Mexican film director and screenwriter Alfonso Cuarón is up for five Academy Awards tonight including awards for Best Picture, Best Directing, Best Cinematography, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Foreign Language Film. His nominated film Roma, a semi-autobiographical take on Cuarón’s upbringing in the Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City, is nominated for 10 Oscars total and remains the frontrunner in many of its categories.
If Roma wins Best Picture tonight, it’ll be the first foreign-language film to accept the honor, in addition to becoming the first Netflix film to win such a high award at the Oscars.
Ahead of tonight’s Academy Award ceremony, here are five fast facts you need to know about Cuarón.
1. Before Roma, Cuarón Had Been Nominated for Six Academy Awards
Cuarón is no stranger to awards season’s illustrious red carpets. Before his film Roma received its gazillion critical nods of approval, he was nominated for six Oscars: In 2011, he was nominated for Best Writing, Original Screenplay for Y Tu Mamá También; in 2007, his film Children of Men snagged noms for Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay and Best Achievement in Film Editing; and in 2013, Gravity was nominated for Best Picture. In addition, Cuarón won two Oscars for directing and film editing for Gravity.
Cuarón is the first Latin American director to win the Academy Award for Best Director. Aside from Oscars, his work has also earned him two Golden Globes, eight BAFTAs, and two Director’s Guild awards.
2. Roma is Modeled After His Youth in Mexico City
Cuarón made some significant changes for his latest film, casting mostly nonprofessionals for Roma and becoming his own cinematographer. The film transforms Mexico City’s Roma neighborhood to look exactly like it did when Cuarón was growing up in the 1970s, including replicas of old cars and vintage costume design choices for the extras on set.
Cuarón even replicated a version of himself as a 9-year-old, though the character doesn’t bank much screen time. More importantly, the movie focuses on two influential women in Cuarón’s youth: his mother (renamed Sofia in the movie) and the woman he still considers his second mother, his middle-class family’s live-in nanny, renamed Cleo.
Following the success of 2013’s Gravity, the director said he was flooded with offers, but “the pull to make Roma became overwhelming.”
“It started to be like this emotional need to do this film,” he told The Hollywood Reporter.
To prepare, he spent hours talking to his old nanny, Libo, about her experiences as his family’s housekeeper. “I had endless conversations with her about every little detail about her routine, day by day, by almost, like, milliseconds,” he said. “Like, ‘When you got out of bed, how was it? Did you just lay down? Or did you spring up and go to work?'” The two also spoke about other aspects of Libo’s life that the director wasn’t privy to growing up, including her days off away from his family. “It was very, very shocking to discover a whole new side of a human who is so close to me and part of my family,” said Cuarón.
3. Cuarón Directed a Fan-Favorite Harry Potter Movie in 2004
Shortly after directing his breakthrough film Y Tu Mamá También, Cuarón took a trip to Hogwarts to direct Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Gary Oldman, and Emma Thompson. The film was nominated for two Oscars: one for composer John Williams for Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures – Original Score, and one for Best Achievement in Visual Effects.
After lining up the gig, Cuarón wanted to acquaint himself with his three lead actors. He asked each of them to write an essay about their characters from a first-person point of view. Emma Watson, like her character Hermione, went overboard and wrote a 16-page essay. Daniel Radcliffe wrote a simple one-page summary, and Rupert Grint never turned his in.
“It’s quite Ron-ish not to do it,” Grint told The Huffington Post. “I think [Cuarón] kind of appreciated that.”
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban went on to gross $796,907,323 worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo.
4. Before Becoming a Director, Cuarón Served as a Technician and Assistant Director
Early in his career, Cuarón worked in television in Mexico, first as a technician and then as a director on shows like La Hora Marcada. His TV work led to assignments as an assistant director for film productions including La Gran Fiesta and Gaby: A True Story, and in 1991, he landed his first big-screen directorial assignment.
His directorial debut, Sólo con Tu Pareja, is a sex comedy about a womanizing businessman (Daniel Giménez Cacho) who is fooled into believing he contracted AIDS after he has sex with an attractive nurse. The film also starred cabaret singer Astrid Hadad and model/actress Claudia Ramírez and was a big hit in the director’s home country.
5. The Director’s Kids and Home Life
Since 2000, Cuarón has lived in London, though he splits his time between England and Pietrasanta, Italy.
Cuarón’s first marriage was to Mariana Elizondo from 1980-1993. The couple had one son, Jonás Cuarón, born in 1981. His second marriage was to Italian actress and freelance journalist Annalisa Bugliani which lasted from 2001 to 2008. Cuarón had two children with Bugliani: Tess Bu Cuarón, born in 2002, and Olmo Teodoro Cuarón, born ion 2005.