Paola Núñez, who plays Maria García on The Son, talks about Maria’s relationship with Pete and the McCulloughs, as well as what she admires about her character.
Q: How did you prepare for this role?
A: I studied the history of Texas and the history of Mexico and the relationship between the two countries, especially after the Guadalupe Hidalgo Treaty where Mexico lost half of its territory to the United States. Maria was born after that, and the atmosphere in which she was born and raised was one where the antagonism between the two countries was always so present in her life.
One of the things that I love about Maria is that, even though she is a woman from 1915, she felt so contemporary to me. She’s a character that’s so ahead of her time, a woman that really is not attached to the social structure of her time. She wants more. She wants more than what society dictates. She’s different from the other women you see in the show, and you can see she’s struggling all the time because she wants so much. She’s so ambitious, and she has allowed herself to dream.
Q: It’s a dangerous time in Texas. Why does Maria come back?
A: She comes back because she has to come back. We find out she’s not a widow in this episode so she has to come back. She can’t stay in New York anymore. And when she comes back, she can’t run away from this situation because she feels that her sister needs her because of the whole thing that happened with Cesar, and then the whole thing that’s happening with the McCulloughs and the Garcías. She can smell the danger. She knows there’s going to be war.
A: Maria’s smart, and she knows that anytime something bad happens the McCulloughs will have something to do with it. She knows that Eli McCullough has a lot of power. She knows that he will do anything, and he will kill anyone to do what he wants to do. Maria knows this, and she’s scared of it. That’s why she’s very cautious. She knows Eli has all the power. She knows he was part of the Comanches, and she’s heard crazy stories about him.
And she knows that Peter is different and is not like his father, but she knows that Peter would do anything for his father. She trusts Peter, but she doesn’t trust Eli. She figures that if she pushes Peter a little [on Cesar], he would say something to her. But she doesn’t get him to.
Q: What does Maria think of the McCulloughs?
A: I think Maria knows that she has to have a really polite relationship with them. She knows that her family needs them. I think she knows that, at the end of the day, the McCulloughs could be the enemy of the Garcías. She knows that the McCulloughs would do anything to take our land, to push us away back to Mexico. But she knows that if she and her family are smart, they can all live in the same place.
A: Maria is scared of the consequences. She knows that if her father’s not careful, a tragedy will happen, so she’s trying to be smart. Some of the things Maria does are not smart, but all the time she’s trying to do her best for the family. She wants to protect the family. She just wants to stop any indication of war, and she doesn’t know how to do it. She doesn’t trust fully the Sediciosos, and she knows that they can’t win this war and will never take back their land, so that’s why, I think, she wants to stop this.
Q: In Episode 5, “No Prisoners,” Maria begs her father to help the McCulloughs as the Sediciosos attack them in their home. Would she have asked him to get involved if it weren’t for Pete?
A: There’s two reasons, I think. She loves Peter, and she also doesn’t want a war. She doesn’t want people to get killed. She thinks that we can all get along if we’re smart, which is a little naive. And also of course she loves Peter, but, even if she didn’t love Peter, she knows that if the Garcías help the McCulloughs, maybe that’s going to fix our relationship with them.
Also, Maria’s not even 100 percent Mexican. She was born in America. The Sediciosos are Mexicans that want to take back their land. This is not of interest to Maria. She doesn’t care about the Mexican War. She doesn’t care about Mexicans taking back their land. The only thing that she cares about is her family, and she thinks the Garcías have to be allies with the McCulloughs right now. It doesn’t make any sense to be enemies, so if the Garcías help the McCulloughs, that would make a stronger relationship with them.
Q: Maria reveals to Pete that she’s not actually a widow. Why is she honest with him but no one else, not even her own family?
A: She’s ashamed of the situation. She wanted to explain everything when she came back, but she just couldn’t. And being a widow would give her the respect that she wanted to have. It was hard for her also because her family didn’t want her to marry the guy she married. It would be like an “I told you so” or something, so she’s just avoiding the whole situation. She doesn’t have any money so she has to come back. It’s just a shame of how things turned out to be for her. She was expecting so much more of life, and now she has to come back because she doesn’t have any money. She’s just feeling so bad about herself, and that’s why she lies.
I think she opens up to Peter because she’s reaching out to him as her last resort. She’s asking for help. When she says, “I have to go and I came to say goodbye,” I don’t think she came to say goodbye because she doesn’t even have money to go and, unfortunately, we know a woman in that time couldn’t be independent. She couldn’t have money of her own, so she is looking for help and the only person that can really help her is Peter.
Q: Maria and Pete have a real moment together at the McCullough Ranch. Does she believe him when he talks about running away, when he says he loves her?
A: I think she knows that Peter loves her. She’s always known. Even though she knows that he loves her, she knows that his father will always win. Whatever his father wants for him will always win. I think Maria thinks Peter is weak. It’s not enough for her to hear that he loves her. It would be incredible for her to see, for the first time, him doing something against his father’s will because, if he really loved her, he would speak up and say to his dad, “I love this woman.” That would be so reassuring for Maria, because this is not the first time he’s said, “I love you.”
Read a Q&A with Zahn McClarnon, who plays Toshaway.
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