“It happened as I was driving in. Friends were texting me and saying ‘You won! Congratulations!’” Portillo says. “It still feels odd to realize that I actually am a part of this. I still look at it and think: Isn’t that wonderful? My friends won. This is a lovely moment and, I feel, a deserving moment. And then I have another moment of oh, it’s kind of me, too.”
An accomplished actor, writer, director and visual artist as well as a Pomona College theatre lecturer, Portillo was too busy to enjoy the Oscars until after her afternoon performance in the nearly monthlong run of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Anna in the Tropics at Pasadena’s A Noise Within theatre.
“By the time I got home, there was a watch party next door,” Portillo says. “When I walked in, they were all, ‘Congratulations, congratulations,’ which was very sweet and lovely.”
Besides voicing Sra. Guzmán, mother of the hunky Mariano, Portillo spent two years developing the character of Abuela Alma Madrigal, matriarch of the warm Colombian family whose magical powers not only help them to survive after fleeing a junta but also help to sustain their community.
Portillo calls participating in the production “joyful” and is particularly proud of the animation’s realistic depiction of varied skin tones within a family. She also talks about the invisible effects of unspoken trauma reverberating through generations and the potential for healing.
She wasn’t the only Sagehen involved in Encanto. Jasmine Reed ’12 was an editorial production supervisor for Walt Disney Animation Studios. Encanto is being celebrated throughout the world. “It is proof that the better we come to truly know each other, the better we can embrace each other. That’s the kind of project I’m always looking for,” Portillo says.