Few love stories are more captivating than Heidi Ewing’s sweeping narrative debut I Carry You With Me, a powerful real-life story of two gay Mexican men trying to grab a piece of the American dream. The movie takes us on a decades-long journey from youth to adult as Ivan and Gerardo experience the ups and downs of cultivating a long-lasting relationship while also changing their lives in the process. As a son of immigrant parents, much of the hardships and struggles depicted in the film resonated with me and hit home. The film was featured at Sundance Film Festival 2021 and opened extremely favorably, earning two awards; Sundance NEXT Innovator Award and Audience Award. It has since garnered a staggering 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and praise among a litany of critics alike. We were lucky to have had a chance to chat with the star of I Carry You With Me, Armando Espitia, who plays Ivan.
This interview was translated from Spanish to English for publication.
BUT WHY THO: My parents were immigrants and I have to say, a lot of what I saw in the film rang very true to me. The struggle, the uncertainty, the sacrifices, it is all very real and the film does such a great job in honoring that and depicting it so truthfully. How did you get involved with I Carry You With Me? How did this all start?
Armando Espitia: I was shooting another film in Guatemala and Heidi Ewing was in Mexico looking for an actor. My agent who was back in Mexico and the casting director were calling for me, looking for me like crazy because they felt there was something about me. Here I am in the middle of the mountains of Guatemala with hardly any phone reception. After a few weeks, I took a look at all the calls and emails and decided to send my audition and as it turns out, she really liked it! So we got on skype and ended up talking for 3 hours. She likes to say I was really interviewing her more than she was interviewing me laughs
BUT WHY THO: Knowing that this film is based on a true story, did you find it, as an actor, more challenging than usual? Did you feel like you had to do the character justice because it was a real person and whose story is important to tell?
Armando Espitia: In the beginning Heidi told me not to talk to Ivan, not to see him! I didn’t get to know him, so it was all based on the script and Heidi’s experience with him. So, in a way, it was a kind of relief or artistic freedom. I definitely had the responsibility to be respectful of him and his story and honor and dignify his experience. In the end, I didn’t feel any added pressure. When I approach the characters I play, I always try to make sure the audience feels like they know the person.
BUT WHY THO: There’s a scene between you and Gerardo when Ivan is pleading his case to cross the border and start anew in America and Gerardo tells you, “They hate us there.” He is of course talking about being Immigrants but also being gay, two groups of people who have been unabashedly marginalized and have felt unwelcomed for years in this country, how do you feel this film can help shine a light on everything?
Armando Espitia: I feel very strongly that this film can help with the representation of LGBTQ characters in film, for Mexico and for the States of course. Mostly because it reveals many layers of what a gay person can be. You know, it gives you a lot of perspective and shows them as human beings, not only the stereotypes. I think movies have historically represented the migrant experience with only one face, same with LGBTQ issues. I mean, I love when people don’t know what this movie is about…
BUT WHY THO: Yes! I think it’s the best way to go about it.
Armando Espitia: Yeah right? It’s two human beings falling in love and living their lives. No labels, no nothing, just human beings.
BUT WHY THO: It really is what makes this film feel so real and kudos to Heidi Ewing for making it look real as well. Another line that struck me was when your character is reminiscing of his times back home in Mexico after making it across and he says, “The American dream happens in slow motion.” What does that line mean to you? I think of my parents when I hear that line, I see them as they are now but I wasn’t there when they first arrived and hustled and struggled with only a few dollars in their pocket. This movie shows us that journey.
Armando Espitia: I love that! What’s great is that after you watch this movie, you realize that the real superheroes of the world are immigrants. They work so fucking hard just to make a better life for their children, their families, and themselves. Some people think it’s easy to make it here, but it’s not. Other things are at play for people like Ivan and Gerardo, Society is against them and rejects them. I think in that line, there is a moment where he understands that it is very difficult. If you are leaving your country because of discrimination against you because of your sexuality and then you go to another country where they’re gonna reject you because of your nationality, how do you win? This is ridiculous, and the workaround is us! The societies rejecting the difference, we have to embrace diversity and it will take some time. That’s what the phrase means to me.
BUT WHY THO: Without spoiling the movie, do you think Ivan got what he wanted?
Armando Espitia: No
BUT WHY THO: Straight forward answer!
Armando Espitia: laughs It’s actually pretty difficult to say because I’m talking about my friend Ivan! Not just the character, so I want to address that I am talking about the character.
BUT WHY THO: Of course, of course.
Armando Espitia: laughs I love and respect Ivan’s story but I don’t think he got what he wanted. He worked so hard and was hardly ever given a chance or opportunity to succeed. It’s been so hard for him, something like 20 years just to get a job that is dignified work for him. He has had to endure countless insults, violence, and rejection to have what he ultimately has now. But even with success in his job, he is still missing something. He’s missing the opportunity to go back. To see his family, to see his son, to feel the ground of his homeland beneath his feet and he can’t. It is not fair! It boggles my mind how someone like Ivan isn’t able to travel freely, he’s earned it.
BUT WHY THO: Absolutely. There’s another line where he says he “mistakes dreams for memories” and we get a gorgeous shot of you walking through the street markets and seeing the kids playing in alleyways and the different foods…
Armando Espitia: Isn’t Heidi great?
BUT WHY THO: I can’t wait to see what she does next! There’s a scene where you and your best friend Sandra are trying to make it across into America. It’s nighttime, you’re in the middle of the desert, what was it like shooting that?
Armando Espitia: It was scary as hell! They had this special lighting system, huge huge lights that lit up a large part of the desert. This gave us the opportunity to move pretty freely and the cameras to follow us easily. There were some nights where it was literally just the actors and myself walking in the dark desert…it was terrifying at times! Heidi has a documentarian style approach to this so you never knew when she was gonna cut…you don’t know what she’s gonna do from one moment to the next which made it very exciting to work with her. You never know what’s next!
BUT WHY THO: We’re almost out of time but could you tell us about a moment during filming that really resonated with you and something you’ll walk away with forever?
Armando Espitia: Michelle Rodríguez, who of course plays Sandra, approached Heidi with tears in her eyes while we were doing the aforementioned desert scene. She was crying because what we were doing was so real. She asked us, “Do you realize what is happening right now? Someone out there is doing this right now in the desert” and we all cried together thinking about it…
BUT WHY THO: Damn, now you got me all teary-eyed now man! Armando, I want to thank you for giving us some of your time and discussing I Carry You With Me. I absolutely adored this film and quite frankly, I can’t wait to watch it again. Best of luck to you and the rest of the cast and crew as this movie begins its wide release.
Armando Espitia: Thank you, it was my pleasure! This was fun, thank you!
I Carry You With Me will be hitting theaters in New York City and Los Angeles on June 25th.