Hailing from Puerto Rico and trained at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London, Yaiza Figueroa is noted for A Beautiful Death, The Befuddled Box of Betty Buttifint and the lead in Grace and The Showreel. In Anti Matter, Figueroa is Oxford PhD student Ana, who finds herself unable to build new memories following an experiment to generate and travel through a wormhole. The taut sci-fi thriller follows Ana’s desperate efforts to understand what happened, and to find out who—or what—is behind the rising confusion in her life. In this one-on-one interview, Yaiza reveals what attracted her to this intellectual thriller and what she drew upon to bring Ana to life.
This was a surprisingly interesting film about a compelling scientific topic, what drew you to Anti Matter?
Yaiza Figueroa: I was originally cast for a supporting role. The protagonist and his supporting actor were both male. Then I was given another script by director Keir Burrows because we had worked before in another short film. Once I read that script, which was completely different, I was drawn to exactly what you mentioned earlier—the film’s multi-level intellectual take on the subject matter. I view it as a detective, psycho thriller. When they changed the gender of the lead and offered me the protagonist, I was scared, a bit overwhelmed but challenged. It gave the lead an added dimension as well as ethnic diversity. Touching on immigration appealed to me because I was going through the same sort of loneliness Ana was facing. I was in the UK when they were talking about Brexit, and I was feeling all the emotions surrounding immigration. I was thankful in getting the lead because most Latinas are often handed housemaid or sexy bombshell roles.
You rattled off highly technical terms like a Ph.D chemist. Did you immerse yourself in the technology before taking on this project?
Yaiza: Oh, I had to study so much. I was joking with Keir, ‘I feel like I have a quantum physics degree now.’ I spent three days in the lab working with the production designer. I had to become familiar with all the machines. Usually, as an actor, you read the script two times. I read this one six times.
What did you find most challenging about portraying Ana?
Yaiza: I felt distant from the sci-fi aspect of the film. I’m not a sci-fi fan. That was the most challenging, to be connected to the sci-fi style. I felt quite comfortable with the drama. English is my second language, so I had to work twice as hard to sound natural.
What did you draw from to portray a woman struggling with self-identity?
Yaiza: I felt fortunate to play Ana at a time when I was feeling vulnerable and lonely. I had been living in London for four years and I felt isolated living so far from my home in Porto Rico. Latin American people are very close to their families. I’m very close to my Mom. So I used that along with some psycho-physical acting. I tried to keep grounded and worked through it. It’s a 12-hour flight to get back home, so I was unable to visit my family often. I wasn’t expecting to stay in London for four years. I have friends here and London is my second home, but I still felt a longing to go home.
Throughout the film, Ana appears untethered to her past and at some point, reality, how did you approach bringing that out in Ana?
Yaiza: I was also doing a short called The Showreel, about an immigrant trying to make it as an actress in London. But She was from the Middle East and she was disconnected from reality by playing different roles in life. So we had been working with that idea from that short film.
The film obliquely segued into animal rights. Are you an advocate of protecting animals in medical research?
Yaiza: It’s funny because the first draft of the script did not have that as a secondary theme. I’m not an active animal rights person, but I’m a vegan, so indirectly, I kind of am for animal rights.
Do you believe we will ever develop teleportation? If so do you think a person’s soul will remain intact?
Yaiza: If you asked me that five years ago, I’d have said teleportation is impossible, but after studying the topic so extensively, I’m actually a sci-fi fan and it just might be possible with technology moving so fast. Maybe they’ve already done it and we just don’t know about it. As far as the soul remaining intact, I just don’t know. It depends on your religious beliefs.
You’ve been in quite a few introspective, character-driven films. What do you like about them?
Yaiza: They’re challenging. I like films that make people think. I don’t choose my characters, I think characters choose me. Maybe I feel close to introspective characters. I like the challenge of portraying a character that has so many things going on inside. Ana had so many layers, so many emotions to deal with. It was exhausting.
What’s next for you? More shorts, more feature-length dramas?
Yaiza: Right now I’m home in Porto Rico. After doing Anti-Matter, I really wanted to be home. I’m currently doing a light comedy TV series called Such is Life. I’m also doing a lot of theater, which was where I started, and I’m a sports reporter for a TV channel here—I love sports. I’ll probably move to New York in a year or two and do more films.
Anti Matter will be in select theaters and VOD September 8th.