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Eiza González is only half exaggerating when she tells me, “It’s hard not to think I’m selling myself to the devil.” She’s not necessarily referring to her latest role in Alexandra McGuinness’ new film, She’s Missing, but in the broader, everyday sense of being a Mexican woman making it big in America. The 29-year-old actress worked her way up the ladder of theatre school and telenovelas in her home country before cropping up in several Stateside blockbuster pictures—from last year’s Welcome to Marwen, to this summer’s Fast & Furious spinoff, Hobbs & Shaw. But these days, her steady rise comes with its own reminders: What is her responsibility to her identity? Can she ever break free of it? And what happens if she does?
These aren’t questions that every actor faces. But dip into one’s minority pool—be it across gender, race or sexuality—and suddenly you’re finding artists who are held up as the spokesperson for their group. González isn’t trying to be that. “I have found myself conflicted in a sense,” she says, pausing. “I feel proud to be Mexican. However, I think that how I always approached acting was in a sense of, you are transformative. It’s always applied worldwide, no matter the color of your skin or nationality or language you speak. That was the beauty of it.”
But this universalism isn’t always accessible when you’re pinned into the same role. In González’s case? That meant years of getting cast for her Latinx identity. Not apart from it.
Rarely do we see our own people playing anything else but Latina.
It’s what González called her “safe zone,” with the potential to play Latinx roles for the rest of her life. “I thought it’d be interesting to push their boundaries, [and] ask more from myself,” she explains. “I grew up watching all these films, seeing all these American actors playing Australian and British playing American. I always found it really interesting why we couldn’t. Rarely do we see our own people playing anything else but Latina.”
And while no one can exactly escape their race or ethnicity—unless, perhaps, they’re altogether white-passing—what González urges for is the ability to play characters beyond their racial stereotypes. With She’s Missing, the actress has managed to land herself in a role where does just that. In the new film, which hit theaters on Friday, Dec. 20, González plays Jane: A casino bartender and rodeo queen hopeful who never stops dreaming for more. Her character’s identity as a Mexican-American is only added as a fact, not focus.
“I thought she reflected the true core of what it is to be that girl growing up in a small town with massive dreams, but also no means to achieve them and no idea of knowing how to,” González reveals. And it’s the desperation of these dreams that makes Jane a frustratingly complicated character: In her pursuit of a bigger life, we meet a woman who is jealous, sly, prone to fits of rage—just as much as she is charming and protective. In essence, she is a woman who gets to inhabit the multiplicity of experiences often relegated to male characters.
I just wanted to give people the chance to feel comfortable watching a woman be who she is.
“I didn’t judge her,” says González of performing the role. “She’s going through this mix of emotions. The world is fumbling in front of her eyes and she’s desperately trying to put it all together. I found her very sad and endearing, and I just wanted to give people the chance to feel comfortable watching a woman be who she is.”
If She’s Missing accomplishes anything, it is this. Not only do audiences bear witness to Jane’s dreams and demons; we also encounter her friend Heidi (Lucy Fry), a young woman still learning how to exist on her own in the world. Her relationship with Jane is mercurial—friends who “sometimes feel like partners,” says González, because of the intensity of their codependency. Theirs is the kind of toxic, yet familiar feminine relationship we don’t often see played out in films.
And while She’s Missing indulges in their hazy dreams—sometimes to murky effect—it does deliver a clear vision of what womanhood can be like in America today. Who says a Mexican actress like González can’t get us close to that perspective, after all?
She’s Missing is in theaters now. Watch the trailer below.