Jeimy Osorio Talks Skin Darkening to Play Celia Cruz, Congratulates Zoe Saldana on Her Transformation for Biopic

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Jeimy Osorio 

Puerto Rican actress Jeimy Osorio plays Cuban singer Celia Cruz in the series Celia! She spoke to Billboard about playing a Cuban icon, acting and race and Zoe Saldana’s role as Nina Simone in the controversial biopic Nina.

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As told to Billboard's Leila Cobo.

I always describe myself as Puerto Rican first, but as far as skin color, I am predominantly black. I’m a mix. My mother is white, my father is black. But as Latins, we are one big mix. We’re the same, in many different colors.

And those colors depend on our gene pool and our country of origin, and who our grandparents were and where they came from. The fact that I’m black doesn’t take anything away from that; on the contrary, it’s added, because the diversity of our culture is what makes it so rich.

As far as being a black, Latin artist, this is the moment in history when the door has been the most open for us than it’s ever been. I don’t think it’s the time for us to continue classifying things. Work is measured not by the color of one’s skin, but by the talent and commitment of the artist.

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I can understand why some people aren’t happy with Zoe Saldana playing Nina Simone, but Zoe has done the best she can. I congratulate her on her transformation. As actresses, we are blank canvasses. We give up completely our nationality and the color of our skin for every role.

Look at Jennifer Lopez. She played a Mexican-American when she played Selena. The actor who plays Cantinflas -- a Mexican icon -- is a Spaniard. I’m a Puerto Rican who played a famous Cuban -- Celia Cruz. Neither nationality nor color defines those roles. Her honest acting should, regardless of whether her skin is lighter or darker. Zoe is a great actress, and by playing Nina Simone, she’s expanding her camp of action.

When I was first tapped to play Celia Cruz, in the beginning there was much said about the fact that I wasn’t Cuban. Since then, I’ve had many Cubans approach me and congratulate me for the role. The fact that I was more or less dark than she was, was never issue. The key was I tried to get as close to the essence of Celia, even though we weren’t the same.

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When I played the role, they darkened my skin, even though our coloring is similar. I had to pluck my brows, I gained weight. They created a gap between my teeth with orthodontics. For eight months, I was a completely different person. They broadened my nose, the shape of my eyebrows -- they even changed the shape of my lips.

But we’re a canvas. And I had committed 100 percent to become this character. And I feel fortunate to have received so much love through this character. All my characters have been growing through time. Each of my roles has prepared me for the next, and I don’t feel any of them have been denigrating toward my race.

On the contrary, they’re all characters that represent us with dignity and where I can carry my essence, wear Afro with pride. I’ve never felt doors have closed because of my race.