Yalitza Aparicio on How Paying Tribute to Her Mother in 'Roma' Led to a Life-Changing Experience (Exclusive)

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Roma is a bold testament of the deep and unwavering strength of a woman. 

Born in Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca, Mexico, Yalitza Aparicio portrays the central character in Alfonso Cuarón’s latest feature, Roma. The 25-year-old newcomer plays Cleo, a character based on Cuarón’s nanny, whose real name is Liboria "Libo" Rodriguez. 

“At first, this was an opportunity to pay tribute to my mother for her work. She too is a housekeeper, but now I realize this film is an opportunity to show all domestic workers the importance of their role within a family unit,” Aparicio, who holds a degree in education and aspires to be a teacher, tells ET. 

“I’ve tried to digest this entire experience because it’s all new to me,” she adds. “This is something I never imagined could happen to me but now I realize I’m an example for others - to prove that everyone can obtain their dreams if they truly believe.”

Shot over the course of 108 days, the film is a passion project for Cuarón. He’s been dreaming about bringing this story to life for over 15 years. But, one of the biggest challenges for producers was finding a young lady that would resemble Rodriguez.

As divine intervention would have it, Aparicio was taken to the casting call by her sister, who heard auditions would be taking place at their local community center. At the request of her sister, Aparicio auditioned for the part and was selected to meet with Cuarón. 

“The moment I met her and she walked into my office I knew it was her,” Cuarón tells ET. “I was doing a film about one of the people I love most. It's a woman who raised me. So, the moment that Yalitza walked in, I instinctively knew, ‘This is it!’ I didn't have to question it or even think.”

“Yalitza is the heart of Roma,” Cuarón continues. “It's a film that without the presence of Yalitza and the performance of Yalitza, it wouldn't work. This film in many ways, in my life, has been a before and after. So, Yalitza is very important in my life.” 

Aparicio got to meet with Rodriguez before production began and it’s a moment she’ll never forget. 

“I was thrilled when they told me I would be able to meet her because I would be meeting the person I had to bring to life,” Aparicio says. “At the time same, I became a bit worried, thinking that maybe I wouldn’t be able to pay homage to her in the way she deserved. But, when I spoke with her I realized what a magnificent person she is. It then became my mission to portray her in the most authentic way. I realized we had one thing in common, we both left our homes in pursuit of greater opportunities.”

Like Cuarón, Aparicio says that meeting the director has been a life-changing experience.

“I feel like he helped me learn how to trust in myself,” she explains. “He helped me understand that I can achieve so much more if I work hard and not conform. He helped me understand that it’s important to fight for your dreams.” 

Roma is playing in select theaters and streaming on Netflix.

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