The Girl from Argentina
Actress-musician Mía Maestro battles vampires, writes songs in two languages, and conducts a tea ceremony worthy of a Chinese monk. Is there anything she can’t do?
Within minutes of arriving at Mía Maestro’s early-20th-century Venice, California, bungalow, where sun-dappled bougainvillea and an Arts and Crafts stained-glass window greet you at the door, two things become clear. First: the polite cup of tea she offers up front is no ordinary crushed-leaves-plus-water brew. And second: Maestro is not one for doing things halfway.
As Astier de Villatte incense burns in the background, the Buenos Aires native—all Penelope Cruz–caliber locks, lightly freckled skin, and instantly familiar hugs hello—sets about the serious task of choosing an infusion. She opens an unassuming cabinet, lands on an earthy-colored canister topped with a crystal (“to keep the tea company—because everyone needs friends, right?” she muses in her soft Porteños accent), and selects an oolong varietal harvested by monks in China’s Wuyi region.
“What I love about serving tea is that it puts you in the moment so that you’re present and not thinking about the future or the past,” says Maestro, who was introduced to the ceremonial Gong Fu tradition through the nonprofit Global Tea Hut, an online community and magazine, a couple of years ago. “It teaches you to treat everything as sacred, and it’s quite beautiful when you tap into that feeling.” She sinks to the floor to arrange an impressive spread incorporating a pair of 200-year-old robin’s-egg-blue Qing dynasty cups, an organic clay teapot by a master Malaysian potter, and spring water transported from Southern California’s Big Bear Lake specifically for this purpose. “I also like that it’s a moving meditation,” she explains of the practice. “Because I’m really bad at sitting still.”
Sitting still isn’t something Maestro does much of. Thanks to a packed filming and recording schedule, the actress and singer-songwriter—known for scene-stealing roles in The Motorcycle Diaries, Frida, The Twilight Saga, and J. J. Abrams’s cult television series Alias—has barely had time to nest. A year ago, she relocated from Los Angeles’s Topanga Canyon to the beachy residence she now shares with her boyfriend, professional surfer Dan Ross. “We officially moved in together when we found this place, so it’s nice that it’s been ours from the beginning,” she says.
Back home for a mere three weeks, she’s reveling in early-morning wave-riding with her paramour, a switch from the 17-hour workdays in subzero temps she logged during a seven-month shoot in Toronto for director Guillermo del Toro’s much-anticipated new series, The Strain (a vampire show debuting this month on FX and based on a horror-novel trilogy cowritten by del Toro and Chuck Hogan). “Normally with a vampire genre piece, there’s a suspension of reality—the vampires are very 18th- and 19th-century, glistening in the sunlight,” says Maestro, who plays Dr. Nora Martinez, a biochemist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who is confronted with an unprecedented threat from the undead. “But the writers have written this so that it’s epic—almost Tolkien-esque—but also modern-day and real. I’m into emotional pieces, and this is one of those.”
Maestro’s gut-level attractions extend beyond her taste in scripts; spend enough time in her house and you begin to realize that her prized possessions are treated less like things and more like family members. The living room alone, where the decor ranges from crocheted floor pillows picked up in Ibiza to half a dozen of Ross’s surfboards, is home to several such characters. There’s resident antihero Gustave, the reptilian star of an oversize abstract painting by artist Elizabeth Neel that hangs adjacent to a clean-lined Modernica daybed. “He’s a very famous crocodile who made the news because he killed a lot of people and then disappeared—he’s a crocodile on the run,” Maestro says, giving the work a sly, approving smile. There’s also her teenage object of cultural lust, Christian—as in contemporary artist Christian Boltanski—whose high-concept monograph, Livres, acquired while an 18-year-old Maestro was studying music in Berlin, takes pride of place on the fireplace mantel. “I shouldn’t call him Christian, I don’t know him personally,” she says, almost blushing, “but this is the first art piece I ever bought. I found it after being really moved by an installation he did about the Holocaust.”
And, of course, there’s Priscilla, Maestro’s 1957 Martin 00-18 parlor guitar. “Isn’t she gorgeous? She’s super American, very folky, and she’s been on the road a lot—you can just tell,” she says with an admiration most actresses reserve for conversations about Meryl Streep. Is it the innate history behind such personal trophies that inspires this level of intimacy? “I love a backstory, but I also think that just like with people, sometimes there’s a chemistry or physical tension with an object,” she says. “And it’s hard not to make stories out of things when you do it for a living. Everything is a story we tell to each other or ourselves, so we might as well tell magical ones.”
Certainly, spending one’s days under the direction of an Oscar-nominated auteur is a way to tell such stories. But why stop there? In addition to her star turn on the small screen this summer, Maestro is also prepping for the debut of a full-length album in August: a highly personal English and Spanish offering recorded in Iceland with producer Valgeir Sigurðsson (known for his work with Björk and CocoRosie). Titled Si Agua, the alternative-folk LP follows her dreamy, percussive EP Blue Eyed Sailor and features string arrangements performed by members of the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra and composed by classical provocateur Nico Muhly.
She likens the track list to her propensity for wanderlust, noting her inclination for seeking out exotic mementos on her travels—from the 100-year-old gold-embroidered silk textiles from Morocco that adorn her bed to the pair of Art Nouveau jars she picked up in a market in Uruguay and the miniature altar she brought back from Turkey. “The music feels that way too: as though I’m a collector finding things from experiences and friendships and life-changing moments, and somehow putting them all in there.”
VIDEO: BEHIND THE SCENES WITH MÍA MAESTRO
Maestro cites the Spanish track “Barca,” with its “old melodic” feel, as the song closest to her heart. “It’s about letting go and saying goodbye to people. The idea came about while I was on a boat in the Tobago Cays,” she says. “Nico’s arrangement did this thing with the strings that makes you feel like you’re in the water—you feel the sound of the sails.” A fan of chanteuses across every genre (she name-checks Nina Simone, Peggy Lee, and Feist as favorites), Maestro has also trained in the vocal repertoire of Kurt Weill and Hanns Eisler. “It’s almost modal in the way some of the harmonies and progressions are constructed,” she says of her album. “But there’s also a contemporary layer; a lot of different worlds intertwine in it.”
In the coming months, she'll kick off a tour to promote the release and begin shooting director Pablo Agüero’s independent biopic about Eva Perón with Gael García Bernal. But for now, her days are devoted to summery pursuits close to home—solo lunch excursions to Abbot Kinney restaurant Axe, cycling to yoga or to her best friend’s nearby chocolate shop, ZenBunni, and perfecting her list of off-duty extracurriculars, which includes frame-drum lessons and foraging for elderberries and yarrow in the nearby canyons. “I don’t do beach reads,” she adds, draining the remainder of her tea. “I go for the Dostoevskys and the Tolstoys. Why not choose the Anna Kareninas of the world?” Zen though she may be, Mía Maestro is nothing if not an overachiever.