Chilean actress Paulina García had never even met the director of her latest film, the indie hit, "Little Men", before arriving in the U.S. to work on the movie.
In Chile, García is a well-known actress, playwright, and theater director. Although she has appeared in over 30 plays and television shows, it was her title role in the film "Gloria" (2013) that brought her international notice. She received the Best Actress Award at the Berlin International Film Festival. It was there she attracted the attention of acclaimed director Ira Sachs.
"He just called me, and told me he was writing a part for me in his next film," García told NBC Latino in a phone interview from Chile. "It was a personal invitation from the very beginning. I was excited when I spoke with him, but I didn't know him, I had only seen one of his films, "Love Is Strange" (2014).
García did not have to audition or read for the part in "Little Men," in which she plays the mother of one of the film's young protagonists. "For a year, Ira (Sachs) and I talked by the phone and by Skype, and developed a fabulous friendship," she recalled. "That was the extent of our relationship until I arrived in the U.S. to shoot the film." It was an unnerving challenge, García said, to finally meet Sachs in real life and see if they actually had a connection.
"But we had it," she explained, "and we had a very good time working together. I really enjoyed it, though it was a challenge for me to talk and work in English."
Little Men and García have received rave reviews from film critics. The New York Times review noted that, "it only looks like a small movie," while New York Magazine termed it "quietly devastating." A review at RogerEbert.com said that García "gives one of the best performances of the year," and The Week praised García as "spellbinding."
"Little Men" is a story of parents and children, money and class, friendship and longing - all set against the backdrop of a gentrifying neighborhood of Brooklyn. The film has already premiered in New York City and Los Angeles, and will be rolling out nationally in coming weeks. In addition to García, "Little Men" stars Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Ehle, Talia Balsam, and Alfred Molina.
Little Men may already have an important fan; the White House made a request to the Motion Picture Association of America for a copy of the film on DVD, because President Barack Obama wants to watch it with his family on his vacation in Martha's Vineyard.
Informed of this news, García seemed thrilled. "Really? Oh my God, that is wonderful, that is really something," she said. "That is beautiful… I really like Obama."
In "Little Men", Garcia plays a Leonor, a dressmaker whose shop is on the ground floor of a Brooklyn building owned by a couple newly arrived from Manhattan. Tensions arise between the adults over a proposed rent increase and the specter of the building's deceased owner, Kinnear's father. At one point García's character bluntly says to Kinnear, "I was more his family, if you want to know, than you were."
García is proud of the on- and off-screen relationships she created with Michael Barbieri, who plays her son Antonio, and Theo Taplitz, who plays his best friend Jake. "Michael is like the star of the moment, I guess, he is terrific. He is a great guy, very talented," García said. "Both he and Theo worked very hard, paying attention to Ira (Sachs); it was really beautiful to see two kids behaving as professionals… Michael loved that I spoke Spanish to him, even though he didn't really understand."
For García, who cited Gena Rowlands, Jessica Lange, and Meryl Streep as among the actresses she admires, "Little Men" may be her breakout role in the American market. She also appears in the Netflix series "Narcos" and was in the film "The 33", the story of the rescued Chilean miners. García is hoping for more offers in the U.S. and is currently headed to Argentina for two more films.
Despite the successes, García's path to this point was not smooth. She originally went to college with hopes of becoming a therapist or a lawyer.
"Being an actress in those days, during the (Augusto Pinochet) dictatorship, was really out there, almost a dangerous idea," she recalled. "But when I was 20, I decided to turn everything (in my life) upside down and went to study acting. I went on that path for months without even telling my parents."
RELATED: Your Summer 2016 Reading List: 9 Great Books by Latino Authors
"When I told my parents I was going to be an actress, they told me I was going to be poor for the rest of my life," García said. "It took time, but I have a nice life now."
Besides being an actress, García has taught drama at different universities in Chile, and was founder of the Chilean Theatre Directors Association. She has a special message for her students and other aspiring performers. "I will always say to young people who want to become performers, as we say in Spanish, resiste, hold on, hold it, because it is really hard to become an actress. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow, it is going to be a difficult career path," García noted. "It is a unique path, so you must stay true to yourself and hold on, and wait, because things will come if you keep on studying and working."
"Everything is going to be hard," García continued. "But everything will be coming. Not today. Not tomorrow - but maybe on Saturday."