(This story originally appeared in Lossip)
“BABYGIRL” premiered about a year ago, but the indie gem has resurfaced in this week’s International Puerto Rican Heritage Festival. Pieced together by Irish director Macdara Vallely, the film centers on Lena, a young teen in NYC’s Bronx borough who struggles to expose the wandering eye of her mom’s creepy boyfriend. BABYGIRL has an official screening tonight at NYC’s Leo C. Stern Theater, and an after party featuring some of the film’s stars will take place at Sweet Janes.
As for the film’s lead of Lena, it was powerfully played by Yainis Ynoa, a Dominican/Puerto Rican actress based in New York City. Now 19, the actress/college student spoke to Lossip exclusively over the phone about the return of BABYGIRL to the film festival circuit, trying to make it in this crazy acting business, and more.
Read our full exclusive with Ynoa below.
Congrats on BABYGIRL! I actually watched it back in 2012, so I’m glad to hear that it’s up on another festival run. How does it feel to have your film make another round?
“It’s amazing because we shot this during the summer that I turned 16 and it took a year to be completed. It’s my first film and, after completing it, I didn’t know it was gonna take so long. It took a year for me to actually see it, so for it to still be running about two years later is awesome! Those who didn’t watch it the first time have another opportunity to.”
How did you land the role of Lena?
“That year, I had just finished a special acting program. I knew I wanted to act but I’ve always been shy and way too afraid to go for it… but then I told myself that I was gonna do it and go for it no matter what, so I began to take acting classes. My cousin [Gleendilys Ynoa, an emerging indie actress in her own right and who also stars in BABYGIRL] told me they were still auditioning for the lead role. I ended up being the second to last person they auditioned. At my audition, I had people crying. It was an emotional scene when my character’s mom kicks her out and I’m yelling ‘How could you?’ After I did that, everyone was all emotional. I felt unstoppable. They told me I got the role the next day.”
Are you and your character Lena alike in any way?
“This is a tricky question because I don’t know… in a sense, the only thing we have in common is that we both grew up in a single-parent household and both of us care for our families immensely. I am so protective of my mom; she’s my best friend. But the way Lena went about the situation [by trying to seduce her mother’s boyfriend to later attempt to expose him] was completely different than what I would have done. She had a rough upbringing, and I’ve been sheltered and have had a pretty okay life. I didn’t have to worry about my mom doing crazy things with crazy men like Lena did with her mom.”
If you were in Lena’s situation – having to deal with a guy who is dating your mom but also eyeing you, what would you do?
My mom is my life and so is my brother, so if a man were to come into our triangle, I would not hold back with how I feel. I would say, ‘You’re going to leave right now because this is not going to happen.’ I would destroy all his things… he would want to leave on his own [Laughs].”
What was the most difficult scene for you in this film?
“It was probably the kissing scene just because I’m very shy and kissing is something that’s very private. It’s a private thing. I was 16 and there were cameras all in our faces. It had to look as real as possible.. that was my fear, though; I didn’t want people to know that I was uncomfortable. I wanted to make sure that it looked real. With the cameras and the people all around you, it was a little nerve-wracking.”
Was that your first kiss on camera?
“No, because I had to do that when I played Juliet in a Romeo and Juliet production earlier that summer.”
Which actresses do you look up to?
“I love Sandra Bullock for so many reasons, and Angelina Jolie because she’s kind of the opposite of who I am. And Meryl Streep – she’s the queen of us all.”
What about Latina actresses?
“Zoe Saldana is my number one. She’s amazing. In every role that she has done, she gives her 150 percent. And she hasn’t forgotten where she came from; she will let you know, ‘I’m Hispanic and I’ve done this and this.’ That’s one thing that I never want to let go of it; who I am and where I’m from. I really respect her as a person. I just hope to be up there one day.”
In 10 years, where do you see yourself?
“My dream is to make it to a point where I’m just acting. I need to be acting in 10 years. When I don’t act, I’m not happy. If a month goes by and I’m not doing anything, I became grouchy because acting is home for me. In 10 years, I hope that I made it to a comfortable point where I don’t have to worry, where my family doesn’t have to worry about anything … and I’m just acting.”