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Maria CostaAve Maria!
Actress/Comedian Maria Costa Is A Real Triple Threat: Brains, Beauty, & Talent!

—Interview by Alejandro Soria

“THERE'S A LOT OF FUNNY STUFF IN SEX between two Latinos. It’s extremely passionate, wild, and filled with emotion.” Maria Costa isn’t kidding. Her one woman show, “Macho Men & the Women Who Love Them,” exudes passion. Passion for her art, audience, and her Macho. Just ask Eugene Levy of “American Pie” and “Best in Show” (who is now producing Maria‘s show). He says, “I was attracted to the show not only by its edge, but also its heart.” Garth Brooks thought so, too, when he spotted Maria salsa dancing in an AT&T commercial with David Arquette. Brooks was so taken by Maria, that he called her at home and cast her to play his love interest in the VH-1 mocumentary special “Chris Gaines: Behind the Music.” Maria has made a name for herself in shows like “Dangerous Minds,” “Family Matters,” “Brimstone,” and “In The House.” Most recently, her wedding to her Macho, Francisco Segovia, was featured in Estylo Magazine last summer.

On stage, Maria explodes with brilliant satirical writing and acting. She keeps audiences laughing through the ups and downs, ins and outs of her relationship with Francisco. During this personal journey of self discovery, Maria seeks Macho advice from friends and family. She plays all the characters, including her eccentric tia, La Santera, and her fabulous drag queen brother, Lalo, who is dealing with his own macho issues. One of the show’s most touching moments is when Lalo finally confronts his father in drag for the first time. It is painfully funny and emotionally charged.

Tell us a little about your background. I’m half Cuban and half Hungarian. I grew up in Detroit in this little community with an eclectic mix of Latinos. We were the only Hungarian family in the area. You should see Hungarians when I tell them I’m Hungarian and fluent in Hungarian. They always assume I was an exchange student in Hungary. I grew up with the Hungarian side of my family. I didn’t even grow up with the Cuban side for the most part. My grandmother was a strong Hungarian woman, and she actually reminds me of Celia Cruz—just picture a white Celia! She was a ballerina and opera singer in Budapest, but she gave all that up to be nurse and raise her children and us—her grandchildren. She was amazing—an old school proud Hungarian woman. To her, I was nothing but Hungarian. I remember one time I told her that someone at school had called me the “n” word. And she said, “No, no, that’s ridiculous. Now go eat your goulash.”

Were there any efforts by your family to help you identify with your Cuban self? Yeah, well, when I was little at times I would yell, “I’m black! Look at my hair!” As I became a teenager I started looking for my dad. I started searching for my roots, because here I was this little curly haired morena in a family of blonde and blue eyed Hungarians. I knew there was something missing. Then I found it. It was the Cubano side of me that had been screaming to get out. Once I heard the music, I was like OYE! I didn’t even have to learn to dance—it just came out naturally! I really, truly had found myself. I knew it was what I had been missing. Finding that part of who I am, Afro-Cubana, gave me so much pride and strength. Knowing where I came from helped define my passions. I’m was able to step out into the world and say I’m me—that’s just who I am. Period. Part Latina and part Hungarian, and that’s beautiful.

What type of support did you receive from your family in terms of your career? My grandmother didn’t want me to become an actress. She told me acting was for whores. I would call her from California to say hello, and she would ask me, “What is it that you do again?” and each time I would tell her that I was an actress. Her response was always the same, “Acting is for whores!” It wasn’t until she was very ill that she gave me her blessing. I would call to check up on her and one day, expecting the same answer as always, I said, “I’m an actress, grandma.” To my surprise she replied, “Oh, do you have an agent?” I responded, “Yes, grandma, I do.” She replied, “Is he Jewish?” I said, “Yes, grandma.” She came back to me with, “Good, the better.” She basically gave me her blessing and told me to go strong. She said, “Don’t stop. If you find yourself with one ounce of blood left, then you continue to go.”

You were part of “The It Factor” on the Bravo channel where you had a camera follow you around for six months. How was it being on a reality show? It was pretty stressful. They basically trailed my life. They were in my personal life, my show, and my relationship with my then-fiancee, Francisco. One time, after a very intense day, I got home and I asked Francisco to help me with something in my show, and he didn’t want to. It was one of those days, and I snapped. I began to yell and he yelled back. I threw my script at him and ran into my room. I completely forgot I was still wired with the microphone. So I yelled, cursed, and threw a couple of things. That, of course, ended up on the show. It took him a while to get over it. He told me he was upset because I had treated him like a pussy on TV (laughs). But all in all, it was a great experience.

This brings me to your show, “Macho Men & the Women Who Love Them.” How much is from personal experience? Most of it—especially the experiences with Francisco. Before, it was just random monologues. But there was one monologue about the Macho and me, and people asked me to talk more about that, so I ended up expanding it. People really related to it, and I discovered that the macho issue was real for many of us. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I dislike Machos—I actually love my Macho. There’s something about the old school “Latinismo” that is very attractive. I think that’s one of the things that this show does. It makes it okay to like the Macho, as long as there are reasonable compromises. I believe many of us do want assertive men, not aggressive—big difference, who can challenge us and turn us on at the same time. When I first met Francisco, I was such a liberated woman that my freezer at home was filled with TV dinners. I didn’t cook. I know how to cook, but I didn’t like it. When I met him, he said, “Oh, no, this is not going to work. I need my dinner cooked and my shirts ironed everyday.” I was like, “I don’t think so! And iron your own damn shirts!” To make a long story short, let’s just say that I do cook, but not everyday, and he helps me out to an extent.

How does Francisco feel about the show? As I was writing the show, I would read parts to him. He’d tell me that it was good and funny. Once the show began, people would give him slack for it, but after a while, it became flattering for him—I mean, the whole show is about him (laughs).

Now that you’re married, will your show take on a married point of view? That would be nice, but we still have the same issues we had before we were married—the same drama. I may add a married sketch, eventually. The way the show ends now, it is left open for many opportunities.

You have had sold-out performances in New York and Los Angeles. What has the success of this show done for you? It is the greatest move I could have made in my career. I’d been acting on different television shows, and I kept playing mostly stereotypical roles. Between my morena-ness and my nalgas, I really wouldn’t get called for many roles. The Hungarian part of me was not too credible (laughs). Basically, after a while, I wanted more, but there really wasn’t much out there for me to play. I realized I had to write something for myself. And not just write it, but put it out there, and give it the way that I saw it—a funny, intelligent, classy role starring a Latina. So that’s what I did—I created and wrote the show. We are now working to turn it into a television show. That’s what I’m really shooting for. I want to help change and transform the face of Hollywood. I think that will happen when a morena Latina comes out. Then, people will begin to see that aside from the great talents Latinos encumber, we also come in many different shades. It is one of the most powerful things I could have done for myself, my career, and other Latinos in the industry.

You mentioned that you’re working on making your show a television sitcom. How did that come about? Well, Eugene Levy from “American Pie” and “Best in Show” saw the show and said to me, “This should be a TV show.” He got several producers to look at it along with the Creative Arts Agency. We’re trying to decide what studio it would be best to go with. We’re aiming to produce a quality, funny, edgy show, and really keep that edge. We’re also looking into producing a television comedy special for either HBO or Comedy Central. The way you see it on stage is the way it would be presented on the special. The sitcom would be an extension of the show. Eugene Levy and I have already written the pilot for the sitcom, and that’s our main focus right now.

You have been compared to Whoopi Goldberg and John Leguizamo. You’ve also been called the “Missing Spark” in Latino television. What do you accredit this to? I plan to be the break through Latina comedian/actress. I don’t think Latinas are represented in comedy right now. I really want to fill that gap and be the person who forges that front. Whoopi Goldberg and John Leguizamo are out there doing great work. I think one of the reasons I am compared them is because I’m doing what they did. Whoopi wasn’t getting much work, so she wrote her own show. Steven Spielberg saw it, and boom, she’s a hit. Same John Leguizamo. He was getting little two-bit roles as a criminal, drug dealer, or cholo. He got tired of it and went off to do his own production. They paved their own way. It’s an honor to be compared to such great actors.
Are there any roles you won’t do? Yes. Like I was telling you, roles that call for things like “Chola #3” or “Gangbanger Girl.” It’s not like I would immediately say no, but I’d read the material first. If I don’t connect with it, I won’t do it. If it has a good story, and the character is pertinent to the story, I would read for it.

It sounds like you have great things going for you. Are there any other future goals? My life dream has always been to play the life story of Celia Cruz. I have been looking into it—it’s definitely a project I have always dreamed of doing. I did not expect she would pass so soon. I wanted to interview her. I want to do something all about Celia. She was one of the most magnificent, great people of the world. Not only was she great, but she inspired people with her greatness. One of the things that made her so beautiful was that she was so expressive and so out there. She didn’t mind what people thought of her. She was Cubana, and a source of pride for other Cubanos. She was Negra and a woman with so much pride. I looked up to her in so many ways, and if I continue to talk about her I’m going to cry, so change subject (her eyes water). She made such an impact on the world with her music, presence, and what she stood for. She could easily be put on the big screen or in a book. While doing research, I had a difficult time finding books. At first, I was disappointed, but then I realized and became even more motivated on working on a Celia Cruz project. There isn’t anything now, but I’ll work on it.

 

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