Ximena lamadrid has not only broken out of her shell, she’s soaring high above what remains of it. Lamadrid was recently named one of Variety’s 10 Actors to Watch and represented Fendi during Milan Fashion Week. This rise comes on the heels of Lamadrid’s almost alchemically potent performance in acclaimed director Alejandro Iñárritu’s latest film, Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths. The Mexican actor transmits strength even in the most subtle gestures. A quizzical brow implies that her character, Camila Gama, is wrestling with the definition of home. Is it Mexico or the US? And her commanding voice in the film paradoxically falls back on the word ‘surrender’ quite often in real time—three times, we count, to be exact.
“Even though I have been experiencing success in my career and transformations,” Lamadrid shares from Mexico City, “I still find myself doubting the future, wondering how long this will last. How long until I book the next film? I believe a lot in manifestation and you have to be grateful and really feel it. It’s not just a moment of saying ‘thank you’ and moving on. You have to relax in that gratitude and know that the universe has your back.”
It’s 9AM at the time of our interview over Zoom, and Lamadrid is clad in a lilac-sweater, fresh-faced and focused. She shares on her plan post-interview of hanging out with her partner and his grandmother over coffee. Whereas her voice in Bardo is bold, here she is soft-spoken, and an air of comfort radiates from her. “I’m enjoying this very moment,” she reflects, “even if it’s basking in the rainy sky or reflecting about how someone helped you out the other day. Those things are small but are the most important. Something that Bardo reflects on so well is that ‘success is my greatest failure.’ It’s funny because we find ourselves constantly searching for success.”
Lamadrid was born in Cancún, Mexico, and moved to Dubai for the next fourteen years. Her Bardo character, Camila, shares a similar uprootedness, with her father eventually moving both her and her brother to Los Angeles. “Whenever I’m away from Mexico, I miss the warmth of the people, the freshness of the food,” she shares. “Sometimes, when I fall into this thinking, I have to remind myself that ‘the grass is always greener.’ And where you are in the present moment is also amazing, and you’re going to end up missing that too.” She adds with a laugh, “Nostalgia is a thing.”
Lamadrid drew on her own nomadic experience to heighten her performance in Bardo, from the ever clout-amassing A24. Traveling from place to place allowed her to grow in confidence and gave her permission to author her own memories. “It’s so crazy how similar that scene is to my life,” she exclaims. “Our parents’ generation immigrated for a better life, which brings a lot of privilege, but at the same time some people don’t understand that it takes us away from our home, our roots, our families, and our grandparents’ cooking. Even if I grew up in Mexico, I think I would still have ended up chasing my dreams and doing what I am doing. You have to try to find that light and love no matter what situation you are put in.”
In Iñárritu’s film, Lamadrid plays the eldest daughter to a writer (played by Daniel Giménez Cacho) and holds a mirror up to his imposter syndrome. Looking back, the actress willed this role into existence. It was just last year when she mentioned to a friend her dream of working with the celebrated director. It was a six month long shoot, and Lamadrid was only given her particular scenes in the script—she read nothing else. Jarring? Yes. Nonetheless, it was a dare to deliver a stand-out performance in the wake of complete surprise. “You have to trust yourself and know that you are here for a reason,” she shares. “Alejandro became like family. Much like the actors I worked alongside with also became my own family. There was so much confidence and trust. When you have that trust, be it in a relationship, or in a school with a teacher, or in this case with a director, I have to surrender and trust myself too.”
As she peels back her younger years, Lamadrid recalls being a dreamy child, one that was prompted into acting after watching Titanic. Then came her starring role as Sara Guzman in the Netflix series, Who Killed Sara? Now 26, Lamadrid has sharpened her acting craft after attending NYU Tisch School of the Arts. “In theater and film, also in life,” she shares, “we’re normally not saying what we’re thinking or actually want to say. That’s something from Chekhov—all of his writing is so subtextual. Learning how to convey that subtext in movement is something I picked up from acting school. When I worked alongside Daniel Giménez Cacho, I really felt like I was talking to my father. I felt like I could just surrender and be present and be connected to him and myself as Camila. The camera is the window to the audience and the window of everyone who is trying to connect to you. Be present, be natural, but also know the technicalities and lines so well that you cannot give yourself a hard time and just be present.”
Alternatively, Lamadrid has all the qualities of being a Sofia Coppola darling. Her faerie-like demeanor is a marriage of innocence and sophistication. It is no surprise that she found herself with a minor role on Coppola’s 2020 venture, On The Rocks. Even in her description of Coppola’s movies, one can quickly see that she belongs in those whimsical hues. “Sofia’s films are like flowers,” she elaborates. “Flowers can be gentle or poisonous. They can be so many things. I got to work with her for one day for a scene that was shot on film. It was Bill Murray, Rashida Jones, Jessica Henwick, and I. Sofia was so relaxed, there was no pressure, it was so light and gentle.”
One key throughline in Lamadrid’s unveiling of herself and her work is selectivity. She is confident in her taste both in authors and directors. Recently, there’s been a back-and-forth with many Spanish-speaking roles not resonating with her. With every ‘no,’ either from her end or casting, she dusts it off. She wants scripts that cement her with purpose, regardless of genre. She expresses that someday she would want to change gears from actor to director. “I’m at this moment in my life where I get scripts and I don’t connect with them,” she explains. “I think to myself: I can write the roles I would someday like to play. But screenplays are a bit of a challenge. Right now, I would love to direct or write for someone else. For example, there are these scenes in Ocean Vuong’s book in particular, when he is coming out to his mother in a Dunkin Donuts. He describes everything so vividly. I was like ‘this would be just a spectacular short film.’ I’d love to one day tell him, ‘Let’s adapt this!’”
Lamadrid’s blossoming, she explains, happens at the most serendipitous moments, “The minute you start forcing things, it won’t appear. Anytime I go on holiday, I’ll get an audition. I’ll get cast in something. Because I’m finally being free and letting go. If you’re leading through desperation it won’t attract anything. I have been also getting offered roles in Mexico especially, but sometimes they are scripts I don’t connect with. I have to be true to my heart. You have to remind yourself to surrender and let go. I think I’ve said ‘surrender’ a lot in this interview, but when you learn to surrender and trust, that’s when life happens. Don’t be scared all the time.”
Perhaps one of the most remarkable scenes in Bardo sees Lamadrid immersed in a monologue, while her father nails himself to the theater floorboards. Decades from now, the theater scene is the one she will look fondly on. It was a feat that took equal parts strength and sensitivity. Lamadrid explains, “It was a two day shoot. I was in front of hundreds of extras performing this extremely emotional monologue. I was asked by Alejandro to deliver it in different ways, but by the end, he really just wanted me to be emotionally distraught. There were a lot of takes, but on my close ups, I really got to let loose and feel everything from joy to love to absolute grief. It was wildly therapeutic. At the end, Alejandro cheered me on and everyone followed, the crew and the extras. It was a beautiful experience, and I’ll always remember it with love and gratitude as it’s the actor’s dream to work this way.”
With a breakout role that will catch the eye of future directors, Lamadrid is determined to find future projects punctuated with authenticity, ones that continue to allow her to grow out of her cocoon and into a full-fledged artist. “I’m looking for something real and honest, vulnerable, touching, and beautiful,” she concludes, “That’s what I’m waiting for, and I know that it’s cooking. Sometimes we want things to happen, but we have to go and get it ourselves.” She signs off our interview with an assuring smile, letting us know that for Ximena Lamadrid, to surrender is to fly.
Photographed by William Lords
Written by Jasmine Rodriguez
Location: The Williamsburg Hotel
Flaunt Film: Kevin James Neal