When I read the script and saw the heart-wrenching documentary about the killings in Mexico, I realized that “Muertas” was a gem of a story. It follows the lives of an aspiring journalist named Ethan (played by Ryan Williams) and a young factory worker named Araceli (played by yours truly). For me, it was a love story reflecting on my character’s dreams of living a better life away from Juarez. Araceli also understands that to dream is to defy, and to defy is to be captured and killed. Araceli’s bravery is about her willingness to take that risk.
In preparing for my role, I was asked to learn Spanish for the very first time since it’s spoken in nearly half of the scenes. I did my very best to memorize the dialogue, but a part of me wanted to portray Araceli in a more universal light where any girl could relate to her dreams and desires for a better life. I have an affinity for passionate, vulnerable-yet-strong characters that project an air of self-sacrifice.
Araceli may be all too human but she, in my eyes, had such conviction in her dream, and I envy this. She has her own aspirations, powers, and weaknesses, and I cannot compare her to any other character I have portrayed. Her unique experiences helped mold this impassioned woman.
As actors, we always find ourselves in our characters – it’s the source of life in what’s written on a page. Araceli is every girl, every dream, and her actions represent every risk one has to take in life. She personifies idealism.
I would have loved to film in Juarez, but the producers feared for our safety at a time when kidnappings were common in the area. It was eerie looking out my window and watching the dim, flickering lights of a city bubbling inside with mystery and murder probably happening at that very moment. To portray one of these girls victimized in Juarez was an experience I’ll never forget.
I still remember peering out my window in the back seat of our car just before dawn, while on our way to our location in El Paso, Texas. During these rides I often meditated on my character’s struggles and unrelenting dream to leave Juarez for America. By now, Araceli was a part of me, and to be on American soil while watching the unsettled current of a skinny river flowing between Juarez and Araceli’s dream, stirred me to realize how heartbreaking it must be for so many families on the other side. They can almost physically touch their dream, but often die trying.
It was wonderful working and acting with Ryan Williams on this project, and working with America Ferrara (who was also executive producer of the film) was great. We had two scenes together, both in Spanish. She has this energy about her–this passion for filmmaking. I adored working with her.
How the film resonated with me
On every film, whether it be the location or the material, I learn something–oftentimes about myself. Sometimes the conflict of the character allows me to reflect on my own philosophies on life and love.
In “Muertas,” I learned about my mother. Araceli’s carnal hunger for a better life was something I recognized from listening to my mother’s stories of fleeing a communist country for America. In a sense, I was portraying her, right down to her facial expressions. This film was my tribute to my mother’s integrity and strength.
Ryan Piers Williams directs and stars in directs “Muertas,” a powerful short-film inspired by the killings that took place in Juarez, Mexico.
“Muertas” centers on the lives of a journalist (Ryan Williams) and a local factory worker named Araceli (Masiela Lusha). America Ferrara executive produced “Muertas” in 2005 before gaining fame in ABC’s “Ugly Betty.” Williams grew up in El Paso, Texas which is across the border from Juarez, and he hopes that “Muertas” will bring more attention to the killing spree that took place in Juarez. “Muertas” is a short film with a long and powerful message.