IN CONVERSATION WITH PENÉLOPE GUERRERO
Interview by Marie-Pauline Cesari & Jana Letonja
Penélope Guerrero is an acress, model and activist for the LGBTIQ+ community. In 2021, she decided to pursue her dream in Madrid, where she landed an opportunity to act in Netflix’s ‘Sky Rojo’, RTVE’s ‘Mercado Central’, Antena 3’s ‘Los hombres de Paco’ and Lionsgate’s ‘Nacho’. Next up, we’ll be able to watch her in’Vestidas de Azul’, a continuation of ‘Veneno’ for AtresPlayer.
Penélope, you are an accomplished artist. Between cinema, modelling and social media, you have perfectly mastered your image and are using your notoriety for the LGBTIQ+ community and for feminist causes. How did you get into film industry and what sparked your passion for acting?
I’ve always had a connection with cameras. First I started modeling, later I got into YouTube, making videos that I filmed in my bedroom with the intention of telling my story. At that point, I already had created a persona that I exposed on my social media. But the real step towards my actual career as an actress came when casting directors were looking for actresses for playing roles on ‘Veneno’. At that moment a door opened to me and showed me a new path that I never imagined was possible. Actually I wasn’t selected for the role, for any role I have to say. But thecasting directors felt something about me and they kept calling me for different projects and that’s when ‘Sky Rojo’came to play.
I also have to say that I’ve always been part of theatre performances at school and high school and I was pretty good at it. At least that was what the director used to tell my mother. But growing up, I started to feel the pressure of my mates, whose goals were to became doctors, teachers, lawyers etc. Acting just wasn’t a serious profession to follow, that’s why at the moment I quit. But at the end of the day, the universe put me in this wonderful path again, which I’m very grateful for.
How did your involvement as a LGBTIQ+ activist affect your artistic career?
I think that becoming an activist was just a collateral damage of telling my story. I never meant to be that. I just wanted to normalize my existence and make people like me feel that there’s always a reason to be, especially if they didn’t have anyone to look up to, because that’s what happened to me back then. I never had the intention, and still don’t have, of being an activist. I’m always happy when people reach out to me and thank me for doing what I did back then on social media and that makes me realize about the real deal I had in between my hands. Now working as an actress I can see that I have much more responsibility than I had before, because what I do now is mainstream and if the roles that I’m proposed for are trans, they actually have to be treated with extra respect and dedication to try to make everyone in the collective feel involved and represented because that’s the only chance to make them relate with a certain character. And not only that, now I have the responsibility of working to change the game inside the film industry.
As I said, most of the roles that are proposed to me are based on a transgender person, even if that character only exists and stays present on the narrative or the project without any other involvement. This happened to me in ‘Nacho’. Lady was a trans woman that was dedicating her life to managing the Bagdad Club and she was happy with it, but there were references towards her identity that more than show respect to trans people they just denigrated the whole collective. So I took action on the matter and reached out to production company to change this and transform Lady into a ‘normal’ person, without focusing in any way on her identity. She just became another member of the crew who was passionate about her job.
How was working on the ‘Sky Rojo‘ series for Netflix?
It was really intense. Unfortunately we had to stop filming at a certain point due to Covid and that took the project longer to produce, but as it was my first project, I remember it with nostalgia. I really learnt about acting only by being observer. I could say that it was a masterclass for me. I had the pleasure of working with great actors that became my masters and that inspired me to keep working in this industry and reaching goals that at that moment I could not imagine were possible. But they actually happened and there’s more to come.
Have you ever considered pursuing your career outside your home country?
One of my main goals actually is to keep working and creating a name here in Spain and afterwards head to LA. I always dreamt of making it to Hollywood and after everything I’ve been through, I see it as something possible. English has always been a very present language on my daily basis because I studied at a bilingual school and also all my references of fashion, cinema or music belonged to anglo saxon countries. At the end of the day, I’ve reached two of the main needs to make a way to these countries, dominating the language and being talented. I definitely want to have a try beyond this country.
You are one of the actresses featured in Mercedes-AMG’s SL campaign ‘The Star is Reborn‘. As a woman, how do you perceive the place of women in the automotive industry?
I’m not a really big fan of automobiles, so I’m not sure if I’m the right person to answer this question. But anyway, I’m aware that if we speak about this in competition and sports terms, women are always left aside. And that happens in every ground that’s mostly related to men. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but I’m sure that from now on things are going to get better for women.
You did a fascinating Ted Talk titled ‘What is Being a Woman? By a Trans Woman’. In it, you talk about your experience as a trans woman. You describe how you discovered your own gender identity, the difficulties you faced and your commitment for defending the rights of LGBTIQ+ people. How do you see your role as a representative of the LGBTIQ+ community in the entertainment industry?
For me it is very important to stay active and visible in this industry. What’s going on enhances inclusivity, which is something that was pretty necessary. From a few years till now a change is being noticed. But even though we are now being more included in the industry, there’s more work to be done. It seems to me that the visibility of trans people in the last years for many companies became a way of making money. They took that as a trend and insisted on including it in the film industry, social media and companies that tried to wash their image, even though they really don’t have the interest in understanding us beyond using our image as a bargaining chip. But at the same time we have to take that in our favor and spread the word, make others like us feel like there’s a place for them too and also get the attention of those who were not aware of our existence before, with the goal of normalizing it.
Do you think that the film industry, especially in Spain, is starting to deconstruct the representation of transgender people or is there still a lot of progress to be made?
There’s quite more of representation of transgender people in the industry, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. As I commented before, now we have the duty of achieving roles that are not determined by their identity. By this I mean that we should be able to have access to play the part of a mother, a daughter, a detective or a protagonist without focusing on its identity or genitalia, as we do with cisgender people. Our issue goes further than anyone who is for example dealing with its sexual orientation, because part of the audience focuses on our aspect, instead of what we are showing with our character and that’s a big wall to knock down.
Do you think that the cinema industry and the art in general are mediums that can help to deconstruct stereotypes and myths about transgender people?
Of course. They are letting us tell our story in the most honest way, making people empathize with our reality and discovering the beginning of it all, from the first brick thrown at Stonewall till actually transgender women reaching their dreams.
You have a very large community on social media and communication is an art that you know all the secrets of. Isn’t it sometimes a bit too much pressure to carry such a beautiful and difficult cause?
Yes it is. Most of the time I have to be aware of what I’m saying, to not make other feel disconnected from the argument. I speak for myself, but I know that there’s a lot of people out there putting their energies in me to reach certain things, so I have to be cautious and try to include everyone on my discourse. I am a privileged transgender woman. I was born In Europe, I’m white, I have a supportive family, supportive friends and boyfriend. I’m emancipated and I work on what I love. Those are a lot of privileges. If every trans woman could achieve them, we would be unstoppable. But unfortunately that’s not the reality of most transgender women out there, so knowing all this and also that I’m one of the few ones that can raise her voice, the pressure becomes quite intense. I know that everything I do,I put all my love and respect in it. I would have liked to have someone to follow back in time.
What advice would you give to a transgender person who doesn’t have the confidence to embark on a career in entertainment or modelling?
My only advice is that everything is possible. That your mind is powerful and you have to use it to manifest your dreams and reach your goals. I believe in energies and for me they have a lot to do in my achievements. But most important, your are capable of anything, just believe in yourself.
Is fashion an important part of your life? What does it personally represent and mean to you?
Fashion has always been a part of myself. I grew up surrounded by women who loved beauty and fashion was a part of that beauty. It has always been an important matter in my family, so since I was a kid, I’ve always been playing around with clothes and customs, creating new realities and personas that made me feel kind of different. That’s what fashion means nowadays for me. It is and has always been a way of expressing myself. Your clothes define a lot of your personality and your mood. It’s a way of communicating to others and feeling yourself. Most of people don’t pay attention to or care about what they’re wearing, but it definitely influences your frame of mind.
Soon we’ll be able to watch you in ‘Vestidas de Azul‘. What can you share with us about this series?
This is my biggest deal at the moment. It’s the first time I star in a project and I’m really in love with the story and also my role. It’s going to take us back to the scenario of the 80s in Spain, focusing on the lives of six transgender women at the time. All of them with different stories that at the same time are induced by the same issues. It is related to ‘Veneno’ because this time Valeria, the woman who wrote the memories of Cristina Ortiz aka Veneno, come back to write another story based on the documentary named ‘Vestidas de Azul’, which was released back in the 80s and composed by these six women that I mentioned before. It is going to be a really beautiful project to watch and hopefully people will realize what our ancestors went through to give us the rights that nowadays our collective owns.
photography DOMINIK VALVO @dominikvalvo
talent, make-up, styling & creative direction PENÉLOPE GUERRERO @penelopeguerrer0