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Almost Family’s Victoria Cartagena On Her Journey to Booking Better Roles

April 16, 2020

Frontier Insider

Why did it take actress Victoria Cartagena three years to land more substantial roles?

As actors, we are always looking for that great character; one that we can really dig deep into and share with the world. Usually, just like most jobs, we work our way up to that. Sometimes it’s really fast, other times it’s slow and steady and sometimes it just never happens.

Victoria Cartagena is proof that if you work hard you can reach your goals.

But what exactly does “work hard” mean?

Let’s find out together as Victoria, who you’ll recognize from Almost Family, 21 Bridges, Manifest, You, Gotham and the upcoming season two of Apple TV’s Servant, shares her story on becoming a successful actor!

Recently you’ve had back-to-back jobs, some overlapping while still working on the first one. Who handles your schedule when you have multiple jobs at once? How do they coordinate with production so you’re here one day and they’re the next?

I’ve been blessed with a pretty good couple of years! To be honest, I am not completely sure how my schedule is coordinated. I have a great team, I let my managers know any personal conflicts I may have and they handle everything else for me so I don’t have to worry about a thing and all I do is show up.

Victoria Cartegena

 

When you first started out in show business and moved to New York, you were approved to live in low to moderate-income building with other actors.

I am so grateful that I found that place and it all happened because my acting professor at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA) assigned us the task of reading the Entertainment section of The New York Times every Sunday. There was one article where a budding actress talked about a program called Common Ground that offered affordable housing for residents, a lot of whom were artists. I remember thinking, “I’m going to cut this article out in case I need to apply some day.”

Sure enough, a year after graduating, my roommate had to move back home and I needed a new place to live so I applied and got in right away. It was back in 2002, a very small studio, and I paid about $475 a month for rent which was perfect since I was working part time at a gym while pursuing and working on plays (that didn’t pay). If I hadn’t lived in that building, I don’t think I would have been able to stay in New York. It allowed me the freedom to live in

Manhattan without having to worry if I could afford it and pursue my dreams at the same time. This was almost 20 years ago but I bet these programs still exist and I would highly encourage young actors to look into these resources because it’s hard to have the ease and grace to pursue your dreams if you are constantly worried about paying your rent.

Because of your role as Detective Renee Montoya on FOX’s Gotham, you thought it would open up doors to many more meaty roles. However, this wasn’t the case as it took about three years for you to gain traction to land the heavier roles. Why do you think it took that period of time?

It certainly could have opened the door to meatier roles but it didn’t because of the mere fact that I wasn’t energetically ready for them. I had so much going on in my personal life at the time that I wasn’t aligned with what having those kind of roles could have done for my career. I don’t think it had anything to do with anything other than the fact that I was in a funk and it’s really hard to get momentum going in your life if you’re in that negative headspace. I couldn’t land a job for the life of me. I didn’t know what I had to do career-wise to make it work since I was still going on auditions and having really great ones but none would stick.

At one point I applied to work customer service at Amazon, got hired but it conflicted with my schedule… I was panicking, I had no money and I was just broken but with the help of my best friend who gave me a book called A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson (which touched me at the deepest level) I decided I’ll just work on myself for the time being. The book lead me to study A Course in Miracles (which I’m still studying by the way. It’s a year long course but to be honest, I’ll be studying it for the rest of my life.)

I started waking up really early and just reading more books on spirituality, then I added meditating to my morning routine and then prayer and then journaling… it just escalated into this ritual that I’ve been doing every single morning for the past three years. And wouldn’t you know, things just started happening. I didn’t change anything externally, still had the same agent and manager, still was going on auditions and feeling good about them but it was like, the moment I started to work on myself things just started to change. I became more joyful, more enthusiastic, more optimistic, more positive, more loving…I’d be in my room every morning and I could feel this energy charging up inside that just wanted to explode out of me.

That energy was peace, it was joy and it just would infuse everything around me and I felt something that I hadn’t felt in a very long time. I felt like everything was going to be okay. And I’d walk into those audition rooms just so grateful to be there and with the honest to God energy of if I get this great and if I don’t that’s fine too. Sidenote: Talk about synchronicity! I wrote out this answer for you yesterday and today, I was reading Julia Cameron’s book, Walking in this World, and I found this quote from Chekhov: “If you want to work on your art, work on your life.”

 

Earlier in your career you thought you had to straighten your naturally curly hair to blend in more. But then you realized you didn’t have to do that to book roles. When was that a-ha moment and how did it help you with auditions?

 

I had read somewhere that “Faith is really your consent to let your own uniqueness unfold and to let that which is attracted by your uniqueness, manifest in your life.” And I took that to heart.

I had to embrace what made me different instead of wishing I looked like someone else. I had to learn that everything that I was, from my curly hair to my goofiness, dorkiness, my overly

effusive, enthusiastic, passionate and no-chill self, was perfectly matched for what I needed to do in the world. So what, I’m not like so and so and I don’t have their physical attributes or

characteristics because I don’t need them for my purpose. And they don’t need mine for theirs.

 

You had a lot of fun playing Amanda on Almost Family. What was your audition scene? Were you opposite Megalyn Echikunwoke at the audition? If not, who read with you? What was so much fun about this job and role?

 

Oh my goodness, I had a blast! From the moment I auditioned to the moment I watched and live-tweeted during the finale! Definitely the most fun I’ve ever had so far playing a role.

 

My audition was two scenes, first was the “burger” scene and the second was when Amanda speaks to the press about charging Dr. Bechley. I loved that first scene because there was so much playfulness to it and there was so much that was being said and not being said. Just so well written and a real joy to play.

Megalyn was not there; I read with the casting director Beth Bowling. I’ve known Beth my entire career. In fact, my very first audition was for her. Over the years, I’d been in her room so many times that it ends up feeling like I’m reading with a friend. If you stay in the game long enough you are able to build those kinds of relationships. She’s always been so supportive of me and my choices and has always made me feel safe and that definitely helps an actor relax in a room which is what I definitely needed to do for a scene like that, LOL.

 

There was one point during the callback that I just couldn’t connect with Amanda. I just felt off. So I decided to kick off my heels and just try to ground myself. So I took a breath, redid the scene and phew, I felt it. So when I got the part I thought to myself, “The key to playing Amanda must be to wear flats so I’m as close to the ground as possible and I can feel the energy from the earth somehow.” And of course I show up to my first fitting and they give me her signature four inch Chloé boots! Ha!

 

And that was the fun of it. I never knew what I was going to get playing that role but I was open to all of it! I didn’t know what Amanda was going to say and when I’d get a script I would just crack up at the stuff that came out of her mouth. Her wardrobe was fun, her storyline was fun and getting to play off Megalyn was a real gift in that she was so open to playing the game as well. Like two kids meeting on the playground to use their great imaginations to co-create this fun and beautiful world. At least that’s the energy I felt. Then after filming episodes I’d get to watch them with the people I care about most and it was all a part of the adventure! I just marveled at it all and I became huge fan of the show and the characters. And don’t get me started on the live tweeting and the fans! Every step on that journey was just so exciting for me, from start to finish!

 

Too bad, Vicki – I’m getting you startedILANA – During Almost Family’s run, you interacted with fans and live tweeted during the shows. Is that something you did on your own or was that built into your contract? Did you enjoy chatting the fans? You didn’t seem shy or like you used to be. Why is that?

 

Although live-tweeting is encouraged, there is no pressure at all to do it and it was something I really felt pulled to do anyway. First, because as an introvert being around large groups of people can be draining and this was a great opportunity for me to support the show in the best way I felt possible. Going to social events, Q&A’s and red carpets are challenging for me so this gave me a great opportunity to give back to a show that was already giving me so much. It was as if live tweeting was my red carpet, my press circuit and I didn’t have to leave my house and have an anxiety attack over doing it, LOL, and second, I’ve always live-tweeted shows I’ve been on and it’s always been a sacred experience for the mere fact that it is a chance for me to interact with fans in a way that doesn’t overwhelm me. I’m also the kind of person that likes to celebrate what I love and with Almost Family, I felt a great enthusiasm and joy for every step of the process so I didn’t want to keep and hold that feeling all for myself if that makes sense. I felt this kind of magic while creating what became #Amandie, something I felt was larger than myself while shooting it and I couldn’t wait to present that to the community and sit back and watch if they would feel that same delight that I felt in making it. I mean, really, what’s the joy of doing anything if you can’t share it with others?! And to further answer your question, I’m still introverted but you have to remember that I was interacting at home behind a keyboard so it was easier!

 

Let’s talk about 21 Bridges with Chadwick Boseman. Tell us everything!

 

It was interesting. I didn’t get to work with Chadwick because all of my scenes were in front of a green screen. He did stop by my trailer to say hello and introduce himself which was really kind of him. It all went by really quickly; I shot all my scenes over the course of one night. I haven’t shot many films so I could be wrong but the only real difference I noticed between working on TV and Film is that with film they take they their time shooting scenes. I guess because they shoot the film over a period of months where as with a TV episodes you shoot it within 10 days, at most. At least that has been my experience.

 

Have you ever watched a film or television show you’re not really interested in but watched it to see how other actors perform?

 

Not usually, but if I’m a fan of an artist, I like to watch their body of work just to study them and their choices. Especially when you watch things from earlier in their career and see the arch of their development – it’s inspiring. I enjoy watching Kate Winslet morph into all different kinds of roles.

 

I love watching Angelina Jolie and her stillness on camera and how she can emote without moving anything but her eyes, Denzel’s intensity, Melissa McCarthy’s physical comedy etc…So I don’t watch random shows to watch an actor perform. However, recently I wanted a new show to watch on Netflix and came across Criminal (UK), I read the premise, was intrigued and decided to watch. One of the episodes featured Hayley Atwell (I’m embarrassed to say

that I had to look her up because I didn’t know her work) and her performance just floored me. Her nuances, the way she spoke, the way she used her entire body. Her focus was impenetrable, she just did not miss a beat. And I’m one of those annoying people who talks while watching something, but I was silent the entire time. I actually watched the episode three times. The truth that she told in that piece?! That was the best performance that I saw in all of television last year.

 

You just finished an episode on the second season of Apple TV’s Servant. What’s it like working on a brand new network?

 

Yes! How excited was I to be able to work in my hometown of Philadelphia and get to work with my favorite director?! I have always loved horror-suspense so to be able to work on the show was beyond incredible for me. Do you know the house we shot at, is on Spruce Street which is the same street my mom lived on growing up and also the hospital I was born at, is also on Spruce street. For me things like that are just signs that I am exactly where I am suppose to be. It doesn’t get any better than that!

 

How has the Coronavirus impacted you as an actor? As a human?

 

Well the whole industry has come to a halt, so I’m not working. I was supposed to go back on a show but they had to postpone due to this situation. It’s the same thing with everyone – you don’t work, you don’t paid. I feel really fortunate that I was working on a show and we had to stop it for the situation and the good thing is that I’m safe, I’m healthy, my loved ones are healthy. In that way, I’m very fortunate. It’s a time of change and it’s something that I’m

accepting at the moment. I feel there is something bigger going on here so I can’t really judge something I don’t really understand completely. So I’ll take it as an invitation to reflect on what’s really important to me. We all have several purposes in life and that’s ever changing and right now my purpose is to take care of my kids, to see them through this, to have them adjust to this new normal and let them know that this too shall pass. This is only temporary and I have to reassure them that maybe right now, it may not look ok, but it will be. As for myself, like before, if I can’t create through my acting, then I’ll take time to work on myself and delve more into my spiritual practices and see what I can learn from this entire experience.

 

The entertainment business has grueling hours. When you’re not on set, you’re home learning your lines. How do you maintain healthy relationships with family and friends?

 

Ha! I’m still trying to figure out that balance. I like routines so I can be a creature of habit. My life revolves around my kids and work. And when I’m not working a bulk of that time is me

reading a lot. Being in solitude is exciting to me but at the same time I do crave deep connection with people but I’m the kind of person who needs to be invited to things. If you

don’t call to hang out then I’m fine reading or studying and just being home. I’m not one to be like, “Let’s hang out.” A part of that is that I crave alone time. But I’ve noticed that I’m

changing. During Almost Family I did hang out a few times and though I dreaded the process of the thought of socializing, once I was there I ALWAYS had fun and I’d vow do it again only to fall back into my habits LOL. But my friends get that about me and they respect those boundaries and they always are checking in on me. The thing with my friends is that we are so intrigued by life and we can have these deep philosophical conversations for hours and it’s so entertaining. That’s the kind of friendships and connections that matter most to me. They are some of the most beautiful, grateful, kind and good-hearted people and they lift me up

on those days I feel like I’m failing. They nourish my soul. Work nourishes my soul. My family nourishes my soul. And I make sure to communicate with them often maybe not physically but we’re always in contact some way or the other.

 

You mentioned on CBS’s podcast The Sitdown that you have twin daughters (who are almost 10 years old). What was their reaction when they learned you were an actress?

 

I’ve been an actress their entire lives so it doesn’t really phase them, especially because they have grown up in an era where they are watching their own selves and family and friends on YouTube. So this whole novelty of what is an “Actor,” is a different experience to them. However, just recently, they started to understand what I do because people started to recognize me. My one daughter isn’t really phased by it, but my other one who is really interested in acting loves it when people recognize me – especially at restaurants. They like the perks and by perks, I mean, free food. We were out having dinner and the waitress kept bringing us free appetizers like nachos and my daughter elbows me and says, “Mama, can you ask her for some extra Boba.” SMH!

 

So twins, huh? The Internet says you’re single? Are you dating or with anyone?

 

Yup. Yes. Nope. ;P

 

What advice about the “acting struggle” do you have for new actors?

 

It can get rough. So find yourself a person or a community that can lift you up during the times you’re not working. A cheerleader who is a true fan of your work, someone who is going to lift you up after that horrible audition, because you will have them. In between jobs, you’ll need someone who’ll remind you of your past successes, tell you it’s all going to be okay, someone you can call and tell about what a great day you had on set ,what a great audition you had and they won’t think that you’re bragging. Someone who will celebrate those victories with you. Someone who truly believes in you and will look at you and say, “Damn, that was amazing. You’re so talented,” and mean it. I have that person. That’s my best friend, Ginni. One of the last days I was shooting Almost Family, I was getting a little depressed about it wrapping up and also the possibility that I may never play a role like Amanda again. I went to work the next day and she had left me a little note on top of my script that said, “Remember, enjoy every moment, you are wonderful, this is preparing you, more is on the way.” And when I have an audition, she always runs lines with me so I can hear myself out loud and every single time we do it, I complain and say, “I suck, I’m going to suck and I’m not going to get it the lines.” Ginni always stops, rolls her eyes and says, “You say that every single time and you always remember your lines and do well.” She just reminds me. And then I go, “Oh Yeah.” As artists, those are the kinds of people that we need to surround ourselves with. We pour our heart, creativity and artistic talents into our work and for the most part of that journey, we receive so many no’s and rejections. Fear tries to make you see yourself in really critical ways and into believing you’re not good enough. And that’s why you need friends like that.

Anything else you want to say?

If you’re ever creatively blocked in any way, I highly recommend these books which have really helped me.

The War of Art – Steven Pressfield

The Artists Way – Julia Cameron

Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert

 

 

Casting Opportunities for Villains

September 30, 2012

“Playing bad guys is more fun; you can get away with more, and you can say anything.” – Denzel Washington

Have you ever wanted to play the villain? You know, the Wicked Witch of the West, the Man in the Black Hat, Lizzie Borden, the Headless Horseman, or the Phantom of the Opera? Well, do it! The fall season gives you, aspiring actor, plenty of opportunities to get your spook on. There are hayrides and haunted houses and mazes and zombie walks and any number of dark, ghoulish, gothic adventures you might explore. Local theatre and community groups need volunteers every year to scare the bejeezus out of giggling children and skittish adults. How about getting your acting class buddies together to enact one of Shakespeare’s scary scenes; he’s got plenty of them, and you can’t go wrong this time of year with Macbeth! Or wouldn’t it be fun to read one of Edgar Allan Poe’s spine-tingling stories at a coffee shop or your local library? The public is hoping you will transform just another typical eventless Halloween into a truly memorable, enthralling occasion!

Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe

Listen, you’re an actor, and you need training; you need to act. The Halloween season gives license to explore the dark side without seeming too creepy, because everyone’s doing it! You won’t look so weird entering a venue in a black cape and fedora, as it’s the time of the season when these things occur—and are indeed welcome.

The ancient Roman playwright Terence wrote, “I am a man, nothing human is foreign to me.” So, get in touch with your dark side; we all have one, and it will come in handy when you’re up against Anthony Hopkins for your next role!

Anthony Hopkins, Silence of the Lambs

 

Fewer Casting Calls Leading to Summertime Blues?

June 24, 2012

“Sometimes I wonder what I’m gonna do, there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues.” –The Who

So, what are your plans for the summer? River rafting in Colorado? Touristing in Milan? Spending days by a friend’s pool baking to that perfect bronze hue? Traditional wisdom suggests the dog days are a slow time in the industry, so might as well kick back and enjoy the sun and surf, right? Well, that’s all well and good for those who aspire to an endless summer, but for those worthy few willing to sacrifice to succeed, it’s wise to keep busy!

Theatre is a great way to hone your craft and add to your experience during the summer months. Summer Stock holds a rich tradition in this country; producing organizations are always looking for new faces and new energy to ensure their productions stand out (AKA “star vehicles”). That’s your queue to step in! Enter stage left…or right…just go and get involved! Summer Stock normally puts up a number of shows in a short period of time, so there is plenty of opportunity if you’re willing to brave the heat, the bugs, the pollen, not to mention the lack of remuneration! But always remember, you are taking valuable steps and making your bones. Every production you complete is a step toward your dream. Overnight fame usually takes many years of preparation.

Countless successful actors have participated in summer stock. Denzel Washington is one such actor who performed in summer stock theater early in his career. Soon thereafter, he was starring as the grapes in the Fruit of the Loom commercials–and the rest of his distinguished career is history!

Big time studio producers and directors have been known to summer in the Hamptons or St. Tropez; that’s precisely why independent filmmakers typically use the summer months to produce their brooding masterworks. Budding auteurs have to pay the rent during busy periods, working as PA’s, PM’s, best boys, graphic artists, etc. So when the vacation season hits, they finally have the opportunity to bring life to their mind-bending creations. So be on the lookout for all manner of independent film–low-budget, micro-budget, no budget at all! It doesn’t matter. As long as you can grow and shine, it will be a magical summer.