
FERNÁNDEZ: Neus Ollé, she’s a good friend to Belén and is amazing. We knew each other from another movie, but my part was very small in that film. So it was great to work with her more on this film. She was really generous with me, because I didn’t have to be aware of the camera most of the time. She was like, “you do your thing.”
MARTIN: She did a great job capturing you and your character.
FERNÁNDEZ: Doing this movie, there were moments we wish we had more time. There were a lot of people, and it was stressful. I remember there were a lot of times where she was like, “I’m here, I will do whatever you need to support you in the scene.”
MARTIN: What are your thoughts about women in film, representation on screen?
FERNÁNDEZ: I think it’s really hard to find really interesting female characters. Until now, all the characters I’ve been doing through auditions, or the ones that are sent to me, are not really rich, they are one-note. I don’t mind playing that kind of character, but…
MARTIN: You want a fully dimensional character. Sara has so many different facets to her, and that’s why this film stands out so much. Sara is representing such a unique person, an individual character that not many people see onscreen. I can’t really grasp what that is, I just know that I’m hooked with your character. I want to follow her and see where she is going. Like, yes, ‘she might be a chef, that’s so exciting.’
FERNÁNDEZ: I think there was really something important about this character, and I knew that I had to make her magnetic. I needed the public to be with me and to love me. It wasn’t that hard, I have to say, because the script is amazing.
MARTIN: There was another writer on the script with Belén, right?
FERNÁNDEZ: Yes, it’s Marçal Cebrian, her boyfriend. He is great. They are a family together, I love them.
It wasn’t hard to play what they had in mind. I just had to understand what they needed from the character.
MARTIN: This is Belén’s first feature, right?
FERNÁNDEZ: It is.
MARTIN: I can see you being her muse in future projects.
FERNÁNDEZ: I hope, I tell her, ‘I want to do all the movies with you.’
MARTIN: Yeah, you’re the Dunst to her Coppola.
FERNÁNDEZ: I hope I can work with her forever. She’s now working on a film with someone else, because the character has to be really young. But I hope she writes more movies for me.
MARTIN: Can you share more with me about your festival run?
FERNÁNDEZ: This is our only stop in the United States.
MARTIN: Really?! That makes me sad.
FERNÁNDEZ: But we’ve been going to festivals all over Europe. Recently we were at the San Sebastián International Film Festival, where I won the Silver Shell for Best Actress there for my character Sara.
FERNÁNDEZ: And we went to a festival in London.
MARTIN: This is a film that needs to be seen on the big screen. It’s such an emotional and important film.
FERNÁNDEZ: I hope it will be able to be seen all over the world. The response of this film is amazing. It was really important for me to play this character.