The Evolution of a Woman Through the Eyes of Ivonne Coll

ATM: How was your late mother, Celebrity Hair Stylist Rosita Mendoza, an inspiration in your career? How did she influence your characters?

IC: I do not have children in real life. I take the role as Alba after her and the way of how she would have said something. She was very humorous and eccentric, and Alba does get like this. My intentions and reflections come from her. I hear her voice as Alba’s voice.

ATM: Why do you believe the American television strays away from addressing concepts such as an older woman’s sexuality?

IC: This is a great question. It is not only sexuality, but mostly on older women, period. It is the very ageism of living in this country, and also working in Hollywood. I cannot complain because they have given me a chance to play this character that is kind of out there. They put her in situations where you would have never seen an older woman be in, let alone an older Latina. I am grateful for the writers, grateful that they have rallied around Alba’s character and that they are exploring her sexuality among other things.  She is not this one-dimensional character. 

You will see some of it in the coming season. I told one of the directors, “I do not feel the same because my body is not the same. I do not feel as attractive”, and this happens to a lot of us in our older ages. We feel less attractive, and this is how society positions the way you think. I do not feel this way all the time, but Ivonne feels very sensual with her age. They take many great strides with Alba in trying to break this ageism mold about an older woman being sensual, but other things remain in place. They sometimes ask me to do things in a certain way while playing Alba even thought I would do it another way, closer to my reality.

I am an older woman, but I am still young in my mind, so I use modern references. I have to keep in mind that this is Alba, and that her life is different than mine. She was exposed to different things than me growing up. When going through these choices they go “Can you do it more conventional?” It is sometimes not a conventional way when I’m delivering the lines like my mother would have. She was a very independent and vocal in the way she lived. She was very successful in her career.

Alba does not have a care in the world. I try to infuse this strength in her. This is the thing with older characters. You are supposed to be ridiculous because you are older. Older equals ridiculous and out of touch. It is ageism. Now they have a chance to explore the sexuality of the character on Jane the Virgin, especially in the season coming out in January.

ATM: What are your views on how your character progressed? How did it end last season?

IC: I was in shock. We did not have this page of the script. I was blown away by the episode as I was seeing it. Writers went full on Telenovela style, which in Spanish is totally different than what we are doing in North America. Even though you are doing a Telenovela in Spanish and keeping it campy, you are not playing over the top and campy. It is the norm to have this style in the Telenovela. We play it knowing we are keeping the campy and over the top. I cried and was happy the actor playing Michael was working again when Michael appeared at the end. It seemed like a little bit of a fantasy when he came back and reappeared. It was real. A lot of the characters in the plot of the show had to do with the reason he did not die. You see how he died, and you see more implications. It all makes sense and it will be interesting to see how he comes back for all the actors, especially Jane’s character.

ATM: How has your acting technique change from when you started to what it is now?

IC: I have been doing this for so long it becomes second nature because you are in it. While young, for your instrument as an actor to recognize the signals of where it has to go emotionally, physically, mentally in my characters you do not enclose anything. You do all the exercises constantly, you write on the board, and then you accomplish them. You achieve another goal and then do another technique. I had made a career in theatre first. This teaching gives you the opportunity to develop your technique. I have been doing it since 1975, and it just becomes second nature. You can look at a page and see the intentions and actions the actor has to take. I am now in television mode. It does not have to look theatrical but has to look like a slice of your character’s life.

I believe in dreaming a lot in this craft. Some actors go: “It is what I feel.”  Well, who cares what you feel. It is about what the character feels and needs to have. I learned this at Stanford. I graduated with the knowledge that went into both my mind and career. It becomes a part of your DNA.

ATM: How did working with Francis Ford Coppola reflect your career today and what would you tell him?

IC: I have never seen Francis after doing the Godfather Part II. Can you believe this? I went to San Francisco and did Mother Courage. I was doing Repertoire. I was Mother Courage. I called his office because I wanted him to see me. I wanted him to know that he influenced my life and career. I had never known how to become an actress. I had never dreamed or known I had this in me. I wanted to experience and witness what he provoked. That day, unfortunately he was out of town. I spoke to someone in his office and said, “You have to tell him this is what he did for my life. He changed my life forever.”

He was just looking for a nightclub actor. After meeting me, he decided to give me a name in the movie. This was for my first credit. He knew that I had never done a movie before. He had the presenter say the name of my character. This was very generous of him, and he did not have to do this. He had the casting director call me specifically to say he did this for me.

It took me a year and a half to resign from my television show in Puerto Rico. It was a variety show, which was on the air for two years. I had decided to become an actress. Everyone thought I was crazy to leave. When studying with Lucille Ball and telling her this story, she said: “You left a banquet for an empty table out here. You are truly ambitious.” I had never thought I was. I was driven by the art and craft that I discovered in my soul and heart. This was all provoked by Francis. By him just giving me this part in The Godfather II. I wish I had the opportunity to see him and tell him this before one of us is gone off this planet.

ATM: When did you become grounded in your womanhood and sexuality?

IC: I was known as a sex symbol in my country while I was younger. I rejected this for a long time. Back then no one would take you seriously. Now, after the 90’s, I realized that I have a right to express it. People think, especially with Latino characters, that somehow you are a hot young chick and the hot tamale while younger. Then, they cast you as an apron-wearing grandmother who dresses in white clothes. She is always feeding the family and does not bring anything to herself. She does not have boyfriends or any form of sexuality. I realized this, which is why I strive to look for it in the characters that I play. It is a stigma that we have for older women. I look at Ivonne, which is myself, and I am a very sensual woman. It doesn’t have to do with being alone or having a boyfriend. You do not have to have a boyfriend to be sensual. You have to have your authenticity and be your authentic self. Some women are taught to become asexual.

Not me. I am not going to be asexual in anything. I am going to be wonderful and fabulous. I am going to show my body and that I am in shape. I have never done anything with my face to become younger. You can be fabulous with just wearing your wrinkles and showing how mature you have become. You earned it. I try to bring my true self, and people on the show know this.

ATM: What were the social norms regarding the social construct in civilization for how women were positioned during the time you emerged into adulthood?

IC: Women were very restricted. I believe in the social revolution of feminism. I have partaken on this movement since moving out here to the States. I grew up during the time of the 60’s when you were supposed to behave in a certain way. I had a boyfriend during this time and was going to marry him. I was a Psychology major at the University of Puerto Rico at this time. I had to dress like he wanted me to dress. I had to put on the makeup he wanted me to put on. I had to do my hair as he wanted me to do my hair. This was normal. It was okay for the man to tell you what to do, what to say or not…so you would not embarrass him or his family.

This was how I was brought up. At least in the 60’s. I joined a beauty contest because I needed money. I wanted the money to do my master’s degree and this made us break up.  He just did not understand how or why I was going to be parading in a bathing suit in front of thousands of people. He thought this was degrading the name of his family. Oh no. It was to the point where he would supervise and approve how I looked before we went out.

This is when I broke out of this mold and said no more. I joined a hippy community for almost a year and completely dropped out of society. I wanted to understand who I was in my art and in my mind. I wanted to figure out what I wanted to do, not what my mother, my boyfriend, or society wanted me to do. During the 60’s, it was very hard as a woman to do this. You were accused of being immoral. You were accused of many things, but it did not matter. As long as I knew in my heart the truth of what I was being fed into my head, I had to look for my part in my journey. It was very different.

I look through the pictures of me as a fashion runway model at this time. We used to dress wearing little gloves. There was a photo of me on a Pan American airplane and we are there with our gloves and hats. You had to dress up to travel. It was a different time when I was brought up. This was exactly it. You were not supposed to have opinions or be vocal because it was not lady like. Believe me, it was a very interesting time to live in.

ATM: This sounds very strict, and that women were voiceless in the pursuit of their identity.

IC: Yes, we were like a second-class citizen for sure. You at the time accepted this position as the norm. There are still women who do. This is incredible. This is the 21st Century, and there are women who still behave like this and who believe this is the way to live, to please others and society. Unbelievable.

ATM: How do you feel the integration of Telenovelas into American entertainment has changed the view of television in this country?

IC: There are a lot of Telenovela style shows coming into American television. Examples include Jane the Virgin and Ugly Betty. These are shows in Spanish that come from Venezuela and Colombia. The shows are brought here, and they get Americanized. You cannot do the original because it does not have the same understanding of how we think in society. It is interesting to see that there is a lot of prejudice taking place against Hispanics, but yet, these Hispanics shows are becoming hits in North American television. It is so ironic and interesting.

They are Hispanic shows except ones they get adapted into the United States they become Americanized Hispanic shows.

My character was not an immigrant in the original Jane the Virgin because she was in Venezuela. My character was created as an illegal immigrant to add to the American landscape. They have me speaking only in Spanish. This is another reality out here for Spanish people of the first generation. These are shows coming from Latin American and now they are influencing American television.

These shows have changed the style for many other shows. It is like a Telenovela, but then it is not. To me, it is not, but a Telenovela interpretation. This show is a Dramedy. These shows were like serious shows in the Latin society. Jane the Virgin was not a comedy, and neither was Ugly Betty. Here, she ended up working on Madison Ave. It is interesting about the take of these shows when they are adapted to the North American market. I like the idea that in North American shows, the Latino American family are here in the United States as normal people. They are not only in gangs, drug dealing, or being criminals. They are hard working. An important part of society to raise their family like any other Northern American family would do.

ATM: What is next for you after Jane the Virgin?

IC: My plan, if I do not get another show after playing Alba on Jane the Virgin, is to move to Puerto Rico. My mother left me her house after she died. I also invested in some real estate.  I would like to stay here and make some films. I am interested in the community of filmmaking over here and creating stories. This is my plan, but you must always believe that God is in charge. You have plans and then God has other plans for you. I would like to live six months here and six months there to take care of my spirit. I long to be in my country and to smell the air. I long to see the green of the landscapes. I will live to contribute to my fellow Puerto Ricans and to my country.   

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