For US audiences Dime Quién Soy: Mistress of War, the Spanish-language historical drama now streaming on Peacock, might be their first encounter with Spanish actress Irene Escolar, who plays Amelia Garayoa in this adaptation of Julia Navarro’s 2010 book. I, however, lived in Spain for a few years, so I was intimately familiar with Amelia’s work when I dived into this new show, and before I got a chance to talk to her.
The first and most important thing I can tell you about Irene she didn’t just take the role of Amelia, just as she hadn’t before with the role of June in An Autumn Without Berlin (Un Otoño sin Berlin), the role I first remember seeing her play, six years ago, and a role that won her a Goya Award. No, Irene inhabited that role.
And Amelia Garayoa is a role you need to inhabit for it to work.
The role, and the series, is based on a book by Julia Navarro, and because sometimes destiny works that way, it seems Navarro always had Irene in mind to play the lead character in this adaptation.
“Julia Navarro came to me, and she said I’ve written a novel and there’s this character that I’ve had in my mind … and when I was writing it I was thinking about you, so I want to send you the novel,” Amelia shared with us, as she recounted a meeting with the author as both of them were receiving an award in Spain, years ago – her for acting, Navarro for writing. “So she did, and I read it. And I thought …this character is amazing. But this is probably for someone like Natalie Portman, or Kiera Knightley, so I just… forgot about it, and a couple of years later they contacted me.”
Destiny, I told her. Julia, she insisted. All Julia.
“She had a clause in her contract that she had to approve the actress, that was the biggest thing to her. And that’s why I’m here. She was very important in the decision of me giving life to Amelia.”
Knowing Amelia – and watching the show, you feel like you do – makes it easy to see why Julia Navarro had Irene in mind. Sometimes you watch something and it feels to you like no one else could have played that role, and Amelia is one of those characters.
One of those women.
Interestingly enough, as atypical as Amelia feels in the context of what we see of women on TV, especially women in period dramas, Irene didn’t think she was all that revolutionary, in real life. “I started to read a lot of biographies about different women in different periods of time that Amelia had to go through, the Spanish Republic, Second Spanish Republic, the Purges, Second World War, so I discovered a lot of stories about women which I openly didn’t know about, and I was thinking that the problem is not that they didn’t live these kinds of experiences, but that their stories are never told.”
Stop and consider that for a second. And then think about it again.
“And we always say women didn’t do those things, didn’t think those things, but there were probably many more women than we thought that did, women that left the lives they supposedly had to live looking for something more.”
Which is why we need so many more stories like this one, stories about women who laid the groundwork, not just in the United States, either, but all over Europe, Latin America, Asia, Africa… there’s so many more stories to be told.
Amelia’s character, for example, was inspired by Julia Navarro’s grandmother, as Irene herself confirmed to us, and in bringing her story to the screen, in a production that aired first in Spain, and that Peacock is now bringing exclusively to the United States, there’s a chance to bring new eyes – and a new perspective – to stories and time periods that don’t get as much attention, and aren’t as well known outside of certain regions.
“I can understand that there are many things about our history here in Spain or in Europe that in the US people don’t know about, and I also think that though the TV show doesn’t really explain, as she (Amelia) goes over so many things through so many interesting historical points, I find it interesting that people can learn more about it and become more interested in learning, through her experience.”
Even I, having lived in Spain for years, needed a little bit of googling to get my Spanish Civil war timeline right while watching Dime Quién Soy, so please, don’t feel bad if you need a history refresher – or just a lesson, to be able to truly understand all that Amelia is going through.
But sometimes, even if you don’t get all the minutiae, you can rely on the performance, especially when, since this is an adaptation “you have to change the point of view, the way you tell things, and choose which things you tell” so you can “let the audience know what she’s feeling,” otherwise “the audience isn’t going to connect.”
Irene confirmed to us something that was obvious just by watching, that she “did a lot of research, I spoke a lot to Julia and I just tried to think as she was thinking and I did a very big job in my eyes, I’ve been working with the eyes and with the silences and how to use those silences, and the evolution of the age as well, very subtle things, in my body, to make sure people can understand what the character is going through.”
To make sure you could understand Amelia, who, despite the promo, is the center and soul of this show.
Irene was clear on this. This show “is not about the men, or about the relationships.” In fact, “it’s the women of the TV show that are really turning points in the life of Amelia. It’s the women who change the way she sees life.”
It’s the women who set her on the path towards becoming who she is – and who, in turn, allow Amelia to become the interesting character we see in our TV screens.
And, as for the men? Well, “they are a part of her story, but not the most important thing.” If anything, “they are anecdotes in her life.” Important, but not integral.
Dime Quién Soy: Mistress of War is a story about a woman, and the actress that brought her to life. And it is the kind of story that is absolutely worth the binge, and the subtitles. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll learn, and most importantly …you’ll feel as if existing on this day and age means standing on the shoulders of many women who came before you, women who fought and sacrificed so we could have the life we do today.
That’s why we continue the fight. And that’s why we’ll never, ever stop.
Dime Quién Soy: Mistress of War is available to stream on Peacock.