Yalitza Aparicio made history on Tuesday when she became the second Mexican woman ever to be nominated for the Academy Award for best actress for her role in Roma.
But two years ago, she almost passed on the gig.
Aparicio’s origin story is the stuff of legends: Her sister was the one invited to a casting call for the Alfonso Cuarón film, but she felt too pregnant to participate, according to the New York Times. Instead, the sister told Aparicio to take her spot and try out for the movie, which showcases the life of a housekeeper in 1970s Mexico.
At the time, Aparicio was not an actress — she had recently gotten her teaching degree and “was really focused on working and getting some money to be able to pay for my studies,” as she told the Evening Standard. So when Cuarón told her he wanted to cast her as the movie’s main character, Cleo, Aparicio didn’t accept immediately. She took time to think about her education career before committing.
“She says, ‘Well, I think I can do it,'” Cuarón told the Times. “‘I have nothing better to do.'”
Fast forward, and Aparicio has become one of the most talked about actresses in the world. In the past few months alone, the 25-year-old has been on the cover of Vogue Mexico, attended the Critics’ Choice Awards and been praised for her great Instagram account.
Heading into the Oscars, here’s what else you need to know about Aparicio and her rise to stardom.
Her Mom’s Job Inspired Her Performance
Aparicio has said she connected with Cleo partially because of her mother, a single mom who has worked as a housekeeper and nanny.
“She is still a domestic worker. When I was younger, I used to help her so she could finish earlier,” Aparicio told The Guardian. “The film is like a tribute to women in general — these invisible women are always there in the home, taking care of the children.”
Aparicio grew up poor: Mexico is notorious for its low wages, and domestic workers there are often abused, work for 11 or more hours a day and don’t get raises. Now, she’s hoping to earn enough money to allow her mom to quit.
“My priority is to help my mum, and afterwards, we’ll see if I buy something for me,” she added.
Travel Is Her Favorite Celebrity Perk
Fame has turned Aparicio into a globe trotter. Her Instagram features photos taken in New York, California, Virginia, Georgia, Illinois, North Carolina and Colorado as well as England, Mexico and Italy.
“[The travel is] like a dream that came true without me realizing it,” she told Variety. “I remember it was something I had wished for — traveling to different parts of the world — and it fills me with joy that through the film I can go to magnificent places. [In the past] I only went on school trips, to states close to Oaxaca.”
In fact, Aparicio was in Venice the first time she saw the finished version of Roma. By the end, “we were crying,” she told Anthem.
She Still Wants to Teach (and Act)
Roma‘s success has somewhat complicated Aparicio’s plans to be a teacher. She told Thrillist that she got to teach for about five months while producers were editing the movie, though she still hasn’t worked full-time in education.
But Aparicio has said that one of her favorite parts of shooting Roma was getting to work with kids. Going forward, she hopes to make more movies — even though she doesn’t consider herself to be an actress.
“What I have discovered is that both cinema and what I was doing before, teaching, are ways to educate people,” she told WWD.
Winning an Oscar would certainly be a good place to start.