Isabel Allende celebrates life's highs and lows ahead of HBO Max biopic debut
Isabel Allende isn't behind the newly announced HBO Max miniseries about her life, but she's giving it her seal of approval.
The legendary author revisits the highs and lows from the first 50 years of her life while watching Isabel, a three-part biopic bookended by the tragic loss of her 29-year-old daughter Paula Frias Allende from a liver disorder. It will be released in its entirety on March 12.
Allende spoke to EW from her home in California on Tuesday in support of the project's announcement and its trailer debut above. She shared her reservations, regrets, and possible retirement candidly.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Mrs. Allende, what was your involvement in the creation of Isabel?
ISABEL ALLENDE: I was not involved. And because I'm considered a public figure, I can't really stop anybody from doing something like this. I was really concerned when the project was initially proposed because, while I don't care what they say about me — as someone who has written three memoirs and has always been open about my life — that's fine with me. But when other people are involved, like my former husband or my children, people who have private lives, I didn't want them to feel invaded or offended. Those were my concerns, and I let them know. They were really respectful; they told the story they wanted to tell without offending anyone. They were very kind to me.
How do you feel about Daniela Ramírez's portrayal of you?
My God, she is so beautiful! Although I don't think she looks like me at all, fortunately for her. [Laughs] But the hairstyles and the clothing were copied exactly. Even a necklace that I still have that I wear frequently, they copied it. I don't know how they did that, but it looks exactly the same.
How accurate is the miniseries?
Nothing is totally accurate. When you tell somebody's life in this way, you choose the highlights and the lowlights. The happy, wonderful, and most successful moments, and the tragic ones. All the grays in between are lost. So, of course, your life can appear very glamorous when it's narrated that way, especially for the screen. Was that my life, really? The events are true, and most of the emotions are true. I totally approve of it, and I feel honored they decided to spend the time and energy to tell my story.
Some moments are very personal parts of your history. Were any particularly difficult for you to relive?
Yes, yes, yes. All the parts about my daughter in the hospital. I watched it with my son, and we had to stop. The miniseries begins with that story, and we agreed it was hard to watch. My son was crying like a baby, but we eventually continued.
There were moments where I felt shame. I wondered, "Why did I do this?" Why was I so stupid? Why did I hurt people this way? Then I thought, I haven't done anything in my life that's uniquely bad. People make mistakes, so I have to forgive myself.
What are your feelings on regret?
I regret the things I've done in my life that hurt other people. When I have hurt myself and made mistakes, it's fine. I can take the stumble and I've fallen down on my knees. But when I hurt others, I carry that with me always.
On the juicier side of things, we see your involvement with a man from Argentina who you moved to Madrid for. You eventually returned to your family, however, who at this point was living in Venezuela. You say in Isabel you were leaving behind a man who might be the love of your life. Did you ever see him again?
I wish! [Laughs] No, I never saw him again. I have no idea if he's still alive. When I decided to go back to my family, I stopped all connection with him. At the time, there was no Facebook or social media so it was easy to lose a connection completely.
The mystery of your father's disappearance leaves the viewer wanting more. Can you share any insight into that?
He disappeared from my life when I wasn't even 3 yet. I never saw him again. I did see him in the morgue because I had to identify a body. It turned out to be him, but I couldn't identify him because I had never even seen a picture. That was the extent of his absence, total. I can't tell you more about that mystery because it continues to be so. In a way, it was my fault I didn't pursue something. There were many venues to find him and have a relationship with him, but if he chose not to have one with me, then why pursue it? Maybe it was pride or indifference? Whenever I ask my mother, she would say he was very intelligent and that he loved me very much. She would repeat the same thing anytime I asked.
You're famous for starting new novels on Jan. 8, which is now behind us. What can you tease?
I've been really productive during the pandemic. Writers need time, silence, space, and solitude, which is what the pandemic has given me. Last year, I wrote a book called A Soul of a Woman, which is coming out next week. I also wrote a book that is in my agent's hands right now and is being translated. On Jan. 8, 2021, I started writing another book though I'm taking a break from that right now to promote Isabel and my new book's release. But I will go back to that soon, hopefully.
It sounds like retirement is not on your mind at all?
Retirement from what? As long as I have my brain, there's no need for a retirement. I hope that it will last. I come from a family who live long lives. They have all kinds of ailments and problems but nobody has gone demented. I hope that's a good sign for me. [Laughs]
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
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