Chaléwood No. 9: Zulay Henao

Zulay Henao — Fighting

By Kiko Martinez

San Antonio Current contributing writer

[email protected]

Don't let Colombian actress Zulay Henao's innocent look fool you. Although she didn't get to show off her skills in her new film Fighting, she does have some combat training under her belt from the four years she served in the U.S. Army.

In Fighting, however, Henao is more of a lover than a fighter. In the film she plays Zulay Valez, a sexy cocktail waitress who becomes the love interest of Channing Tatum's bare-knuckle brawler character Shawn MacArthur, a streetwise hustler who fights to pay the bills.

During an interview with me, Henao talk about why she joined the Army straight out of high school and why she likes seeing her movies on the big screen.

Whose idea was it to use your real name as your character's name?

It was the director's idea, actually `Dito Montiel, who also directed A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints`. He really loved my name. He said it was genius and it fit really well with the character. Of course, I agreed.

There's a part in the film where you explain that your name sounds like “July” so people can pronounce it correctly. Is that a trick you use in real life?

Actually, that came up because one day I was trying to help someone pronounce my name and this person just instinctively said, “Oh, like July!” I was like, “Yeah, that makes sense!” Ever since then, I've used that. I even used it in the audition room when I first met Channing `Tatum`. The director liked the line so he put it in the movie.

You should have demanded screenwriting credit.

You know, I didn't even think about that. Maybe that's something for me to do in the future.

So, what does your name mean?

I didn't know what it meant until recently when I was doing press for Fighting. Somebody in production told me that it meant “brilliant.” I kind of like the meaning. You can't go wrong with brilliant. I would like to think that I am brilliant.

Are you a lover or a fighter?

I'm definitely a lover. I've never been a fighter and probably never will be. I think the title and the whole premise of the movie goes beyond the physical aspect of fighting. It's really about picking yourself up when you fall down. I do believe in fighting for the things you want and the things you believe in. So, I guess I'm a fighter in those instances, but not physically.

Some people say you don't know what you're made of until you get into a fight. Do you agree or disagree?

I definitely agree. I don't think we know how capable we are of something until that happens. It's a scary thing and a beautiful thing because we really don't know our own strength and how intense we really are.

I'm sure you learned a lot about yourself during your four years in the Army. Why did you make that decision?

College was definitely one of the things that attracted me to it. Also, I wanted to grow up and travel and gain some experience on my own. It was a combination of different feelings. The Army is a lifestyle, not a job. You find out very soon after you join whether you're going to be in it for the long haul or not. I knew immediately that it was something I was going to give my best to and learn from it but eventually I was going to get out.

Are you into combat sports like boxing and Mixed Martial Arts?

I was never really into it before the movie, but I just started getting into it recently. My brother is also a boxer at school. I do like it. I think it's fun, but I also think it's crazy. I can't believe people get in the ring and put themselves out there like that.

Fighting is your third movie that's had a wide studio release. You've also done some smaller films, too. Is it more satisfying to see your work on the big screen or is it all the same for you as an actress?

It is a big deal and very important. I think it gives you a different platform and helps you grow in the industry and gives you access to different directors and other actors. I'm very happy that was the case for Fighting. Hopefully, I can continue to grow and evolve and work with people I can learn from.


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