#HowIKibou with Karla Souza
We recently sat down with Karla Souza, star of How to Get Away with Murder, Home Economics and her latest film Dive, now streaming on Amazon.
From training for years to do her own dives–including while pregnant–to breastfeeding on set and so much more, we’re hanging on Karla’s every word.
Diving right in (sorry, we had to)...You play a competitive diver in your latest film Dive. We were so impressed to learn that you trained with the UCLA dive team for years to get to the level you needed to be to do your own dives.
What made you push yourself to get to this level instead of having a body double do the dive scenes for you?
Because this was a small budget film, we didn't have the money to do CGI or to have a bunch of stunts. In Mexico, stunts don't really exist for my body type. And actually there just aren't really diving movies except for documentaries, so there isn't really a group of stunt divers to pull from. So all the people in our film are real divers, not actors.
The reason that I ended up training for so long wasn't intentional, though. I started training, then I found out I was pregnant. So I paused, had a baby, then went back to training and then COVID hit, and then I was pregnant again. I continued training during that pregnancy because I'd already started training, and I knew what it was and I was able to just kind of do the simple things. But that's why it took so long.
We did bring in a couple of divers as body doubles, one is a Canadian diver we found who has the same body type and skin color as me. She came onto the film because Amazon's lawyers didn't want me to be doing the diving.
So anytime the Amazon lawyers were there, the other diver would go on the ten meter platform. Then when they were gone, I'd be the one doing the dives. The lawyers didn't come out that many times. We also filmed all the pool scenes in about two weeks and most of them were at night, so that the pool would be empty. Again because of budget, we were using a public pool, so we couldn't close it off. I also just really wanted to get into the mindset of what it was to actually be a diver up there on the platform.I wanted to get into that headspace, and I wanted to have the physical strength of a diver. I trained for years to do the dive, I'm not just going to sit it out.
I also wanted to do a film that Olympic divers would watch and would sort of give their stamp of approval because I had been interviewing them so much. I grew to want their approval so much for this film because it is for them as much as it is for survivors and for me. And I wanted them to feel honored by my work. So I think that that's also what pushed me to try to get to that level.I actually really liked it. I missed diving, actually. There's such an exhilarating feeling to breaking the water. And it just feels really great to push your body like that, at least for me.
You’ve been in so many films and tv shows over the last few years while simultaneously having two children. How are you able to make that work? How did you manage to work and film around pregnancies and postpartum?
This question is tricky because I'm literally thinking about having another child right now, and I'm debating a lot of things, work being one of them. At the moment, my husband is retired, so I'm the sole breadwinner. There's a different kind of pressure in the choosing of when to have a child, because it potentially puts me out of work.
Timing a pregnancy around filming also depends on the filming schedule and whether you’re already in the cast. Take Home Economics for example, if the filming is over seven months, then it would be ideal to get pregnant during that job. Because I’ve been on the show, they would work around my pregnancy, whereas a new job is very unlikely to cast me if I were pregnant, mostly because of liability and travel and all that stuff.
At the same time, it's really uncomfortable to be filming and hiding a pregnancy and figuring out how to be on camera. It's just uncomfortable, to be honest. Personally, I don't love how I look when I'm pregnant and I don’t really want to be on film. Some people love being pregnant, but I've never liked it; I feel like I have an alien growing inside of me. I love having children once they're born, but not inside my body.
I've also never really been public about being pregnant until I have my kid. It's like, oh, guess what? I had my kid. Oh yeah, I was pregnant for nine months. So I also hide it for privacy.
And I feel like pregnancies take forever, so the last thing I want is for people to have it in their head that I'm pregnant because then they'll be like, oh, we want to cast Karla in this, but she's probably pregnant. I just don't want to have that be a part of people's decision making when they're thinking about me for projects.
Society is still very patriarchal, and the way it's run is very much not in favor of mothers at work. This is such a long winded answer I guess because I'm in the process of figuring it out as we speak, and I still kind of don't know how to make it work.
However, being on How to Get Away with Murder was a wonderful place to have my first pregnancy and my first child. They helped me with pumping. There was no COVID, so my child was there, and the nanny was there. They had a whole trailer for themselves. During filming, I'd go back to see her after every cut, basically like every hour. Now because of COVID they don't really allow for visitors, so it would be different. Also it's a lot more fun for my child to be at home with siblings rather than in a trailer by themselves. So it would definitely be different this time.
Also pumping and all of that was tricky. And breastfeeding was tricky--it is tricky. I breastfeed my first until she was probably three and a half, just for comfort. And I'm still breastfeeding my second. Yeah, I've definitely found it hard to be a working mom, but I also wouldn't give it up for the world. I love having something of mine in terms of work and feeling fulfilled in my job and my passion and at the same time I love being a mom. So I want them both.
You’ve lived all over the world–Europe, Mexico, and the USA to name a few. What are the biggest differences you’d note about life across the globe? Anything you wish you could take with you from one place to another?
I've traveled and filmed in many places as a parent, but I've never taken my children. That said, what I do gather is that there are a lot more kid-friendly spaces for parents to go and have meals with their friends with a park nearby. There's maybe one place in LA where there's a restaurant that is kind of also like a playground for the kids to have their time in, for me to be able to work on my computer or take calls. But it's really far from where I live.
I remember in Chile they have these amazing working cafes for moms. And then in Spain, there were these wonderful, wonderful parks that were just adjacent to restaurants, so people really could have that duality of being able to spend a whole day with friends and have the kids be in the parks. There are other aspects of life that are more family-friendly too; transportation, for example, in Europe is a lot easier. Cities like Amsterdam are kind of designed for parents versus the way it works to navigate cities with children in the US.
Other countries in my experience also tend to be much more family-oriented.Like Sundays in Spain and Mexico, it's all about family and eating, whereas in the US, it doesn't feel that way. It's more about efficiency. And nowhere closes for lunch, and everything is just work, work, work and achievement.
I would also say that other places don't feel as competitive. They feel a lot more relaxed in terms of parenting. There seems to be less of a sense of competitive parenting, which I hate, but you kind of fall into here because of where you live, if that makes sense.
I feel like in Europe, you go to a park and you can see kids just playing by themselves. There is a perspective and an attitude of creating a space for the kid to grow to be independent, have agency. Whereas in a park in the US they just don't do that anymore. Parenting used to be like, oh, just go out and come back for dinner, and now there's just so much less of that. There’s a lot of fear-based decision making.
I also don't think they overbook their kids in Europe the way we do in the US with so many activities to excel and just get ahead. It can feel like a bit of a race, but to where? Maybe with universities or other status symbols it makes parents feel like they have bragging rights. Instead I think it's incredibly toxic and really damaging, even more damaging for the kids. I think over-parenting has become a big issue in the US. Helicopter parents of our generation are raising their kids in a way that they'll be dependent on them rather than raising them to be independent adults.
You’ve spoken openly about surviving sexual assault in your early 20s. How has that experience shaped who you are as a mother, an actor or an activist?
Being a survivor of sexual abuse and assault and emotional and psychological abuse has definitely shaped so much of how I am as a mother. Consent is a huge thing in my family and in the way that I'm bringing up my kids:
- I don't force them to hug any aunts or uncles or grandparents that they don't want to hug.
- I'm always checking in when we're tickling. As soon as they say "stop", it means stop.
- We check in on things like how you want to say hi, whether it's a hug or a wave.
- We use a sort of thumbs up and thumbs down way for the kids to be able to share with me when something feels safe or unsafe--just trusting their gut and just really communicating and creating a space with no shame.
- Naming the body parts.
All the things that I really didn't have growing up are the things I'm doing with my kids–with both my daughter and my son. I have tremendous awareness and strong boundaries regarding my kids' spaces of intimacy and who gets to come into those spaces. And personally I've also grown so much and been able to heal a lot of the things that I perhaps thought were long gone, but I'm able to remember and relive through my kids, which has actually been a great way to build my own self love, and theirs, in those moments.
Of all the charity work that you do, which cause or organization is nearest and dearest to you?
This question is tricky because I have many. I guess there are three main causes that I'm really passionate about:
- Sustainability, renewable energy and treating the world we live in better, especially for the benefit of those most affected by climate change. Whether you believe in climate change or not, there are people that are being affected by floods or extreme heat or agriculture disasters. While some of us aren’t directly affected by these regularly, the people who are most vulnerable do.
- Gender equality, gender justice, and women's sexual abuse–from hyper-local organizations like East Los Angeles Women's Center to global organizations like the UN Women. Because of the film I've been in contact with, and I'm really passionate about continuing to support and work with them.
- Mental health: I’m very passionate about destigmatizing mental health–talking about it, preventing and identifying mental health illness, and helping families of people who have family members that suffer from any mental health illnesses.
Now that you’ve done all this work to learn competitive diving, will you continue it as a hobby or are you glad to give your body a break?
I would love to keep diving! My daughter is now actually diving at UCLA where I trained.
And if I wasn't so embarrassed to dive in front of kids and young people [laughing at herself], I guess I would do it. Actually, someone had proposed a masters of diving for adults, which is like a world championship, but it's relaxed and not professional. And I was like, that sounds super dope. Like, yeah, I'll do that. One of the divers who shared her story with me [Rasula Mason?? Can’t understand her name], she and I were talking about whether we should do it. So we’ll see!
Rapid fire fill-in the-blank round:
My dream role is Dive. The film I just finished. It was absolutely my dream.
I’m currently reading How to Raise an Adult
A perfect morning alone is waking up, making myself my coffee, going on a walk/ jog, doing some exercise and painting.
My favorite thing to do with my kids is lay in bed first thing in the morning and just hug and cuddle.
Windows down, volume up, my go-to song at the moment is Free by Florence and the Machine.
Finally we have to ask: what’s in your Kibou right now?
Kibou has been fantastic for traveling. Even in times of COVID, the compartments are great and it's just such easy access. I'm wearing the black at the moment, which goes with everything.I wear it even when I'm by myself, not just when I'm with the kids.
It's the best when another parent needs a diaper or something, and I happen to have one in my bag even if I'm not with my kids. It's funny how now I've become, like, a superhero for other parents because of the Kibou. I always have some snacks and different pouches for my kids, so whenever they're needing a little pick me up, it's like their life has changed.
My husband has become very jealous of it and wants one, so he just bought himself a fanny pack. But I have to say, it ain't as cool as yours.
Images courtesy of Karla Souza instagram