Perugorría's Three Passions
By Mercedes Ramos / Photos: Jose (Tito) Meriño and Artist's Archives
Known nationally and internationally for his famous Diego in the Cuban film Fresa y Chocolate (Strawberry and Chocolate), Jorge Perugorría, Pichy to his friends, is also an accomplished painter; this hobby and alternate profession together with his family are the passions of his life. You are known as an actor, and now as a painter; speak to me of this duality.
Ever since I was a boy, painting attracted me. I was born in Wajay, a little town outside Havana. There was a fine arts professor in the House of Culture there and the first thing I did, along with a group of friends, was to matriculate there, as that was my passion at the moment. I had other interests too, including baseball. Later all that was forgotten.
Still, a touch of painting remained within me and sometimes I made something as a hobby, but when I began acting, I understood that that was my career, my profession, and I concentrated on that in my studies, preparing myself on the stage for many years until I arrived at movies, and painting was forgotten.
Then, after a long-haul, I picked up the brushes again around the year 2000 and, since I have remained as a friend and collaborator of many Cuban painters, they encouraged me to show my works. Thus I presented the first exhibition, and I began to take it more seriously.
So now you spend more time painting than acting? No, actually I have a great deal of work in films now and I would never walk out on it. They are different expressions.
Cinema is a collective work and painting, by contrast, is something very personal.
Tell me about the theatre, what was that like in the beginning? I was a part of Olga Alonso's group and then I went on to Popular Art. I studied with various groups until I began my professional career in the Caribbean Theatre. I was on the stage almost 10 years. The most memorable I think was the US trilogy of the 90s: Tea and Sympathy, A Streetcar Named Desire and The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, directed by Carlos Díaz. Later, we founded the group The Public Theatre that is still on the Cuban scene. In 1993 Fresa y Chocolate appeared and I never returned to the theatre.
Of your more than 45 films, what is your favourite? Indubitably Fresa y Chocolate was a turning point in my career, fulfilling my aspirations to work with the country's best directors. In addition, it let my work be known internationally and other cinematographic doors were opened in: Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, that is to say, the Latin American cinema that I love. Also I have an important relationship with Spain where I made more than 15 films. But, for me, the fundamental is Cuban cinema, with that I am committed professionally and spiritually, not only as an actor but collaborating with directors preparing their first work.
Which of your characters do you prefer? Diego in Fresa y Chocolate was a marvellous character written by Zenel Paz, one of the greatest Cuban writers. Diego conquered the Cuban public and that of all the countries where the film was shown.
What are your current film projects? Vladimir Cruz and I are acting in and directing a movie. The script is titled Afinidades (Affinities), an adaptation by Vladimir of a Cuban novel inspired by the story of four contemporary actors. It will be my first experience as co-director. Tell about the community project you have undertaken. After the hurricanes that devastated Gibara in Holguin, the province where the master Humberto Solás created the Festival de Cine Pobre (Poor Cinema Festival), I wanted to do something for that population and for the festival.
We called together anyone who could contribute any type of donation, and opened an office in the Cuban Cinema Art and Industry Institute (ICAIC) to bring what was collected together and take it to the people of Gibara. I also made another call for Cuban and world artists to donate a work to sell to increase the funds. We even created an online gallery (www.arteporcuba.com) coinciding with the celebration of the Festival; we received more than 180 works, many have been sold and the money is contributed to the reconstruction of Gibara. And your family, Perugurría, what role have they played in your life?
I always say I have three great passions: my family, the cinema and painting. Therefore, "my numerous family" as I call them, occupies a very important space. Elsita and I have been together 25 years and have four children. The separations imposed by so many trips, etc. have been hard, but I have never lacked the understanding and the support of Elsa and the children.