Daniella Santiago

The role of her life

10/08/2021 · By Rocío Navarro
Actress Daniella Santiago
Daniela Santiago has played La Veneno and releases Parallel Mothers with Almodóvar. © Rafael Fabrés

Daniella Santiago makes her début with Almodóvar in 'Parallel Mothers', a film she stars in with Penélope Cruz. There’s no doubt that she’s one of the up-and-coming actors of the moment. After bringing La Veneno to life, the winner of an Ondas Award from Málaga has become the flag-bearer of transgender visibility on-screen and on the red carpet.

Three years ago, Daniella Santiago (Málaga, 1982) was back in her hometown, where she worked as a make-up artist and hairdresser, and nothing indicated that she’d end up becoming one of Almodóvar’s women. But destiny and her talent made both “Javis”, Javier Ambrossi and Javier Calvo, choose her for one of the leading roles in their series Veneno, one of the first characters that brought visibility to the trans collective. “I was far from the limelight when this opportunity arose. I told my mother I was going to Madrid to make my dream come true”, she confesses.

From that moment onwards, Santiago’s rise to stardom has been dazzling. Today she has an Ondas Award, and her name has crossed the pond. In less than two years, the actor has become an icon of feminism and equality within the film industry. She’s just handed out one of the PLATINO Awards, the main event for Ibero-American film and TV, at the gala held in Madrid. For her, both places —Spain and Latin America— share a special place in her heart. “When a film moves you, it doesn’t matter if it’s from Spain, Mexico, or anywhere else. What we share is our heart,” the actor assures us, hoping to make her dream come true by sharing her talent across borders.

Are you proud of handing out one of the PLATINO Awards? Is it a form of recognition?
My career up until now has been meteoric. I’ve gone from being a hairdresser in Málaga to winning an Ondas Award, working with Almodóvar and handing out the PLATINO Award for Best Miniseries or TV series. My life has changed very quickly and in a beautiful way. Acting has always been ingrained within me, but I wasn’t able to make it my job until two years ago. I’m proud to move within the field of culture and film, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.

Beyond the limelight, how important is physically returning to the red carpet at festivals and premières?
It means a lot. Having a strong presence on the red carpet shows that the film industry is beginning to be inclusive. It means shining the spotlight on a collective that previously lacked visibility or was less well-known. In our case, we shot Veneno at the height of the pandemic, without even a première.

You’ve also gained that visibility thanks to the series Veneno. How has the world taken in Cristina’s story?
I think we’ve transcended borders. La Veneno has really crossed the Mississippi, she’s grown and travelled around the world. And not only in Latin America, also in the United States. I’ve just re-tweeted a post from Australia, where they’re already talking about the Veneno phenomenon, something I never would’ve imagined when we shot the series. It’s been a very personal piece because it wasn’t only her life, but that of many Cristinas. That story needs to be heard and we must fight for the collective and all those people who have suffered. That La Veneno is a success, that people support the series and love it fills me with satisfaction. I feel like we’ve become richer both personally and collectively.

“It’s been a very personal piece because it wasn’t only her life, but that of many Cristinas. That story needs to be heard”

Parallel Mothers, the film by Almodóvar where you appear next to Penélope Cruz, has just premièred. What has this experience meant to you?
It’s another gift from the Universe. I feel like I’ve been touched by a magic wand, because I’ve started out working with the greatest in Spain. First with both Javis, and now with Almodóvar. Not everyone can say that.

What can you glean from your work with Almodóvar and Penélope?
I first met them while shooting the film All About My Mother, where I was an extra. Since that day, I dreamt of working with both of them. When El Deseo (Almodóvar’s production company) called to offer me a small cameo with Penélope Cruz in Parallel Mothers, I couldn’t believe it, I was bowled over. It’s been a gift; I have great respect for their work.

They both have unquestionable talent; how would you define talent?
It means that a person moves you, in any sector... Talent is something innate, that you can feel, it can’t be explained with words.

You’re not just an up-and-coming actor in film and TV, the runway also calls your name. Is it another way to reach the audience?
I took part in the last Fashion Week in Milan, in Roberto Cavalli’s fashion show. Last year I was also part of his campaign, as well as Desigual’s. I’m happy in this aspect. On the runway, you walk with certain presence, or you’re given a kind of choreography to follow. You’re always acting.

The chance to act knocked on your door unexpectedly, is this something you value more now than if it’d happened before?
I think that all this has come to me at the perfect time and age. When I was younger, perhaps I didn’t value achievements as much, and I was wilder. I worked in the fashion industry when I was 22, but I never acted. I’m in the prime of my life, I feel good and I’m eager to do everything I haven’t been able to do up until now.

“I think that all this has come to me at the perfect time and age. When I was younger, perhaps I didn’t value achievements as much, and I was wilder”

Which projects are you currently working on?
I’ll be taking part in a couple of films that will start filming in April. And I’m working with Miguel Ángel Olivares again, with whom I shot the documentary Julia, and we’re going to make Julia, the film. I’ll also be part of another film that could be classified as fantasy. It’ll be filmed in La Alpujarra, in Granada, and although I can’t reveal much more, the project is starting up.

Would you like your talent to transcend Spanish borders?
I’m excited to go into Latin America and the United States. I can see myself travelling and discovering places that surprise and move me, who knows if around Mexico or Spain. But I fancy branching out, leaving my comfort zone and trying new destinations.