Ana Ayora played with the big boys — and girls — for The Big Wedding, out Friday. The actress — who was born in Hialeah and grew up in Miami Lakes — costars with an ensemble cast of major league names: Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon, and Robin Williams as well as young Hollywooders like Amanda Seyfried, Katherine Heigl and Topher Grace.
Ayora plays Nuria, the Colombian sister of the adopted son of a divorced couple (De Niro and Keaton) who visits for his wedding. She ends up hooking up with her soon-to-be brother in law (Grace) and learns some lessons about women’s lib along the way. We spoke to Ayora from the Mandarin Oriental.
How did you get started i n acting?
I went to FIU and did ballet for a really long time. My passion was dancing, and I thought that was going to be my outlet. Life takes its toll and throws changes and challenges your way: I had an injury. Then I started modeling and I thought, ‘I really like this in-front-of-a-camera.’ Everything that came to Miami I was able to work on. First came small parts in Burn Notice and Marley & Me. That movie took me to L.A., which opened a lot of doors. From there on out, it was just a process of growth within the industry.
In one of the first scenes, your character strips to go skinny dipping. How did you prepare for that?
There’s always some sense of, ‘Oh, I better up my game to feel confident enough to be able to take on the scene.’ But being naked was part of my character. It expresses her point of view and how she sees things, how she feels about being a woman and her sexuality. That part made it easier to delve into. I loved to be part of a story that said so much in so little time.
You and your on-screen mom [Patricia Rae] speak a lot of Spanish. Great for local audiences.
I had a lot of fun with that. I absolutely loved the director [ Justin Zackham]. He gave me total trust because he didn’t speak any Spanish and had no idea what the heck I was saying! I translated everything, of course, but it was brilliant to have that freedom.
What was the chemistry like on set?
Two weeks went by, and it felt like a family. We’d get off work, and Katherine Heigl had rented a home nearby in Connecticut and we had dinner at her home night after night. Topher is from around there, and he had me over to his family’s home where they welcomed me. They were so special.
Were you starstruck at all?
I almost felt like I had to pinch myself! I remember the first day we shot was with Diane Keaton and Robert De Niro, and I had a moment when I was looking outside myself. I was so emotional I had to work myself away from shedding tears. It was overwhelming, you know? These are people I grew up with, admiring as artists and learning from them: Raging Bull! Taxi Driver! Annie Hall, Something’s Gotta Give. I love those movies. To be able to work alongside all of them, I’m so humbled and grateful. The day I started shooting the director came into my trailer and said, ‘I just want you to know that you worked to be here. I don’t know want you to think you don’t belong.’ That was such a beautiful thing that stuck with me the whole time.
Diane and Susan looked great. Were they inspiring to you?
Being a younger woman and seeing them so comfortable in their own skin and aging so gracefully. . . . wow. They’re also so comfortable in their sexuality. They’re sexy!
What do you do when you’re back in Miami?
My immediate family is still here so I take advantage of having them by my side. Most of my friends are from Dade Christian [School] where I went from first grade to 12th grade, so they’re like my family also. Then give me sun, plus Cuban coffee and I’m a happy camper!