Interview With Film Director Christian Keller
Christian Keller decided to make a biopic about Mexican pop/rock singer, Gloria Trevi, after reading her story in the L.A. Times. At the time, he was only 19 years old, and he had never made a film. Ten years later, he's only a few days away from seeing his dream come true. The film narrates Gloria’s life by focusing on the beginning of her artistic career and rise to fame as well as the sex scandal in which she became involved in the late 1990’s. The following is a transcript of a recent interview I conducted with Christian Keller.
What motivated you to tell Gloria Trevi’s story? Well, I always tell the press that I’m swiss; I was living in the Swiss mountains, and I was a shepherd. I was with my sheep, and I heard the song, “Los Borregos.” And, I thought, I have to find out more about this woman! Ha, ha. No, I read about Gloria Trevi in the L.A. Times a few months after she had been released from jail, I think it was in March, 2005. Of course I had no idea who she was, but I was just somehow moved by the story, and I decided right that moment that I wanted to do it. I was 19, and I thought it as gonna take like a year, but of course it took much longer: ten years.
Was there a certain aspect of the story that really called your attention? Well, to be honest, initially it was just a feeling. I mean, that’s the only reason because I didn’t really know much about it. As I started learning more about it, of course I really liked her music and the content of it, and I really liked the story of the relationship between Sergio Andrade and Gloria Trevi. The emotional part for me is the love story. I like that and that’s what Gloria always told us: she was in love and she wanted to be loved, and that took her to a really dark place. And, I like this idea of this innocent thing taking someone to a dark place. I don’t know, I like that. I mean it has nothing to do with Gloria Trevi really.
How did you reach out to Trevi? Most of the people like Gloria, I just called. I called her manager at the time, a woman named Sara Soto. I think I found her information online or something. I just called her and said I wanted them to give me the rights and they did.
Sabina Berman points out in her book, Gloria, that at the suggestion of Barrie Osborne, you went out to look for a professional writer who was preferably a Mexican woman. Out of all Mexican female writers, why did you choose Berman? Well, he didn’t actually say that she had to be a woman. I had originally written the first draft of the script, and Barrie and I wanted to get it right and to have somebody who really understood it. So I was looking around and asking around in Mexico for a writer, and a few people had mentioned Sabina Berman’s name but everybody said, "Don’t even try to meet her, she’s too serious, she will never do it." And, then I said, "Great! That’s exactly the right person." So I met with her and I said, "Hey I want to do this movie about Gloria Trevi, " and she said, "Great, let’s do it,” and she actually started signing a Gloria Trevi song. Ha, ha. It actually took a while for her really to commit [to the project]. I had to fly to Mexico like four or five times, I think. But, in the end she accepted.
Is it true that you were pressured to change writers? Yeah, but not for any interesting reason. It was because of some person in the post-production. Yeah, of course not. It was always clear that Sabina was the perfect person. I mean, obviously the great thing is that she is both a journalist and a storyteller, an amazing storyteller. We always wanted to bring that together: to have a journalistic approach but also to tell an entertaining story. The other thing is that Sabina has this great sense of humor, and we laughed a lot too. She’s also a woman and a feminist, and I was actually looking for someone like that, and it all came together.
Is it true that Berman’s script was altered to please Gloria Trevi and her fans? Where do you think these rumors come from? What would you say to the people that are questioning the script? That’s absolutely not true. It was started by some journalist. Sabina called him and told him that it was not true, and he tried to convince her that it was which is ridiculous. In fact, we made the script a bit harder against Gloria, so it’s actually the opposite. We had no intention to make Gloria look like the good character in the story, but at the same time, we have nothing against her.
Did you contribute to the script? How? On which parts? We worked together really closely, I was living with Sabina for a while in the beginning, researching and stuff. It’s hard to say because we worked so closely for so many years; we discussed everything a hundred times. Maybe that’s a bit exaggerated, but you know what I mean. I mean, we just talked a lot, we were almost always in agreement about what we wanted to do and how we wanted the characters to be, what we wanted the tone to be mainly; that was always my biggest worry: getting the right tone.
It has been said that you have a unique sense of humor. Were you able to implement this into the making of the movie? How? I don’t know what they’re talking about. I really wanted to put a character, one of the girls, who always walked around in a Starbucks coffee, but I couldn’t do that because there was no Starbucks at the time. I was very sad about that; I had to deal with it for a while. Just kidding. No, there is humor. I mean, there’s a lot of subtle things too. When you see the film, you have to tell me. But, it’s also in the script because Sabina and I have a very similar kind of humor. So, there are a lot of those things in the script. In the end, it comes back to the tone of the movie. We never wanted to make this super dark movie about this pedophile or whatever which he even isn’t it, really. I mean, I would have to look up the definition. But, I mean, It’s not like he’s abusing children. It’s still wrong, the girls were way too young, but it’s not like they were five, six, or eight year olds. It’s still wrong, but we never wanted to judge these things. That was never the point. Also, we never wanted to make this movie about abuse. Of course it’s there, but it could be really dark. But, we always wanted to see it through this kind of lighter side, so that you almost don’t realize how crazy the things that are happening are, until you are like, “God, it’s crazy what this guy is doing.”
Why did you choose Sofia Espinosa to play Gloria Trevi? What characteristics were you looking for in the actress that would play Trevi? Gloria has this unique energy and strength and obviously we wanted to find someone that could embody that. It was really hard. I had actually met Sofia like five years earlier, and I thought she was perfect, but she was too young. So, when she came to the casting, it was very clear that she was the right one. She also sang all the songs, and she had never sang before and she did great.
Was it difficult to find the right actor to play Sergio Andrade? Yeah, it was super hard because everybody always said, “We have to find this monster.” I always said, "No, of course not. We have to find this guy with the amazing charisma and charm that Sergio Andrade has." He really does have this talent for charming people. We wanted to find someone like that. And, we had another actor who dropped out six weeks before the shoot for personal reasons. And, then we found Marco and he’s great, but there was another problem with him: he wasn’t sure if was going to do the movie until a week before the shoot because he had another offer. So, it was pretty stressful.
Why did the making of the film take ten years? Lots of reasons, I think. Starting with the rights, we had to convince Gloria and Sergio to not have any control over the movie, and then make agreements with them, and get sued by them and all that stuff. The other thing was to find the right people: Sabina and the producers. There are two great American producers, Barrie Osborne and Alan Curtis, and one Mexican producer, Matthias Ehrenberg, and the actors, of course. And, then the money because it was my first film and it was like, "Why do we trust this guy who knows nothing and hasn't done anything." Also doing research, it took a while for Sabina to get it done; it took years, actually.
Given the fact that you had limited experience before the making of this film, how were you able to direct it and be one of its producers? Well, I had never made a film before. I made a one minute short. I mean, I did that in a few hours. I had no experience, but I learned on the job. I just did as much research as I could and talked to a lot of people and had a great team.
What was the hardest thing about this project? There are so many hard things about this project! There were a few moments when the project almost died. One time was when Gloria sued us and we had this big meeting in L.A. It seemed like everybody was just leaving the project. Then, I had to convince her and get her to sign.
What was the most pleasant thing about it? What did you learn from it? I mean, I learned a lot of things. The biggest take away from here, is just a wonderful feeling that you can fight for something and believe in something that so many people don’t believe in, and then it actually happens in the end. That’s really great. That makes me pretty happy.
Did being a foreigner bring any disadvantages to the making of this project? What were they? What about the advantages? I didn’t really feel any big disadvantages. But, I think there were a lot of advantages because I didn’t have any preconceived notions, and I was able to see it as a human story rather than have this scandalous view in my mind.
The film has a strong focus on Gloria’s music, right? What do you think of her music? I love her music. I think it’s great. I think it has a lot of great social commentary. It’s also very fun. In the movie, we really try to tell the story through the music. We never wanted to stop the movie nor stop the story to have a musical piece. Gloria actually told us: I’m an open book, if you want to know my life, listen to my music. I think it’s actually true because she was often singing about what she was experiencing and feeling. So, we wanted to have that in movie too to use it as a way for people to better understand her, and get into her mind, and experience what she’s experiencing.
If you could go back in time, would you still choose to make this film? Yes, of course.
What plans do you have after this project? I don’t know yet. I hope this goes well, and I want to do something completely different.
In her book, Sabina mentions your tattoo, Veni Vidi Vici, a few times, could you tell us the story behind it? I got it when I was eighteen. I think it was the result of so many years of studying Latin and reading too much Ceasar.
Questions & Answers
© 2014 Silvia Munguia