It seems that werewolves, vampires and biodynamic farmers share a common passion of making the most of the moonlight. Under its glow, the creatures hunt for prey and the farmers harvest grapes for wine.
I came upon this strange realization in talking with my friend Mia Maestro, the actress who plays the compassionate Spanish vampire Carmen Denali in the newest installment of the Twilight Saga vampire series, Breaking Dawn, which comes out this Friday. Mia and I share a love for nature and the restorative ways of growing food through organic and biodynamic farming.
"It's important for me to have a deep connection with food and where it comes from," Mia said, voicing an opinion that is her own, but could just as well have come from the her contradictory character Carmen, who is a 'vegetarian' vampire with a conscience. In the movie, Carmen forgoes a sanguine diet of human blood for one her vampire family considers more ethical, derived from forest animals.
While you may not find Mia hunting in the moonlight, last September just as dawn was breaking beneath a full moon (the ideal time to harvest wine grapes according to the biodynamic calendar) Mia joined me amongst the vines, harvesting fruit.
"This farm produces my favorite wine. You can hardly call it volunteering when I'm using my hands to pick fruit for the wine I know I will enjoy," she laughed, before turning thoughtful. "One of our biggest flaws as a postmodern society is to be disconnected from where things actually come from. In our world today, understanding that connection grounds you and helps you understand the possibilities and responsibilities that we have with our society and our environment."
Why We Love Twilight
As an environmental advocate, these thoughts are uppermost in my mind as we get ready to feast on the newest dish of vampire drama. Why do we love these adventures so? I believe it's not just the heated romance between human and immortal (Bella and Edward, for the not yet initiated). It's the immersion into an ethereal wildspace, the vast forests of the Pacific Northwest, where this crop of immortals reside and from which they derive their unique power as characters. As the forests of our planet increasingly disappear, is it any wonder that our imaginations as moviegoers turn to the interiors of those that remain? Or to new and imaginary realms like the glowing jungles of the planet Pandora in James Cameron's megahit Avatar, which take us into an Eden we mortals hunger for on a primal level.
I think part of these films' allure is their appeal to our own wild nature that we all subconsciously fear is threatened with extinction along with our shrinking forests. As grapes and wines come from the land, so do we -- even if we sometimes seem to forget the fact.
"We are entering a new time when we need to change our way of thinking and take action," Mia continued. "I am interested in the environment, but it's not a choice. It's a question of survival. People act as if they are not already part of nature and it is some kind of hobby to 'do good things' for the planet. It's not an option or a hobby. There is no other way. The choice is choosing to be connected and present instead of to separate yourself from nature."
A Chance Journey -- Buenos Aires to Hollywood
No, Mia's passion for the environment wasn't a requirement for being cast as a forest-dwelling vampire. But, having known her many years, I think that, like her filmic vampire family, her power as an artist derives from the many wild, far-off places she visits and calls home. And from the fact that she has always stayed true to the first calling of her heart. Even before acting, that calling was singing.
As a young girl growing up in Argentina, she had classical voice training and went to see every opera she could in Buenos Aires. A chance opportunity to star in the Oscar-nominated dance film Tango (as any self-respecting Argentine, of course, she can dance) catapulted her into Hollywood. Over the years she would go on to star in Poseidon, Frida and Motorcycle Diaries among other films. On television, she became a primetime sensation in her role as Nadia Santos on the hit TV series Alias.
But her passion for music persisted. Often, she was cast in roles that tapped her singing and dancing talent, such as Mike Figgis' film Time Code, or in her stage performance at The Lincoln Center in the play My Life is a Fairy Tale.
As Mia puts it, "Music chases me or I chase music." Small wonder. Mia's speaking voice is a song in itself, soft and lyrical, with a laugh that rises to a crescendo.
Song of the Wild -- Reykyavik to Baton Rouge
When Mia arrived in Baton Rouge, LA, to film the first scenes of Twilight, she came directly from a remote outpost, Reykyavik, Iceland, where she had been recording her soon to be released album with producer Valgeir Sigurðsson. During downtime on the set, she could often be seen in full make up -- yellow contacts, earphones on -- listening to arrangements for the album.
One of the tracks from her upcoming album, Llovera, caught the attention of Twilight's director's Bill Condon. Inspired perhaps by the delicate invitation of Mia's voice over an arrangement of piano, trombones and strings, Condon put it on the movie soundtrack at a pivotal moment fans have been waiting for -- the honeymoon moment when Edward and Bella are about to consummate their marriage.
"I actually wrote Llovera for my album," Mia told me. "I was working in both my music and filming Twilight at the same time. At first the film and album seemed like different animals. But the song fits quite well. It's amazing that the two projects ended up intertwined."
Funny how coincidences like that happen when you follow your heart.
Mia's love for breathtaking landscapes inspired many of the other songs on the album. When the Breaking Dawn production moved to the dense forests of British Columbia, she spent her free hours cross-country skiing, sometimes up to 25 kilometers a day. Her adventures include trekking across Iceland's volcanic landscapes, diving with sharks while filming in South Africa, and her most recent passion, surfing. For a petite and refined-looking woman -- who is often called a "Latina Audrey Hepburn" -- Mia has an outsized zest for exploring every uncovered wonder in this world.
"My travels are always deeply immersed in nature, sometimes the places I've been infuse my songs" she explained. "There are definitely brushes of nature in the music I write, different natural elements. For instance in Llovera (which means "it will rain") there's hints of water movement, wood and wind sounds. In the record there is a sense of searching where I seek to be more connected with where I am."
To hear the wild heart of Mia Maestro, look for her single "Llovera" which is available now on the Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn soundtrack. And the release of her debut album soon to follow.
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