In real life, my father was indeed a painter and this melancholy is one of the things that are most immediately recognizable about him. To me, it was clear that Ulises and I were projecting the same kind of features over the character. His answers were helping me to discover and to remember. I kept asking questions.

After this set of questions, I asked candidates to tell me a real story about their lives that they thought this character could have lived. Some spoke about long barefoot walks on the highway, some about fights with monkeys in the jungle, some about heroic deeds of their past. Ulises narrated the last night he spent with an ex-lover in a motel in the heart of Mexico City. The way he spoke about it greatly reminded me of my father. In real life, sometimes he would talk about previous lovers in that same tone, his voice exhibiting the same texture and rhythm, creating a similar feeling. It was very clear that Ulises was the right choice.

It is important to note that I never explained anything at all to the actors. My idea was that, by creating a surface for projection (the spoken portrait) and by asking the right questions, they would help me to remember this character that only existed in my memory. We, through a process similar to anamnesis, were able to discover what this character was like. Later, when I asked the actors to perform something, I barely had to give them directions. The exercise of discovering the character together was enough to make the actions flow naturally and to create the main features of what I wanted.

How to flesh out a memory? After materializing the spoken portrait of my father, I needed someone to perform the memory of him. In this sense, my point was to cast someone who could incarnate the features (psychological and physical) that were engraved in the drawing. I knew back then that I wouldn´t work with a script (since in most of my memories I didn´t remember people’s exact words). I also knew that there was a big challenge in the process of building the character for the actor, since there was no character arc or plot to follow. In that sense, I wanted to find someone who could perform the character almost without any direction at all. In other words, I wanted someone who would “be” the character, someone who reminded me of my father.


We sent the spoken portrait to casting agencies and acting groups. We gave very little information about the project. We said that we were looking for someone who looked like the drawing (or that at least found some connection with it). We gave a wide age range (35-55) and specified that we needed someone who had a talent for improvisation.

We received around 30 profiles and discarded only the ones who didn´t belong to the age range. Aside from that, we gave everyone a chance to participate in the casting session. A week later, around ten actors came to our casting experiment. Almost every actor had some sort of vague resemblance to the drawing, and yet some of them were more similar than others.

Back then I wasn´t sure what I was looking for. Should I make my decisions based on acting skills, on looks, or on how similar the actor’s life was to my father´s? This would be a process in which the actors needed to incarnate the character without even trying. Therefore, I decided that the best thing would be to let the actors discover this character at the same time as me. Moreover, by keeping this conversation open, I would discover the actor´s personality through the character.


As a first test, I gave them the drawing without any context at all. I asked them to tell me who that character was, what he did, what his personality was. I believe that the portrait was concrete enough to suggest certain things but also open enough to become a space for projection. Everyone gave a completely different reading of the drawing. Some people saw an evil and crooked assassin, others saw a kind old man, and others saw a boxer experiencing the downfall of his career.

There was still one big question: who would play me as a 7-year-old?

Since there was no script and my idea was to improvise the scenes, the challenge of finding a child who could improvise naturally seemed almost impossible. I knew that the only way to approach this situation would be to use real-life relationships instead of directing the kid. I needed to find an actor who had a kid, a nephew, and the kid of a friend of his or whatever sort of real relationship that would enable the dynamics that I wanted to happen. Because of this, we asked every actor that we examined for the role of my father if they had kids that could act. Almost by divine coincidence, Ulises, the actor we decided was the best one to play the role, had a 7-year-old-kid. We asked him to come with his child to another casting session.

continue to: Mise-en-scène