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Talisa Garcia

15th December 2022

Interview: Christopher Richmond

Photographer: Joseph Sinclair

Stylist: Emily Evans

Hair: Jon Chapman

Makeup: Maria Comparetto

Talisa Garcia has one of the most interesting and tragic stories that we’ve come across. From a difficult early life in Chile, she rose like a phoenix from the ashes and has since been making waves in the acting industry for a number of years. She took the time to talk to us about her start in the industry, her favourite roles that she’s taken so far, and her experience navigating Hollywood as a trans actress. 

Talisa can currently be found as Queen Arianna in Willow for Disney+, a sequel to the beloved 1988 original. 

We’d love to know about the early years. You were born in Chile, but your parents fled the murderous regime of Pinochet in the late 70s and moved to Wales in the 1990s. What can you remember about this time? How did you transition to life in Wales? What was it like growing up as part of the LGBTQ+ community in Wales at that time?

I don’t remember the first few years of my life, and I’m glad I don’t. It was like living in a dark, Dickensian nightmare. I was found on the streets of Chile and I had level three malnutrition. They say the first three years of a child’s life are the most important, physically and mentally. For me, these were years of abuse and neglect. But my life has consisted of the biggest negatives being turned into life-changing positives, and this was the first of these. A university lecturer and an engineer – my soon to be parents – wanted to adopt, and my Mum was told about me. If you were found on the streets, they would initially take you to a police station in the hope that someone would come and claim you. In this case there were two kids to claim: me and boy who it is believed was my brother. He wasn’t much older but apparently he’d looked after me. Sadly, we were separated as he had a learning difficulty, and we went to different locations. To this day I’ve never known what happened to him.

Mum and Dad were thrilled and in love with me as soon as they saw me (their words!) and we became the perfect family of four. That didn’t last for long though as Pinochet had other plans for families like ours. The regime was in full swing and was murdering thousands of people, and arresting and torturing others – my Dad being one them. Dad was in prison for nearly two years and Mum was on the run in Argentina. My brother stayed with my Aunty in the countryside and I stayed with my Grandmother. Eventually we were reunited, and we migrated to the UK. My parents separated soon a]er arriving in London. Mum made the decision to move to Swansea in Wales with my brother and I to start our new lives. She was drawn to Swansea as she knew quite a few people that were living there already.

After a fairly hard early life, things were about to change dramatically and again, after going through something so awful and negative came my second positive. I had already been experiencing identity problems, this wasn’t anything new. I was four years old the first time I questioned my parents on why I had to dress like a boy, something I hated. Wales became my home, my haven, and I became best friends with some incredible kids who would teach me what a happy childhood is really like. I had the best friends and boy did we play! We had an amazing time. I remember dressing in my best friend’s Brownie uniform and she would lend me her clothes and I would live out my then dream to be a girl. I didn’t really know of an LGBTQ+ community then as I was too young and felt that I was the only one that was different – I thought that god had played a trick on me. But somewhere in my heart I knew I needed to learn from what I was feeling, and to make sense of it, although that didn’t happen until later on. Having had a fantastic childhood in Swansea my Mum eventually decided that London would be better so we could be nearer our Dad.

When did you know wanted to enter the acting profession? Did you do any acting in school? Which films, series or performers were inspiring to you?

I always wanted to be an actor – I suppose I’d been acting most of my life already. I was obsessed by all the musicals, and I loved Gene Kelly and Judy Garland especially. I was also mesmerised by Jodie Foster and Timothy Hutton. Foster’s role in ´Taxi Driver´ is one of the great film performances, and ‘Ordinary People’, starring Hutton, was the film that changed me and made me realise I wanted to do this magic called ‘acting’ for the rest of my life. I saw so much of myself in this film, a tortured soul who finds a way back to themselves with the help of a psychiatrist. When we arrived in London I went to a few schools, my favourite being the Sylvia Young Theatre School. But that didn’t last long as puberty hit and my whole world came crashing down. I was eventually hospitalised (sectioned) after trying to take my own life. All I knew is that I wanted to be a girl. And yet here was my third positive out of a negative. While I was sectioned an angel from heaven was sent to me in the form of a psychiatrist, just like the film that had changed my life. The psychiatrist showed me that there was light at the end of what had felt like an endlessly dark tunnel.

You have a unique story in that you were assumed cisgender for many years before publicly speaking about your transition in 2019. What was it like working in the industry before your story was known? Have you noticed a shift since talking about your transition?

I suppose I was extremely lucky with my genes as I was very feminine, so after my operation it was easy to be stealth (pass as a woman). I never really got the negativity or abuse that so many people in the LGBTQ+ community still receive on a daily basis. Back then it was in our interest to stay under the radar otherwise we could end up being killed, like so many were and continue to be in transphobic attacks around the world. As I’m writing this I immediately think about Colorado. I graduated back in 2003 and the whole ‘trans actor’ wasn’t a thing, but I remember the head of year telling us that there were millions of actors, and all just as talented, but we needed to find something within us that separates us from everyone else. Of course, I knew exactly what that was for me, and – although apprehensive – I decided to tell my then agents in the hope that the industry was ready to cast a trans actress. But the response was muted, and it would be another 12 years before the BBC would break boundaries and cast a trans actress as the lead in the incredible ´Boy Meets Girl´. Since then there’s been a massive shift in the industry for trans actors, with shows like ‘Pose’ and ‘Transparent’. Things are continuing to change, and I felt able to talk openly about my past after ‘Baptiste’ aired in 2019. But as we know change is a slow process. If you think about it, it took over 50 years to go from the innuendo-laden, stereotyped camp characterisation of gay men on TV shows in the 1970s to now being seen as just a man and not a punchline. I believe we’re heading in the right direction slowly but surely, and hope that we get the same opportunities as all other actors.

Regrettably, it feels like things are regressing somewhat with regards to trans rights the last few years. Do you have any thoughts on the state of the industry and the way it engages with the transgender community? How do you feel as a trans woman navigating the industry?

Trans people are a part of the wealth of humanity, and always have been. The industry is starting to include us and to tell our stories which is great. But I do get scared by the amount of hate that is out there for people that are different and who embrace it. Transgender issues are complex and can be difficult for some, but try living it! I don’t know why people are so offended by differences in human beings – if we were all the same it would be very boring. The LGBTQ+ community is vibrant, intelligent and full of love. We are living our truths, we’re not fitting into anyone’s box. The more we focus on our differences and our prejudices, the more everyone loses.

You’re known for the BBC series Baptiste, the movie Decrypted and the Starz series The Girlfriend Experience. What was your experience like working on these projects?

Oh my, I loved every minute of it! I’m always laughing and we didn’t stop. Acting is like being a kid again, we get to meet other people that have the same dreams as us and we can play and pretend. Baptiste was just awesome, particularly working with the ‘three Ts’ as I like to call them: Tchéky Karyo, Tom Hollander, and Trystan Gravelle. I was pretty star struck working with Tom Hollander I must admit. One of my favourite films is Pride & Prejudice and his performance as Mr. Collins is just outstanding, so I was really nervous doing my scenes with him. Trystan and I just laughed all the time and talked all things Welsh, and Tchéky is just a master of his craft, I loved watching him work. The Girlfriend Experience was quite different as we filmed it in the middle of the pandemic so we had very little contact with one another. It was bizarre but also the experience of a lifetime to work on a Steven Soderbergh production. Just thinking about Decrypted makes me giggle! I have never laughed so much on a job. Sophia Myles and I just hit it off the first time we met for rehearsals, and we became inseparable. The Director Tom Sands was also an absolute hoot to work with and like me he also suffers with the giggles. During one scene we were all laughing so hard take a]er take that all the crew and actors had to leave the room so it was just me and the camera man. If they hadn’t let so we could finish I think we’d still be there!

You’re soon to appear in the Disney+ series Willow. Who do you play and what was it that appealed to you about the role? What was it like diving into something as large scale as a Disney+ project?

To be honest I didn’t know what I was auditioning for as it’s kept a secret right till the end. After quite a few rounds of auditions I got the news that I’d got the part and it was for one of the queens in Willow, Queen Arianna. It felt extraordinary, as if I was in my own ‘rags to riches’ movie, from being found in the streets of Chile to ending up in a Lucasfilm and Disney production of one of the biggest shows of the year. It’s what dreams are made of. I’d always fantasised as a little boy growing up that I was a princess or a queen in some magical production, and it doesn’t get much bigger than Willow. Dreaming was my way of numbing the pain, but I eventually realised with dreaming that putting the work in really can make them come true. I’m now dreaming of my next project. It’s huge and let’s just say there’s a shiny gold statue involved!

You can watch Talisa as Queen Arianna in Willow streaming on Disney+.

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