photo by Lauren Reed
At 88 years old, American-born Rose Skerpac could not be happier about where her life has taken her over the years. Born into an Italian-American family in Greenwich Village, New York, with six siblings, and having raised four children of her own, she has lived in Barcelona for 30 years and most recently landed a role in the film, Fuga de Cerebros 2 (December 2011).
How did you hear about this film?
Well, I’ve been working for years. The first movie I ever did was when I was a teacher at the North American Institute here, and somebody came in and said, "Is there any teacher who would be interested in being an extra in a movie?" And that began it, and that was about 22 years or so ago, and after that I began to do ads for television. Along with the anuncios, I was also in a number of movies as an extra. In some, I had very small speaking roles, nothing like in this one. I did a movie with Dino, the Cuban singer...he wanted to do this DVD, so I was asked to be in it and I had lots of fun doing it. We did it in one of the big clubs right near the big fish down there on the beach! I’ve done Costa Brava tourism DVDs…and I just love doing those! So I stopped the teaching at the American Institute.
But how this came about…well obviously I’ve aged. So I decided I would have some new photos made. So I went down to the three agencies that I’m using the most now, and when I went to Barcelona Actors, they said "Well, Rose, you’re here. How about we do a video casting?" and I said, "Well, fine!" And would you believe? The next day, she received a phone call from Sergio, here in Barcelona, and his movie would be coming out soon, called 'XYPD,' and they wanted an old woman who would wear an opaque contact lens. They said, "You wouldn’t mind if we made you ugly?" And I said, "Of course not! I’m an actress!" So we went to this wonderful part of Catalunya—it’s about an hour’s drive—but the next day, she received another phone call from Madrid! They wanted me to go to Madrid for this speaking role, and I said "No, I speak Spanish with a very definite American accent." Well, that is what they wanted. They were looking for an older woman speaking Spanish with an American accent! It just fell in my lap. But I didn’t want to go because I can’t memorise—I’m getting old! And they said "Don’t worry about it."
So I went to Madrid and the next day they called me and said they wanted to meet. All the way there, I’m thinking "I hope I don’t get it. I don’t want it; I’ll never be able to memorise!" And I got it, and I’m so glad because it was a wonderful experience. Wonderful. Everybody, the team, the director, all the men with the equipment, the actors, the actresses, were so pleasant. And even the extras…everyone from different places in Madrid, and we went to the airport and would sometimes be there till 5.30 in the morning and we stayed at a hotel where we’d see the mountains. I got to see a bit of Spain and parts of Madrid I would never have seen otherwise. So for me, it was a very exciting two months, I have to say.
Tell us a little bit about the movie!
It’s called Fuga de Cerebros 2. The first one came out in 2009 and it was very popular, so I guess they wanted to take advantage of that. It's one of those young people movies, some inappropriate things, and it's set at Harvard. And they did use David Hasselhoff in one of the scenes, and you know what? He is so amiable and so friendly, and life being life, we got to talking and discovered we both had lived on the Upper West side of Manhattan, where the beautiful brownstones are. We had been neighbours! When we met, he thought I was Spanish and I said, ‘David, I’m from Greenwich Village, New York. So he told everyone, ‘Oh very nice lady, but she still has a New York accent!’
So how did you come to Barcelona in the first place?
Well, my husband had died, and I have one son and three daughters and three of them had finished college and were now working in the United States. And my youngest daughter was finishing her studies. And I was very lonely in Succasunna, New Jersey; I missed the children. I mean, we had dogs left, five dogs! But my friends said, "Well Rose you should start traveling. You always said you wanted to travel." So I came to Europe and I fell in love with the antiquity of Europe. I went to different countries, and the second time I came, our Italian guide...said, "Well you’re a teacher; if you love it so much, why don’t you go to Spain? They’re looking for English teachers." So I thought about it and I had all my info together and it so happens once again, luckily for me, that one of my peers at the high school in New Jersey said that her sister was doing exactly what I wanted to do at the North American institute in Barcelona.
So Easter vacation, I came here and I met all these great people, Spaniards and Americans. And when I went back to New Jersey, I asked for a year’s leave of absence, and I worked at the North American Institute that year. And when I went home, I said "I can’t live in the States anymore. I love living in Barcelona." So I took an early retirement, I sold my house, and I came here. I think it was 1981 when I first came and I believe I got my first residency in ’85. I’ve been living here ever since and really enjoying it. I go back every year. I’ll be visiting my son in New Jersey in Mountainside, New York, my daughter up the Hudson River, my youngest daughter in Queens, New York, and my oldest daughter and her husband in Marietta, Georgia.
Had you done any acting previous to your first movie as an extra?
Well I’ve been an amateur performer. Every place I’ve ever lived, I always joined organisations...like the woman’s club in Succasunna always put on a show every year.
Have you been doing advertisements only in Castillian?
I’ve been doing advertisements here for Spanish companies; sometimes I do them in English or for British companies. Or even I’ve done some voiceovers. I’ve had roles in movies here, American, English, French, Spanish, Dutch, and a few of them I’ve had some lines but nothing like this movie that just came out. This one, of course, is very well known, which is exciting.
What’s your favourite thing about Barcelona?
The ambiance. The feeling of…you feel you’re at home. It has art, it has music, classical, jazz, I know a lot of musicians. Music is my great love. And it does remind me of the culture in which I grew up. I grew up in an Italian culture in New York and New Jersey, and it’s very reminiscent of that, with the concentration on the family, and the celebrations with the family. I’m very comfortable here. And the people have been very good to me. The Catalans have been very generous, very helpful, and I do love it, and we do have the sea! Nice people from all over the world, and the food is great.
What’s a typical thing to do with you and your friends?
As I said, I love music. There was a time when I had many musician friends. I have friends who go with me to hear music, I have friends who go with me to the art exhibits, I have friends who love preparing dinners and having social parties, and I go to those and they come here. I have this big terrace; it’s great in the summertime. I like going to conferences and I like going to the films, although I must admit, I go to mostly English-speaking films. I love going to the restaurants, especially the ethnic restaurants here are wonderful. I have a very full life; I’m very lucky.
This article was amended on February 27th at the request of the interviewee, to change the location of the NY brownstones from the Upper East to Upper West side of Manhattan.