Jun 22, 2007

Telenovelas, actors and the celebrity factor

Even though telenovelas are still despised by many, it's undeniable that the genre largely determines the "star system" in Latin America. As a matter of fact, most Latino actors that have made it to Hollywood performed in at least one telenovela before making the big jump. (Edgar Ramírez, Sonia Braga, Gael García Bernal, Salma Hayek, María Conchita Alonso and Diego Luna, to name a few).

Because of the demographic and cultural traits of Latin American countries and the widespread consumption of television in the region, telenovelas provide actors with a level of popularity and recognition that neither the theatre, nor the local film industry can offer.

In my research I've encountered several actors with tremendous experience in theatre and/or film who are working in their first telenovela. They're always amazed at the level of recognition they've acquired thanks to the telenovela. People now recognize them everywhere they go and, for the first time, these actors feel that they've become public figures. Also, for the first time, these actors have pondered the meanings and consequences of that thing we call "fame".

The entertainment press increases the visibility of actors at an exponential rate. Their coverage ranges from serious interviews and news stories, to gossip and speculation about the actors' professional and personal lives. This hyper-visibility in the media creates a celebrity aura that many times cloaks the fact that actors are human beings--sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, spouses and friends--whose delicate job deals with human emotions. This celebrity aura has consequences for the actor who doesn't understand quickly the risks and pitfalls of "fame." It also has consequences for us, the public.

As members of the audience, we tend to perceive celebrities as people with big egos, a lot of money and no real problems. We also like reading about their personal lives.

Our relationship with telenovela actors has elements of admiration and identification (because of the characters they play). But, it also includes elements that are the consequence of our fascination with celebrities and our perception of them. This is why we eagerly read the entertainment press and we feel particularly shaken when something dramatic (either good or bad) happens to an actor (for instance, Gaby Espino's wedding, Daniela Bascopé's illness and Yanis Chimaras' murder). This is also the reason behind the increase of gossip columns, web pages and blogs, in which half-truths, speculations, and even strictly false "news" abound. Actually, it's increasingly difficult to tell the difference between news and false news.

I can't comment on telenovela actors of all Latin American countries. However, I can write about those who work in Venezuela. Throughout the many hours of interviews I have conducted with them in the last eight years, I've found that most actors are dedicated and serious professionals who, like most of us, try hard to live a balanced personal life. Committed actors are particularly intelligent and sensible. They respect and value their craft within an industry--the telenovela industry--that places more value on physical beauty and youth than on talent and experience. This is an industry that many times limits and disrespects its actors. However, in spite of all its imperfections, the telenovela industry remains the most important source of jobs for actors, and the best way for them to project their talent to the mass audience.

The telenovela business can be like a sausage factory: simplistic, repeated, redundant and relentless. Therefore, it's truly admirable and comforting to observe how committed actors use intelligence and talent as they work on their characters. They understand that their profession goes way beyond the sausage factory and the reality of being simply "famous."

Below the images of SOME of these committed actors: Gledys Ibarra, Javier Vidal, Elba Escobar, Beatriz Vásquez, Laureano Olivares, Carlos Cruz, Marisa Román, Roque Valero, Julie Restifo and Caridad Canelón.

There are MANY MORE. So many, that it's impossible to place their pictures in this post.

ALL OF THEM have my respect.

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