This Mexican beauty with a curvaceous figure made her US television debut in a guest starring role on the final episode of the critically acclaimed cable series The Shield. She has appeared in 15 motion pictures, most of them in Spanish, but several features for major American studios (Universal, Lionsgate, Warner Brothers). Magi Avila began her professional career as an opera singer at the age of 15 and has performed at various presidential galas. Hers is a familiar face on Mexican television, where she additionally worked as a newscaster and appeared in many commercials. She’s appeared in stage productions in Mexico, San Diego, (San Diego Rep) and Los Angeles (Casa 0101). The gorgeous Avila is rehearsing Carmen Miranda: The Lady with the Tutti Frutti Hat, to begin previews on May 21 with an official opening on May 28 at the Hudson Backstage in WeHo. In our interview she talks about Carmen Miranda, her background and what made her great. Avila speaks of a fierce dedication to the craft that she admires in others - which is most obviously her own philosophy of living.
Q: What made you want to play Carmen Miranda?
Because she's such an inspiration. She's so wonderful and a great example to follow for anyone in every career.
Q: She's portuguesa, correct?
Yes, she was born in Brasil. What a life ... and her music! Most of her music is celebration. It's about the beauty of life and how to do things to make people happy. It's so healthy, so beautiful.
It's catchy and so healthy for the mind.
Q: Is she an inspiration for you personally? Are there any similarities between you?
A lot. (she laughs) It's interesting because I never saw too many of her films until a dear friend told me I should and I googled her and started reading more and more about her. For me, she's the typical underdog. She came from a very humble family. Her father was a barber who immigrated. My father didn't immigrate, but he was a barber too. Her mother cooked to make some extra money for the family, just like my mother. So, we both come from very humble beginnings.
Q: Where were you born?
Q: I never knew until I read about Carmen Miranda this morning that she was abused by her husband and died at such a young age!
Yes, at 46. So sad, but she left us so much. She is a symbol of self-mastery. She would work her skills and her talent and polish and polish herself until she became a great artist. She became the best she could be. That's why she's so inspirational for so many.
Q: Did she start her career on Broadway before making her way to Hollywood?
Yes. In the show, we show her starting out as a young lady and how she was discovered for radio. She became one the greatest artists in Brasil and then she went to Argentina and performed all over South America. That was her hardest time careerwise. Then she was discovered by a famous producer Lee Schubert and was brought to New York. Then she was invited to come to Hollywood.
Q: What was her strongest point? Was she a stronger singer or dancer?
A singer. But the Latin rhythms have a lot of dancing built into them, so she was already dancing so much. It's a requirement of that music. You can't help it. It just pops out naturally.
Q: Where did the big hats come from that became her signature?
When she was 16 she started working at this hat place. Naturally she was very creative and started making her own hats and modeling them. When she was singing she got invited to go to Bahia, a beautiful place in Brasil where she got to see a lot more of the Brasilian tradition. The African women who had come to Bahia wore these beautiful blouses and had these little baskets that carried fruit. They wore them on their heads and would move their arms a certain way and she loved it. A gentleman created a song about it that she wanted to do, and so she started to create her costumes from the inspiration that these women from Bahia and their traditions gave to her. Carmen was a nationalist; she loved Brasil. And so she created more and more hats based on the traditions of these Brasilian women who wore them.
What is interesting too is that she was a white woman from Portugal with light skin and green eyes. And she was dressing up like a black woman, because these women were black. And at first they didn't like it very much. Not many people in the US knew that her costumes were inspired by the black people. Carmen loved them and wanted to show their beautiful traditions to the whole world.
Q: What were Carmen's greatest obstacles or did she hit it big immediately?
The struggle came before Broadway, but in New York she was such a novelty, so she became a big success.
Q: How much of her music are you using in the show?
All her traditional songs. "Chico, chico", "Chica Chica Bun Chic" "Mama yo quiero" and so many others. So many were famous, it was hard to select. Some also that were not samba, samba, samba like "Chattanooga Choo Choo". All wonderful tunes that people will love. They will leave the theater chicachicaboomchic-ing. (she laughs)
Q: You were an opera singer. For how long?
I was very young. For about 10 years. I was lucky to be in the hands of good people who trained me, good teachers. I stopped when I got married. That lasted for 7 years. I got divorced. And here I am. Whatever happens, makes you stronger.
Q: Carmen Miranda certainly didn't sing opera. Hardly. With opera training, you can do practically anything. How difficult a challenge has it been to get into singing and moving like her?
Not very. The greatest challenge has been all the hours of work and preparation for the show and trying to always look fresh. Getting the choreographer (Daniel Coffman) to work in the shortest amount of time.
Q: You look beautiful. No worries. Do you have a favorite actress or actor?
Maria Felix, a Mexican actress from the times of Carmen Miranda as well. Dolores Del Rio from those times too. And now Salma Hayek, I admire her so much and Jennifer Lopez, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close...there are so many. ...Sandra Bullock.
The down side with Carmen, Maria Felix and Cantinflas was that they always had the same Latino image to uphold, the same character to play.
Q: It is sad that Miranda never really got past that image she created. But, you have the chance to do it all. How do you feel about these other Latina actresses?
Jennifer Lopez didn't have to cross borders. I don't mean geographical borders, but cultural borders. She grew up in the United States and knows from there how to expand. Salma Hayek, on the other hand, having her accent and cultural richness from another country, she's seen always as "the Mexican person" instead of giving her some other roles ...or, I don't know, maybe it's about creativity or self-proposing. As for myself, I chose to come here and work instead of going to Mexico City and doing novelas (soaps). With the talents that you have, a big responsibility comes. You have to develop and do the most you can with what you have. With that you can do so much good.
Q: Anything more that you care to add about the show?
In this show everbody gets to do what they love to do, dance, sing, play instruments. What we want to accomplish... Every great work is the result of a great team effort. With this, I'm generating a lot of jobs for a lot of people. We have 11 in the cast. I hope it's a success. Carmen had a very sad life at the end, but as Shakespeare said, "It all depends on how you look at it". We want to entertain people, make people happy, like Carmen did. We hope they leave the theatre with big smiles on their faces and that tunes or images or flashbacks come to them two weeks later. That's our mission.
Q: Crees que los actores latinos "superestrellas" han alcanzado un nivel excelente en Hollywood durante los ultimos 10 anos?
Yo creo que es algo totalmente individual. Independiente. No tiene nada que ver con el pais de origen, ni con la cultura, ni con la educacion. Tiene que ver con el desenvolvimiento personal - self-mastery. The work they do and how dedicated they are.
Carmen Miranda- The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat. World Premiere engagement of a new musical written by Sam Mossler. Directed by Adam Schlachter. Musical director: Dennis Kaye. Choreographed by Daniel Coffman. Presented by Tocayo Productions, Inc. in association with Hudson Theatricals. Magi Avila toplines the cast of eleven.
Hudson Backstage Theatre, 6339 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90038.
Previews May 21-23. Opens Friday, May 28, 2010., runs through June 27. Show times Fri. & Sat. at 8, Sun. at 3.
RESERVATIONS: (323) 960-7740.
or visit: www.Plays411.com/carmen
When asked about the challenges of mounting this new musical, musical director Dennis Kaye had the following to say:
"Musically, my greatest challenge has been to recreate, as closely as possible, the Carmen Miranda experience for the audience. The singers, dancers, and the band have all tried to remain as authentic as possible to her film performances."
And from director Adam Schlachter:
"Excited in my transition from feature films to a stage musical. (I'm) delighted to be working with such professional musicians, actors, performers, and craftspeople."