Associate producer and actress Erica Muñoz has proven that you CAN take a break from acting and come back full steam ahead. But even with a five-year hiatus, Erica found that the acting world still has a long way to go when it comes to incorporating Latinx in lead roles.

 

Having started out on Broadway in RENT, Erica has the lead role in the HBO feature film “Long Gone By.” Erica stars as Ana Alvarez, a single mother from Nicaragua living in Warsaw, Indiana with her teenage daughter Izzy. When a routine check leads to a deportation order, Ana risks everything for a last-chance effort to ensure her daughter’s college education is financially secure. “Long Gone By” originally premiered at the New York Latino Film Festival and is now streaming on all HBO platforms.

 

Erica Muñoz is able to use her platform to increase support and highlight the importance of Latinx presence in the entertainment field. In solidarity.

 

You currently have the lead role in the HBO feature film “Long Gone By” where you play a single mother from Nicaragua living in Warsaw, Indiana with her teenage daughter. Interviewers usually say, “What attracted you to this role?,” but I want to know what attracted the casting director, director and producer to YOU, to give you this role.

I’ve been auditioning for so many years and I heard some incredible advice that really stuck with me—to try to bypass the standard casting process and really create relationships with writers and directors that are authentic and cultivated in real respect and admiration for each other’s work, which can be a doorway into more work!


Andrew Morgan and I were working on a documentary series just after the most recent presidential election. We worked on a few stories featuring undocumented immigrants, one about a central California agriculture community, one about sanctuary churches, and one about a “Dreamer” trying to become a doctor who had a hard time finding financial aid. The seeds of a story were born from that experience. Andrew had me in mind based on our working relationship and my body of work. He asked me to send over a reel, and I had all my stuff ready to go. He involved me very early on as a producer, so I felt a certain ownership of the story and of Ana’s character that I hadn’t experienced before. I think he was attracted to my own drive and strength, which I inherited from my mother.

 

How crazy is it that you were accepted into the prestigious California Institute of the Arts as a voice major, at the same time attended an open call for the Pulitzer prize-winning Broadway musical RENT, was offered the role, TOOK the role, and never looked back?

It’s INSANE. I think about that all the time. The Cal Arts audition was 100% because of the faith and kindness of my high school choir teacher, Shelley Cory. She was instrumental in getting me the audition, drove to Valencia to play for me, encouraged me through high school and beyond, and honestly, I’m still blown away that it came together the way it did.

 

How did you hear about the open call?

It was actually in Backstage, back when it was printed. and I was a major RENT-head, so almost everyone I knew called to tell me it was casting and that I should go. I honestly never even thought about it. I almost didn’t go to the audition, but my boyfriend at the time was like, “What have you got to lose? Just go.” So I drove to LA and was there just before they were done taking people, and a week later I was in New York.

 

Describe your audition for RENT.

The audition was at this seedy bar in LA called The Garden of Eden. I sang this ridiculous song that was not right and the casting associate asked if I could sing from the show, so I sang “Out Tonight” a cappella, and they sent me upstairs to sing for another casting associate. By the end of the day I made it up to Bernie Telsey, the casting director, and on the drive home I got the call that they wanted me to come back. Then it was callbacks for a week. Dancing, singing, going over different roles. Within a week I went from being a receptionist in community college to being in Times Square, trying to go on for Mimi. My head was spinning. These are people who I worshipped.

 

Was it an easy or difficult decision to make—taking a Broadway role or going to school?

It wasn’t really a decision. I actually wasn’t able to afford the tuition at Cal Arts. My mom had to sit down and tell me I couldn’t go. I was gutted. A couple weeks later, the RENT audition came up and my career officially started.

 

Broadway can be grueling, yet fun at the same time. How old were you at the time? How often were rehearsals? How’d you even have time to secure an apartment? Where at?

I was SO YOUNG. The process was so grueling. I was a swing, so I went on for many different roles and had to learn like five tracks. It was so challenging and I really suffered from that imposter syndrome. Feeling like I didn’t belong. That’s one major takeaway. If you don’t believe in yourself and don’t have faith in the work you’re doing, it will translate. It was like college in a way, because I was thrown to the wolves and had to figure it out really quickly. Rehearsals were five days a week until I got the tracks; after that it was once or twice a week to refresh or to make changes. My mother came with me and she found me an apartment. I’m so grateful for her because I actually have no clue how I would have gotten through that without her support.

 

What steps did you take to get your AEA card? How long did it take?

I was SO green, so I remember having no idea how privileged I was to come to my AEA so easily. In order to perform on Broadway I had to join the union, so for me they told me what to do, and I did it. Then when I moved to LA, I realized I was SAG-Eligible by virtue of having performed as a principal in an AEA production and maintaining my union status for a full year. RENT opened so many doors for me.

 

How important is it to support and show a Latinx presence in the entertainment field? How do you go about educating people about diversity?

It’s become the passion of my life and career. There is SO much talent that is just on the brink; so many different shades and experiences in our community that are crying out to be represented. My work as a producer has shifted to trying to amplify voices and give opportunities to talent that doesn’t have space in this industry yet. I try to foster relationships with people I respect, admire and can learn from. I try to let my own perspectives evolve and have meaningful conversations on how I can open up opportunities. I support and magnify and do all I can to lift up those voices that need to be lifted.

 

You were invited to participate in CBS’ Diversity Showcase, sponsored by CBS and the Screen Actors Guild. How did that invitation come about?

My dear friend and actor/producer, Ravi Patel (who has a show premiering on CNN), had auditioned and recommended me to the directors and I was offered a spot—another relationship cultivated authentically and sustained with meaningful interactions. It is an incredible showcase that works sort of like a variety show, with the participants writing and acting in sketches. It is then performed for executives, agents, and managers in the CBS space. My class had so many talented actors that have gone on to do incredible things. It’s really a way to introduce yourself to people who might not have seen your work. You can submit directly to them via their website, and I highly encourage any actor to do that! It was an incredible experience.

 

Have you ever auditioned for roles that did not have any specifications of what type of actor they were looking for?

No. That’s sort of the issue. Every single role or audition I’ve had for years has been specifically Latinx. I took a long break from the industry because I was honestly fed up with going in for the same type of tropes. I came back because I thought there might be a place for me in this new landscape, and roles have opened up a bit, but there is still a resistance to casting brown women in lead roles. If there is a Latinx actor cast, she’s usually white-presenting (“Knives Out,” etc.) so it just keeps the same type of person in the lead, but production can claim diversity. There’s nothing wrong with white-presenting Latinx actors, and certainly there’s room and space for every part of Latinidad, but I do think opening up the landscape to Latinx actors of ALL shades would do so much to expand badly needed representation across all media. I think a lot of us have shifted towards writing our own material and creating our own opportunities.

 

You have athletic skills such as swimming, running and skiing. At what age did you start sports? Do you have a particular favorite sport that you like to participate in? How has athletics helped you in your acting career? In life?

I have skiing listed? I mean, I HAVE skied, but I should probably update my resume! HA! I’m a very active person. I’ve always played sports and been super active. I love to run now and can do it for hours. I think there’s a discipline to sports that can translate to any area of your life. The more you practice, the better you get. You also have to really be in the moment, because things can happen anytime and you have to shift to respond.

 

How did you find your agent and manager? What do they do for you?

I did a mass submission ages ago after RENT, and two managers responded. One, was my incredible manager, Heidi Rotbart. She is a huge theater fan and was eager to represent me. I worked with her for the first chunk of my career, and then when I came back from a five-year hiatus, I started working with another manager who was sending me on those same tropes. Out of the blue, Heidi sent me an email with a breakdown for the “Diary of a Future President” for the role of the president, with a message that said simply, “You should have your reps send you out on this.” I knew in that moment that I needed a rep that saw me as the president. My contract with the other manager expired, and I asked Heidi if she had any interest in working together again. We met, and she was as excited about me and the possibilities of my career as she had always been. We started working together, and I can’t imagine anyone else on my team. She connected me to my current agent Denny Sevier, and they’ve been instrumental in shaping this new leg of my career.

 

You have two young children. How does having a family affect your career?

Having children has cracked my heart open in a way I can’t express. They have made it impossible for me to not be square in every moment. They can spot BS a mile away and they’ve been such a dream. They are 6 and 8 years old. They sort of understand…I mentioned that I had to do an interview for a movie that was going to be on HBO, and my youngest son said “HB What now?,” so they aren’t really impressed. I have a massive network of family when my husband and I are both working, but we function as a team. When he works, I watch them. When I work, he watches them.

 

What are your thoughts on politics in show business?

I think there needs to be a distinction between politics and what’s happening to our democracy now. There is a very stark difference from disagreeing on matters of policy, etc. to speaking out against fascism, racism, sexism—the very heart of our democracy. This election affects every single person living in this country. It’s a moral imperative that we vote and speak for those most vulnerable and marginalized communities.

 

Anything else you’d like to say?

Thanks so much for your time, Ilana. I so appreciate the opportunity to chat about things that are important to me. Stay safe!

 

Make sure to watch Erica featured in  the “Long Gone By” trailer here.

 

Follow Erica Muñoz on Twitter @ericamariemunoz

Follow Erica Muñoz on Instagram @ericamariemunoz


Written by Ilana Rapp

About the Author – Ilana Rapp is a media-savvy Generation Xer with instinctive wit, quick humor and a taste for deep human emotions. As a former (child) actress with Broadway, film and television credits, she is adept at, well, lots of things. She blogged on The Huffington Post and writes entertainment pieces for NYCastings and New Jersey Stage. She is a huge fan of the television show “V.” Ask her why her favorite number is 22.

Follow Ilana on Twitter @LizardLadyNJ