Writer-director-producer Matteo Ribaudo, and actress-director-producer Patricia Rae are a Hollywood power couple who plan to give Brad and Angie, and Will and Jada a run for their money. Their 18-minute short Ophilia premiered at the Dances with Film Festival back in June, and is making its way through the film festival circuit. Not being a pair who sits around and waits (what power couple does?), Matteo and Patricia were very excited to talk about their latest project: La Reina (“The Queen”). This gritty, crime-action drama will be directed by Matteo, and Patricia will play the lead role of “Antonia de La Reina”, a lone female drug lord who remakes the seedy world by her own rules.
Matteo’s feature script has created quite a stir in Latino Hollywood. Julio Caro, Jennifer Lopez’ producing partner (The Cell, El Cantante) is attached as executive producer. “We’re excited to have Julio a part of the project,” Matteo said. “He’s been there, done that, and he knows the Latin market.”
Actor Hemky Madera (Weeds, Rango) plays “Flacco”, a principal role in the film. Edward Chiodo—one part of the Chiodo Brothers (Killer Clowns from Outer Space, Team America) is part of the production team, and cinematographer Scott Carrithers is also on board to create a visually stunning, lush feature.
“But the film will not just engage a Latino audience,” Patricia said, “but the general audience, because it’s just a good story. We want to tell a great story featuring a Latino face, culture—produce a good movie, an exciting movie, with a well-written script.”
La Reina chronicles the rise of female drug lord “Antonia De La Reina”. Inspired by true events, the character La Reina has charisma, as well as cajones—not unlike this film, which is not afraid to show the gritty, seamier side of the drug business, while delving deeply into the motivations and reasons that formed La Reina the woman and fuels her ambitions.
“No matter how high she gets or her status or her money, that hole is always empty,” Patricia explains. “That’s what makes her greedy, that’s what makes her push, that’s what makes her go out of control.”
The recent rise of the bankable female action star (Angelina Jolie in Salt, Zoe Saldana in Columbiana, Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty) lends the perfect climate for this type of film, spotlighting a woman playing by her own rules in a male-dominated environment. “It’s a great time for female leads to come to the forefront, Patrica said. “You are seeing more and more women of colors as protagonist in TV shows. Shonda Rhimes is all over television, and is really exemplary in the way she is writing her characters; and it’s not exclusive of gender or color. So this is really such a great moment for Latinas in general, and the empowerment of the artistry and everything. I think the two things coinciding is really a very dynamic time to tell this story.”
Besides the essential funding, key to this film’s rise was tapping Carla Hool to cast it. Patricia knows the worth of a good casting director: “She’s an amazing casting director. She cast Sin Nombre, A Better Life with Demián Bichir, Apocalypto. She loves the script. All of the people we have been able to secure is all because the script is so good.”
Black actors and filmmakers have had many resurgences, beginning with the “Blacksploitation” films of the 1970s, the comedy and dramatic works of Robert Townsend, Spike Lee, and John Singleton in the ‘80s, and most recently, the romantic comedy boom that began in the ‘90s and continues through today. Black producers and directors like Oprah Winfrey and Lee Daniels mount projects with all-Black casts or primarily Black leads, and have significant weight to green light properties, and mount multi-million dollar productions.
Though Latin actors and filmmakers abound in Hollywood, this market segment has not seen the same renaissance.
“The problem with the Latino filmmaking is that it just hasn’t risen to the top in terms of very good writing, very good production quality, and very good acting,” Patricia said. “I think when you put all of those elements together, you’re going to get a better product.”
Matteo chimed in, “With Latin films there’s always the passion; the filmmakers, the people involved are always passionate. But sometimes passion makes you make a movie or a script before its ready, and that shows on the screen. One of our goals is to make sure we have all our, I guess, ducks in the row, so that it is mainstream, and the story is solid, which it is at this point. It’s gone through many rewrites.”
This is a role of a lifetime, and one uniquely suited for Patricia Rae. A Latina-American of Columbian descent, Patricia cut her dramatic teeth in Florida, and New York, before moving to Los Angeles for more opportunities and bigger parts. She scored the first big fish with her Oscar-nominated turn as “Carla” in Maria Full of Grace. She followed this with parts in the television series Chuck, The Mentalist, The Closer, The Chicago Code, and Touch. Most recently, Patricia played “Madonna”, a major supporting role in this year’s The Big Wedding, alongside acting heavyweights Robert DeNiro, Robin Williams, Diane Keaton, and Susan Sarandon. Both Maria Full of Grace and The Big Wedding garnered Patricia Rae an Imagen nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
If Patricia Rae is the Muse, Matteo Ribaudo is Pygmalion. This Italian-American is a prolific ball of energy whose first short film, In the Name of My Father, won Best Comedy short in the 2006 New York International Independent Film Festival, as well as screened at the Cannes Film Festival that same year. Matteo has gone on to direct and produce shorts, like Ophilia, and videos. His feature, Silverlake Video the movie premieres this year through “On Demand”.
“I do believe the success of this film will create opportunities for both of us. I’ve directed features before, but in the eye of the industry, they still consider me a “first-time director”, because I don’t have a cache. Now what I’d like to do is create a name of a successful film, because that’s what distributors are looking for—they’re looking for a director that has a successful track record. I know that I can do the job, but I need everyone else to know that on another level.”
Patricia believes in the process of learning and growth with each role, no matter how large or small; but she is ready to take her career to the next step. “I think La Reina is going to help me segue into becoming a leading lady, producing more, becoming a name. Because even after all these years, and all the work, and my resume, and everything, I’m still not considered a name.
“So that’s going to change that for me. I’m not going to say, that’s it, that’s the end and I’m just going to be cast in everything. But the next time I go to make a project, no one’s going to say, ‘Well, who’s Patricia Rae?’ I’ll have the numbers, I’ll have the evidence.”
Like Lou Gossett, Jr.’s breakthrough role in An Officer and a Gentleman (the part was written for a white actor), Patricia wants to get past the standard casting pigeonholes, and industry-imposed barriers. “That’s my goal. I want to break the stereotypes. I want to be able to play period pieces, I want to be in foreign films, I’d love to play Ingrid Bettencourt Pulecio. I want to be able to expand my horizons. That’s another thing that this film will do for me, is break that mold.”
Both Matteo and Patricia are hoping that 2014 will be “the Year of La Reina”. “Ideally, I wanted to try and get something done before the New Year. But with contracts and money, realistically we’re looking at principal photography, January, February, March 2014—somewhere in there. I’m hoping if all things are going forward as they should be, perhaps pre-production in November-December.”
Matteo is in communication with Indomina Group, which just opened three new studios in Santo Domingo. “We’re hopefully going to shoot in the Dominican Republic, and double Miami and Columbia from there. We’re excited. Just talking about it kind of gets us going.”