Belgica Castro, who will be 90 next month, is on the phone, speaking Spanish from her home in Chile, talking through Sebastian Silva, co-director of her film, Old Cats, who serves as translator.
But she's understanding enough English to misunderstand a question. She hears "Ask her when she most feels her age" and believes she's been asked what her age is.
"Now don't be rude," she says with a laugh. When Silva translates the question, she laughs again, then says, "I feel 60. I feel like I've got 30 more good years."
Hopefully, she'll spend them as a film actress. A national treasure in Chile, where she was a founding member of Chile University's Experimental Theater, Castro has spent more time on stage than in films during her long career. But Silva may be able to reignite her film career with the upcoming release of Old Cats, which played at both the 2010 New York Film Festival and at Sundance 2011.
The film is co-directed by Silva and Pedro Peirano and stars Castro as Isadora, an elderly woman temporarily trapped in her high-rise apartment, with an out-of-order elevator. On the single day where the action of Old Cats takes place, Isadora and her husband, Enrique (Alejandro Sieveking), are visited by Isadora's daughter, Rosario (Claudia Celedon), and Rosario's lesbian lover Hugo (Catalina Saavedra, the star of Silva's "The Maid").
Rosario needs money for yet another get-rich-quick business venture. She wants to ship Isadora and Enrique off to a retirement home, so she can sell Isadora's condo and launch her new business. Isadora has no interest in moving - but is also suffering spells of forgetfulness and disorientation. Or is she putting them on to put Rosario off?
"I want to be clear - I wasn't playing myself," Castro says. "It was a fictional character. We had a character in mind, old people trapped in an apartment. As an actor, the most challenging part was that she has such serious communication issues. Serious emotional issues, too. She has a lot in her mind that she wants to express but she's not able to do so. The hardest part for her is having so much inside that she wants to express but she isn't able to do so."
Castro has devoted most of her life and career to the Chilean theater. While studying to be a Spanish teacher at the University of Chile, she auditioned for a play - and eventually became involved in the nascent Experimental Theater - which became the National Theater of Chile. The company focused on the classics, creating the first important modern theater in Chile in 1941.
"We were aware of what was going on in theater in England and France and the United States," she says. "I did a lot of Shakespeare with that company."
Her film work has been limited, though she has worked with Raoul Ruiz and other Chilean directors.
"I love doing films - and I really enjoy collaborating with directors," she says. "But I do tend to reject a lot of screenplays."
So what does make Castro feel her real age?
"It's the physicality - it's not me but my body," she says. "Whenever my body gives me a sign, like physical pain, that reminds me of my age. Then I resent how old I am."