Photos: Dennise Guerra
After his triumph as the star of Fresa y Chocolate (Strawberry and Chocolate), Jorge Perugorría became the most popular actor in Cuban cinema. His life, without a doubt, could serve as material for a quality film. If anything it would require uncovering the nuances and complexities that Perugorría describes to us, and then write a good film script. Actor, painter, director and at times screenwriter, Pichy briefly summarizes for OnCuba readers a part of his life history combining it with some opinions on what he does.
Fresa y Chocolate was the first Cuban film to ever be at the Oscars Awards Ceremony. Imagine what it was for me to participate in one of the most luxurious spectacles in the world, dressed in a tuxedo and walking the red carpet surrounded by great directors and famous North-American actors and actresses, when I was barely beginning my film career.
I was born in Wajay, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Havana. I don’t come from a family of artists and up to that film I worked as an actor with great difficulty because my first two children had been born and it was very hard to survive on an actor’s salary. But a film as important as Fresa y Chocolate can change your life completely. From that moment many doors opened for me in other filmmaking endeavors. A lot has changed since then. I’ve worked in over 50 films since.
Of course it’s difficult becoming successful because people start looking at you as something that you really are not. Because success does not annul the complexities of life. In my case, cinema has given me the opportunity for growth, to find a profession that I enjoy and love deeply. Success does not mean anything if it is reduced to the mere frivolousness that it represents for others.
My history? I’ve had an intense life because I’ve wanted it that way, I dreamed it that way and I work with lots of passion in order to always live that way. When I was a teenager I studied drawing at my neighborhood Cultural Center. Although I liked to paint very much, I dropped the course quickly because I found the classes tedious. Some years later, when I was a student in technical school, I became interested in acting and began to attend theater premiers in Havana. I joined an amateur group at my school and a short time later I began to work with Humberto Rodríguez, one of the great teachers of actors in our country.
I wanted very much at that time to become a professional actor and then I joined Teatro Caribeño, a group directed by master Eugenio Hernández Espinosa. In the early 1990s I met Carlos Díaz. He invited me to work with him in a trilogy of North-American plays that premiered just before he founded his group, Teatro El Público. I remember the critics regarded those performances as the boom of 90s theater because audiences began filling the playhouses after drama seemed no longer to interest people on the Island.
I was really pleased at this time because working with Carlos is very creative. His method of communicating with actors was an education for me. Carlos is a great artist and maybe because of that one feels so at ease by his side, because he not only teaches you to act. Carlos teaches you to live the art.
At around that time I also worked with Tomás Piard in a medium-length film entitled Bocetos (Sketches), at Cuban Television’s film studios. Then I did a series with “el Chino” Chong called Personal Tableau. But the most important factor in my training was, without a doubt, my stint in the theater.
I made contact with Tomás Gutiérrez Alea thanks to Carlos Díaz who told me about the casting they were doing for the film Fresa y Chocolate. I tried out and was selected for the character of Diego, the rest you know. And yes, it is clear that Titón is a source of inspiration for me.
A few years ago I decided to venture into directing because I am a man who likes to prove himself constantly, generate ideas, realize dreams, projects. I began by making music documentaries and recognized that my passion was directing because I could mix it all up.
Vladimir Cruz invited me to co-direct Afinidades (Affinities). Following this I did Amor crónico (Chronic Love), a full-length film falling somewhere between fiction and documentary. The film is a roadmovie in which we document the concerts that singer and protagonist Cucu Diamante did on her Cuba tour.
I just finished filming Se vende (For Sale) and I am now completely sure that I want to devote myself to directing. It is a history of life using death as a pretext. It is a tribute to Tomás Gutiérrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tabío. In the film I also work as an actor, something I don’t think I will do again because directing and acting at the same time is too hard. The protagonist is a young actress that makes her screen debut with this film, and she is accompanied by a top notch Cuban cast with whom I was thrilled to work, actors that in a way are part of the game itself that the story is talking about.
For me it is vital to understand that the actor is essential to the type of cinema we are trying to do. I think the credibility of our stories depends on the quality of our acting, because in Latin America we do not make big money films, we seldom have the possibility to realize good special effects, so the actor assumes greater prominence in our cinematography. I am very interested in the pre-production before shooting; it’s like a laboratory in which all of the doubts, nuances and rough edges of a character come to the surface.
Some years ago I went back to painting. When I played the character of Goya in the film by Bigas Luna (Volaverunt, 1999), I became very excited about painting, and since then I have participated in a number of individual and collective exhibits. In painting I nearly always find a theme and then develop it. But I approach it as if it were a film, which is why each exhibit is completely different from the preceding one. I like to come up with an idea or motif and develop it. The same as when you find a theme and then you write the script. It would be interesting to explore the world of performance and video art, and in fact I am considering it, but later on because I have too much work these days.
I am a habanero at heart. I love Havana and I have lived it intensely since I was a boy. This city is full of places, cultural spaces that capture you. Those spaces I found before Fresa y Chocolate was filmed, and I find them still, because I look for them with the same intensity that I live.
This love for the city, for my wife and my four children, for Industriales (which will always be my favorite baseball team), for the way of life of habaneros, for that swing, that self-assurance and spontaneity that characterizes us, are the reasons that I have chosen to live forever in this city. Now I realize that you asked me about Cuba and I responded talking to you about Havana; but for me we are talking about the same thing. Not because Cuba is Havana, but because that charm that made me fall in love with this city, I live it whenever I travel across the rest of the Island.