“Katie Barberi – Una Mariposa en Vuelo”
By Michael Aaron Gallagher (Exclusive Interview)
Actress Katie Barberi ignited children’s imaginations with her spirited, comedic performance as Ursula in Nickelodoen’s hit show Every Witch Way, which recently concluded its first season. But this isn’t the first time she’s played the lovably mischievous witch on television.
Based on the Nickelodeon Latin America series Grachi, written by Catharina Ledeboer, Every Witch Way is a nightly, telenovela-style show that follows two young rival witches – Emma (played by Paola Andino) and Maddie (played by Paris Smith). As the girls learn to harness their powers, they discover that there’s more to magic than meets the eye. Katie, who plays Maddie’s mother, first took on the role in the Spanish version of the series back in 2011.
“The role of Ursula was to be the little bad witch’s very snooty, upper-crust mother,” Katie said. “And she was supposed to be in maybe one out of every three or four episodes.”
Although she was working on El fantasma de Elena and preparing to shoot Mi corazón insiste… en Lola Volcán for Telemundo, Katie found a way to fit Grachi into her busy acting schedule. As the first season of Grachi progressed, her character became more and more involved in the episodes. Gradually, Katie began to put her own spin on her character, giving Ursula a nasally, childlike voice with a cartoonish laugh.
“I took inspiration from Suzanne Summers on Three’s Company and from the amazing Lisa Kudrow on Friends,” Katie said. “And I took inspiration from actresses that I really admire, to create this kind of kooky character who is maybe not smarter than everybody else, but just sees things in a different way.”
After three seasons of Grachi, the producers decided to launch an English version of the show on Nick. Though she had helped create her Spanish-speaking character and she already had a faithful fan following in the Latin American market, Katie was asked to re-audition for the English-speaking role. Of course, there was no one who could play the part better. And the rest, they say, is Hollywood history.
“Ursula is innocent. She’s innocent and that’s what I think I like the most about her,” Katie said. “She’s kind of like a spoiled petulant five year-old, but she doesn’t mean to be. And the thing I love about her, that I love that I was able to show in the latin version and now in this version, is that the love may be a little misguided but she really does adore her little girl. She loves her little girl. And she may not know how to express it exactly right or maybe be the best guide at all times but she’s trying and I love that about the character… She’s an important part of the storyline in that she’s honing Maddie’s powers and she’s helping her to realize her potential as a witch. But she’s also at some point going to have to help her realize her potential as a human being as well, that’s important.”
Filmed in Miami, Florida, Every Witch Way may not have the budget for blockbuster special effects like other projects in its genre, but its recent place in the Top 5 downloads on iTunes proves it’s certainly not holding the show back.
“There is no special effect like a child’s imagination,” Katie said. “They just run with it. If you believe what you’re doing, as an actor, if you really get behind the character, they run with it. And they believe it and then they encourage you, and they help you to believe it more, and you become kind of a team… I’ve always admired [Nickelodeon] immensely and I feel that programming for children is the most important programming on television, because it’s molding our young minds and giving them entertainment and it’s giving them escapism,” Katie said.
Born in Saltillo, Mexico, Katie knew she wanted to become an actress at a very young age. When she was five, her mother was doing a theater performance of The Sound of Music in Mexico City and Katie begged to play the role of Gretl. Because of her age, the producers decided to choose an older actress, but Katie didn’t let it stop her from immersing herself in the role.
“There were two sets of costumes for the little girls every night and I would put on the costumes that Gretl was supposed to have on in any given scene and play the scenes from the wings of the stage. I wouldn’t go on the stage but I would play the scenes as if it was me on the stage,” Katie said. “And from then on I was really just incorrigible – there was no way to stop me.”
At age 10, Katie moved with her mother to LA to pursue acting professionally. She eventually returned to Mexico and trained with the Academy award-winning diction coach Adriana Barraza (Babel), who prepared her for a career in telenovelas. Fluent in both English and Spanish, Katie has successfully built an international acting career. Her fan club, which call themselves the “Mariposas” (which means butterflies in Spanish), came about as a result of her role on Telemundo’s Doña Bárbara.
“The character of my young lover would call my character that every time we would argue,” Katie said. “He would say you’re like a butterfly, you’re like a mariposa, because you’re always flying from my hands. You’re always leaving my side.”
Of course, her fans from around the world couldn’t be happier for Katie’s newest success on American television.
“I know that I wouldn’t have been able to have the life and career the past five years that I’ve had, if it hadn’t been for them,” she said. “You walk on the set every day and you just want to do your best performance and you have no idea what kind of an impact that’s going to have on other people. But this fan club has shown me that and it’s something that I’m extremely proud of.”
“Every scene that I do, I try to walk on to the set, as tired as I am or whatever it is that’s going on in my life, and remember that somebody, somewhere in the world that I may never meet or even hear about, but somebody is going to benefit in some way from the opportunity that I’m being given right then to give a good performance. Even if it’s just to take that person out of whatever it is that’s upsetting them in reality and give them a chance to take a break for a little while and maybe watch somebody else’s problems or hopefully laugh at something my character says or does. It’s a huge responsibility. I don’t take it lightly.”Inspired by the devotion of her fan club, she created her jewelry line Mariposa Katie, which is hand-crafted and hand-painted with Swarovski crystals by Venezuelan jeweler Liza Schadan.
“I had a dream about a butterfly,” Katie said. “But in my dream the butterfly… was a silhouette of the back of a woman in flight, holding the world in her hands.”
The next day, Katie asked her mother to sketch the woman with wings that appeared in her dream.
“You can see the original painting that she did on my website MariposaKatie.com,” Katie said. “My theme for the jewelry is ‘Mariposa find your wings.’ Find that which will help you to fly in this life and to be everything you can be. As Oprah would say, ‘Live your best life.'”
“What are your wings? Are they your education, are they a spiritual following, is it love, is it being a mother, is it your career? What is it? What is it that you need in order to be all that you can be? Find it. And do it. And fly. And that’s the message that I put through on my website. And that’s the message behind each piece of jewelry that we sell… every time a woman looks at her piece of jewelry and sees that woman in flight, she knows that she has the world in her hands. And that she is really able to accomplish whatever she desires in this life as long as she focuses in and finds those wings with which she needs to fly.”
Katie Barberi – Una Mariposa en Vuelo
Copyright 2013 by Michael Aaron Gallagher
Photographs courtesy of Katie Barberi
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