Exclusive Video Interview: Stars Miranda Otto & Vanessa Benavente Talk At the Gates

At the GatesAna (Vanessa Benavente), who works as a housekeeper, brings her teenage son, Nico (Ezekiel Pacheco), to clean an affluent family’s home in Los Angeles. When her employers, Peter (Noah Wyle) and Marianne Barris (Miranda Otto), tell her that immigration offers are looking for them, the two agree to go into hiding, taking shelter in their basement until the crisis has passed. As the days go by and tensions rise, Nico begins to question their hosts’ true intentions.

Recently, Otto and Benavente spoke with SciFi Vision about working on the film.

Watch the interview and read the full transcript below. 

SCIFI VISION:   To start, can you sort of talk about what it was that drew you to the project? We'll just go Miranda, then Vanessa. 

MIRANDA OTTO:   Sure. I was attracted to Auggie, our director, writing something that just seemed so current and such an interesting way to discuss the immigration issues in America today. You know, you have a family who are very liberal and seemingly privileged and kind wanting to help, and then you have Ana and Nico and their side of the story, and I just felt it was such an interesting examination of these two families living in this claustrophobic situation. 

VANESSA BENAVENTE:   I felt a very strong connection with my character. I always say that, I was reading the script, and all of a sudden, I turned the page, and I knew exactly what she was gonna say. So, I really felt like I knew her. I felt like I could tell her story in a very - to me it was interesting to explore how she goes through the story and how strong she has to fight for her child. 

At the GatesSCIFI VISION:   You said you connected easy with her. So, let me ask you, was there any part of her that you had difficulty connecting with? 

VANESSA BENAVENTE:   Well, I think, in my case, my experience in this country has been the opposite, because I've been very fortunate that very quickly I was able to be documented, and just, it's been a very positive experience. I think the the part where I feel like I connected with her the most was where we came from, because I did come to this country escaping violence, just like she she did. And of course, me being from Peru, and she being from El Salvador, there was also just a different background, a different culture….The number one thing on my list was to do justice to the Salvadoran accent and the history of her and her cultural. I think that was very important, as a Latina, to bring authenticity to that, and it was definitely a challenge, [the] accent. 

SCIFI VISION:   What about you, Miranda? What did you connect with the easiest and what was the hardest to connect to? 

MIRANDA OTTO:   Oh, the easiest, I guess I connected with her as a mother, but also as someone who wants to try and help and do things but then feels like at times [she’s] not sure what to do. I kind of understood her dilemma in that I thought she was kind of gutsy in that she does make the split second decision to decide to take them into the house. But I don't think she's really thought it through to any great extent of like what that could end up leading to, I think. I think she sort of comes from his point of view of feeling like the law will always be on her side in some way, and that she'll be able to explain her situation and be listened to, and that is so different to Ana and Nico’s situation. They won't be listened to at all; they don't have that kind of privilege. 

SCIFI VISION:   Do you to have a favorite scene that you can tease without without giving too much away? Whoever wants to go first. 

MIRANDA OTTO:   I really love this scene where they all sit down to dinner, and Marianne encourages Ana to talk about her life in El Salvador and what has happened with her family, and I just thought Vanessa did it so beautifully. It's such an arresting story, and more than the Barrises can really kind of take on. To me, it sort of epitomizes what the movie’s kind of about in some way, like they just come up in such dark contrast at that moment. 

VANESSA BENAVENTE:   Mine, is definitely more almost at the end of the movie. I can't really talk too much about it. I don't want to spoil it, but it is the scene that I read in the script, where I felt like I knew what she was going to say. And it was my favorite, because, first of all, I did it with Ezekiel, who plays my son, and I think we really had a really good chemistry as mother and son. It was just challenging for me, both emotionally, and like I was talking about the accent before, trying to play it as authentically as possible. I felt like I was discovering things with him right there, being there. And as an actor, I feel like when you can bring all your work, and all of a sudden you start discovering things on the day, you're like, “Well, the planets have aligned,” [laughs] for me at least. So, I feel like you're creating something, and it's the best feeling. 

SCIFI VISION:   That was was kind of my next question. I think this is sort of similar to what you're saying, but I was going to ask, did you learn anything about yourself from the film? Like, was there anything that it taught you personally, or maybe that you just didn't realize about yourself that kind of changed after? 

VANESSA BENAVENTE:   Wow, that's a great question. I mean, just to start off, I think all characters that you play, as an actor at least, they teach you something. If you can listen, and you can pay attention, maybe you will learn something. But, in general, I think, I feel sometimes, like I understand with my head the difficulty and the adversity that an undocumented immigrant can feel and can go through in this country. Then, you're there in the end, at the moment, and I feel like the stress level that I felt was so high. I just I don't think my body really understood it until then. You know, the looking over your shoulder, the trying to protect your son, what can happen, what if, what if, what if, at all moments. It's something that, like I said, I had told myself I understood, and I think I didn’t quite. 

SCIFI VISION:   Yeah, playing it's probably different. 

VANESSA BENAVENTE:   By playing it, I feel like, I don't think I can really say like, “Oh, I understand it completely now,” but at least I got a taste of it, and it really took my breath away. 

SCIFI VISION:   What about you, Miranda? Is there anything that changed you or you were taught by playing the role? 

MIRANDA OTTO:   I mean, I think it’s just really things I've thought about definitely before, but it's just really focused my mind on what it is like to not have a voice, you know, to have no way to protect yourself, no way to represent yourself. To be put in a situation that Ana and Nico are potentially in, is absolutely terrifying. 

SCIFI VISION:   Can you talk a bit about working with Noah, who plays your husband? 

MIRANDA OTTO:   Oh, Noah was great. I loved working with Noah. We got very lucky in that we got to have a few days of rehearsal. He was great at improvising. So, we improvised a bunch of our scenes and sometimes that dialogue actually ended up in the film. So, we ended up having some of it written in, but I really liked the perspective that he brought in. He really changed a few things up and had really great ideas. So, yeah, he was lovely, lovely to work with. 

SCIFI VISION:   You just made me wonder when you said that, does it make it easier doing that kind of thing, changing things, when you have like such a small core cast? 

MIRANDA OTTO:   Yeah, that's definitely one of the great things about independent filmmaking is that you are more nimble. It is easier to make changes without having to go through one hundred executives signing off on everything if anyone were to change. Like, you do have the ability to change things on the day, and it was so nice to film something that was so contained with just a few characters in this one house.

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