Selena Gomez, Zoe Saldaña and Karla Sofía Gascón on Crafting Cannes Standout ‘Emilia Pérez’: ‘This Movie Is About the Power of Femininity’

“Emilia Pérez,” the latest Cannes-premiering film from French auteur Jaques Audiard, is many things at once: a gritty crime film, an ambitious musical and a spotlight on trans issues.

At the center of the Spanish-language movie are three women – Rita (Zoe Saldaña), Jessi (Selena Gomez) and the title character Emilia Pérez (Karla Sofía Gascón) — who become forever bonded by their traumatic experiences in Mexico City’s cartel-run underbelly.

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The confounding elements of the film are what first attracted Saldaña to her role, an overworked lawyer who is kidnapped by a druglord (Gascón) and tasked with assisting her character on a mission to get gender-affirming surgery.

“I knew it was going to stand out because of the story,” Saldaña tells Variety alongside her co-stars on the J.W. Marriott rooftop in Cannes on Saturday, the day of the film’s premiere. “But I felt very excited because out of all the topics that Jacques could be making a film about, he chose this one.”

Gomez says she was already a “huge fan” of “A Prophet” helmer Audiard, but became even more enthralled after reading the script. “It was captivating, it was heartbreaking, it was really moving to me,” she says.

But the real star of “Emilia Pérez” is, unsurprisingly, Emilia Pérez — and Spanish actress Gascón, who is herself trans, delivers a standout performance.

“I think this movie is about the power of femininity,” Gascón says through a translator. “It starts in a very dark, male-dominated, violent world and, thanks to community, it becomes brighter and better.”

Though the film deals with some dark subject matter, it’s lightened with comedic beats and musical moments, with songs written by French singer Camille.

“I went through all my stages of paranoia — I was delirious and then I was like, ‘I can’t do it,’ and then I was like, ‘I think I’m breaking through on something,’” Saldaña says of the film’s musical element.

Adds Gomez – who shares a song with her character’s love interest, Édgar Ramírez — “I had a blast and I love the songs. I think they’re really beautiful.”

Ahead of “Emilia Pérez’s” Cannes debut on Saturday night — where the film received a nine-minute standing ovation, the biggest of the fest so far — the trio echoed feelings of nervousness and excitement. None of them had seen the movie yet.

“It’s an unconventional story — I think it’s important to have stories like this,” Saldaña says. “So my only hope is that it’s received with openness of heart and mind.”

As for what’s next, Gomez is preparing to play music icon Linda Ronstadt in a biopic. Production hasn’t set a start date for shooting yet, but she may “take a little bit of a break” first. Saldaña is heading to Texas to film “Lioness” Season 2 with Nicole Kidman, and “perpetually” working on James Cameron’s “Avatar” saga.

As for Gascón, poised to break out in to the mainstream, she feels she has “nothing to lose.”

“All is a win — even if people don’t think this film is fit, we win too,” she says. “Because doing this work is really an amazing experience.”

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