The big interview: Roma director Alfonso Cuaron

The filmmaker on his Netflix masterpiece Roma and almost turning down Harry Potter.

The big interview: Roma director Alfonso Cuaron

Aside from winning the Best Director Oscar for Gravity, Alfonso Cuarón has the best Harry Potter movie (The Prisoner of Azkaban), a dystopian classic (Children of Men), and an indie road-trip gem (Y Tu Mamá También) on his mercurial CV.

So he’s definitely earned the right to spend some time reliving his own past with his latest film. Roma is a masterful sort-of-memoir set in the 1970s Mexico City of his childhood. It’s a loving tribute to the women who raised him that will move all but the stoniest-hearted.

He has described it as the “most essential” movie of his career and it’s the film he’s been working towards since his debut in 1991. In many ways it’s the perfect widescreen film, all sweeping monochrome shots that throwback to a golden age of cinema. It was released on Netflix, though, a move that courted some controversy for such a successful director. However, Cuarón said it was the best home for such a personal, secretive project.

Roma is set in 1970s Mexico City and it follows Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a domestic worker for a middle-class family. The director draws on his youth for a powerful drama about social class, domestic strife and political upheaval. We chat to him about the movie and some of his past glories.

Roma is inspired by your childhood, but it’s not about a ten-year-old Alfonso Cuarón. Why not?

I’ve never been interested in exploring my childhood. I was trying to come to terms with this bond I have with one of the people I love the most [his former nanny, Libo] and the recognition that we come from two completely different microcosms. It was a period that included the divorce of my parents, and I wanted to approach that somehow.
What was it like filming in Mexico again?

Intense, because [Mexico City] has grown out of control. I’d describe places in the script but when I went to them, they weren’t recognisable. That was my confrontation with visiting the past: that contrast between who you are and who you were.

How did it feel to hear Guillermo del Toro name Roma one of his five favourite films?

The other ones are Y Tu Mamá También… [laughs]. At first I thought he was saying it as a friend, but he hugged me and said, “You described my house, I had the same car, the courtyard was the same, and the rooftop was the same.” I am absolutely flattered.

Talking of Guillermo del Toro, is it true he told you you’d be an idiot not to direct Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban? He has told me that I am an idiot for many different reasons, but yes, this was one of the reasons he told me that.

Is it true you hadn’t heard of the Harry Potter books when you were offered the film?

No, I had heard about them, but [it] was so far off my radar. It was after Y Tu Mamá También and I’d just read Children of Men and my head was in all these predictions about what would happen [in the world] in the immediate future. So I was like, “Not interested.” That’s why he told me I was an idiot – and he was right.

Did you get him anything to say thanks? Well, now you say that, I feel like an idiot again...
Roma is on Netflix now.

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