ACTRESS WAS 80; CO-FOUNDED PUERTO RICAN TRAVELING THEATER; PORTRAYED TONY MONTANA'S MOTHER IN 'SCARFACE'
Miriam Colón, who portrayed Tony Montana's mother in Brian De Palma's Scarface, died Friday. She was 80. According to Deadline's Patrick Hipes, Colón's husband "told the Associated Press that Colon died owing to complications from a pulmonary infection."
Colón was born in Puerto Rico, and moved to New York City in 1953, where "Elia Kazan accepted her into the Actors Studio after a single audition and she won a Broadway role in In the Summer House with Judith Anderson," according to a 1971 New York Times profile of Colón by Patricia Bosworth. In 1967, Colón "became a driving cultural force in New York barrios when she founded the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater and began bringing free drama into the most deprived areas of the ghetto, often to audiences that have never seen theater before," wrote Bosworth.
In the early 1980s, Al Pacino was based in New York, and thus most of the parts for Scarface were cast from auditions that had been set up at the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater, including, of course, Colón herself. Underneath the frame from Scarface below is an excerpt from a 2003 Fresh Air interview with Colón (hosted by Terry Gross; transcription via Puerto Rico Herald) in which she discusses her role in the film.
GROSS: You're now starring in "The Blue Diner." What does that role mean to you professionally?
Ms. COLON: It's a good role. It's a woman that is very simple, that is hardworking, that has a sense of honor and dedication. She cares for her daughter, and she's very vigilant about what that daughter is going through, what is she getting involved, you know, like all mothers. In a way this woman reminds me very much of my own mother, whom I lost about three years ago; may she rest in peace.
GROSS: What about this character reminded you of your mother?
Ms. COLON: Because my mother was this hardworking, she and I would fight sometimes. My mother maybe went to the sixth or the seventh grade, but she had a wisdom in herself, a kindness, a humanity that really determined my life. I had such admiration for her, and I was so sorry that she had to work so hard. But such dignity and pride, she was the best image I had. I wish I could be like her.
GROSS: Is it fair to say, though, lately you've been playing mothers who are more conservative and strict than their children, I mean, you know, who are from a culture that is more conservative and strict than the culture their children are growing up in?
Ms. COLON: Yeah. And I just relish--I guess that's why the people loved so much what I did in "Scarface." This was another woman--in fact, I enjoyed...
GROSS: Describe your role in that.
Ms. COLON: Oh, the mother was my mother. The mother in "Scarface" is my mother, so that's another instance in which I just swam into it. It was like a tailor-made dress that was made for me: the mother that also works very hard; that is very stern; that has standards in her house; the fact that she is poor and they may not have an automobile, that they may not have a nice house, that they may live in the outskirts of the city cannot under any circumstances be used to try to put them down or to be disrespectful to the them. And this is what she did to the character played by Pacino. The thing of honor, the stern--well, she's the only one that defied him, told him, `Get the hell out of here,' that didn't wind up with her head cut off. I love characters like that, and I think I can play them very well. And that's also great because I have such sympathy for those women.
GROSS: Do you have a favorite scene from "Scarface" that you're in?
Ms. COLON: The scene with Pacino where I'm watching him coming to introduce himself into our life again. And I know that he's pushing drugs, and I know that we may be poor, but we are not in the drug world. And I know that those suits cannot be bought from working in a factory or something like that. So I think I instinctly know. But what is worse is his insinuating himself into my kitchen, into my house, into the relationship with my daughter, which is all I have left, is very dangerous. And that's why I throw him out. And everything I said would happen happened. He destroyed her...
...GROSS: Do people recognize you a lot from that role?
Ms. COLON: Oh, yes.
GROSS: "Scarface" is such a cult film now. I mean, it has such a following.
Ms. COLON: Oh, yes. You know what? Youngsters. I've had the weirdest, the weirdest, all true, episodes in the subway platform.
Ms. COLON: It's happened not twice, not four times, at least a half a dozen times. They're staring, and I say, `Oh. Oh, my God, they're coming in my direction. What are they here for? Are they going to push me off the platform or something, or are they going to take my ring or something?' And then it turns out that they come close and they say, `Mama Montana?' I say, `Si, I'm Mama Montana.' They say, `Yeah!' They have done this scene for me saying my lines and his lines. They have memorized the entire scene. But I've seen kids that I know they don't have any money, and they told me, `Oh, I own that film.'