From Guatemalan handball courts to the Marvel Universe

12 May. 2021

From Guatemalan handball courts to the Marvel Universe

Back on Friday 19 March 2021 ‘New World Order’, the first part of the six-part Marvel ‘The Falcon and the Winter Solider’ TV mini-series premiered globally, becoming the most-watched Disney+ series premiere.

But why are we talking about that on the International Handball Federation website?

The answer, obviously, is because of Guatemalan handball… and former women’s national team goalkeeper Wendy Rosas, born in Guatemala City but now living and working in Prague, Czech Republic.

It is that work which led her to the Marvel Universe and we at thought we would take a look into the Rosas Universe and hear about how handball led her on a life journey which most recently saw a near-miss from the deadly Winter Soldier. So, Wendy, tell us about when you first discovered handball?

Wendy Rosas: Well, actually I was just remembering about that today. My big sister, Nury Rosas, who is six years older than me, started playing as a goalkeeper for the national team when I was little. She went to Sweden and to Switzerland to play and I just thought it would be so cool to travel and train, and ‘why don’t I try it?’ I was around 10 and in Elementary School at the time.

It was very inspiring to see her play. Her position was very interesting to me because it's like a second captain as you see everything. You can ask your team what they are doing or ask for help whenever something comes up. It’s everything. So school was where you first started playing?

Wendy Rosas: Yes, in fact it was the same time as when handball started at my school, Liceo Secretarial Bilingüe, and we had a coach, Carlos Álvarez, who was already involved with the Guatemala youth and junior teams. He just came up to me, said he knew my sister played handball and that I wanted to play. 

When the team started they asked for people to join, training after school and I was one of the first volunteers. Were you a goalkeeper from day one?

Wendy Rosas: I have always been a goalkeeper since I started when I was 10. I was destined to be because at that first training I volunteered in that position. I did try out as right wing once, but it was not for me – I loved my six metre space too much. People always joke that goalkeepers are crazy… are you?

Wendy Rosas: I would definitely say that I’m totally crazy. It is funny that you mentioned that because there was a point where I was getting so many hits to my face, that my mum just said, “listen, it’s your choice, but if something gets broken, it’s on you” – she could not bear seeing that anymore and stopped going to my games because she was scared for me. After playing for a few years you got selected for the national team, what did that feel like?

Wendy Rosas: Honestly, it was a dream come true for me. I was only 11 or 12. It was very fulfilling because you see and experience your accomplishment, something you made on your own. 

Getting that type of recognition makes you feels like you belong somewhere, that you have a common goal and that's the beauty of it. I’m still friends with some teammates that I had from back then – they become your family. I was recently speaking to one, Barbara Pineda, who just retired.

donlin What do you remember about travelling abroad with the national team?

Wendy Rosas: I played handball for around eight years, playing in Italy and Spain around 2007 when I was 13, for the U17 Guatemala team in Mexico and different countries around Central America and playing in the adult league when I was 16.

I have many funny memories with the team because we kind of grew together. Those train journeys, flying together, it was so amazing. I don’t even know how to describe it. It was fun because we were staying in schools and playing in these huge school gymnasiums in the summer when the pupils were away on holiday. 

Everyone had their own sleeping bags and it was quite an experience – there were times where we would eat the same thing for a week. It was the first time I was on a plane and everything about it was kind of a fairy tale, of course, because we came from a so-called ‘Third World’ country. 

We didn’t have the huge resources to pay travel or the plane tickets really but the federation always tried to help you in the best way they can even though they didn’t receive as much money as other sports did – we all helped to try and make everyone able to travel. You were playing for the Guatemala women’s youth (U18) team but were only 15-16 years old. How did you feel about playing with players much older than you?

Wendy Rosas: As you know, in all walks of life there is always competition between the older and younger generations and handball is no different. Honestly though, it was amazing and as a goalkeeper, it was super amazing.

I remember this one time in a game really specifically where our defence was not organised and the best player of the other, older team was coming straight at me, unchallenged. I saw in her face she was thinking she didn’t even have to make an effort to score. But I jumped in the air at the same time she shot and I saved it. I fell on my face but I stopped the ball and it was amazing. I could hear everyone in my team breathing a sigh of relief with that triumph; it was for all of us.

donlin Despite playing handball at the top level in your country, you had other ideas about a career at the time, like acting?

Wendy Rosas: Yes, I started taking theatre lessons when I was 15 years old. I have these memories of when I was seven years old and acting in front of the mirror, all the time pretending I was crying or something like that – my parents didn’t like that much.

It was actually due to my big sister again as later on, when she was graduating from high school, they put on a play in the theatre for the leavers and I saw her there and was like ‘wow I want to be in theatre’. 

After many years of begging, and when I turned 15, my mum enrolled me in some acting lessons and made my debut as a main character when I was 18. Did you know that you would have to make a decision between playing handball and pursuing an acting career? How hard was that when it came?

Wendy Rosas: I was at my peak in handball and was playing in a tournament with Guatemala in Mexico when I was 15 or 16. At that time I was the only goalkeeper from my city. There were others from other provinces but my coach at the time, Angel Hernandez, said I was the only one in Guatemala City who could train with the team but that my position was not guaranteed. 

He said that I had to work even harder than everyone else because if he was only taking one goalkeeper to Mexico they had to be the best. I just thought to myself ‘oh God, I need to get that spot’. I trained so hard and in the end I was selected, and he congratulated me, but I had to play every minute of every match there and you know what happened? I was warming up before a game and my left wing hit me in the face. 

She was the one who always hit me in the face, and I always used to scream at her; ‘what the hell are you doing? There’s so much space where you can hit, but you always hit my face’. I hurt my nose - nothing was broken – but I could not play anymore.

I came back to Guatemala and my mum was hysterical. I continued playing for a year but there was a point where I needed to make a decision. At around 17, 18 years old I was training a lot as a handball player every day, sometimes up to six hours, but I also needed to be present at the theatre because I was preparing to be in my first play and was commuting between the two.

It was very tough, but I had to make one of the biggest decisions as a young adult and I decided that I had to let handball go. I spoke with Jose Hernandez, who is now the Secretary General of the Guatemala Handball Federation. 

They tried to convince me to come back, but I had too many things going on at the same time and had also started my communications degree at university. Something had to give. Did you ever consider studying medicine at university like your parents?

Wendy Rosas: My mum and dad did not pressurise me to go into medicine, they just said they were just happy for me to do what I wanted to do. Actually, I have to admit, before I chose my communications degree I used to tell my mum I wanted to be a doctor so she would let me go out. When you started your acting career who did you look up to?

Wendy Rosas: It was around 2010, 2011 I was watching Harry Potter and just thought that the actors were my age and that I could be doing this, but you don’t know all the things that go on behind them. How, and why, did the move to Prague happen?

Wendy Rosas: In Guatemala, a bachelor’s degree is five years of study and in the last few years of it I was working at a call centre and just thinking; ‘What's next? What am I going to do with my life?’. My friend had moved to Prague and we were speaking and she just said; “I’m walking on the streets here and there are TV and film shootings going on everywhere”.

I decided to give it a go so I started looking for a school in Prague. But acting in theatre is different to acting in film. I needed to study. I sent my application, the monologues, everything and, thank God, I got accepted. We then had to figure out how to get there, pay for the studies, get my visa, permits and everything. I was 23 at the time. You moved to Prague and in 2018 you made your first professional performance in Europe, in theatre, but you are in films now. How was this transition?

Wendy Rosas: I studied film acting for one year as in theatre you always have to be ‘big’. The bigger, the better, because you need 500 people to be able to understand what you're doing and what you meant. In film, less is more – you have to change 360 degrees. Even with just a glance you can see a completely different thing. You are now a fully paid-up member of the Marvel Universe after appearing in the very first episode of ‘The Falcon and The Winter Solider’ which premiered on Disney+ in March and finished last week. 

In the episode entitled ‘New World Order’ you appear as a co-worker for a character called RJ Nakajima in a scene called ‘Assault on Hotel Inessa’, filmed at Živnobanka Palace in Prague. 

Talk us through your experience of the Marvel Universe…

Wendy Rosas: Before having an agent I made a lot of contacts in Prague. I then signed up with different agencies and one of them called me for the role. I didn’t really know what it was at the time because everything is so secret as an actor and you never really know everything, going blindly into auditions. 

I did the casting and forgot about it, really, but they called me two months later saying that I got the role. I was so happy, but I didn’t know exactly what for. Later on I was told it was for Marvel – it was a huge secret to keep.

To avoid spoilers, the Marvel franchise is very reserved with all the information [for everyone] and I only knew what to do or say on the day before really as you don’t have access to the entire script for obvious reasons. I just remember that the experience was breathtaking. It is the biggest production I’ve ever been on – everything is happening at the same time.

As it was filmed in these difficult, different COVID-19 times, even if I knew someone on set, I never realised who they were as everyone had masks on. For safety reasons, it was not possible to interact with everyone, but of course, I met the director (Kari Skoglund) and overall it was a very nice and really fun experience. You have a speaking part on screen just before a key scene. What was it like when it premiered? 

Wendy Rosas: Everything happened so fast. When the debut episode of ‘The Falcon and The Winter Solider’ aired on 19 March, my credit on (Internet Movie Database) was added automatically, so I screenshot it and then Tweeted the link. All of a sudden everyone started talking about it and I was getting lots of messages.

donlin With all that interest back home, does it feel like you are representing Guatemala on the world stage when you act? Almost like the same feeling when you represented Guatemala on the world stage for the national team?

Wendy Rosas: Guatemala is a small country and it feels like I am making Guatemalans proud in whatever I’m doing.

I'm very grateful for all the support that I’ve been receiving from my country, it’s amazing. Does this support keep pushing you in your career, like it did in handball?

Wendy Rosas: I feel very, very supported. Honestly, with this [acting] it is not always up to you. For you to be able to succeed it depends on so many little things. You get your ups and downs but feeling that your people support you: they know that you’re there and they send you very nice messages like ‘keep on doing it’, ‘you’re doing something good for our country’, ‘you're representing us’. Receiving those messages is very, very inspiring. Are you able to bring in any elements of handball into your casting, your acting?

Wendy Rosas: Handball helped me to be a goal-oriented person in my very core. It helped me to build up discipline, to keep on fighting and to keep going forwards.

For example, when you lose a game, sometimes it feels like the end of the world but there’s always another game, and that’s how I see it with auditions. Sometimes you don’t get casted, but there’s always going to be another one. You always need to keep pushing forward and I got that from handball – to be competitive and to keep on pushing.

I remember there was an audition, for a commercial where I was in a football game and they said I had be competitive, like if I was a player. I just said: ‘I don’t know about football, but I do know about handball and that’s highly competitive’. I really knew how to bring up the energy from inside.

Also, being in teams from a very young age has helped me a lot, right up to now as an adult. It’s always better to work with a team and you see that in acting too. What you see on screen or in films is the final product of a huge team who you don’t see on screen. The actors are just a small part of a massive team. You are in the Czech Republic, a traditional handball nation. Have you watched games there or know much about Czech handball?

Wendy Rosas: I have watched games here, friendly ones, but don’t really remember much. I also watched HBC Jičín play with my best friend's boyfriend who is from there and was explaining how great his team was. I never knew about this because I thought in the Czech Republic it was just about [ice] hockey. Finally, we have to ask again: what does it feel like to be part of the Marvel Universe?

Wendy Rosas: It feels like a dream come true, honestly. For an actor, it’s the biggest you can get.

I hope I can join the franchise, the Marvel Universe, in other roles, but so far, for me, I would have never thought five, or even three years back that I would be saying ‘I've been in a Marvel TV series’ – and it’s one of the biggest in history for them.

It feels like I can hug myself and say ‘OK, be proud of yourself, it feels very nice, it feels fulfilling’. I'm very grateful for the opportunity from the casting director to everyone in production, the director, everyone because even if it is a small part, it's still important. 

I feel very lucky. Everything happened like a fairy tale, like Cinderella.


You can follow Wendy Rosas on Instagram @wenro93 and Twitter @wen_ro93.

Photos (in order of appearance): Stanislav Callas, Wendy Rosas, Disney/Marvel Studios