Catalonian Actress Laia Costa, a Star in Sundance 2017

by Gabriel Lerman January 27, 2017
Actress Laia Costa in Sundance 2017

Photo by Maarten de Boer/Getty Images Portrait

It was Laia Costa’s first time in Sundance but, if one is to judge from her career trajectory so far, it probably won’t be her last. That’s because the Catalan actress has become one of the biggest new promises of Hollywood. In Newness, the latest film from Drake Doremus - the same filmmaker who launched Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin into stardom with another Sundance Festival favorite, Like Crazy – Laia shares the spotlight with Nicholas Hoult. The two play a millennial couple which takes a break from quick hookups through Tinder-like apps and attempt to have a more stable relationship. The film showcases both her English fluency and her surprising and fearless spontaneity. This partly explains why she did not hesitate when German director Sebastian Schipper came calling and flew her to Berlin for Victoria, a movie shot in continuous takes, for which she was nominated to the EE BAFTA Rising Star Award and became the first foreign actress to win a Lola, the biggest award in German cinema. Costa, whose first movie in Argentina, Nieve negra, has just been released, with Ricardo Darín and Leonardo Sbaraglia, has also just finished another American film, Maine, where she shares top billing with Thomas Mann and has just signed with one of the top talent agencies in the U.S.

Do you believe that you arrived at this point in your career because of the courage you’ve shown in taking certain roles?

I’m very new to the party, I have lots to offer, but it’s been a mixture of many elements for me. I’ve learned about courage on my first projects. I was lucky enough to hook up with a team and a director who taught me you need to be courageous, mostly because this is a volatile profession, where being courageous can end badly, or do well by acting cowardly, so when in doubt it’s best to do what you really like, what motivates you, instead of the safe choice, because nothing is certain in this business. The only sure thing is the job you can do once you’re chosen. You can win or lose roles through pure luck, by having courage, by being at the right place, because there is a wave of new directors who use a certain type of role and they picture you in them, any number of reasons… that will never depend on you. There is a percentage theory, and it rings true to me, that says it’s a fifty-fifty proposition, that it’s the work you do but it’s also luck and being ready when it comes, so only the first part it’s in my power, and I would deal with the latter elements as they come.

We can agree, however, that other actresses may have heard “let’s shoot a movie in three takes and whatever we shoot, we keep” and must have answered “that’s absolutely crazy” or, speaking of this movie, might have been told “you would be naked for 90% of the movie” and they could have said “I don’t do nude scenes.”

And do them in English! I’ve always taken chances with things I like. It’s a defect and a virtue, that if I like something or someone, I do it intensely, and my dislikes are just as strong. If I see that I like a project, even if it makes me afraid, or it’s too risky, if it’s not an easy or simple choice, or it doesn’t look too good, in spite of all that, I will do it. If I get it in my head to do it, I’m pig-headed that way, I will do it. On the other hand, if a project doesn’t quite convinces me, even slightly, then I won’t do it.

How was the offer to work on Newness?

I had a casting call and when the offer came I talked to Drake about the tone of the movie. I saw his filmography and realized he’s a very elegant director, very visual, who liked to work on every setup, not only the performances but also the visual aesthetics. For example, we talked quite a lot about the sex scenes beforehand, not the scene per se, but how it was going to look later in editing, because you need to be free on set, to give it your all, to free the entire instrument that is your voice, your body, your memory, your improvisation skills, your attitude to the character, and to the story. Then later, while editing, the movie takes shape as far as tone is concerned. The director has the tools for the film to be rated R or not. That depends mostly on the editing. To me, it’s very important to be clear about two things: That I could trust Nic, and I could trust Drake, and once the three of us knew we could trust on one another, from that point forward it was smooth sailing. The tree of us moved freely on set. Without worrying about what would be seen or not, worrying more about what happens, what am I communicating. In the knowledge that the editing would be handled very tastefully, with that understanding, we were able to move forward.

Nicholas is an actor with a long blockbuster movie career. Was it intimidating for you?

That’s the thing. I don’t get intimidated easily. I am zero myth-maniac. If the project interests me, I’m more worried about doing the scene than whom you are doing it with. What I do when I’m with someone like Ricardo Darín, for instance, or Leo Sbaraglia, Martín Hodara, Nic Hoult, or with Drake Doremus, is to try to learn from them. That is, I picture myself going to set as a bit of a thief, as a sponge, to absorb as much of what I don’t know and what they do, because they have more experience than I. Then I try to give my best while I learn from them but I’m not afraid to work with someone famous. In the end, we are just people. Also, I think we live in a society that idolizes actors to an outrageous degree. One thing I like about this movie – have you seen the credits? – is that the cast appears after the rest of the technical crew. Credits start with the director, then the whole crew, wardrobe, makeup, editors, and the cast comes at the end.

Newness talks about the crude realities millennials face…

It’s true. In the case of millennials, we were told since we were little that we were very special. We have been told that we could get anything we wanted if we wanted it badly enough. Then we arrive at the adult world and we see we are not so special and we can’t get it all whenever we want it. It’s a generation addicted to new technologies. We’re very impatient. Everything must be “me, now.” I have skipped the Tinder boom because I’ve been with my boyfriend for the last decade, that’s truly a new development. I can see its appeal, though. Why can’t I have casual sex? I would be checking through and I choose someone the way I would get a Coke, just because I feel like having it. Of course, how could that develop into a long-term relationship? These are, therefore, people constantly unsatisfied, and this is what happens in the movie. They live a reality and cultural interests that are totally different from my grandparents’, for example. It makes me a little afraid but I would like to know more about new technologies and social networks, which is very, very new. It feels akin to an illness we haven’t had enough time to study the consequences or its after-effects, to find a cure. I would love to make a one hundred years’ leap into the future to observe how future generations, who would have lived with these technologies for a long time, live, think, and behave.