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How much are you willing to disfigure yourself for your art?

(l-r) Cuban actor Enrique Molina, myself, & Francisco

The Havana Film Festival New York opened on Friday night, which reminded me that I (still) hadn’t edited and uploaded photos from last year’s festival.

As I looked at those photos earlier tonight, I found this one, taken of myself and Francisco with the Cuban actor, Enrique Molina, at the Center for Cuban Studies.

Enrique has been in a number of Cuban comedies, including the 2008 film, “El cuerno de la abundancia” (“The horn of plenty”) and “Video de la familia” (“Family video”). When you meet him, it’s not hard to see why; every response–no matter the question–is witty.

Francisco and I talked with Enrique for at least 20 minutes, and even shot some video footage of him talking about his latest role, that of Jose Marti, a Cuban national hero who died in 1895 and whose figure continues to loom large (check out the Cuban newspaper, Granma, to realize just how present Marti remains in Cuban society today).

Marti, it’s important to point out, looked like this:

{photo sourced from Wikipedia}

Marti died when he was just 42 years old.

Enrique is in his 60s.

Marti was thin.

Enrique likes to eat and has a paunch to prove it.

Marti’s face was long and almost gaunt.

Enrique’s face is round and plump.

It’s hard to imagine why he’d be cast in the role of Marti.


Enrique told us that the role required him to go far beyond the usual preparations needed to inhabit his character. Beyond the obvious intervention of a diet, the role required him to undergo several plastic surgeries–in the double digits, if my memory serves (I haven’t checked the video to confirm, though), operations that had changed his physiognomy.

I was appalled.

It’s one thing to become so singular in your mindset that you “become” the person you are playing.

It’s another entirely to permanently change your body in order to play a role.


I have no right to judge Enrique, nor any interest in doing so. All creative people make their own choices about the sacrifices they are willing to take in order to make a living from their craft, and we all make compromises. I’m not even sure Enrique considered the surgeries a compromise or sacrifice, so I certainly don’t want to put any words in his mouth.

But this anecdote leads me to wonder: How much are we willing to disfigure ourselves for our art? How much are you willing to disfigure yourself–or your voice– for yours?


9 responses »

  1. For some, the disfigurement is the art. I think this is the cutting edge? Check out Genesis P-Orridge and Orlan.

  2. I feel like the filmmaker should’ve cast someone who looks more like the main character vs. asking someone to have surgery to permanently change themselves, most people wouldn’t even consider that (or so I’d like to hope). I’m just not sure what Enrique Molina’s reasoning is behind it – did you happen to ask him more about it?

  3. I can theoretically understand the drive to be consumed by your art, but in my opinion, it (almost) never turns out well. Your future art suffers for the over-the-top sacrifices of the present. Robert Schumann, for instance, devised contraptions to stretch his hands to play piano. In doing so, he irreparably damaged his hands and could never perform in concert again. Enrique may have become Marti, but I wonder how future acting parts will pan out since he transformed himself into such an exact role.

    • Nancy-

      That’s just horrific.
      As I was writing this, I was trying to compare the different arts: was one less prone to disfigurements–in both the physical and the psychological sense–than another? It seemed that visual art might be one (the actions that resulted from symptoms of mental illness of someone like Van Gogh notwithstanding) and for a moment I thought music. But this example just blows that out of the water. How sad… is there a biography or memoir about him that you would recommend?

  4. Well who wouldn’t want to look like Marti?

    This topic would make for a great book if you come up with a few more examples.

    Multiple plastic surgeries for one role is mind boggling to me.

    The only thing I can liken it to are athletes who take steroids to enhance their performance—despite all the evidence out there about the short and long term health problems it will cause them.

    • Marti is rather dashing, isn’t he? And if you look at Enrique closely enough, you do begin to see some resemblances. And darn you for giving me another book idea….

  5. Totally reminds me of Christian Bale and the horrific transformation he had to go through for his (pretty cool) role in The Machinist –

  6. Pingback: Curso de guitarra Enrique Molina | Aprender Guitarra Electrica

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