'Roma' Producer Reveals Proudest Moment on Set and What Alfonso Cuaron Taught Her
Gabriela Rodriguez, who made history as the first woman of Latin descent to earn a best picture Oscar nomination, opens up about what she's looking forward to on Oscar night and how the story personally resonated with her.
Gabriela Rodriguez has been working with Alfonso Cuaron for 15 years, starting out as an intern and then his personal assistant before becoming an associate producer. She's been running his production company for more than five years and, as a producer on Roma, has now become the first woman of Latin descent to earn a best picture nomination.
"I'm used to working with him on Gravity or Children of Men, where we have a big studio behind us," she says. "This was much more of an independent setup, so between myself and Nicolas Celis, my co-producer, there was a lot of responsibility."
Originally from Venezuela and based in London, Rodriguez was tasked with helping Cuaron craft the intimate epic — based on his childhood and centered on Cleo, the character inspired by his nanny (played by newcomer Yalitza Aparicio, who received a best actress Oscar nomination). That involved figuring out how to get the director everything he needed, from replicating his childhood home to re-creating the streets of 1970s Mexico City and even finding the right hail to rain down on the family's driveway. The result? After it premiered at the Venice Film Festival, Roma took home the fest's top prize and hasn't slowed down since, racking up 10 Oscar nominations.
Rodriguez spoke to THR about her proudest accomplishments on the movie, what she's learned from working with Cuaron and what she's looking forward to on Oscar night.
You've spoken about the challenges of getting everything needed to replicate Cuaron's childhood. Looking back on it now, is there something that you're the most proud of when it comes to what you accomplished?
There was a scene that was described as "the whole family's going to be there" — the mother talks to the kids and Cleo's there, around. And all of a sudden it turns out that it's the scene that had hail outside and the kids are jumping, and the camera pans inside. It's not a whole 360 [degrees], but it's almost a 360 shot, so it's like a complicated camera movement on top of the entire cast inside the house. The hail, and it seemed like it was going to be an easy indoor scene, and then all of a sudden Alfonso kind of says, "I don't like the hail that's available." We were just racking our brains, like, maybe we can get something in Canada because apparently they make great fake hail. And we had a limited budget, so we're like, how do we get creative? And our production manager says to me, "I have an idea. Let's buy some glue sticks and let's cut them into little pieces. Then we can melt them down a little bit. And maybe Alfonso's going to like the sound and the look of that version of hail." I thought, "This is just crazy, but let's do it." So we did a test, we showed it to Alfonso, he loved it. And then for weeks we had our entire production office, everybody, cutting hail.
What have you learned from Alfonso that's been the most valuable to you?
I think perseverance. One of the things that I quickly had to learn — and I was pretty young when I started with him — was he doesn't take no for an answer. So it's, how do you find creative alternative solutions to satisfy the needs of this person? So it started with things as simple as getting him on a flight that he really wanted or sorting out food — he's vegetarian and sometimes we were in cities or countries where it was not easy to find options for him. And from then on to more of a production level, it was how do you, if you have budgetary limitations or timing issues, how do you give him — if it's not a no, because he'll never take a no, what are the alternatives and how can you creatively find solutions? And that perseverance has given me a tool, I guess, for everything in my life. I now live like that, I guess. I know "no" is not an answer and always find a way.
This movie resonates because everyone can relate to part of the story or it reminds them of part of their childhood. Is there any part of the story that is especially close to your own experiences?
I'm from Venezuela, and I come from a privileged background and I had my Cleo growing up. I obviously did not live in the '70s and I don't necessarily recall, specifically, iconic things that are all over the movie, but I still feel that there's a resonance in the way the story's told, especially with the Venezuela that I grew up in, where there was a lot of political conflict. There was the social class inequality, there was that dynamic in the household of the house — the staff that lived at the house, that lived with us for many, many years. So that resonated with me a lot.
What are you looking forward to at the Oscars?
I'm looking forward to having some fun, to be honest. Our team worked so closely, as a family, which is beautiful. While we were sound mixing, I was making food at home and bringing it to Pinewood Studios [in London], where we did some of the sound mix, because there were very limited restaurants around. We literally, collectively worked and lived a little bit like a family. So the fact that so many of us are participating in celebrating the movie this way on such a big night is really exciting.
One of the castmembers, Jorge Guerrero, was having trouble getting a visa to come to the Oscars. Are you helping out with that?
We're all helping. Even some representatives from the Mexican government are trying to help. Netflix has also helped. From the very first time he applied, we all wrote letters. We've tried to help from day one. It's just that the bureaucratic way in which the U.S. consulates work is sometimes really hard to get through. Sometimes they don't even receive these documents. It's not even that they acknowledge who he is and reject him based upon that. It's that something is flagged; you don't even get to go to that second stage. So, yes, a lot of people are involved. We'll see what happens.
What's next for you?
My next step is planning a really nice vacation. I think a breather would be good because we haven't stopped. We haven't stopped for three years now. So yes, a little breather and then we'll see. I'm sure something exciting.
This story first appeared in a February stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.