How did you get into acting?
Well, my mom is an actress and a filmmaker. At first, though, she didn’t think I would follow in her direction. It’s a funny story, actually. I was around seven years old, and a close friend of ours heard me belting out a tune at his Easter party (I’ve always loved performing). He insisted that I met with an agency he was connected to… and everything else was history! It was a total accident that I am very grateful for.

How would you describe the movie Wonder?
Wonder is a film about kindness and equality; it promotes that beauty lies within a person. Not only does Wonder spread awareness about craniofacial disorders, but the story itself cultivates multifaceted characters that everyone can relate to.

Tell us about your character, Via.
Via is strong, vulnerable, smart, and selfless all at once – so, we have RJ Palacio to thank for writing three-dimensional female characters. (: Via is an outsider; she has acquired independence at a young age, for her brother’s sake, which translates into her everyday life. She blends in at school, but eventually discovers a need to grow into her own. Via has a strong arc throughout the film, and I think many will find themselves connecting to her.

How did you put yourself in Via’s shoes? What was your mindset like while filming?
While filming, I had to put myself in Via’s shoes – in the mindset of someone who is not used to receiving attention, someone who is shy and quiet. Our director, Stephen Chbosky, was incredibly helpful during the process. Considering that Via has a distinct arc and slowly evolves throughout the story – we would discuss how to approach each scene, so that I could highlight her growth at different points in the script.

Describe Via’s relationship with Auggie.
Like Via, I have a younger sibling too – who is in fifth grade like Auggie! I love my sister and am very protective over her, so in that sense, playing Jake’s older sister felt natural for me. Via doesn’t treat Auggie differently, because she loves him for who he is. She takes care of him, even if it is through tough love sometimes.

How is Via’s life different from yours? In what ways are you similar to her?
My life is different from Via’s because I haven’t known what it is like to have a sibling with challenges, and in need of extra attention. On the other hand, though, we find Via entering high school at the beginning of the film. Freshman year is a time of growth and figuring out where you belong; so I did share many of these same experiences.

What do you feel is the strength of Via? What’s her weakness?
Via’s strength lies in her love for her brother. She exhibits this quality in the way she approaches her relationship with Auggie. Her strength also shines through in her actions – not wanting to impede Auggie’s needs, she takes it upon herself to be completely self-sufficient at such a young age. At the same time, however, Via’s weakness is her connection to her grandmother. We most see Via’s vulnerability when she misses her grandmother, in times that she needs attention from her mom – as it represents everything she lacks in her relationship with Isabel.

How do you think Via’s high school experience would change if Auggie was not her brother?
Via might have faced less hardship entering high school, considering that her parents would place all their attention on her. She wouldn’t feel the need to be as self-reliant, or to lie about not having a sibling in order to keep the attention on herself.

How do you think Auggie shaped Via to be the person she is?
Auggie has a major impact on shaping Via into the person she is. Because of her brother, Via is selfless, independent, kind, and strong. Having Auggie in her life has taught her to be caring and nice towards others, and to also be individualistic by having to make certain sacrifices on his behalf.

 

You also played Maddy Broker in Homefront. Your character was bullied in the film. What did that film teach you about empathy and compassion?
Homefront taught me to stand up to the bully, but to also treat him/her with compassion. Even if someone doesn’t seem to deserve it, treat them with kindness anyway. In the end, it’s all about setting an example for others – and treating people the way you would want to be treated.

 

How can others choose kindness in their everyday lives?
Smile at people, hold the door open for strangers, give compliments, donate your time and/or money to a good cause, stand up for someone who can’t stand up for themselves, use your voice to spread a positive message… and so much more. It is so simple to choose kindness in our everyday lives, so let’s do it more often.

What have you learned as an actor while filming Wonder that you can apply to future projects?
Our terrific director, Stephen Chbosky, set a warm and pleasant tone on set from day one. Above all, everyone treated one another with compassion. For this reason, coming to set everyday was an absolute joy! This was inspiring to me, because I understood that if such a kind environment could be created at a workplace – which is oftentimes stressful – then there is no reason why everyone can’t treat each other with kindness in any other setting.

Catch Izabela in Wonder, in theatres now!

 

PHOTOS RAMONA ROSALES
WORDS ANNA ZHANG

Read more in Volume III, Issue No. 001 – Winter 2018.

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