For more than 20 years, Paula Garcés has been breaking down barriers and opening doors for Latinos in Hollywood. The Colombian-born actress and producer was one of the first Latinas to star on hit daytime soaps like ‘All My Children’ and ‘Guiding Light,’ while paving the way for some of today’s biggest Latina TV stars with starring roles on hit primetime shows like ‘The Shield,’ ‘Defying Gravity’ and ‘Warehouse 13.’ Most recently, she starred as fan favorite Flora Hernandez on Marc Cherry’s hit Lifetime series ‘Devious Maids.’
On the big screen, Garces is well known for her roles in the films ‘Clockstoppers,’ ‘Man of the House’ (opposite Tommy Lee Jones), the cult-classic ‘Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle’ and its two wildly successful sequels: ‘Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay,’ and ‘A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas,’ which have quickly become bonified fan favorites and box offices smashes.
Always one to explore new opportunities, she created, produced and starred in The Look for mun2 and is the voice and brains behind the popular Latina superhero, Aluna. Her hard work and dedication to her craft is what has established her as an actress to watch in the years to come. Through it all, she is not consumed by her success and has maintained a level of sincerity, inspiration and true commitment to the arts.
Paula’s latest project is the Michael Walker (Chasing Sleep, Price Check) directed suspense thriller, ‘The Maid’s Room.’ Set entirely on the posh east end of Long Island (where it was filmed), the film centers around Drina, an attractive, intelligent immigrant who takes a job for the season as live-in maid to the Crawfords, a privileged New York family who maintain a splendid home in the Hamptons. The job could be worse, since Mr. and Mrs. Crawford spend most of their time in the city, but their teenage son, Brandon, who is starting Princeton in the fall, is summering at the beach, and Drina must look after him and his spoiled friends.
Since the maid’s room is next to the garage, Drina can’t help noticing when Brandon returns late one night, noisily and obviously drunk. The next day, she sees that Brandon’s car is battered and bloodied and, when she reads in the local paper that there has been a fatal hit and run, it’s clear who’s responsible. Knowing the Crawford’s will do anything to protect their precious son, Drina realizes that, for once, she has some power over her employers. Though the situation is intoxicating, it also places her in far more danger than she imagines.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Paula Garcés to discuss her journey in the entertainment industry, bringing her characters from script to screen, what the future might hold for her and much more!
You have become a familiar face in film and television. How did you get started on your journey in the entertainment industry?
I was born in New York City. My Mom was a single mom with two girls. I grew up in New York City’s Spanish Harlem in the 80s and 90s. It wasn’t necessarily the best neighborhood for a kid to grow up in but we made the most out of it. My Mom was always a very intelligent woman who believed the arts would sway me from hanging out with the wrong crowd. Very quickly, in my youth, I got involved with dancing and acting. I started auditioning for local commercials and do TV shows. It really developed from there! I was very lucky!
Who do you cite as some of your biggest influences and inspirations?
As a little girl I always enjoyed movies. I remember going to see just about every single movie that was coming out. No matter what it was I would try to go see it! I am big fan of many different genres. I love horror, suspense thrillers, sci-fi but I also love adventure films and romantic comedies. The actors I grew up watching were people like Jessica Lange, Sophia Loren and actresses like that. I grew up watching so many great films like ‘Romancing the Stone,” Star Wars,’ and ‘E.T.,” so there isn’t one particular influence that shaped me. I think I just fell in love with the entertainment business as a whole and was influenced by it all.
Your latest project is ‘The Maid’s Room.’ What can you tell us about how you became involved with the project and what intrigued you about it?
I got the role the good old fashioned way; I auditioned for it! [laughs] I fought really hard for it and hoped the writer/director, Michael Walker, liked my performance. Thank God that he did because when I first read his script I really enjoyed it. I liked it so much because it reminded me of the old Alfred Hitchcock films and Edgar Allen Poe poems, both of which I am a fan of! Also, I hadn’t done a psychological thriller before and it really intrigued me. The character of Trina was definitely one of which I could really identify with not only because she was of Latin descent but her personal journey and story is something I could really sink my teeth into. I thought the script was extremely well written and the characters were very well rounded and everything would really pop on the screen. When I met Michael for the first time and had the opportunity to discuss the film and how he was going to film it in 18 days with the type of budget he had, I thought “Oh my God! He is crazy! He is overzealous!” [laughs] I really identified with what he was going and felt I was up to the challenge! That is what I love most about the roles I have played; they first thing they have to be is challenging to me in some way. This movie, “The Maid’s Room,” was challenging to me in a lot of ways. I am just grateful to be part of it!
You mentioned the original script and how it intrigued you. What do you feel you might have brought to your character that might not have been on the original written page?
I really have to say that Michael did a terrific job in writing a character that was true to what I put up on the screen. My approach is the opposite of what you just said. I was hoping I would bring to life what he had captured on the page already. What I brought to life, I am hoping, is a real girl who people can identify with. I am just hoping I did a good job! [laughs]
Having seen your performance in the film, you can rest assured you did a fantastic job!
Thank you! I really appreciate that! [laughs]
They say every new project is a learning experience for an actor. What did you pick up from your time on this film?
I think the big question asked by this film is “What would you do if you were in this situation?” As Drina, I had to be very clear that I was the one in the right and the one that would definitely do the right thing in that situation because that is what the character was. However, after I let go of that and wrapped the film, I really started to think about it. The first time I saw the film was at the Hamptons International Film Festival in a packed house full of strangers. The theater wasn’t filled with my family or people who would cheer me on no matter what. I was horrified! [laughs] When I let go of that and really started to enjoy the film, I really started to think “Wow. I was really so sure I would side with Drina!” However, I am a parent of two and I don’t necessarily know I would honestly do the right thing at the time. Obviously, I would hope I would do the right thing and teach my son or daughter to do the right thing and deal with consequences of their actions but I am not so sure I would have done the right thing! [laughs] We all want to protect our children no matter what. That is just our natural instinct, I found that aspect of the film very interesting to explore.
Whether it is this film or your past roles, do you have a particular process you go through when taking on a new role?
The first thing I do, obviously, is read the script. In typical movies I have to audition for, a lot of the thought process for the performance and research is done for the audition. If it is something like that, my research is done pretty quickly and it is done to get a job at the audition. If I am lucky enough to get offered a film, then it is a film where I have read the script. prepared and feel I am going to be challenged in some way. Then I will do additional research, whether it is physical or psychological. For example, I have done films where I had to go to cheerleading camp for three months prior to filming! [laughs] That is something I would never do in my personal life but the fact that I get to do things like that is the reason I feel this business is fantastic! [laughs] I am always challenged and the industry is ever-changing, so for each character my research is very different.
That leads me to my next question. You certainly have a very diverse resume. Looking back on your career so far, how do you feel you have evolved as an actor?
I am hoping I have evolved tremendously! [laughs] I mean, everyone is their worst critic in their given job, so it is no different for an actor or actress. I hope I have evolved and I am better and more entertaining. I hope I am funnier, less full of myself and more willing to make fun of myself! [laughs] I don’t know! I think my career has evolved very naturally and I am extremely grateful to have it. I am very well taken care of and live a very good life. Sometimes I have to pinch myself because I can’t believe I get to play dress up and basically play the imagination games that I did as a kid. I am just hopeful that I am entertaining! I am so grateful to the fans because of them and the public; I have been able to produce my own shows and my own comic book. I am able to do an animated series of a film that I did ten years ago! It has been ten years since I did ‘Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle.’ We are celebrating it and people are still interested in the films! They are so interested in it that we just finished the pilot for an animated series on Adult Swim. I feel so blessed and lucky that I get to make people laugh! I really don’t mind if they are laughing at me either! [laughs]
Looking to the future, what are some of the goals you are looking to achieve as an artist?
I love action films and I have created my own comic book called ‘Aluna.’ She is considered the first Latina superhero. I would to see that come to fruition as far as a TV show or a film. The third book debuted at this past Comic Con. It did really well, so much so that the publisher is going publish it and I will start selling it through my website, www.paulagarces.com. It is co-written by the same people who wrote the videogame, ‘Assassins Creed.” It is a really good action story that I think comic book fans will really enjoy, so look out for ‘Aluna.’ My next film is a romantic comedy, so I doing a complete 180º from ‘The Maid’s Room,’ which is a suspense thriller. The film, ‘Adult Beginners,’ is a romantic comedy with Nick Kroll, Rose Bryne and Bobby Cannavale. That was a lot of fun to be a part of! I have never done a straight up horror film but I think that would be very cool to do! I am definitely looking forward to the future!
What is the best piece of advice you would pass along to people looking to explore a career in the entertainment industry?
The best advice I can give is to never give up. It takes a lot of discipline and hard work. Try to be a good person to everyone and anyone who comes along. You never know who those people will become or how they will affect your life or vice versa. I believe in that a lot. There are people in my career thought they wouldn’t be able to help me but now they are writing or producing shows. I always thank God everyday that I was really nice to them way back when! [laughs] Now, they are my boss! [laughs] The best lessons to learn is to be a good person, stay disciplined and focused. It is a very hard business and you have to have a lot of luck but when opportunities do present themselves, all those things I mentioned come into play and you have to bring your A-game.
Are you involved with any charity work we could help you shine a light on?
Yes, please! I work very closely with The Orphaned Starfish Foundation. They help educate around the world but especially in South America. They have many help young people in so many ways. You can learn more at their official website, www.orphanedstarfish.org. I am really, really passionate about their organization.
Awesome! Thank you so much for your time today, Paula. We loved you in ‘The Maid’s Room’ and can’t wait to see what you have in store for us in the future!
Thank you so much for helping spread the word, Jason.
To get all the latest news and updates on her amazing career, visit Paula’s official website at www.paulagarces.com. Connect with her on social media via Facebook and Twitter. ‘The Maid’s Room’ opens in Theaters and On Demand August 8th. Check out the trailer for the film below.