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Diane Guerrero Talks Encanto, Playing Perceived Perfect Characters, And Favorite Disney Princesses - Exclusive Interview

Disney's upcoming animated film "Encanto" is, on its surface, a story about the Madrigals, a magical family where each member of the clan has a different power: shapeshifting, super strength, and the ability to control weather, just to name a few examples. Everyone has a power, but because this is a Disney movie, there's one exception: Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz). From there, "Encanto" tells the story of what it is to be the one non-magical girl in a family where everyone and everything else (even your house) is magic.

However, "Encanto" is also a Colombian story, one that deals with a community escaping extreme violence and the generational trauma it can cause, especially for the people charged with powerful magic to protect the community from any further violence. One of the magical Madrigals is Isabela (Diane Guerrero), a seemingly perfect woman with the power to grow beautiful flowers and vegetation wherever she goes. Being perceived as perfect can take its toll.

Looper had the chance to talk with Diane Guerrero ahead of the release of "Encanto." Guerrero has spent a lot of time discussing generational trauma, both through her role as Maritza Ramos on "Orange is the New Black" and in real life through her memoir, "In the Country We Love," where she discusses having her parents deported while she was left behind in the United States. We discuss some of that as well as "Encanto" itself and Guerrero's favorite Disney princesses.

Why Diane Guerroro wanted to be a part of Encanto

Can you tell me how you kind of came on board this project? Is it just Lin-Manuel is making a Disney movie and you dive in with two feet first because it's Lin-Manuel, or is it something else?

Well, I think all those, the Lin-Manuel of it all kind of came afterwards. I didn't even know that Lin was doing the music until later. It was just it's an animated film for Disney and that for me just grabbed my attention. I'm just like, "oh my gosh, this is everything I've dreamed of." My Disney VHS collection growing up, it's extensive. It's serious. And I have some of like the first ones, you know what I mean? So I've been a collector. And so that was really it for me. And of course then it was all these cherries on top after that.

And it feels like a big story, this one. Not just because it's an explicitly Colombian story, but also because it's dealing with the long term impact of generational trauma. What was it like sort of coming into that story?

It was quite fitting for me I guess, because it's a subject that I'm very familiar with and am actively working on and studying and very, very curious and interested about. And it's just such a big part of my life. And so, naturally, as the universe does, brought this project to me and I was able to cease the opportunity and it's just so fitting for who I am and what me and my family have gone through. And it's just been such a beautiful experience to get to tell this story in this way for so many people to take in and make their own and love and sing along with. And so, for me, it's a dream come true, really.

On feeling connected to Isabela

What are you hoping that people are going to get out of the movie once it's in theaters?

Yeah. I think it's a really honest representation of what families go through. And I would love for people to take away that family is important and the roles that we play in our families are important, but more important than that is to take care of ourselves and to validate ourselves. To express our needs, to continue to change and grow and fall when we need to. And yeah, I want people to take away that it's okay to be yourself. Even if you're in a family that is very demanding, and even if you do have those kinds of responsibilities, it's really important to take care of yourself and to love yourself.

Did you feel a connection to Isabela as a character because she's perceived a certain way, right? She's beautiful and she seemed to be kind of perfect, but then she's obviously carrying around this kind of mess that she feels she can't show. Is a character that you looked at and you were like, "I understand her."

Yeah, of course. I mean, I think that a lot of us can relate to Isabela, this sort of pressure, societal pressure and instinctual pressure to be perfect, to get everything right. I think that, in a sense, for me, I used this idea of perfection as a survival technique. And it did help for some of the tougher experiences and challenges in my life. But after a while, that gets exhausting and it's not sustainable. And I think that, just like I've told you, that I've been working on myself in terms of my mental health and learning a lot about familial trauma and ancestral trauma and all sorts of trauma, I've learned that perfection has definitely been something that has been hindering me from being comfortable with who I am, fully. And really being able to express myself in the ways that I want and ultimately bringing me down in a lot of ways. So I'm trying to shed that perfection, much like Isabela.

On Disney princesses and magical powers

If you were going to be in the Madrigal family and you were going to open a door and get a power, do you have any idea what you think it would be? What was that little kid passion that you think would've been explored?

Talking to animals. I laugh because that was sort of like when I was doing interviews with two of my castmates, that was something that was mentioned as being the coolest power. But for me, I have two dogs and I talk to them all the time. And so somehow I feel like I do have magical powers because we do understand each other. They're certainly magical. My dogs, Penny and Sally, are magical creatures and boy, wouldn't it be great to really communicate with them? But I think that we do. So, yeah. That would be a cool power to have.

So you have an extensive Disney collection.


Who is your Disney princess?

Oh. Well, I have many. I would say "The Little Mermaid."

So Ariel is your number one?

I think so. And I think second is "Pocahontas." I think it's between "Pocahontas" and "The Little Mermaid." I mean, I love both of their sense of adventure and wanting to be free.

On playing Maria Elena Holly in Clear Lake

You're going to be playing Maria Elena Holly in the upcoming film "Clear Lake." That's a really exciting, real person to portray. How did you come into that project and why were you interested in taking it on?

I mean, gosh, I've always wanted to ... I love period pieces. And it's been so hard to really go for those roles because they're really not... I guess they didn't see a lot of Latinx folk in those period pieces. Especially with a lot of famous people, unless they were "La Bamba" or something. Those were pieces that I saw that I was ... I did, I definitely saw myself in those, but I had no idea that Buddy Holly was married to a Puerto Rican woman. And so, that was really interesting to me that at that time, for him to be that influential in our culture and to be doing things that were outside of the norm, especially when it came to race. And that really spoke to Buddy Holly and that whole gang of musicians that were performing during a very, very special time in American music. So, to be a part of that story is incredible. I love musical documentaries. I love music. So for me, it's also a dream come true, much like playing Isabela on the new Disney movie.

Disney's animated film "Encanto" is in theaters beginning November 24.