In the opening scene of Women Is Losers, a couple fights in the streets of San Francisco. When they’re done arguing, they turn to address the camera directly. A white woman nearby leans out of a window and, also facing viewers, asks how many movies they’ve seen set in the ’60s and ’70s that aren’t just about women who look like her. The film then pivots to follow the story of one-half of the bickering couple: a young Latina woman named Celina, played by the Chilean actress Lorenza Izzo.
Women Is Losers, a film by writer-director Lissette Feliciano that debuted at South by Southwest this year and streaming on HBO Max October 18, follows Celina’s journey as a high schooler who gets pregnant in 1967. Lacking access to safe and legal abortion (her best friend dies during a botched underground procedure), she gives birth and struggles to create a life for herself and her son over the next several years. Any future as a promising mathematics student vanishes—and she is met with prejudicial roadblocks every step of the way.
When I meet Izzo over Zoom on a recent afternoon, she tells me she was all-in after reading the six pages that encompass that time-period-bending, fourth-wall-breaking opening scene. “I read the script in one go,” she added. “I couldn’t put it down, because I was so incredibly taken by the ambitiousness of it.”
Immediately after tearing through the screenplay, Izzo contacted her team and asked to meet with Feliciano. “She just was Celina, from the first moment we spoke,” Feliciano told W of Izzo. It was important to find an actress who was truly able to understand the character, since it was such a personal portrait for so many people involved with the film. “My greatest feeling so far has been how much people are relating to her performance.”
“We didn’t even really talk about the script,” Izzo added of their meeting. “We mainly talked about our experiences as women in this career and in this industry, and also about what it means to grow up Latina in different parts of the world.”
Many of their conversations revolved around their mothers’ journeys, as well as those of other women in their family. While the film is largely about reproductive rights, it also chronicles the struggles of single mothers and people of color. The story felt important to tell when the film went into development three years ago, but it only became more relevant as time went on and conversations threatening the sanctity of Roe v. Wade returned to the mainstream. With a handful of visceral scenes, the movie gives some insight into what a Roe v. Wade-less future might look like by focusing on the past. “It’s enough to make you want to scream inside,” Izzo said.
Women Is Losers concludes on January 22, 1973, the day the Supreme Court handed down the ruling protecting a woman’s right to choose to get an abortion without substantial government interference. Izzo was well-versed with that time period—but filming marked the first time she’d heard an actual news radio recording of the announcement. “It was incredible to understand, to put yourself in that space of what freedom and relief and [ability] to breathe [meant],” she said. In Feliciano’s eyes, that personal connection with the role only created more of an emotional link between Izzo and the viewer, elevating her performance in Women Is Losers. “[Audiences are now] seeing her as a leading lady, which she always has been,” the director added.
Izzo has been steadily working in film and TV over the past decade, since her breakout role in Qué Pena Tu Boda in 2011. The 32-year-old actress, who currently resides in Los Angeles, studied journalism before making the shift to acting. Following the success of the Qué Pena films in Chile, Izzo took on a series of horror and thriller projects, including Knock Knock, in which she starred alongside Keanu Reeves and Ana de Armas. Since then, she’s embraced more identity-driven dramas and comedies (she just wrapped Confess, Fletch with Jon Hamm). Right before starting work on Women Is Losers, Izzo filmed Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, where she played Francesca Capucci, an Italian actress and the wife of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton.
This period also marks a shift for Izzo as a creative. Women Is Losers is her first credit as an executive producer. Feliciano, who enlisted her as a collaborator, said it was a relief to be able to pull Izzo aside and check in to make sure the work was resonating. “And then vice versa,” Feliciano said. “If she made a choice and wasn’t sure about the grander implications of it, she was able to bounce that off of me both as a director, but also like a comrade.”
Now, Izzo is interested in continuing work as a producer and embracing stories that can cause “some kind of commotion” and serve as conversation starters.
“When I first got here, the opportunities that were written specifically for a Latina person were very strict,” she said. “And they were basically the stereotype of the ‘hot young mother’ or the ‘hot nanny,’ or just very comical stereotypes. Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with stereotypes when written well and intelligently. This wasn’t the case.”
“If you want to build these opportunities for people that don’t get them, you have to write them yourself,” she went on. “None of this is easy. But it’s eternally gratifying to have a currency lie within your artistry and not within a success that’s measured by the outside world.”