Nava Mau is a multi-hyphen in the making
Maybe Nava Mau has always been an actress, but it took years for her to adopt the term as a self-description. Born in Mexico City, she starred in a junior version of Cats—Her first dramatic role, which she always describes with affectionate humor — but she didn’t consider acting as a career path until years later, when she wrote, produced, directed and starred in the short footage Waking hour. She found a natural rhythm in the medium of short film, where she could exercise more artistic license than was typical for a young trans Latina designer in an industry where the facade of progressivism often protected bigotry. For one of the very first times, she felt real autonomy over how the world viewed her.
After finishing work on a few more shorts, Mau was surfing her couch in Los Angeles when she received a suspicious DM on Instagram from a random account offering her an audition. The message contained a typo, so she assumed it was spam. But, like many hungry actresses, she was quite anxious for a lead that she sent to her email address. In the end, the post was more than legitimate – it was an audition offer for the HBO Max show. Generation + ion. Mau submitted her tape and, within weeks, was cast as Ana, the aunt-turned-surrogate of Greta, her niece who has trouble coming to terms with her sexuality. In the teenage comedy-drama, Ana is a beloved babysitter and role model, a welcome change for LGBTQ characters, who often serve as uplifting narratives or, worse, jokes. On and off screen, Mau exhibits a graceful confidence that may have taken some practice at first, but now comes as naturally as breathing. She knows she belongs on your television.
Currently working on an anthology and waiting for — fingers crossed — a Generation + ion Season 2, Mau spoke with ELLE.com about the importance of visibility and the power of knowing how to take up space.
Why do you think you thought acting was not a viable career until you looked at yourself in Waking hour?
Now, I had a very clear awareness of how the world was, how history was. Before we started to see trans people playing roles on television and in movies – that went beyond just being punchlines or murder victims – it just didn’t belong … just no room. It has changed over the past seven or eight years. Seven or eight years ago I was in college trying to figure out what to do with my life. And so looking at the world, the world told me that there was no room for me.
What about your experience with the short film gave you the perspective that there was is now space?
I’m so glad that my introduction to the world of cinema was through independent films and projects that I had a lot of agency on because it showed me why we do this. It’s about telling stories that come from the heart and that can touch the hearts of others. So when I finally got together to create this short, that … I don’t know how to explain it. I had never really been able to see myself fully. I fell in love with myself in a new way, and I fell in love with this art form. And I haven’t lost love yet.
What about Generation + ion seduced you? When you looked at the connect line, was there something that immediately made you say “I have to do this”?
I was really drawn to [Ana’s] honest relationship with his niece, Greta. I felt like this relationship was so unique in both of their identities, but also in their dynamic situation that they live where Greta’s mom was kicked out, and her trans aunt takes care of her while she discovers his strange identity. It’s such a magnificent dynamic to explore.
How did you approach the responsibility of acting as a guardian figure for Greta, someone in such a vulnerable position?
I realized from writing that Ana’s style of parenting and mentoring is that she doesn’t really push back. She pushes forward. It’s not that Ana doesn’t have an opinion. She intuitively knows that trying to punish Greta for finding her own path isn’t effective. Because [punishment] what’s this [Ana’s] the experience was, and it was not working for her. As Ana had such a difficult upbringing and she faces such adversity every day in the world, she would never want to repeat this with her niece.
You have worn many hats in your career so far. Write, produce, direct, act, is there one side of the camera that you prefer more than another?
I really enjoy working in a variety of capacities. I would say my favorites are directing and acting, obviously. Writing is the bane of my existence. It plunges me each time into a crisis and a spiral of sanity. [Laughs]
But I think they all feed off each other. It’s funny. I was a director yesterday, and thought I had a good day. I’ve worked with a great cast and crew, and yet I had a thought at one point where I was like, “Actually, I miss acting.” And then when I play, sometimes I think to myself: “Ah, I wish I could direct. “
Along with your work in the film and television industry, you have also devoted significant time to social justice movements as a legal assistant, peer counselor, and advocate for LGBTQ youth. I’m curious how you see your roles in film and television merging with your work as an advocate.
You know, I admit that over the last few years I have thought about whether it would not be possible to continue to focus on a work focused on social justice as I invest so much in this career in film and on the television. . I used to shy away from creative work. I would do a little something creative and then go back to what I thought was my “real” life and my “real” career. And then I would end up going back to creative work.
Now I am focusing full time on my creative work and I feel like maybe I cannot take responsibility for cultural and political work in film and television so I find myself there. to come back. So, I think that, for the projects where I lead, it is really important for me to continue to bring the frameworks in which I believe in my cultural work. I also believe that a culture change is desperately needed in the film industry, so I hope I never let go of that. This is my mission.
When you’ve had the opportunity to bridge that gap, to combine cultural work with creative work, where do you think you could have had the most impact?
I really loved creating spaces and programs that bring together people who otherwise wouldn’t have had this opportunity. I’m co-editing this anthology right now with four other trans women of color. It’s called Paradise on the sidelines: lessons and dreams of transgender women of color. Part of the project is that we created this writing circle program. It was truly wonderful to bring together five writers and trans women of color from different parts of the country for mentorship and feedback on their creative writing and to bond among themselves and between the co-editors and mentors. Especially during the pandemic, I felt like it really anchored me.
What have you watched recently that inspires your work?
I watched him not so recently, but he’s still here with me. I can destroy you. Breathtaking, heartbreaking and soothing to the soul, it was also such a cinematic accomplishment. This series set the standard for me.
What other projects do you have to come?
I have taken time since packing the production of Generation + ion jumping on other people’s plans as I prepare for what lies ahead. I am really excited about this short film that I was able to work with April Maxey. It’s called To work, and this is a queer Chicano going through a breakup, and we see her during her workday. She works in an office during the day, and she works at an underground lap dance party at night and meets an old friend. It’s a very, very beautiful story that I hope everyone can see.
And recently, I was on the set for this short series called Hidden canyons. I can’t tell you the storyline, but it always means a lot to me whenever I work with a cast and crew of queer and trans people and with a storyline that is about doing better for each other. So I’m also very excited that people are seeing season two of Hidden canyons.
If there was an upcoming movie or TV project that you could star in, what would it be?
I would love to be in series adaptation of Dawn by Octavia Butler it’s coming. She is my ultimate guide and my favorite author, and she is my favorite book. And obviously I can’t play Lilith, but what if I could work in any capacity on this show? Like, please make me a production assistant!
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