Mexican actress Kate del Castillo shines in K-11, the new prison thriller from director Jules Stewart (the mother of Twilight darling Kristen Stewart and her brother Cameron, who both have cameos in the film). Del Castillo plays a transgender woman named Mousey, who rules her dormitory with an iron, manicured fist. After a successful run on the festival circuit, K-11 is now screening in theaters and available On Demand.
Based on the real-life ward in the Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail, the film examines relationships between the gay men and trans women incarcerated for various crimes, then housed in a distinct ward to protect them from violence that might be committed against them in the general population. Del Castillo’s Mousey is captivating and nuanced, by turns sweet and vicious, one moment the villain, the next the victim.
Del Castillo left a prolific television career in her native Mexico to pursue the silver screen in the United States. She’s established herself as a crossover success with leading roles in the Fox Searchlight/Weinstein film Under the Same Moon (La Misma Luna), to date the highest-grossing Spanish language theatrical release in the United States. She solidified her status with another starring role, in Telemundo’s Queen of the South (La Reina del Sur), a short-form, prime-time telenovela that attracted more than 8.1 million viewers in its first week on the air in 2011, making it the most successful telenovela premiere in the Web’s history, according to the Internet Movie Database.
But Del Castillo’s turn as Mousey in K-11 is arguably her most nuanced English-speaking performance to date. The Advocate spoke with del Castillo about being a nontrans actress playing a transgender character, her international appeal, and what she learned about the LGBT community while in this role.
The Advocate: You were tremendous in the film. What drew you to the role in the first place?
Kate del Castillo: Well, I was thrilled because… when I first read the script, I thought, OK, would I fit here? So I just love the fact that the director, Jules, thought outside the box and asked me, being a woman, to play the role. So that was a first. I was like, Oh, my God, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So I was thrilled. And I talked to Jules a lot, trying to find that masculinity, but there is much more of a femininity that I have to be in touch with. So we worked on that, and I think that was the challenge for me as well as the risk. Because there was this very fine line to cross and not be a cartoon, with a role like that. So I had a lot of fun, and I absolutely adored working with Jules, and a role like this.
And how’s the reaction been when the film screened at festivals?
It’s a hard movie. It’s a harsh movie. It’s not an easy movie. I think it’s doing very well in the festivals, and people are responding very well. There’s people that will like it and people that won’t like it — it’s just for a certain kind of people, maybe. In a way, because I’m a romantic and I will always be, to me, I think it’s also a love story. It is. So that’s the way I see the movie. I think it’s amazing. I think Jules did an amazing job with her opera prima.
You’ve made the jump from Spanish-speaking television to American film, but do you have any concern about playing a trans character, and how that might be received by some of your Latino fans?
I always like to do different things. As an actor, you’re always just wishing and dreaming about playing different characters. And that’s the way I’ve been doing things since I got here. And I left the soap opera — not only soap opera — but those TV things, in Mexico, and I came here. I was working already, but in different roles, and very different from what I was used to. So I think they love it. And they want to see me in different characters, and change my physicality, and not [be] watching the same Kate as always. I think that’s very nice for my fans.
Were you nervous at all to take on this role?
Absolutely. But not because of that. We always, as actors, we are very insecure human beings. And of course, I was like, Oh, my God, am I going to be able to deliver it the way it should? Because, again, it’s a very fine line, and I don’t want to insult anybody, you know? It’s very delicate. So of course I was very nervous. And it was a big, big challenge. And I hate to talk good about me, but… You need to be very brave to play a role like that, because it’s a lot of risk.
Did you ever get a chance to visit the actual K-11 ward in L.A.?
I couldn’t because there were a lot of issues. They didn’t want us to go there. It was very hard for us to get there, so I couldn’t. But you know what, we shot the whole film inside a jail that was a real jail [that] they wanted to tear down. And so the whole place was just scary as hell.
I believe that. When I spoke with director Stewart, she actually said that this was a “feel-good movie.” I was kind of surprised by that, because when I saw the film, I felt more like you — that it was a harsh film. It’s well-done, it’s a powerful film, and it affected me, but I wouldn’t say that it’s a feel-good movie, despite the resolution at the end. But what would you say to encourage folks to watch the film, or what would you like to tell folks before they see the film?
It’s very hard to label the movie with one word. It is a feel-good movie at the end. You know, you have revenge. But it’s also a harsh movie. I don’t know exactly, how can I label it? You just said it. It’s a very powerful film, with very colorful characters. Because it is about the characters in this small world inside a jail, and that we really cannot know about. So I think we learn a lot from the movie, about this place, and transgender human beings that we, unfortunately, don’t know a lot about. It’s there, but we really don’t know anything about them. So answering your question, I don’t know. I would say a very powerful movie in many ways.
Do you have any connections to the LGBT community personally, in your life?
No. Well, now I have a lot of friends [who are] transgender. But I’ve done things, and been a grand marshal at the Los Angeles Grand Bicentennial Parade and Festival [celebrating Mexico’s day of independence, in 2009]. I think they like me, and I love them, even before the movie. I am very happy because I learned a lot.
Mousey is such a fierce character, and I think the way you can flip on a switch between being very sweet and kind of coy to just being brutal, I think that was really impressive and believable for your character.
Thank you so much, and I appreciate you saying that. Because it was a lot of risk and a big, big challenge for me. So I’m glad that you liked it. And yes, I think that she has those things. You feel sorry for her, and on the other hand, she’s a bitch. She is! So yes, she has that duality, which I love.
Did you do any research on transgender identities before you started filming?
Yes, I did. I did as much as I could, on the Internet, and now you can do so much. And I remembered that amazing movie, Transamerica. So I tried to contact Felicity Huffman’s vocal coach there [Calpernia Addams and Andrea James] and I did, so she helped me a lot.
Watch Del Castillo interact with costars Goran Visnjic (ER), Jason Mewes (the Jay and Silent Bob series), and D.B. Sweeney in the film’s official trailer, below.