EXCLUSIVE: Oscar nominee and 2x Golden Globe winner James Franco will play Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Miguel Bardem’s Alina of Cuba with Imagen Award winner Mía Maestro set to play Natalia “Naty” Revuelta, the Cuban-born socialite he has a passionate love affair with.
They join previously announced actress Ana Villafañe who is portraying Alina Fernandez aka Castro’s Daughter. The screenplay from Oscar-nominated scribe Jose Rivera (The Motorcycle Diaries) and Pulitzer Prize winner Nilo Cruz, follows the true-life story of Cuban exile turned social advocate, Fernandez, whose birth was the result of the tryst between Revuelta and Castro. Revuelta sacrificed her and her physician husband’s personal belongings and finances to help fund the start of the communist revolution. Fernandez learned that she was Fidel Castro’s daughter at the age of 10 when, after years of secret visits to her home, her mother finally revealed that “El Comandante” was her biological father. Alina grew to become one of Castro’s most outspoken critics, arrested on more than one occasion for trying to leave, and was classified as a dissident forbidden to travel outside of Cuba. Ultimately, she defected to Spain in 1993, an event that drew headlines from every major news network around the world, before she made Miami her permanent home.
Rounding out the supporting cast are Alanna de la Rosa, Maria Cecilia Botero (Encanto), Harding Junior, and Cuban-born actors Sian Chiong and Rafael Ernesto Hernandez.
The movie is being shot entirely on location in and around Cartagena and Bogota, with Colombia’s colonial Spanish architecture and design playing for Castro-era Havana, Cuba. Cameras roll on Aug. 15.
John Martinez O’Felan, the project’s lead creative producer of Austin-based Mankind Entertainment, says, “Since the inception of the film, our focus has been to produce an artistic piece of modern Hispanic history, with the vision for the project as being truly inclusive through uniting actors and creatives from both intergenerational and recent Latin roots from the US, Latin America, and the world. That said, casting Ana and Mia were no-brainers because, besides the trajectory of their past work, one represents modern Cuban-America and the other Argentina. After watching Ana’s reel and auditioning her, it became evident she was perfectly suited and had a great voice to carry the material, and Mia’s work in the past with Jose spoke for itself and screamed writer/actress reunion.”
O’Felan adds, “Finding and convincing James Franco to play Castro, was a fun and challenging process and has been the collaborative work of the universe, because our director’s original order was to find an actor who holds a close physical resemblance to the real Castro to build from, along with finding someone Alina Fernandez would strongly endorse. To get there on such a tough look to cast, we used Fidel Castro’s ancient Galician heraldry as our focal compass, and then combed through the entire ranks of actors with Latin roots in Hollywood to find someone who has a similar facial structure. In executing a close search into our hopefuls through the eye of Spanish and Portuguese genealogy which the Galicians held, we found that James, by far, had the closest facial likeness of our Industry’s leading actors, meaning that the focus would be to build out his character accent and we’d have a stunning on-screen match to intrigue audiences and bring the story to life with true visual integrity. Altogether, working with such a supportive and exciting cast has been a true blessing to our team and project.”
As part of the film’s media package, O’Felan also launched the fully financed companion documentary Revolution’s Daughterwhich is being filmed on-location alongside Alina of Cuba with Emmy and Peabody Award-winning director Thaddeus D. Matula at the helm. In addition to incorporating a behind-the-scenes look at Alina of Cuba, Revolution’s Daughter will explore the historical and modern look at Cuban history and Alina Fernandez. The documentary will be sold as part of the total feature film package.
Franco received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for 127 Hours in 2011. His portrayal of absurdist filmmaker and cult indie star Tommy Wiseau in The Disaster Artist earned him a Golden Globe win for Best Actor – Comedy or Musical, Best Actor in a Comedy at the Critics Choice Awards, and a SAG Nomination for Best Actor. His feature credits include the Sam Raimi directed Spider-Man trilogy Spring Breakers, Milk, Eat Pray Love, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Pineapple Express, and This Is the End among several other titles. He was the EP and star of the HBO series The Deuce, and he counts numerous feature directing credits including The Disaster Artist, The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, The Long Home among others. Franco also won a Golden Globe in 2002 for his portrayal of James Dean in the TV movie of the same name in the Best Actor Miniseries/Movie category. The actor, who is of Latin-Portuguese heritage, received the support to play Castro by the Cuban leader’s own daughter, who is serving the production on the set as a creative and biographical consultant. Franco is represented by Anonymous Content and UTA.
Maestro recently wrapped the Apple+ anthology series Extrapolations, starring opposite Edward Norton, as well as the lead in Domenico De Feudis’ Italian feature Il Legame (aka The Binding) for Netflix, produced by Academy Award winner Paolo Sorrentino. Maestro recently starred in the acclaimed Sundance Film Festival premiere The Cow That Sang Into The Future. She is known for her roles in Carlos Saura’s Oscar-nominated feature TangoWalter Salles’ The Motorcycle DiariesJulie Taymor’s Fridaas well as her recent role in FX’s hit series Mayans MC She is repped by Paradigm and Luber Roklin Entertainment.
Deadline previously reported that Villafañe was cast as Fernandez. She is best known for her breakout role in the Broadway musical On Your Feet, in which she portrayed Cuban pop icon, Gloria Estefan. She later starred as Nina Rosario in the Kennedy Center’s 2018 production of In the Heights.
The producers of Alina of Cuba are Austin-based Mankind Entertainment’s O’Felan and Joe Lamy, along with Academy Award-nominee Celine Rattray (The Kids Are Alright) and BAFTA-nominated Trudie Styler (Still Alice, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Moon.) for Maven Screen Media. Additional producers include husband and wife team Allen Gilmer and Rikki Rushing, founders of Austin-based Redbud Studios. Emmy-winner Javier Gonzalez is executive producing with Bogota-based production services company Jaguar Bite and Colombian EPs Juan Pablo Solano and Simon Beltran. EPs also include Luis Mandoki and Thaddeus D. Matula.
UTA is handling North American sales on the film.