Rapid Round: 'How to Get Away with Murder' Actress Karla Souza on Bucking Latino Stereotypes

Karla Souza H 2016
Courtesy of Diamond Films

A major success story in her native Mexico, the actress is riding a wave of box-office hits.

It would be the understatement of the year to say that actress Karla Souza is killing it at the Mexican box office — in a period of less than five years, she has performed in Mexico's three highest-grossing films of all time.

Souza's string of success began in 2013 with a lead role in Gaz Alazraki's We Are The Nobles, a hit comedy centering on Mexico's social-class divide. That same year she appeared in Eugenio Derbez's Instructions Not Included, Mexico's reigning box-office champ and a real crowd pleaser in the U.S. Hispanic market as well. And for her latest feat she produced and starred in this year's blockbuster Que Culpa Tiene El Nino?, a comedy about a young woman who gets pregnant after a one-night stand.

So it's safe to say Souza has become Mexico's most bankable actress.

In the U.S. she is best known for her role as law student Laurel Castillo in the ABC crime drama How to Get Away With Murder. The popular Shonda Rhimes-produced series is set to have its season three premiere in September.

Souza, a dual U.S.-Mexican citizen who resides in Los Angeles, spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about her meteoric rise to stardom, breaking away from Latino stereotypes, what she loves (and dislikes) about Hollywood and what she'll do if Donald Trump becomes president.

In less than five years you've appeared in Mexico's top three box-office hits. How do you explain the rapid success?
I would definitely say I didn't do it alone. It was a mixture of choosing a good script, with amazing producers, and a phenomenal director with great casts. I feel like those are the three components. I'm also very obsessive and so now that I was able to produce I was able to really push back and change of lot of things, whether it was the casting, the script, the poster, the trailer, wardrobe, anything that could improve. I waited for three years between Nosotros los Nobles (We Are The Nobles) and Que Culpa Tiene El Nino? and for a lot of people they say that's not a very long time, but for an actor to say no to scripts for three years, that's a very long time.

Now you've crossed over into Hollywood with a co-star role in How to Get Away With Murder. What has been your best moment on the show?
In season two I got about three scenes where I got Viola [Davis] all to myself and you don't get to act with such a monster everyday, a monster in the best sense of the word, creatively and not only creatively but as a human being. James Dean said it's very hard to be a great actor, but it's even harder to be a greater man. And I can use that for Viola, she's a great actor but she's an even better human being, and those are two very hard things to find in the same person sometimes. 

You say you like Laurel Castillo's character because she defies Latino stereotypes. What else, specifically, do you like about her?
I like that she's the underdog and I like that she's had a very troubled past and that's she come out to the other side stronger. She's very vulnerable and very tough at the same time. And I find it very interesting that she started off being the soft-spoken one and now she's like the mother of them all. I like the fact that she's a slow-cooker character, and I feel that the biggest payoff is when little by little you know more and more.

And what do you not like about Latina characters in TV or film?
It's unfortunately one-dimensional and they're showing a caricature of what they imagine Latino culture to be. And as a lot of people now put it, Latino culture is so vast and there are so many different flavors in it, and I think they are tired of seeing themselves portrayed in one specific way and they really want to be also aspirational. I'm very vocal about [Laurel's character] having nothing to do with a (drug) cartel or nothing to do with an illegal immigrant. So it's great that Shonda Rhimes has put these things into the characters ... to show people (from different cultures) in a different light.

OK, so imagine it's Nov. 8 and Donald Trump has been elected president of the United States. Do you consider returning home to your native Mexico?
Ah, yes. I think a lot of people are considering leaving the country if that happens. I'm very shaken, I'm still in shock, I think, because no one imagined him to be able come so far. But I think that now we're facing it, we should really communicate and talk with people to make sure we understand the gravity of the decision being made and not just take it as a reality TV show that might be fun and might be exciting to see what happens.

I think it's something very dangerous and we should definitely take it seriously, especially coming from a Latin background. It's terrifying hearing the things he's said. So who knows, I might go back to Mexico or we may all go to Canada (laughs).

What's the best piece of advice that anyone has ever given you?
It is simple, but it's more about who said it [her grandmother], someone who has been through WWII and gone through atrocities in her life, and while I was going through something really hard she said 'it's gonna be OK.' If I'd heard that from my mom I probably wouldn't feel anything, but coming from someone who has been through the most horrifying experiences and hardships in their life and then to tell me it was gonna be OK, that was the best thing I could have heard at that moment.

What do you love and hate the most about working in Hollywood?
I love the immense opportunity to work with such talented people because it's the mecca, and I guess what I dislike is that sometimes it's hard to find people that (don't want to talk about work). Work is not the be-all, end-all, but sometimes you feel like you go out on the streets and that's all you hear about, so sometimes it would be nice to not have that.

What's the most notable difference between working in Hollywood and Mexico?
I would say the difference is the amount of money that's invested in each project.

Who is your dream director?
Right now I'm gonna say Jean-Marc Vallee, but there are so many, Darren Aronofsky.

What are you currently reading?
The Art of Seduction by Robert Greene.

Who would you most like to meet?

What are you doing next?
I just came back from Atlanta. I was doing an adaptation of [the 1990 film] Jacob's Ladder, and I got to be two different characters. And the movie that comes out next is Everybody Loves Somebody, it's an art house movie, romantic comedy out in February. And actually we are now negotiating the U.S. release of Que Culpa Tiene el Nino? for the Hispanic market, so that's coming up.