Paulina García took the best actress prize at last year's prestigious Berlin Film Festival for her performance in the title role of "Gloria." And as Irish Times film critic Donald Clarke wrote, "It is hard to imagine the jury deliberated for long."

García, 53, and a veteran of Chilean film and theater, makes the most of a character written with her in mind -- a lonely but vital 50-something divorcee who refuses to settle. In "Gloria," she "brings a welcome, defiant sense of brio to a complex role," Film Comment said.

We reached García in Santiago, Chile. Here are excerpts from a phone interview:

Q Who is Gloria?

A "She is this shy woman, nervous -- the kind of person who is always in the back of the room, never getting attention for herself. She just watches the world go on around her. This movie is about her walk, little by little, from the back to the front of the room, out of the shadows. It's a fantastic journey for an actress, of any age, to work from the back of the house and into the spotlight. That is Gloria. She is empowered by this journey, by making it at the age she is."

Q What did you decide that she wants out of life?

A "Like everybody else, she is looking for happiness. It's not (about) success or love or companionship or having friends, but about "What are you doing with your life, to make your life happier?"

She is trying to change her life, doing all the things you do -- going out, meeting people, trying new things. Is she desperate? Sometimes, you despair of ever being happy, and sometimes you just go with what life offers you. She seems anxious and impatient, wanting all these things to happen faster, wanting to get happy faster. Everything comes easier when you are calm, centered in mind, body and soul. It's absurd! You need to be happy today, not tomorrow.

Life is longer, she has more time. This walk from the back of the house to the front can take place later in her life because she has more time. Her decisions have different consequences at this age. She understands this. But she wants the same things she wanted at 20. She made bad decisions back then, but she will not let that keep her from making bad decisions again.

Q Is she a universal character, or is there something particularly Chilean about her?

A She is like a lot of women in Chile. She is not an intellectual. She doesn't think very much about who she is or what she wants. Very ordinary.

She is very Chilean because she is a woman who looks and watches other people making lives for themselves. She just watches and waits. She's not making things happen, and that seems very Chilean to me. It is only when she changes that that she moves to the front of the line.

Q Any advice to other actresses over 50 who might consider doing, as you did, a nude love scene?

A Once you have decided to do this -- to be an actor showing life at all ages -- you want to do this. You have to let it happen. It's never too late. But don't wait too long!