Ana Villafañe: The Rhythm Got Her

AnaV_Feature_Hero

Ana Villafañe admires Gloria Estefan for many reasons—but she’s especially impressed by her style.

“She never let herself become a stereotype,” says Villafañe, who is making her Broadway debut playing the international superstar in the bio-musical On Your Feet. The show opens on November 5 at the Marquis Theatre. “When people were like, ‘You should come out with food on your head and a little bustier’ or whatever you would envision when you say ‘Cuban girl,’ and she was like, ‘No, I’m going to wear a black leather jacket and chaps and dance around in motorcycle boots.’ She didn’t let herself be defined by her culture. She was like, ‘Yeah, I’m Cuban, but I’m wearing leather and lace.’ She’s just such a badass and such a rock star and she’s definitely an icon in that way.”

And Villafañe, who is half-Cuban and half-Salvadoran, grew up in Miami listening to Estefan’s music. (Fun fact: Both of them attended Our Lady of Lourdes.) She heard about the musical’s international search for Gloria and all of her friends texted and Facebook messaged her saying she should go out for the part. While her childhood dream was to be on Broadway (her agents discovered her playing Grizabella in an all-female production of Cats in high school), her reps did not want her to audition because it would prohibit her TV and film opportunities. “I took them to dinner and I got them drunk and I said, ‘If you don’t get me in the door, I will leave,’” Villafañe remembers. “These people are like family to me, and they saw for the first time how serious I was about something. I had never felt the need to tell a story more than ever.”

On an unusually cold October day, Villafañe met up with Broadway Style Guide, somewhat underprepared for the temperatures in a light sweater, jeans, boots, and a coat. “I’ve never had to check my phone for the weather before!” Villafañe says as she arrives at our photoshoot, as she’s accustomed to weather in Miami and Los Angeles, where she’s lived for the past eight years.

Before we headed to Central Park, Broadway Style Guide sat down with Villafañe to discuss her Broadway dreams, her signature style, and why she looks up to the Estefans.

You mentioned that this was a story you felt like you had to tell. Why?
You’d have to live under a very large—and soundproof—rock to not have some connection to Gloria Estefan’s music. In Miami, Gloria and Emilio are the King and Queen. My mother is Cuban and my dad’s from El Salvador so just being Hispanic, in general, they mean something. They’re a symbol for—not just the music—moving an entire culture forward. They put an entire group of people on the map in such a distinct way—without losing themselves but also while pushing boundaries. There was no mold to break—they created a mold. And look at everybody they’ve given careers since then—everyone from J Lo to Thalia to Pitbull. For me personally, the first song I ever performed in a real way when I was little was “Reach” by Gloria Estefan; that was for a big national conference in Orlando. I was like eight or nine. It’s full circle. When I heard about this, I felt a weird, almost like calling. It was like a responsibility thing. I was like, “Wait, I know this woman and I know where she comes from.” I just wanted the chance to see if anybody else cared that I had that inside me. I feel like I have the opportunity right now to give everything that I have to furthering this woman’s legacy. I wanted the chance to do something bigger than me.

Do you relate to her story at all?
100 percent. I’m a daughter of the Cuban exile so it’s very powerful for me when I think about the fact that I get to say things like, “Cuba Libre,” which is “Free Cuba,” on a stage on Broadway.

What has it been like getting to spend time with Gloria and Emilio?
Oh my god. She’ll text me in all emojis, and I’m freaking out, like, “This is Gloria Estefan!” She’s the coolest. I did have to audition for them at the final callback, which was terrifying.

Had you ever met them before?
No! I’ve seen her in concert, which is cool to be able to recreate that, but I had definitely never sang her music to her face. It’s crazy to call her a friend. And that’s exactly what we are now. It’s so weird.

How did you get into performing?
I am not from an entertainment family at all. One of my parents’ friends is a pretty well-known actor in Miami at the regional theater Actors’ Playhouse. They were doing a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat when I was in fourth grade, and he convinced my mom to let me audition because they needed kid singers that were local. You’d get all these release days from school and I was never really into school so I was like, “This sounds amazing!” Little did I know that I was working as a nine-year-old. But that was my introduction to theater. I just got thrown into this world and learned by experience, which I think is better because I have all these amazing guiding forces. Even now, this is all so new to me. I get to learn from the best and put it into practice immediately.

On Your Feet is a huge dance show. What is your dance training?
I have a love-hate relationship with dance. I started in ballet like every good little Miami girl when I was three or four, and I hated it. You had to be so graceful and it was so controlled and I was never that kid. I was a little fat, clumsy tomboy. So my sister was the prima ballerina of the family. I loved playing sports. I was on the cross-country team. I did cheerleading. I did soccer. When I moved to L.A., I would go to this Cuban restaurant called El Floridita. It’s in a strip mall in the middle of Hollywood on Fountain and Vine. On Friday, Saturday, and Monday nights, it’s a club. It’s all the Latin people in Hollywood—J Lo used to go there all the time. And it’s just this little community that gets together and everybody’s just drinking and dancing and having fun. I would go there every Monday because it made me feel home. At first, I couldn’t even afford to buy anything at this restaurant; I was just going to dance and hang out and meet people because I didn’t know anybody. It’s very funny to me, actually, how much I’m dancing in the show and how people are like, “Oh your dancing is great!” And I’m like, “Yeah I was trained by dancing with all the crazies in L.A. every Monday night!” [On Your Feet choreographer] Sergio Trujillo has worked a miracle in terms of fooling the world into thinking I can dance.

Tell me a little about the fashion in the show.
There’s a lot of bedazzled crop tops so that’s fun. She loves funky pants, and I’m very grateful that she was a pioneer of the high-waisted movement because I would be devastated if it wasn’t. Jumping around in high-waisted pants is A-okay. Emilio Sosa, who’s our design guru on the show, is so good at bringing the fun to a piece and just enhancing it to that next level. So everything shines a little bit.

You mentioned you were a bit of a tomboy growing up—are you still a tomboy?
I’m still a tomboy internally, but it’s funny how I’ve grown into being a lot more of a girl. Everything about me is extremes. I’m either in Lululemon head-to-toe at the gym or I’m in a dress and heels. There’s not a lot of grey area when it comes to me. Now that I live here, it’s actually funny because I need to start buying flats.

Because you walk so much?
Yeah. To me, this is a pair of flats [points to the heeled boots she’s wearing]. There’s a lot of culture shock happening because my style has to evolve into New York style.

Do you have any style icons?
I love how people can just look so effortless—in like a ponytail and black leather leggings. Classic Audrey Hepburn who can just throw on like a white blouse and just look like she’s ready to conquer anything, and I also like people who take risks. I like Gigi Hadid and Rihanna on the more tame days.

Do you like to make a fashion statement?
Yes, definitely. There’s always a moment for that because why not? In general, I feel like people tend to hide behind clothes rather than wear them and I don’t like that. And so I try to do the exact opposite.

AnaV_Embed_3

You mentioned you had an older sister. Did you steal her clothes growing up?
I did. Although she’s a lot more preppy than I am. She’s very classic Americana, all J. Crew all the time. And I’m a little bit more like, “Oh I found this in a vintage store!” And she’s like, “Did you wash it?” So it’s classic big sister, little sister. But I was that kid who would walk around in my favorite pajamas because it just felt silky and I just like how I feel in things. I don’t really care about the label; I like how it makes me feel.

I also love fragrances. Today, I’m wearing Lolita Lempicka, which is my classic. I love Vera Wang Princess. I love Elle by Yves Saint Laurent. I used to swear by Gucci Rush, but I haven’t worn it in forever. I also have a Gloria fragrance.

Wow.
You know L’Occitane en Provence? There’s this one fragrance of theirs that I was given as a gift in those little travel sets. My voice teacher gave it to me. So I started using it when I came to New York and I would wear it to rehearsals, and when I left after that first workshop, I smelled it again and I was like, “Oh I can’t wear this in real life. This is my Gloria smell.” And then I realized, “Oh my god. I need this.” And so now, I’m a hoarder because I’m so terrified that they’re going to discontinue it so I buy like six at a time and I just have them in my dressing room. And I spray it every time I go on. When I told that to Gloria, she was like, “You’re so crazy! I love it!” Smells are the biggest trigger and so it just immediately takes me to that head space.

You’ve had this dream for so long, how does it feel to finally be on Broadway?
It’s still hitting me because I feel like my focus is so much on the job itself—because I can’t let it slip and it’s all so new for me—that I can’t let the magnitude of it or the fact that I’m on Broadway enter my mind. I have a job to do.

AnaV_Closing

Clothing by Not & Cienne NY 
Shoes by Summit by White Mountain & Latigo Shoes 
Styling by James Brown III
Hair by Aubrey Mae Davis
Makeup by Steve Schepis