Catalina Sandino Moreno

In her breakout film "Maria Full of Grace," she played a pregnant teenage drug mule, followed two years later by "Fast Food Nation," in which she was a Mexican immigrant trying to make ends meet in a filthy meat factory.

In her breakout film “Maria Full of Grace,” she played a pregnant teenage drug mule, followed two years later by “Fast Food Nation,” in which she was a Mexican immigrant trying to make ends meet in a filthy meat factory. So you certainly can’t blame actress Catalina Sandino Moreno for wanting to have a little fun in her upcoming movie “The Hottest State,” out Aug. 24.

“It was a chance for me to do something outside of waking every day and going to the slaughterhouse or waking every day and having to swallow some pellets and do very heavy scenes,” says Moreno, crisp and cool in a lace 3.1 Phillip Lim dress and ironed bob, even on a warm summer’s day.

Indeed, for Moreno, the toughest part about “The Hottest State” was pulling off the singing for her aspiring songstress character, Sara. Written and directed by Ethan Hawke (and based on his 1997 novel of the same name), who also costars, the film is a story of first and very intense love. William (Mark Webber), an actor and Texas transplant living in New York, meets Sara, new to the city, in a bar and convinces her to move in with him. The two embark on a heady romance that eventually leaves William heartbroken — but not before a particularly steamy session in a Mexican hotel, that included full-frontal nudity of Moreno.

Despite her track record of risky film endeavors, it was still a decision that gave her pause. “I was kind of fighting with myself,” says the actress, 26, whose steely gaze suggests she would make an imposing opponent. “But then I thought, why not? When you watch a film, if a girl gets naked, she’s beautiful; she’s perfect; she’s thin; she doesn’t have a scar; she’s just fantastic. Or it’s the other extreme: obese. And it’s just unreal. People like that exist, of course, and they have sex, but I’ve never seen a movie where just a normal, random person gets laid. And it happens.”

Normalcy is something Moreno seems determined to maintain. She has lived in New York for the past five years and has been married for one, to lighting technician David Elwell. She has no desire to move to Los Angeles, nor will you see her face splashed all over paparazzi collages. “I don’t want to be at events because I want to be cool. Like, ‘Oh my God, I’m so cool, I’m here at this event,'” she mocks.

This story first appeared in the August 7, 2007 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Indeed, growing up in Bogotá, Colombia, Moreno was studying to be an advertising executive while pursuing drama on the side. Along came 2004’s “Maria Full of Grace,” which earned her an Oscar nomination and a truckload of scripts. Since then, she has chosen her roles carefully: She appears in one of the vignettes in indie star vehicle “Paris Je T’aime” and will soon be seen in Mike Newell’s film version of the Gabriel García Márquez classic “Love in the Time of Cholera.” That’s not to say Moreno is closed off to less esoteric genres — she would love to do a horror flick — but she admits there tends to be a social conscience to the parts that compel her.

“That whole immigration thing, looking for a better life, looking for a new life, fascinates me and I think I will always go back to it….I’m just looking to portray real life in film, things that are happening around the world that you really don’t know about. That’s what I learned from Maria,” she explains. “If the first movie I had done had been a comedy or a love story, I might not have these strong bones for these kinds of films.”

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