Since branching out from acting for some time, Laura Mañá (Barcelona, 1968) has continued apace in her career as a filmmaker and TV director. Now she premieres Un novio para mi mujer (A boyfriend for my wife), her remake of an Argentine comedy in which Belén Cuesta plays Lucía, a journalist who has lost interest in both her work and her romantic relationship. Lucía’s boyfriend (Diego Martín) therefore decides to find… another boyfriend (Hugo Silva) for her in order to bring things to a head. Will they break up? Will she leave him for her attractive new suitor? We talk to Mañá about comedies with depth, about laughter, about strong women and about the media.
Is Un novio para mi mujer a romantic comedy or perhaps anti-romantic?
It’s a comedy about love and heartbreak. It is not anti-romantic, but it addresses falling in love again and the importance of recovering your self-esteem and the dreams you had abandoned.
Is there much left to say about romantic relationships? And many ways to do it?
Yes, we live in a time when romantic relationships have changed a lot. Take polyamory, for starters. Everyone likes being in love, and at the same time, we can suffer heartbreak at any age of our lives, in our 20s, 30s, 40s…
The story is based on an Argentine film, Un novio para mi mujer (2008), by Juan Taratuto, but you’ve said you wanted to make that story your own. How have you put your own stamp on it?
Above all, I wanted to really develop the characters, to make them relatable, and also to adapt them for a Spanish context. In the original film, the main storyline revolved around therapy, and that doesn’t appear here. I fell in love with all three of my main characters because each one is doing their best to make a go of life.
As for the characters, is there a risk that viewers might dislike this bitter woman, who is masterfully played by Belén Cuesta?
I don’t think so. Lucia is a woman who is evolving. At the end of Un novio para mi mujer there is a phrase of hers that sums it up perfectly: “I would’ve really liked it if you had told me I was becoming a hateful person.” Lucía has isolated herself, she is disgruntled at home and constantly criticizes everything. In the process by which she emerges from this situation, the microphone at the small radio station that hires her is crucial. There she can complain as much as she wants. And eventually leave that intolerant woman behind her.
And furthermore, get paid for it.
When you shot Un novio para mi mujer last year, the pandemic was ongoing, but there was no longer that initial panic. And the protocols had already changed. There were less restrictions, but without lowering the guard. What was it like for you?
I shot this movie during COVID and also the TV-movie Frederica Montseny, la dona que parla (2021) (Frederica Montseny, the woman who speaks). It’s been very hard and I have suffered a lot, because, in cinema and TV, human contact with your whole crew is very important.
One of the scenes in the story involves the locker room of the sports complex where the characters of Diego Martín (Diego) and Joaquín Reyes (Carlos) play indoor soccer with their buddies. In those scenes, there are several dialogues that are very defining of them.
Yes, it’s when they’re all in their underwear and between the sweat from the match and the steam from the showers, everyone chips in with their own opinion of Diego’s situation in regard to Lucía.
What kind of comedies make you laugh? Do you have any favorite movies, directors, actors or actresses?
I like sitcoms more than laugh-out-loud comedies based on gags. I like English and French comedy, those kinds of films with a certain sensibility, such as Untouchable (2011), by Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano. In Un novio para mi mujer there are many layers, and you enjoy it while also identifying with some of the situations that the protagonists go through. Another comedy that I like? There’s The Philadelphia Story (1940), by George Cukor, which, as well as making you laugh, has very solid characters. There, every movement by Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, no matter how clumsy they are, is as central to their character as is their dialogue.
Let’s talk about Belén Cuesta. She is among an elite group of actresses, along with Carmen Machi and others, who are incredibly gifted when it comes to both comedy and drama.
It’s true, and, what’s more, I believe that when you shoot a comedy, deep down, the characters have to be very dramatic in order for them to be authentic. I believe in comedy with depth, and it’s something I put into practice with I Love You, Stupid (2020).
As well as Cuesta, there are the wonderful Diego Martín, who works in a photography store but wants to be an artistic photographer, and Hugo Silva, who plays Cuervo Flores, an expert in breaking up couples. They are hilarious, but also very controlled, restrained.
Diego and Hugo are masters of something that’s very important for actors – the tempo and the pause. For example, just with a certain look or downward glance, you can tell that Diego’s character is a tragic case.
I would love to have seen more scenes with Joaquín Reyes, especially with the big makeover he has in Un novio para mi mujer.
I also wish there were more sequences with Joaquín. He’s fantastic and really cracks me up. He was thrilled with this makeover. We asked him: “Joaquín, can we shave your head so you look bald? It would be part of the look of this manager that you play.” He immediately said yes! Actors love to dress up as someone else.
Through the roles of Belén Cuesta and Eric Masip, Un novio para mi mujer talks about the new forms of media and journalism. It addresses issues like news content, salaries and ways to reach listeners. Are you very critical of journalism today?
Yes, I’d like the media to take on the task of reporting good news. So that it’s not all just people engaged in meaningless discussion and criticism. Lucía ends up at a radio station that believes in speaking freely and incorrectly. And there she feels happy as a journalist.
“Never keep a journalist waiting because they’ll make you pay for it.” That’s a great line from the movie, and very true. Don’t worry, you haven’t kept me waiting.
Ha ha, but you have caught me scouting locations for the first series of my career. Sometimes, when you read the write-up of an interview that they’ve done with you, you discover things that are different from what you said, or out of context. All I ask is that you don’t make me look like an idiot, ha ha.
Don’t worry. As a film director, you are specializing in comedies. On the other hand, as a television director, you have already shot three serious historical biopics of iconic women like the aforementioned Frederica Montseny, Clara Campoamor and Concepción Arenal. Do you have a new biopic in mind?
Yes, one about Neus Català and the full story of the concentration camps, but it is still in the financing phase. At the moment, I am concentrating on the series that I mentioned before but I can’t tell you anything about it. What interests me when shooting these biographies is showing young people how the role of women in society has changed. Frederica, Clara and Concepción are strong and very contemporary women. And also free and independent. As was Natalia Tena in I Love You, Stupid, and now Belén Cuesta in Un novio para mi mujer.