EXCLUSIVE: Paola Turbay Talks True Blood & Playing a 17th-Century Witch
Paola Turbay officially joins the True Blood family this week as Antonia takes center stage in the witches vs. vampires war. True-Blood.net had the opportunity to talk with Paola (pronounced POW-la) before her big debut and get some scoop on her role as 17th-century witch Antonia, her background and what to expect on True Blood this season.
North American audiences will recognize Paola from her roles on The Closer, The Secret Life of the American Teenager, and Royal Pains (she’s back on Royal Pains this week), but her career stretches back to the early ’90s in Colombia where she has been a fixture for 25 years. Born in Houston, TX, to Colombian parents, Paola lived in the United States until she was 10. Her family then moved back to Colombia where her father is a mathematician and her mother works in special education. Paola started working in commercials as a teenager and quickly achieved success. She was very involved in the arts – acting, singing, dancing – as well as gymnastics. Despite her success in commercial and offers for roles on TV, Paola went on to college where she studied psychology.
It was during Paola’s second year of college that she entered the Miss Colombia pageant and won. She is proud of the work she was able to do as Miss Colombia and later as a Miss Universe runner-up.
“You become very close to the people, you’re Colombia’s sweetheart,” she says. “It was very rewarding.” The social work aspect of being Miss Colombia particularly appealed to her and she continues to give back to her community.
Paola finished her degree, took some acting classes, and worked as a TV host/personality for about 10 years before accepting acting roles. Following some successful roles in Colombia, a director she’d worked with suggested that she audition for work in the U.S. The first pilot she auditioned for was Cane, with Jimmy Smits, and she landed a lead role. Unfortunately the writers’ strike in 2007 killed that show although with many others, but she was able to book several recurring roles leading up to this summer’s double-booking on Royal Pains and True Blood.
Paola had auditioned for True Blood a couple of seasons ago, for a role she wouldn’t reveal but we suspect was Lorena. Her work schedule prevented her from getting to the first day of auditions, so although she nailed the audition on the second day, they’d already made an offer to someone else. She was in second position, meaning that if the other actress couldn’t take the job it would go to Paola, but the first actress was able to accept the role. In January 2011, Paola recalls that she “had a feeling that something really good was going to happen” this year. She’d just told her agent this, then a few minutes later he called back and said that True Blood wanted to see her for the role of a witch.
The audition was intense, she remembers. Scenes from this week’s episode, “I’m Alive and On Fire”, were part of the audition and Paola gave it her all. “I was so tired afterward. I even lost my voice! I went to have lunch with my husband, and said ‘I can’t believe how drained I feel.’ It was a good feeling.” She got the call three hours later that she had the job. One of the best parts about the audition, which still excites her as she talks about it months later, was getting to sit down with Alan Ball.
“There’s so many people you audition with, but to sit down with Alan Ball is kind of a different level. To sit down with somebody you really admire and who’s work you love, it’s remarkable.”
Playing Antonia has been exciting for Paola. Antonia is the spirit of a 400-year old witch who has been wandering, looking for peace, and now she’s back and “she’s the big troublemaker this season.” Marnie opened a door for this 17th-century witch to enter the 21st century in episode 4.03, giving Paola the challenge of playing a woman from a different era thrust into contemporary situations.
“The way a witch would think now, in the 21st century, would be determined by her history and by this moment. So when you have this woman with these talents, this ability to play with magic, and you put her in the 17th century where the perception of women was very different than it is now, then you have to come up with this whole other way of thinking and relating and talking, even moving. She’s from Spain so there’s some Latin, there’s some Spanish, there’s some English – it’s like creating her from scratch. You’re going to see in the next few episodes that what she goes through is so complicated, that I had to really dig in and explore thoughts and emotions that I’ve never felt before and try to make it real. It ‘s fun and challenging.”
Paola promises a major reveal about Antonia in episode 4.06,”I Wish I Was the Moon“, which will explain a lot about her motives. She cautiously reveals that it’s no accident that Antonia accepted Marnie’s invitation to join her in Bon Temps.
“You’ll pick up that there was this rivalry with the vampires and the witches because the vampires have been a part of an institution in different eras that have impacted witches. Antonia was a victim of the Inquisition, and Eric was around. You’ll see why he was there, and I think you’ll be surprised.”
Listening to Paola talk about Antonia, you get the sense that whatever havoc the witch is about to bring isn’t an evil being lashing out, but rather the result of the persecution Antonia endured when she was alive and what she has seen since then as she wandered the world in spirit form.
“I hope viewers will see her strength and determination. Hopefully they’ll understand her moral code and see her as the witch she was. Not all witches are wicked, it’s just the way they’ve been portrayed, like the Wicked Witch of the West!” Paola laughs. “Society unfairly judged these women [during the 17th-century], although of course Antonia actually had power. But these women were ahead of their time and very misunderstood. I hope that viewers will be able to see that with Antonia.”
The dynamic between Antonia and Marnie is really interesting, Paola says. She enjoyed working with Fiona Shaw (“She’s SO good!”), but the contrast between the two characters is marked.
“[Marnie] had that experience with her bird coming back from the dead, but before that she hadn’t done anything exceptional. She’d always felt like this poor little small town witch that doesn’t excel at anything, and then here is this witch of witches. That’s why the contrast is going to be interesting, they’re two opposite poles.”
Paola stopped herself before letting a major spoiler slip, but the fact that Marnie and Antonia are such opposites in the supernatural world has significant implications, she promises.
Watch Paola Turbay cause trouble the rest of this season on True Blood on HBO and as Marissa on Royal Pains airing Wednesdays on USA.