Mexican actress Martha Higareda stars in Netflix’s Altered Carbon, a sci-fi mystery based on Richard Morgan’s novel of the same name. Higareda discusses her role as female detective “Kristin Ortega,” embracing her ethnicity, and her international success in the entertainment world.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m Mexican; I grew up in a little town in Tabasco, Mexico, surrounded by rivers and the jungle, hence I always see life with a sense of adventure. I’m very family oriented. Every year, the 27 of us including grandpa, we make a big family trip. I’m a people’s person who really enjoys talking and hearing people’s thoughts, and I’m always fascinated with human behavior. I love acting, writing, and dancing. I danced for many years folklore, flamenco, tap, jazz. I’m a very physical person, love being outdoors. And sometimes I [can be a bit of a] workaholic, although I’m finding now a good balance in live between play and work. The thing is, my work is play for me. I have so much fun acting that that’s why sometimes it is hard to find that balance.
When did you start acting?
The first day my dad bought a video camera, I immediately started creating our own stories. So I would write with my dad these funny sketches and act them with my sister. Those would be our games. Professionally, I started acting when I was 14.
How did you find your passion for acting?
When I realized that I couldn’t think of anything else. When I was in high school, most of my friends were thinking about going to parties. I was mainly thinking about movies, the Oscars, finding a good play to do at the school theater, writing…
You play female detective Kristin Ortega in Netflix’s Altered Carbon. How would you describe the show in your own words?
It’s like nothing else you’ve seen before on TV. It’s a dystopian, futuristic show where we’ve developed a technology that allows us to download human consciousness into a chip called stack that goes in the back of your neck. When something happens to your body, either it deteriorates and dies or simply if you’re wealthy enough to want to have a different body, that chip could be interchanged between bodies, so then you could live forever. And that’s only the background of a detective whodunit mystery. To me, it is a show that raises big questions like What does it mean to be immortal? Do we lose our humanity when you know you could live forever? All while entertaining us with kickass action sequences at every episode. The show is edgy, fun, deep, sexy. All of it!
What drew you to the project?
I’ve always been a fan of science fiction. The first sci-fi movie I watched was Alien when I was 6 years old. Yes, I stole it from my parent’s bedroom, and I became obsessed with it. Coincidentally, I keep a list of books I want to read throughout the year, and Altered Carbon was one of them the year I booked the project.
How did the role come about?
It’s in the book written by Richard Morgan. Kristen Ortega was created by him as a badass police detective who gives and does everything for love. Laeta Kalogridis, the creator of the show, expanded the story of Ortega and created more depth in many ways. One that is close to me is the addition of her family to the story. She’s a Latina thus very, very close to her family, and they play an important part of Ortega’s already strong sense of justice. Laeta’s biggest mission is to portray very strong women on film and TV and also making them real, so we had long talks about making Ortega a well-rounded woman. She is intense and passionate as we Latinas are, strong as we Latinas are, but also she has vulnerable times where she breaks down and then puts herself together and comes back stronger than before. You know, as we women all are. We wanted to keep a good balance between being a badass and wearing your heart open.
Tell us about your character Kristin. What’s your favorite aspect about her?
She’s relentless. My favorite quality of her is that she gives everything for love. She puts that first, always. She wont stop until she finds answers, and her biggest values are love and justice.
Although Altered Carbon is set in a futuristic, dystopian world, do you see any parallels between the storyline and the society we live in?
Yes, many. For example, coming from Latin America, the differences between the rich and the poor are huge. Technology is not available for everyone when it comes to health, and that is very unfair.
Do you have a favorite episode?
That is a very difficult question to answer as each one of them are so different and so much fun. I think I can answer through the eyes of Ortega, so my favorite episode is episode 5 because you get to know more about her heart. Although 1 introduces you to the world in a fascinating way, 2 and 3 hook you, 4 keeps you on the edge of your seat, and of course the finale is jaw dropping.
You have also had incredible success in Mexico starring in No Manches Frida, which had the third-best opening ever for a Mexican movie in Mexico, and Casese Quien Pueda (Get Married if You Can), which became the third highest grossing Mexican comedy of all time. What was it like working on these projects?
Remember when I said I was a bit workaholic? I can’t stop my mind from wanting to learn the next thing. Well, I studied scriptwriting and producing while being in LA in 2008 and 2009 when there was a writers strike in the country, and where were those amazing writers? Teaching workshops! So after studying a lot, I went back to my country with Get Married if You Can script and a few others under my belt, and produced the movie with my sister and Alejandra Cardenas. The movie is very funny and has a golden heart, so it became a huge hit. Then came No Manches Frida where I had the pleasure to work with Lionsgate, Alcon Entertainment, and Pantelion. And we launched it in Mexico and the U.S. and well. That was so much fun again!
No matter if it’s an indie Mexican film or a big blockbuster Hollywood hit, magic is being created.
What is the most striking contrast between films you have been a part of that were on screen in Mexico versus in the United States? Was the experience different?
There are many differences. We’ve been living difficult times in my country so most of the movies that are a hit are comedies. There’s a big competition in the box office in Mexico because we get the biggest Hollywood hits competing against this indie Mexican film, but when the story is good, well structured and with good characters, then the audience appreciates it and shows its appreciation in the box office. I moved to Los Angeles because I know the best of the best talent in every country is here, creating, writing, acting, producing movies. And when you get a bunch of the best talented people from everywhere into one place, magic can be created. The kind of magic that stays forever. And no matter if it’s an indie Mexican film or a big blockbuster Hollywood hit, magic is being created. Just the financing and the proportion of the project is very different. Haha.
How has Hollywood evolved to represent Mexican actors? Is there an on-screen Mexican character that inspires you?
Thank God for Hollywood and its writers that reflect the reality we live in today. You walk into a restaurant and you hear many different accents, and Hollywood portrays all that diversity on the screen, as it should be. Every foreign actor, whether Mexican or Persian or Asian or from wherever you are, you come with a package of a lot of experiences from another part of the world. I grew up in a country where you face adversity every day. That adversity makes you a survivor, makes you develop your creativity in order to move ahead and provide for your family, and thus it brings experiences that will only enrich your characters. I want to represent Mexicans as we are at our core: passionate, doing everything for love, hardworking, and close to our families. Of course, I love how the story of Frida was brought to life by Salma (Hayek) on the big screen.
Who has given you advice that continues to stick with you to this day?
What advice did they give?
Follow your burning desire, follow your gut, and keep your values close to your heart. Be kind to yourself and others, and soar.
What are your passions outside of acting?
Learning something new. Right now, I’m excited about learning to play the ukulele, and I’ve been attracted to interior designing. Last year, it was scuba diving.
With an international influence, how do you use your platforms to raise awareness on global issues?
It’s a big responsibility having a huge speaker at the click of a button that can be heard by thousands or millions. So whenever I get the chance, I speak from my heart. My social media is non-filtered, more natural, as it’s my way to express myself with no glamour or pose. OK, sometimes I upload the occasional photo shoot, but when I speak to them, I speak from my heart.
What’s next for you?
SO MUCH! I’m currently in post production of WATCH THEM FALL the latest comedy I wrote with my partner, and in pre-production of the sequel to NO MANCHES FRIDA. Developing a movie with Sony. And thanks to the hit of Altered Carbon, I’m getting very interesting offers, so I’m very excited for what’s to come.
STORY ANNA ZHANG
PHOTOS ASHLEY BARRETT
HAIR LAUREN MCKEEVER
MAKEUP ANTON KHACHATURIAN
STYLIST BRUNO LIMA