interview by TIMOTEJ LETONJA

When Miguel Herrán decided to visit Amsterdam for the Amsterdam Spanish Film Festival, we couldn’t skip an opportunity to sit down with him for a chat. Internationally best known for his role as Rio in the TV series ‘La Casa de Papel’ (Álex Pina, 2017), Miguel came to promote his movie ‘Modelo 77’ directed by Alberto Rodríguez. We discussed his career, perception of success, as well as the landscape of Spanish cinema. 

This year, the Amsterdam Spanish Film Festival is returning for its 10th edition. Between 12th and 21st April, we will have an opportunity to discover the latest creations of the Spanish silver screen with many interesting guests. 

From your early roles to now, your career has seen remarkable growth. What has been the most significant learning experience for you as an actor?
I have said this during all my interviews and I will continue to say it because I don’t think my answer will ever change; it’s the first film I made ‘A Cambio de Nada’. Director Daniel Guzmán trained me for six months to help me become an actor, and it was this film that made me fall in love with the acting profession. It made me understand myself, and made me want to study. I have managed to find my identity, I was given the life I have today and I am who I am, all thanks to that film.

Can you share some of your cinematic influences or role models from throughout your career? And how did they inspire you to act? 
I think there have been a lot of people who have influenced my career. To mention at least a few; Daniel Guzmán taught me loyalty and perseverance through realizing that I am not the center of the universe. I am not the most important person in the world, and my life is not the only one that exists, therefore when I commit to a person, I cannot just let them down. 

With Alberto Rodríguez, I gained confidence in myself, believing that I was capable of building a character on my own, and that I was capable of being an actor. It was with him that I began to say: “Yes, today I am an actor.” 

Director Salvador Calvo is someone I have traveled a lot with. I have left Europe with him and have had a great time, talked a lot, also about personal topics and he became not only an influence on my professional life but more importantly a friend.

From Daniel Calparsoro I have learned to enjoy my work, to understand there is no life depending on our profession, and so it’s not the end of the world if one day something cannot be filmed or if a sequence falls through. The important thing is the attitude when arriving at a set. I really enjoy my job and coming to a set where there is a good vibe and people like what they do. With Daniel, I have learned to enjoy a team.

And then there is actor Luis Tosar, who taught me a great deal about the separation of work and my personal life. Ever since I’ve worked with him on my first film ‘A Cambio de Nada’ (Daniel Guzmán, 2015), I’ve learned how to be able to have my life and then build a character at the moment in which they take action. I admire that a lot about Luis, not being in character or using personal things, but knowing how to define where your character ends and you begin.

How would you describe your relationship with fashion, and how do you see any parallels between expressing yourself through fashion and film or acting?
To be honest, I have never been interested in fashion. I’ve never really understood why you have to follow fashion or what you gain by putting your things on.

But the character I play in ‘Modelo 77’ (Alberto Rodríguez, 2022), has an affiliation with suits and his watches, and feels handsome and empowered when he wears a suit. When I started to build that character I went to Barcelona. I was living next to Paseo de Gracia, and then I did the exercise of doing what my character would do. I went to Gucci, Prada, Rolex, to all those places, and looked at clothes. Since my character wanted to dress well but couldn’t afford to buy those things, he bought very similar things from smaller brands. I was looking for a way in which my character could feel comfortable. 

When I finished the film, I realized that something changed. All of the sudden, I started to be really intrigued by all this stuff, especially the watches. I imagine that just like heels can work as a confidence boost, a well tailored suit can do the same. It’s not going to make you a better or worse person, but it can really transport you into another place. And the bug really started to bite me. I grew to understand it’s not about fashion or being fashionable, but about having a good coat or pair of pants that I like. Suddenly, I have a collection of watches that I love, and it has become a fetish for me. I mean, getting home and winding my watches is one of the top moments of the day.

Your work has resonated not only in Spain but also around the world. How do you think the stories you tell through your roles contribute to a broader understanding of Spanish culture and cinema around the world? 
Let’s be real, I’m not Mick Jagger, I’m not Michael Jackson, nor am I David Bowie. I played Río, who may be an important main character but what made it worldwide is ‘La Casa de Papel’ itself, not me. People abroad call me Río. They don’t know who I am; I mean, they really aren’t fans of Miguel Herrán. These people don’t know that I have awards in my country, nor do they know if I have studied theater, nor do they really know what my career is. Spaniards know that, because my national career has really been popular in our country. 

I think that if anything contributed to Spanish cinema crossing borders, it’s the arrival of platforms like Netflix. It is quite contradictory, because the same platforms that are destroying classic “going to watch a movie” cinema are the ones making us not have to stop working. In other words, in the past, there was 98% unemployment among actors in our country. Today, it is no longer so high. That being said, it is a very complicated profession that depends a lot on luck and many factors that are not under the actor’s control. 

What I have been able to contribute to Spanish cinema, and what I am proud of is doing my very best. I believe that this profession and this industry have given me so much. I’m not talking about money or financial security, I’m talking about me as a person, about my maturity as a human being, and understanding the society that surrounds me. It has given me so much I believe I owe my life to this profession. 

Beyond the screen, how do you foster personal growth both as an artist and as an individual? 
I was totally lost until I ran into Daniel Guzmán. I mean, I can’t tell you what I did because I can’t say it in public, but I was a complicated person. I was very conflictive and self-destructive, and I made all the loved ones around me suffer greatly. I was a real bastard. I generated hatred and anger towards all the people around me, and I often thought, damn, maybe everyone around me would be better off, if I weren’t in this world. I always had concerns of why it hasn’t been my turn to be a good person, and why I had to be so bad, why I can’t change it. 

Thanks to acting I realized that it’s not that I couldn’t change, it’s that I just never had enough tools to understand myself and be able to carry out the change I wanted. That’s why I say I owe my life to this profession. It has made me understand that if I am able to build a character that carries a different personality, I can build my own personality. I am not born bad, and have to remain bad only to die bad. It is in my power to change it, personalities can be molded, and I can be the person I want to be. And that is what cinema has given me.

The film you came to present for the 9th edition of the Amsterdam Spanish Film Festival ‘Modelo 77’ generated a lot of anticipation. What brought you to this project, and how do you think it contributes to your evolving filmography? 
I find ‘Modelo 77’ interesting myself. It focuses a lot on Francoist Spain and the fact there was a dictator. Sometimes, it feels like we Spaniards don’t want the new generations to know where we come from. And where we come from is having a lot of people imprisoned for having a different sexual orientation or different political orientation. You could’ve gone to prison for hitchhiking just because you had done something that was not classified as good for a man named Francisco. You went to jail for kissing on the street, for having a skirt that was too short. 

The new generations don’t understand ​​the luxury we have today because they have no idea what shit we have been through. I think ‘Model 77’ expresses that dark part of the time in Spain very well. A lot of people who were in subhuman conditions had to come together to fight for rights that are essential because who are you to tell me what I can or cannot believe? As long as I don’t disturb your freedoms, I’m free to think about whatever I want, right? So I think this film exposes that era very well. I found it super interesting and I think it is an important story for kids to know what it took to get to where we are. That does not mean that we have reached the goal, of course. 

On a personal and artistic level, I received a Goya nomination for ‘Modelo 77’, which was very important to me because I have always suffered from imposter syndrome with ‘A Cambio de Nada’. I won a Goya, but I had never thought that I deserved it because I was a child, that is, I was a totally and absolutely directed kid. You can say I worked hard, but the work was by Daniel Guzmán. He was the one who taught me how to do everything I did. So I really wanted to reaffirm that I am truly capable of doing this by myself and without a third party. And the simple fact of being nominated was that pad on the shoulder saying “you are an actor.”

all photography by CAMILA MENDOZA
special thanks to THE SOCIAL HUB AMSTERDAM for providing a space to conduct the interview