Miriam Colon felt a kinship playing the title character in Bless Me, Ultima.
As an often-misunderstood healer, or curandera, in New Mexico during World War II, she helps a young boy named Antonio ( Luke Ganalon, 12) come of age while sharing the secrets of her mystical powers.
The movie, opening Friday, is based on the controversial novel by Rudolfo Anaya, which was spotlighted on former First Lady Laura Bush’s Must-Read list.
“I want to see more characters like Ultima,” says Colon, 77. “She’s more than a medicine woman. It doesn’t matter that she is an old lady. She has tremendous strength, dignity and composure.”
Ultima often uses herbs, teas and plants to heal the sick, and Colon agrees with the idea of using alternative medicines.
“Growing up in Puerto Rico, I remember my mother picking some special leaves out of the yard, boiling them in a pan with some water and sugar. After you drank her mixture, whatever ailed you was wonderfully gone.”
The New York-based actress still looks terrific, radiant. The secret is all in her head.
“I don’t count the years. On my birthday, I don’t say, ‘Oh poor me. I’m one year older.’ God is good to me. I’m happy, and I’m very fortunate. You must respect what you have, never debase it.”
Working with Ganalon certainly kept the former soap star ( Guiding Light) on her toes.
“That boy was so pure, a joy. So sweet and soulful and unaffected,” she says. “Talking to him never ceased to amaze you. He’d answer you back sounding so sophisticated as if he were an adult.”
Speaking of costars, we had to ask about her role as Tony Montana’s mother in 1983’s Scarface.
“I have such good memories. Al Pacino was fascinating to watch, especially since he isn’t Latino, and I was curious how he would play it,” Colon recalls. “But I watched him from a distance, and he was so careful and skillful, the way he built and researched Tony. I think he taught me a few things.”