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Sundance: Real-Life ‘Cassandro’ Gets Emotional On The Red Carpet With Star Gael García Bernal, Filmmaker Roger Ross Williams

An emotional scene unfolded Friday night at Park City’s Ray Theater ahead of the world premiere of Cassandro.

Prime Video’s Sundance Film Festival selection marks the narrative feature debut of acclaimed documentary filmmaker Roger Ross Williams and casts Gael García Bernal in the title role as Saúl Armendáriz, a gay amateur wrestler from El Paso who rises to international fame after creating the character of Cassandro. , also called the ‘Liberace of Lucha Libre’.

Armendáriz arrived to the premiere in a flashy ensemble fit for both ring and red carpet – a multi-colored leotard, dazzling tights and a blue satin jacket with dramatic train. Armendáriz, who suffered a stroke that limited his movement on one side of his body and could only string together short sentences, was overjoyed and clearly emotional when he saw Bernal and the filmmaker.

Williams, who profiled Armendáriz in 2016 for the Amazon series The New Yorker presentstold The Hollywood Reporter moments after their warm embrace that the first day he met him changed his life. “The first day I thought: you will be my first feature film with a script. First day,” Williams said. “It’s because his story and his spirit are so uplifting. It’s a positive story about a queer person, where many of the stories we see about queer people are depressing and sad. This is about triumph and overcoming adversity and just believing in whom you find acceptance. It’s a beautiful thing.”

He also did not hesitate with casting.

“Gael was the only actor I ever thought could play this role,” he said, listing his critically acclaimed turns in movies like Bad education, Y tu mamá también and more. “He understands the culture and is a great actor. It was a no brainer.”

Friday night after the film debut, THR lead film critic David Rooney praised Bernal’s work in the film, writing that he “pursues his best role in years, delivering a performance steeped in cheeky wit, resilience and radical confidence – not to mention some amazingly deft moves. ” He added that the feature offers an “exciting exploration of fearless queer identity in a macho setting.”

As the diversity conversation in Hollywood has gotten louder in recent years, so have questions about who can play what roles. But both Williams and Bernal arrived prepared with answers.

“He’s an actor. He’s not playing himself. As Gael has said, he’s never played himself, he’s always played someone else,” said Williams, who wrote the script with David Teague. “As an actor, that’s what they do. That’s the beauty of it and the beauty of the craft, of course I understand the representation as a black gay man, but I wanted the best possible actor who could bring this amazing character to life.

Also an executive producer, Bernal explained that the role allowed him to tap into parts of himself while also focusing on the joy Armendáriz brought to the ring. “There are many aspects that encompass an actor. One of the things I really look forward to and thrive on is the chance to have fun,” said Bernal, who stars opposite Roberta Colindrez, Perla de la Rosa, Joaquín Cosío and Raúl Castillo. “With the character of Cassandro, the joy he brought to lucha libre naturally forces you to be joyful and forces you to play with it. When I do it I really enjoy it and I can really feel it. I like how it expands and helps me play so many different characters. It’s like my inner transgender persona comes out to have fun. I wanted to respond to that.”

Asked specifically to respond to the question of what type of actors should play what roles — be it gay, straight, religious or racially diverse, marginalized, etc. — Bernal said his answer “requires a very long answer.”

“You know, it’s almost like we have to apologize for acting right now. But in a sense, acting has many functions and if we don’t play it otherif we the other with a capital O, if we’re not playing against someone we’re not, we’ll never achieve that catharsis. We will never achieve that healing. There’s something so fascinating about seeing someone who isn’t you or seeing someone living a life similar to what you’ve lived on screen, it leads someone to a healing process. We should play everyone and we should also just play and have fun. Really, anyone can play anything. It’s fascinating to see King Lear played by a woman. It’s fascinating to watch someone from the gay community play a very, very straight character. That gives so much flavor.”

Bernal has shown that versatility through many characters who have graced the screens at Sundance, which his films love The motorcycle diaries and Y tu mama tambien have played. “It’s a place that’s dear to my heart,” he said, minutes before going in for his screening. “It’s so nice to see movies where everything is very cold outside, but so warm inside.”

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