Cristina Rodlo, who plays Luz Ojeda on The Terror: Infamy, talks about the difficulty of preparing to play this role, the way the pregnancy changes her character’s life and how Luz feels when Chester goes off to war.
Q: How did you prepare for this role that is so deeply rooted in history?
A: It was quite hard because we tried to find books and research about the Latinos and the Mexican Americans at that time in California, and it was really hard to find something. We had everyone searching for something to help us understand Luz‘s life at that point, and we couldn’t find anything pretty much. So it was a lot of using my imagination, a lot of asking my mom how would my grandma behave at that time. I was also remembering — because I did meet my grandma, she died when I was 11 or 12 — how they used to behave so different [back then]. Their manners were so different, everything, the way they moved, the way they talked, just so different, so I was trying to remember that and use that in Luz’s posture and the way she speaks.
Obviously I also talked to George [Takei], to feel what he felt at that time. At the end of the day, to be an immigrant, wherever you come from, we go through the same things and feel the same emotions because we’re leaving our homes and we’re dreaming for something better. I think that’s what Luz had in common with all the Japanese Americans. She was a Mexican American who was dreaming for something better. She was looking for the American dream. For me, it was talking to George to understand what he went through and to really make it as real as possible and to have that connection with Luz.
Q: How would you describe Luz?
A: I would describe her as a dreamer, someone who was ahead of her time because in 1940, being a Latina in the U.S. and Catholic, you would have to get married at 16, 18 with a man and you would have to have kids and that’s it and that would be your life. You don’t [get] to study or be someone better — and she wanted to be better. She is a fighter and she’s passionate and she stands up for what she believes. Even though, at that time, people would think it’s wrong, she wouldn’t care. She wanted to be a nurse and she wanted to help people and she fell in love with someone that it was against the law [to marry], and she didn’t care because, to her, it was important to be honest to herself than to be doing what the law says.
Q: Luz loses her relationship with her father and brother by keeping the baby. How does this affect her choices to come?
A: It changes her life completely because she decides to have the baby because her mom didn’t give up on her. For her dad, it’s a sin to have sex before being married, so she knows she’s going against the law of God that the parents believe. She knows that they’re not going to support her. She knows that for sure and she decides to go ahead and to do it, and she also decides to do it alone. She doesn’t tell Chester until Chester sees her again at the university, and she’s still fighting to do it alone because she doesn’t want to put Chester in this situation where I think he has more to lose than Luz. It’s already against the law. It’s already World War II. It’s already the Americans don’t like Japanese Americans. So there is a lot going on. I think Luz is saying I don’t want to put more on your plate and I just need to do this alone, and it’s so risky. I think she’s so young and naive that she thinks she’s going to survive, that she thinks that she’s going to win this fight because she’s young. But what she doesn’t know is what life has prepared for her.
Q: Why did Luz turn herself in, revealing she’s pregnant with a Japanese American baby, when she could have hidden it?
A: I think it was really for three reasons. One, because she really loves Chester and, again, she’s young and she thinks that their love is going to be strong enough that they’re going to survive. Second, because she’s afraid. When she hears that the soldiers are going to take the babies even with just one drop of Japanese blood, she’s like, what am I going to do? The third reason is because she doesn’t know how bad the internment camp is going to be. She doesn’t even know that she’s going to an internment camp. She thinks that it’s just going to be maybe a month, maybe a week, but not that it’s going to be years.
Q: What is she thinking now that she’s a prisoner and Chester has left her there to go to war?
A: She has mixed feelings about that. She’s definitely happy that he has a job and that he’s doing something because that was something that she would always say to him, that he was only dreaming. But, at the same time, he’s the reason that she came to the internment camp. No one likes her in the internment camp and the only person that actually loves her and protects her is going to leave and she’s going to be alone. I think she’s very afraid that he’s leaving because, again, she doesn’t know for how long that’s going to be.
Q: Luz faces resistance at camp, both from the women and Chester’s family. Had she anticipated this?
A: No. At the beginning, I think she thought it was going to be hard definitely to win the family over. I think she didn’t think it was going to be this hard. I think she thought that maybe because they were having a baby, they could be nicer to her. And that is not happening. I think she wasn’t expecting it to be like that at all.
Q: After suffering in many ways throughout her pregnancy, she then gives birth to two stillborns. How will this change Luz as we know her to-date?
A: It changes her completely because everything she had done until that moment it was because of the baby. She stopped talking to her dad and to her brother because of the baby. She’s in the internment camp because of the baby. Everything that she did until that point was because she was pregnant. So, when she gives birth to two stillborn babies, she’s depressed because, for the past nine months, everything revolved around her babies. When you lose them for no apparent reason, then there’s no hope for her. All the hope that she had, it’s gone. It’s lost. She just wants to die. There is no reason anymore for her to be in this life. There’s no reason for her to survive. Because when a person loses their hope, then they just lose everything.
Q: What are you most excited for people to see this season?
A: I want people to imagine if it was them where their whole life was changed completely in one day, when they didn’t do anything wrong. Because of the way you look, they take everything away from you. That’s what I’m most excited about, for people to really put on someone else’s shoes and be like, what would I feel if I were them — if I’m white or if I’m black or if I’m Asian or if I’m Latino — and I was put in an internment camp just for the way I look. That’s what I want people to ask themselves and to really feel that question and feel what the Japanese Americans went through.
Read an interview with Eiji Inoue, who plays Hideo Furuya.
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