On Sunday night at the Golden Globes, A Fantastic Woman, Chilean director Sebastián Lelio's contender for best foreign language film, did not win its category. But during its festival and awards season run so far, it's achieved another goal: to shine a light on the isolated, often desolate lives of women, especially transgender women—which its star, the newcomer Daniela Vega, happens to be. In the film, Vega plays Marina Vidal, a waitress by day and lounge singer by night (Vega, who mined her own life for her character's, is also a singer). Her life is thrown into turmoil after the death of her much older lover, Orlando. Treated like a criminal by the authorities and harassed by Orlando’s family, Marina must both cope with his death and figure out her life without him at the same time. There has been much chatter that Vega might be the first trans actor to be nominated for an Oscar—and she really could—but even if that doesn't come to pass, Vega has already become a talent to watch.
What was your first job as an actress?
Well, I started acting seven years [ago] in the cinema. [My first film] was a Chilean movie named The Guest was my first acting, and my first lead character in the cinema. I started to sing opera at eight years old. And then when I grew up, I decided to be an actress; I don't know. I’m not sure if I decide to be an actress. I take the way of my life, and [at] some point, I discover that I want to be an actress.
And did you have a moment where it came to you?
I think it’s more complex than this. I think it’s about my own transition. It’s about looking for answers. It’s about trying to survive to my own life and to the others’ life. And I think the arts work for me as an answer, as a key for the future.
Do you find that you act when you sing?
I think the most different situation when you’re singing, it’s you have to [evoke] emotions to the people with your voice, not with your gestures. And when you’re acting, you have to translate your emotion in [gestures]. So for that reason I think it’s very different.
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Photographs by Juergen Teller; Styled by Edward Enninful