21-Jan, 23:03

18:08, February 01 444 0

2018-02-01 18:08:03
Encounters: The Star of ‘A Fantastic Woman’ Picks a Few Come-Hither Dresses

Daniela Vega glanced appraisingly into the makeup mirror. Her eyelids, slicked with gloss by a tirelessly hovering makeup artist, gave her the humid, come-hither look of a 1930s cinema vamp. Pretty much as she’d planned.

“I want to look like a period piece,” said Ms. Vega, the 28-year-old Chilean star of “A Fantastic Woman.” Ms. Vega, a transgender actress who plays a passably stylish transgender woman in the film (a contender for the Best Foreign Language Oscar), acknowledged that, on screen or off, fashion has long been a formidable tool in her arsenal.

She was prepping last week in her gray-on-gray suite at the strenuously modish Langham Hotel in the southern part of Midtown Manhattan, riffling through her outsize closet in anticipation of the multicity tour promoting the movie’s release. (It opens nationally on Feb. 2.) She would be visiting Washington the next morning, followed in whirlwind succession by Tokyo, Madrid and, within a brief span of days, New York again.

She wasn’t complaining. Dressing for an imagined public is, to her mind, a performance.

“Life is a ‘pasarela,’ a runway,” she said. Switching gamely between her native Spanish and occasional bursts of un-self-conscious English, she added, “You can shine or be low key. I always prefer to get attention.”

That craving persists. When Ms. Vega transitioned at 17, she rejoiced privately. “At the time, I told myself, ‘Now I can wear whatever I want,’” she said.

She does. Her options last week included the spangled black georgette gown she wore on the red carpet last month at the Golden Globes where “A Fantastic Woman” had been nominated for best foreign language film. She let its hem trail, its gossamer fabric contrasting zanily with her white canvas sneakers.

Those shoes were a backup. Some 20 pairs of stiletto-heeled pumps, including her favorite — a cream-colored pair with a pointy, black-tipped toe — were lost for the moment in transit. “They were my babies,” she said.

Not given to prolonged mourning, she turned to a lavishly pleated, ankle-grazing green velvet dress, plucked it off the rack, clutched it to her chest and gave it the girlish twirl of a 1950s ingénue. “I love to wear velvet,” she crooned. “It makes me feel like a person in a different century.”

She was carrying on for her audience, a retinue that included a translator, the movie’s publicist and her makeup artist, a reassuring sidekick on Ms. Vega’s travels. Her guests cheered her on as she slipped a pale silk damask coat over her black utility jeans. “Feel this fabric — it’s so heavy,” she said, gazing back over her shoulder with the glassy hauteur of a society swan.

“This piece is very ’60s, very Jackie Kennedy style. I’ll wear it to the Critics’ Choice awards,” Ms. Vega said, weighing every one of her looks for its potential to turn heads.

She has had plenty of practice. Hers may not be a household name, but her image, looming larger than life on billboards in her native Santiago, where she is the face of a shopping mall and a fashionable eyewear brand, has lent her a demi-celebrity.

“It’s not like I wake up in the morning and tell myself I’m famous,” she said. “Madonna is famous. But when I look up from the back seat of a taxi and see my face 40 feet high, that’s when I remember I’m a star.”

In Manhattan, she is recognized only rarely. “Some guys look at me and wink, very flirtatiously,” she said. “Women tell me, ‘I like your coat, where did you get it?’”

Her star turn in “A Fantastic Woman” as Marina, a nightclub singer and waitress in Santiago whose older lover, Orlando, virtually dies in her arms, is likely to broaden her fan base. Ms. Vega brought warmth and grit to a role of a woman facing, in the aftermath of her lover’s collapse, chilling hostility, humiliation and bouts of physical aggression from his family and the local authorities, who treat her with contempt.

The role, she said, helped her channel her defiance. “Marina has been built on three basic pillars,” she said. “The first one is dignity. The second is rebellion, and the third is resilience.”

Chile is not notably supportive of trans people, but Ms. Vega finds refuge in her work. “No one programmed that I was going to be an actress,” she said. “But it was the place where I felt comfortable.”

Coming out to her family was daunting. At 14, she told her parents, “‘I think that my body is giving me a message,’” she said. “‘I’m not going to walk in the road that was assigned to me.’”

Her parents spent a weekend sorting out their feelings. On their return they presented her with a box. She thought it held passes to see a psychiatrist. “But it was a makeup box. They gave it to me and said, ‘Welcome,’” Ms. Vega said, her eyes misting. “I still have it. I keep my rings there.”

She wore no rings in her hotel suite the other day, her jewel-free look in keeping with a sober turn in the conversation. She was uncertain of the reception she would find in the United States, keenly aware of a sociopolitical climate that can be hostile to outliers.

“But I feel that the world is progressive in spite of the power that very few people have to make you believe the opposite,” she said. “You may believe that a statue is talking to you, but of course it’s not. There is a very fine line between what you believe and what is really happening.”

“That line divides people,” she said. “That’s where the danger lies.”

Does she feel that danger personally?

Ms. Vega considered the question for a beat, her features darkening.

“I am afraid of death,” she said finally. “But in life, I’m not afraid of anyone.”