When Ester Expósito walked the red carpet in Cannes two years ago, she swore she’d be back.
“I was here for a brand, to show off some jewelry,” says the actress, who became a fashion trendsetter and online influencer — with 28 million followers on Instagram — after her turn as the cold, manipulative Carla Rosón Caleruega in Netflix’s Spanish teen drama hit Elite. “But when I was up there on those steps, I thought: ‘I’m going to come back soon, not with a brand with a movie.”
As good as her word, Expósito has returned to the Croisette this year as one of the stars of Lost in the Night, the new crime drama from Mexican director Amat Escalante, which premiered in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard and is being sold worldwide by The Match Factory.
Escalante seems a long way from the soapy prep school world of Elite. The Mexican helmer, a Cannes regular, put his stamp on extreme arthouse cinema and won Cannes’ best director prize with 2013’s Heli, a brutal look at drug violence that included a nearly unwatchable scene in which a boy has his genitals doused with gasoline and then set on fire.
“I didn’t know Amat’s movies before but after I read the script [to Lost in the Night], I went and watched them,” says Expósito, “and yeah, they’re rough. But I really like them. He has a very personal, very sensitive vision. I knew I wanted to make this movie with him.”
Despite her public, Elite image Expósito is actually a massive horror fan. Since leaving the Netflix show in 2018, she starred in Venus, a horror thriller from [Rec] helmer Jaume Balagueró, and her next feature will be Pedro Martín Calero’s supernatural chiller El llanto.
“I’ve loved thrillers, loved horror movies since I was 8 years old. That’s when I saw 1408 with John Cusack. My parents were a bit surprised. They tried to make me stop, or wait till I was older, but they couldn’t.”
After Elite, Expósito says she was a typecast as the Carla-esque mean girl and got offered “a lot of the same kind of roles, a bit cliched,” which is one of the reasons she jumped at working with Escalante.
“This is the most personal movie, the most independent movie that I’ve ever done,” she says, “it was hard because we shot very quickly and I ended up very tired, also emotionally but it was also beautiful because I learned a lot and I think I evolved, I progressed as an actress. I love cinema and I want to do more.”
Walking the Cannes red carpet this year — as an actress, not a brand ambassador — was “very magical and very emotional” she says, “especially to be here with Amat, at this festival that has given him so much.”
But, ever ambitious, Expósito is already planning to take her Cannes experience to the next level.
“Two years from now, who knows? Maybe I could come with a movie in the competition. I know [Pedro] Almodovar, maybe I should talk to him.”