"I've not been the same since filming 'Chico & Rita'"

Cuban actress Limara Meneses was the muse for artist Javier Mariscal Animation feature directed by Fernando Trueba in line for an Oscar

Cuban actress Limara Meneses.
Cuban actress Limara Meneses.SAMUEL SÁNCHEZ

"The truth is, Chico & Rita changed my life," says 24-year-old Limara Meneses. And not just because the Cuban actress voices the female lead in Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal's musical animation, which is competing for the Oscar for Best Animated Film in Los Angeles on Sunday. It was when she went to dub Rita's dialogue into English in Madrid in 2009 that she met her husband, also Cuban, who works in IT. It was love at first sight and she now has a daughter, Alejandra, who will be six months old on Monday, the day after the Academy Awards gala. "I have a feeling we are going to win," she says, crossing her fingers.

A country girl, Meneses didn't leave Ranchuelo, her small home town in Cuba's Villa Clara province, until she was 15. After landing in Havana, she studied acting at the Instituto Superior de Arte. One of her first roles was as a pineapple - or rather, as a cabaret dancer who performed dressed as a pineapple and lost her rhythm. "She lost it because she had thousands of material problems in her life, like all Cubans."

For the last two years, though, she has been living in Madrid. Meneses says she has "a pact" with music, as all her roles have been linked to the stages and rhythms of Cuba. In 2006 she played Aída, the wife of the greatest of all Cuban popular singers, Benny Moré. He was unfaithful and did terrible things to her, for which she forgave him - nothing like Meneses herself, who, she says, is not someone who puts up with much.

After that came the role of Rita. She spent more than a month with Fernando Trueba and co-director Tono Errando shooting the movie at the San Antonio de los Baños Film School on the outskirts of Havana. "We filmed everything, scene by scene. It was a very strange job, it was like playing: the cup you were picking up was maybe a bit of wood and a cigarette, a pen."

After that, Mariscal drew the diva around her curves. The movements were important, so they could serve as models as well as give character to the role. "Fernando gave us freedom to create and improvise," she recalls.

Meneses says she would have liked to have visited the 1940s Havana the film depicts and enjoyed its music. "Since getting to know Rita, I've not been the same..." And even though it's her body depicted on the screen, she prefers the real thing. "The only thing Mariscal improved was my behind, for which I will be eternally grateful!" she jokes.

Seeing herself as a cartoon character didn't feel strange, she says. "It's so me - even my friends recognize me."

Meneses confesses she has gone to see the film more than 20 times in Madrid in order to listen to what people say: "Everybody likes it." This Sunday, she says, she'll watch the Academy Awards ceremony with Alejandra at home and, "with or without Oscar," once again feel how Chico & Rita changed her life.

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