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ENTERTAINMENT

From Scientist to Starlet, the versatile actress, Yvette Yates

Yvette Yates is making her mark in Hollywood in her most recent films beginning with this year’s theatrically released comedy, “WITHOUT MEN.” The cast for this independent film also stars Eva Longoria Parker, Maria Conchita Alonso, Judy Reyes, Kate Del Castillo, Oscar Nunez and Christian Slater among others. Written by Gabriela Tagliavini, Yates stars as one of the leads, Virgelina, who plays the virginal daughter of Maria Conchita Alonso’s character, who pretends to be heartbroken when her fiance, Jacinto, is led away by the guerillas.

Originally from El Paso, Texas/ Cd. Juarez, Chihuahua, Yvette Yates received her B.S. in physiological science at UCLA. She’s been published in the Journal of Molecular Immunology for her research in the Dept. of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology (MCDB). She is recognized by her lab research in the Dept. of Physiological Science and in UCLA’s School of Medicine focusing on sleep apnea. All the while Yvette pursued her passion in the entertainment industry.

Yvette comes from an industrious family. Her Father, Dr. Carlos A. Yates was the president of Azteca Films (1986-1989); Instituto Mexicano De Cinematografia.

Yvette received a City Proclamation by Mayor John Cook and the Council of the City of EL PASO, TX. September 26, 2013 was proclaimed “YVETTE YATES DAY” as she has brought recognition to the City of El Paso and has become a Community Ambassador.

She has been busy. Recently she starred as the female lead in a Warner Brother’s action film produced by Joel Silver, “El GRINGO.” Her character Anna plays opposite Scott Adkins and Christian Slater. She can also be seen in the film based on the famed play, “WATER & POWER” as the assistant to the senator, directed by Culture Clash’s Richard Montoya. She stars as an undercover narcotics agent in “FREE RIDE” based on a true story opposite Academy Award® winner Anna Paquin, Drea de Matteo, and Cam Gigandet. Yates will strap on the leather, for her upcoming role as the sexy dominatrix sorority girl Sloan in the feature film “SORORITY PARTY MASSACRE” written by Chris W. Freeman. After this she is doing “THE RED HOUSE” a suspense thriller where Yates stars as Carissa, a pretty but high maintenance young woman who, after being taken captive, finds herself in a horrifying and gruesome circumstance.

Yvette, who plays the lead in “NINA QUEBRADA” (aka Broken Girl), placed (2nd place) SPECIAL MENTION at the 13th Annual Los Angeles Latino Film Festival (LALIFF) 2009, was nominated in the categories of BEST ACTRESS IN FILM and BEST SHORT for the 23rd Annual Imagen Awards 2008 and in the Malibu International Film Festival 2008. NINA QUEBRADA tells a story against the backdrop of an illegal cockfighting ring in which Lucena (Yvette Yates) must fight for her life to escape the horrors of this nightmarish world of child prostitution and human trafficking.

Yates most recent credits include “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell,” Rockstars’ popular videogame “Red Dead Redemption” and Comedy Central’s “The Nick Show Kroll.”

Herald de Paris Deputy Managing Editor, Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez, visited with Yvette at the ALMA awards and scheduled a chat.

AC: Tell us about your father, Dr. Carlos A. Yates, the president of Azteca Films? Sounds like an interesting man. What about your mother, Carmen?
YY: Family, Love, Laughter, Loyalty, Perseverance….is what comes to mind when describing my parents and siblings. I laugh with warmth at just the thought of how every night our dinners involved discussions of our day, college, and the importance of being a strong and supportive family. Communication and education were always at the forefront. And just as important, being a family, supporting one another, was something my parents always nurtured and to this day brings balance to my life. We are all really close. I have the luck of having my siblings around me in LA (Carmen, Charles, and David). I actually love that my younger brother David lives with me while he attends USC (alas another lost to the Trojan family including my sister…yes, I’m a Bruin and my other brother went to UCSD !). When I have my events, it’s fun to enjoy and share it with them, my world, because they’ve been there the whole way. From my dad I feel I got his love to communicate with people and to have a strategy, plan A, B and C. And from my mom, to trust your instincts and her delicious ability in the culinary arts (my cookbook collection is around 45 not including my handwritten notebook when I was about 15 collecting my Mom’s recipes which I’d love to publish someday).

For years now they have both worked in the educational field, waking up at 5 AM to start their days and working endlessly with students. My mom is a paraprofessional at Moreno elementary school working with autistic children and my dad is a mathematics professor at El Paso Community College and Strayer University. In addition, my father is constantly trying to find ways to better the educational realm, a big advocate for increasing graduation rates and bettering the system. Recently he collaborated with a colleague, Mel Moya, developing a program that targets each individual student’s weakness of a subject matter so intervention can begin early-on and increase a student’s potential and grade-point. Hopefully other schools will learn and apply these techniques. They are both hard-working and unconditionally there, never ceasing when it comes to helping others.

Early on, we had the fortunate opportunity to move to Los Angeles from El Paso/ Cd. Juarez when we were little – my dad was offered the position of President of Azteca Films. I remember the moment my parents told us that we were moving to LA. They were very smart; they asked if we would like to see places like Disneyland. Of course!!! Oh we were beyond excited. My parents saw LA as a great opportunity for us to see and try new things, absorb all this new stimuli. My mom, aka Domestic Engineer because she did it all, would drive us from school to gifted programs, swimming class, ice skating class, and piano class – that latter was my favorite. Something about playing from the heart, feeling the music, no thinking, no reading the notes once it was learned….I loved it, I really need to go back to that. Classical music is one of the only genres that can both relax me and inspire my imagination. Some of my favorites were the Hungarian Dance (played for my recital), Polovetzian Dance, Waltz of the Flowers and Moonlight Sonata. My parents always sacrificed and gave towards us whenever they could so we could learn to appreciate and find what we loved. They opened our world, I’m grateful for that.

AC: How where you affected by Dad running a film studio? Tell us about Azteca? Did you have a an insiders look at the industry?
YY: I wasn’t necessarily affected in regards to my acting career because it was such a while back. There was a different side of the business and people working in the industry by the time I began. Although, I will say that when my dad commenced running Azteca Films, he reduced operating expenses by 50% (he’s brilliant with numbers/mathematics), was the first to setup copyrights of Mexican Films in the US Market, was President of the Mexican Film Commission at Cannes, Milan, Paris, Rome, and London Film Festivals and was involved in creating co-productions in association with the U.S., Europe and Mexico, and dealt with the distribution and preserving the archives of Mexican Cinema. He was even acknowledged in Carl J. Mora’s book “Mexican Cinema: Reflections of a Society” for his contributions. The offices were on La Brea, a few blocks south of Melrose. I remember we would go down to his offices, play in the screening room or walk through the room which contained the film reels. My dad had a reel turned into a clock for each of us which now hangs in my living room, a nice reminder of the beginnings of this beloved industry, a golden age. The next President of Mexico at the time decided to sell Azteca to the private sector and we eventually moved back to El Paso.

AC: What types of film, music and culture influenced you when growing up in El Paso? Are you a true Tejana?
YY:I embrace El Paso/Juarez as much as I do LA, just differently and that goes the same for every place I travel. I moved to LA at quite a young age and my parents instilled a love for travel, the arts, music, and education. Growing up, on the radio it was Oldies, Classical or I can still hear the signature theme, The Wave. As for Rock or Heavy Metal, I was clueless. Yep, that was me. But we saw everything from the Philharmonic to Operas (stayed up two nights with my Dad in 4th grade to see Wagner’s opera on PBS, Ride of the Valkyries) to Musicals (CATS, Phantom of the Opera)…and at home, I think the favorite films we watched as kids were the classics like Singin’ in The Rain (I thought Gene Kelly was so handsome and talented), Sound of Music (we also caught it in the theatres for their anniversary with intermission), and There’s No Business Like Show Business.

Before turning 15, my parents asked if I wanted a quinceniera or a trip to Europe, and I chose wisely…London, Paris, Spain, and Morocco! In London, I saw where Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, the theatres; in Paris the glorious Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Versailles; in Spain riding the train and waking to fields of sunflowers, my eyes gazed the most fascinating Velasquez’s Las Meninas and El Greco’s paintings, Cathedrals surrounded by gypsies waiting to read one’s palm; and in Morrocco riding a camel, eating their dishes with our hands, bartering to buy a rug as I watched a snake charmer perform on concrete steps. I do have a love for venturing into places unknown and appreciating it. When I filmed EL GRINGO, we shot mostly in Bulgaria and I saw the most amazing monastery hidden high up in the hills, passing beekeeper farms on the way down, I tasted their exquisite tomatoes that went perfectly in their shopska salad, and brought back their rose perfume where the scent orginates. I even learned a few words. I love to immerse myself. And this past December, I filmed IN THE BLOOD in Puerto Rico, a different world filled with its own beauty. On my downtime, I tasted their tostones and mofongo dishes, took a rental and drove around the island, and kayaked into one of their two BioLuminescent Bays (one of seven in the world). I’ve learned early on to absorb every experience, to indulge the senses, it’s one of the best gifts to oneself.

So when you say Tejana, I think of family & food (a recurring theme as you see, I think I’ve mentioned both a few times) But really, I grew up in a Bordertown and Los Angeles. For me, El Paso and Juarez are almost one big city with a bridge connecting them. Every trip to this day always involves bringing back flour tortillas (the smell, the taste like no other), roasted chiles and sometimes tamales….my bag gets really heavy…Also why I go to the gym daily! There’s a form of nostalgia when I’m in Juarez because it’s changed so much from the Juarez my parents grew up in. But I love hearing the stories, meeting the people, seeing the places my parents and my grandparents experienced and created memories. My dad at 24 was one of the youngest Treasurers of Juarez, smart, smart man- he has a PhD, Masters and B.S. He has some great stories of the ceremonies, families, causes he helped champion and events of those times. And my Mom has great history there too. Her dad, my grandfather, Melquiades Alanis (who passed at a relatively young age) owned a restaurant with his brothers, the building still stands with the faded writing on the side.Her grandfather has a street in Juarez named after him, also Melquiades Alanis, for being the first pharmacist there. So for me, Juarez and El Paso are an extension of me but so is LA in its own way. They’ve all given me something. But yes, I am a proud Texas girl!

AC: What kind of childhood did you have and how did this inform your work as an artist? Is growing up bi-cultural an asset in young Hollywood today?
YY: Growing up, I think because my parents always gave us their unconditional support, I never felt like I had a limit. My parents constantly spoke about education in the household and how it would open doors to opportunities so that was a given and they allowed us to try everything. It makes me laugh when I think of when they put my sister and I in ballet. We were young and I guess it wasn’t for us because eventually the teacher had us sent home….we thought it was more fun running and sliding on the slippery floor than plies! C’est la vie, a ballerina wasn’t in the cards. My grandma knew the teacher so I think she might have been mortified, but my parents didn’t even flinch. At home, my parents speak in Spanish and my siblings and I speak in English. It has always been that way and I’m grateful for that because I can understand and speak Spanish. It’s a part of me. Although my Spanish may not always be perfect, when it comes for a role, I make sure it’s authentic and true. I love that I can communicate in more than one way. When I was younger I don’t think I necessarily saw a distinction of being bi-cultural until I was probably in college where I was active in groups like SOLES (Society of Latino Engineers and Scientist) and the CARE Science, Engineering and Math Research Programs. I was recently asked to present at a SOLES conference and it was inspiring to see all the endeavors of such great minds doing great things. And if I can create awareness with my platform as an actress, I will. I’ve grown up surrounded by so many different peoples and cultures so I can appreciate them, but yes, I love that I have my Mexican heritage and that also includes a British and Jewish background too!

My last name is my real last name, YATES. People always think it’s my stage name. It comes from my father’s side of the family who were from Birmingham, England who then went to Yucatan to Chihuahua. I look at pictures and it’s wild to see the evolution of generations after. It all shapes who I am I am proud of where I was born (hello…Lupe Ontiveros and Debbie Reynolds) and every time I have a chance, whether it’s CNN en ESPANOL or a candid conversation with someone, I love saying I’m from El Paso and Juarez. People’s first reaction is to think of the violence and the women of Juarez, and I agree those are important issues – but let’s also then highlight the contributions the communities make. I think more so for the youth who are from those cities. There should always be an awareness of those issues but to not let it define them. When I speak with them, I hope I inspire because I want them to discover, to grow and show the world what they can contribute within and outside of El Paso and Juarez.

Last year, I went to El Paso as a guest for El Paso Community College’s Hispanic Heritage month which my dad and Christopher Velasquez organized. I spoke to the students there and the speaking engagements continued. I went to the Jewish Academy elementary school, Texas Tech Nursing School, UTEP, Fort Bliss Spouses, Loretto High School, Coronado High School, El Paso’s only non-profit theatre group Kids-N-Co, El Paso’s Film Commission, ABC-7, El Diario de Juarez, El Diario de El Paso, El Paso Time and Latinitas. I wanted to reach and impact as many people I could by sharing my story. There are no film schools or programs there when I asked around and when my father, Christopher and I met Susan Gaines at the EP Film Commission we spoke about what could be done to bring more production to our bordertown cities; how tax incentives are just not up to par with our competitive neighbor New Mexico (the Lone Ranger was shooting there and not Texas). FX’s “The Bridge” was also going to start filming which excited the community. It would be a quick shoot, mostly exteriors scenes and the majority was shot back in LA so there was real opportunity for people to gain experience in front of and behind the camera. There were many students who had the want, the passion for it, but not the resources to learn and gain experience. Coming back to my community is an essential part for me.

The City of El Paso’s Mayor John Cook and City Council honored me with a Proclamation “YVETTE YATES DAY” – September 26, 2013 – for bringing recognition and becoming a Community Ambassador. It’s something I carry with great pride, and hope to continue in doing so. I’m there for my community even though I’m in LA. For example, I’ve made videos to aid Kids-N-Co. fundraiser to reaching out to Latino designers or designers from my hometown for my Red Carpet events whenever I can to showcase their work. If my platform can help others, I do so humbly.

When I did EL GRINGO, my character, Anna, was from a bordertown and the part was written with an accent. I read her differently and proceeded to have a discussion with the director and producer. I wanted to depict her as a strong and compassionate individual who also happened to dominate English and Spanish with no accent, because that is a truth in our community. As small a detail that was, I wanted to show another face of a Latina. They agreed and that’s what you see on-screen. It was important to me, a part of Anna, it’s all in the details.

AC: You received your B.S. in physiological science at UCLA. Why science, why UCLA, and what was college like for you? Were you a big bang theory type nerd? Tell us about being published in a journal. What was that all about? Someone told me you were a sleep expert.
YY: As for me, all the while, thoughts of politics sometimes wandered into my mind, but always medicine prevailed. Modeling I thought would be fun, when I would look through magazines, but I thought, hmm, I’m not tall or super skinny. Oh well. I was a shy, shy little girl too, not really sports prone even though the gym was more my style, but the academics thrilled me.

I remember my grandfather, Fernando Aristotle Yates (my father’s dad) having heart surgery. We were all worried but he was received by the best cardiologist there who prolonged his life ten more years. It was a tipping point that drew my affinity towards the sciences. I didn’t want someone to have to lose someone sooner because of an improper diagnosis and lack of prevention, so medicine was a path I was passionate about. Yet, this little voice…I just couldn’t really hear what it was saying, modeling, no? But hmm, there was something else out there but I didn’t know what it was.

My voice and my shyness subsided when I began to run for student body positions from junior high through high school and in my youth group, MSTY at Mount Sinai in El Paso. I still remember in junior high, one of the kids made a poster to support my running for treasurer. It read “Y ask Y, vote for Yvette.” Loved it! It was a catchy phrase! There was something encouraging in others believing and wanting something great, and then giving a speech was nerve-wrecking. And afterwards was such a rush. In high schooI would sometimes stay for lunch, go to my physiology class, study so hard because I wanted that “A” and I loved that class. I went on to receive a B.S. in physiological science from UCLA. I always worked through college too. It was all a great journey to get there.

I wanted to go to college no matter what it took. My grants and loans came through and with the contribution of my family, I make it to college. The day I got my UCLA acceptance letter . . . wow! It had been a journey to get there and I had achieved it. It was a culmination of dedication, perseverance, passion, drive, and my family’s love, support and belief in me. Walking through the campus was otherworldly. I was like I’m here, me, I made it. Walking among the brick ornate building that is Royce Hall one night illuminated by the lamp lights is a moment etched in my mind forever. I worked through my semesters doing research, including my spring breaks, all of them and summers too. I worked in various labs, but my most significant mentor was Dr. Gustavo Miranda in the Department of Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology. It was he whom I published under in his study of the Combinatorial regulation of the murine RAG-2 promoter by Sp1 and distinct lymphocyte-specific transcription factors in the Journal of Molecular Immunology. Oh yeah, I was also a Bear-Wear model one of the years (just like former Bruin, Heather Locklear)! It was fun and also funny to see myself in UCLA’s store posters and newspapers sporting the Bruin gear.

AC: What was it that derailed you from a promising and stable career as a scientist or doctor to pursue acting? What do your parents say about this?
YY: I’m not a sleep expert unless bouts of insomnia count! Although, after graduating I worked briefly in the School of Medicine in the area of Sleep Apnea and took the MCAT, but I felt there was still this something else I had to do.

I had made my decision but it probably took me about four months before I called my parents and let them know I wasn’t going to pursue Medical School. It was hard to say out loud and they were shocked but supportive. I had my education which not for a second I took for granted but I had to do this. You know, when you have to listen to that something within. They worried for me naturally, what was I going to do, what were my plans and for once I had no idea. I worked three jobs. I worked mornings, days, and nights, seven days a week. It’s something I just had to do, I was going to find it for myself. That’s why when I speak to the youth or other people questioning if they can pursue this field or any other for that matter, I can say without a doubt, yes you can! I didn’t go through a straight line but that’s life sometimes. And I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.

When I took my family to my first Red Carpet Premiere at the Egyptian Theatre for “WITHOUT MEN” in 2011, it was a special night because they could see all my sacrifices made, all my drive, my love for this craft, on the big screen for the first time. That same evening before heading to the premiere was when I also received the news that I was the lead in Joel Silver’s/After Dark Action film “EL GRINGO” and leaving to Louisiana and Bulgaria that weekend. It was the perfect day, so grateful. I cried, jumped around and screamed….yeah, it was great!

AC: Have your movie star looks been an asset or a hindrance in getting roles?
YY: I don’t feel hindered by my looks. I feel like I can play a range of roles and in various genres. I get into the skin of my characters and become them, and it’s always in the details, their nuances. My first few roles were in shorts which were either in Spanish or with an accent, so when it came time to being submitted for English-speaking roles, I remember it being hard to get seen because casting directors didn’t think I spoke English and/or with no accent so I wouldn’t get the opportunity. I was like, how am I going to get them to see me? That was hard. It didn’t make sense. It was an interesting conundrum. I’ve spoken English all my life, always went to school in the States, and I’m getting boxed in. But as you can see, luckily I was able to move into those vehicles as well and I was fortunate people opened the doors, eventually.

AC: What was your first real part? How did you get it and had you had any acting training?
YY: My first real part was my first lead role in an AFI thesis film directed by Jen Kleiner called NINA QUEBRADA (Broken Girl). It was dark and dealt with human trafficking in the role of Lucena. A short film with a strong message. This was the beginning of it all.

I was working all these jobs, had no training but I relished in bringing these characters to life so I began to submit myself on shorts. I had and led with my instinct, that’s what I had. In between work, I would audition for them, figured that was the best way to learn. “Nina Quebrada” was one of the first shorts I auditioned for and I booked it. It went through an amazing festival circuit and I took it as a personal sign that I was on the right path when I received my first nomination of Best Actress for NINA QUEBRADA from the 2008 Imagen Awards and Malibu International Film Festival. It went on to win in many categories in various festivals and we were all ecstatic.

Even to this day, people recall the short which is why I will always have a special place for student films – we all start somewhere. Even last year, 2012, the film was screened by Cal Poly Pomona’s The Violence Prevention and Women’s Resource Center and discussions and stories of women from the audience ensued. It was an honor to be part of something so special, to be brought into these delicate circles and have an impact – for one story to travel, touch people and bring to light such dark subject matters.

With every role, I’m always growing, using different facets of myself depending on each character and learning from my costars and directors. There’s nothing like being on set.

AC: Didn’t you win an award? Tell us about some of your earlier projects?
YY: Yes I did, this was the 2008 BEST ACTRESS in FILM category for the 2008 Imagen Awards and “Nina Quebrada” was the only short. The others were Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Love in the Time of Cholera, Directed by Mike Newell, Stone Village Pictures Kate Del Castillo, La Misma Luna: Directed by Patricia Riggen, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Wanda de Jesus, Illegal Tender: Directed by Franc Reyes, New Deal Productions Yvette Yates, Nina Quebrada: Directed by Jen Kleiner, AFI. And looking at this list, two ears later I would work opposite Kate del Castillo in “WITHOUT MEN” and four years later with Wanda de Jesus in “WATER & POWER.”

AC: What kind of work do you want to do? Stage, screen, TV series? Who are some of the artists you admire and would like to model your career after?
YY: I would love to delve into television because there are so many great writers, directors and actors in those mediums, although from my trajectory you can see I’ve done almost all film, which is my first love. There’s a freedom of expression, a creativity that flourishes when bringing these characters to life in film. It’s where my craft was born. To transverse between film and television would be ideal.

There are so so many greats that I aspire to ranging from Meryl Streep (nail salon scene in Nora Ephron’s Heartburn) to Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose) to Emma Thompson to Amy Adams to Penelope Cruz (Almodovar’s films) to Kristen Wigg to Salma Hayek, and so many more. I get inspired watching great films because it’s a collaborative effort, every role behind and in front of the scenes tie it all in when everyone is at the top of their game. Recently I read a Vanity Fair profile interview with Nicole Kidman who put it so eloquently and it resonated with me: “I still want to find things that define me artistically, and that teach me, or move me, or pull me into an uncomfortable place, or I discover something. So the curiosity is still there.” So simple and complicated – she’s pretty amazing too – and it’s how I imagine I will always feel.

AC: Tell us a little bit about each of the projects you have worked on from the beginning up until recently. What types of roles have you done and what have you learned from the experience?
YY: My career began with “Nina Quebrada” and the first two years my work consisted of mostly shorts from independent to AFI, Chapman, USC, UCLA thesis films. Every time I walked into the room was a learning experience and opportunity to work on a range of roles in varying genres. I feel fortunate and grateful that my career has delved into extreme characters not defined by one genre. In 2010 “Without Men” a comedy ensemble based on a novel opposite Eva Longoria, Kate del Castillo, Christian Slater, Oscar Nunez, Maria Conchita Alonso, Judy Reyes and Monica Huarte happened. It was my first substantial role in an ensemble as VIRGELINA, and my first dip into comedy. I remember working with Oscar Nunez (“The Office”) and improvising every take which I had never done before. The words on paper in this specific scene were more like a road map of where to go. It was so much fun, so much laughing, and learning what it was like to have the words and actions form and change as we reacted organically in the scenes as our characters.

Then came the action film EL GRINGO and the role of ANNA, produced by Joel Silver and After Dark Films. We filmed in Louisiana but mostly Bulgaria (as Mexico). She was fiery, vulnerable, and physically capable of handling the situations she was dealt. I was humbled with the New York Times review: “were it not for a bartender played with verve by Yvette Yates. Her appealing insolence and tasteful love scene provide relief…” This was followed with the horror feature, THE RED HOUSE; horror-comedy SORORITY PARTY MASSACRE opposite Leslie Easterbrook (STARZ premiere Feb.2014); drama inspired by a true story, FREE RIDE alongside Academy Award winner Anna Paquin, Cam Gigandet (theatrical release early 2014); film noir based on Culture Clash’s play, WATER & POWER (theatrical release Spring 2014); and my first role in television on Comedy Central’s Nick Kroll Show.

Work thankfully continued with the comedy RIVERS 9 opposite Vinnie Jones, Elisabeth Rohm, Jamie Kennedy; action-thriller IN THE BLOOD as “Leta” with a prominent cast MMA fighter-turned-actress Gina Carano (HAYWIRE), Cam Gigandet (TWILIGHT), Danny Trejo (MACHETE) , Stephen Lang (AVATAR), Luis Guzman (HOW TO MAKE IT IN AMERICA), and Amaury Nolasco (TRANSFORMERS) set for release Summer 2014; and most recently wrapped the Thomas Pynchon adaptation, INHERENT VICE, joining the cast of multi-Academy Award Nominee Director Paul Thomas Anderson with the sprawling lineup of Joaquin Phoenix, Benicio Del Toro, Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Martin Short, Maya Rudolph and many more.

AC: Tell us about El Gringo? Good and bad, some think it was a very stereotypical Latina-falls-for-a-Gringo-hero type project.
YY: I envelope every character fully, I wear their skin and don’t judge them. My role of ANNA in EL GRINGO was special because this was my first lead in a feature film and action film. Anna is a strong, independent, bilingual woman who stands her own ground. She never becomes the stereotypical “Damsel in Distress” and is the support system of “El Gringo” played by Scott Adkins (“The Expendables 2″), which also stars Christian Slater. Just because there’s chemistry with the male lead doesn’t make the female role weak. It was an empowering role and one that balanced the grittiness with the feminine. My influences for the role were an essence of Salma Hayek in Robert Rodriguez’s Desperado and Sophia Loren in Arthur Hiller’s Man of La Mancha, who served as a force and an inspiration in those films. I loved working on an action film because I had never had to be both so intensely physical and emotional with all my dialogue, to keep the severity of the scene take after take at times in the middle of the night. When you watch the film, Anna actually does a lot of the saving, for El Gringo and the town of Fronteras.

AC: Do you think you have been stereotyped as a ‘sexual’ character?
YY: Not at all. I think some of the characters I’ve played have lent to have a layer of sexuality but to judge solely on that is one-dimensional. Each role is going to have varying factors that make them the way they are. Yes, there’s the makeup, hair, clothes, shoes, the outer shell which are telling of that character but I would like to think that is just one layer, there is more than meets the eye than just outward appearances. Each character, like people in the real world, are shaped by experiences, relationships, environment, past history, education, society and sometimes an outer layer is quite the opposite from what they are about. Like they say, don’t judge a book by its cover.

AC: At the ALMA awards you told me that you are working on a project with Patricia Rae. Can you fill us in on that project?
YY: There are two projects that I have in development/pre-production phases I’m excited about. One is called TESORO, a crime thriller which advanced through the second level of the SUNDANCE Creative Producer’s Lab. I’m attached as the lead, Ana Ramirez, opposite recently cast George Lopez, Gina Gershon and Carlos Ponce. They’re in the midst of casting the lead villain, aimed to start production Spring 2014. Then there’s “Mikki & Lola” which is a starring vehicle for myself and Patricia Rae which we’re developing. Two strong female roles as two sisters in a Thelma & Louise meets Breaking Bad action thriller ensemble. Shooting is scheduled for Summer 2014, and the locations lending themselves to El Paso and Juarez, that’s the goal.

AC: What are some of the current projects you are working on and what can look forward to?
YY: I recently wrapped Warner Bros.’s “Inherent Vice” but I can’t say much more at the moment. Oh the anticipation!

AC: Do you have an interest in writing, directing, and/or producing?
YY: Acting is first, but I think on a project per project basis, producing is something that will happen naturally. I love the creative process of seeing a project from the development phases to the finished product.

AC: What have been the highest high and the lowest low regarding your career so far?
YY: I’m a glass half full kinda girl. This business is a lot of No’s for that one Yes. I’m okay with that because I am confident in my work. On the slow or downtime, I keep proactive with my career, reading scripts, developing projects, staying active, and spending time with my family, especially my one-year old niece. It’s how you approach those quiet times because when it’s busy or you’re away in another country filming, sometimes you can’t do those simple things that I believe ground one. It’s important and vital to maintain a balance. The most surreal experience yet has been the auditioning process and working on the set of “Inherent Vice” – a golden moment.

AC: What was the first time you realized you were becoming famous and how did that feel? Do you think fame requires a certain responsibility for you to be a role model for young women?
YY: I don’t see myself as famous. I will constantly be growing as an actress. I think the responsibility for being a role model is a choice, not for everyone. When it comes to my work as an actor, I’m part of the story-telling. There are all sorts of characters just as there are people from all paths of life. I would never limit myself to a character I felt strongly about because they may be seen in a negative light by an audience. I am there to portray something, and most of the time they will have flaws. It’s in those flaws that we are human, and it’s where you also find connection. Responsibility in being a role model is what one can choose to undertake outside of the set. And if one chooses to, it’s about what you do with fame to aid in creating an awareness. For me those issues are targeted toward women and children, education (primarily the sciences and arts) and bordertown issues. I hope to make a difference in said areas, I want to inspire, and if one girl or boy feels inspired by what I’ve done or said, that’s a step forward.

A few words for thought that are a constant for me. ASPIRE. When you know exactly what your end-goal is, it makes it more viable to get there. Network and be NICE to EVERYONE. Understand the infrastructure and LOVE what you do. Love what you do because you will eat, breathe and live it every day. Network and fortify your relationships because they will become a support system, it’s very synergistic. Be nice to everyone, it makes life easier and that goes from the P.A. to the producer -respect everyone because it’s the right thing to do. Understand the infrastructure, and this goes back to the importance of education. Do your homework, learn how a set works, perhaps work in the mail room or a production office. And all of the above ties in together. You may find your interest lies elsewhere or if anything, it gives you layers, a thick skin, the patience and understanding of your craft. Anything can happen. When I spoke at my hometown, the high schools specifically, I stressed that sometimes life doesn’t deal you a straight path and it’s okay. At times you’ll do many other things, but you will land back and all your experiences, all your stories, will make you that much richer, give you that much more to share. Aspire.

AC: What are some things that most people don’t know about you?
YY: First job in high school: Camp Counselor at the J.C.C. in El Paso. Oddest job in high school: Selling CUTCO knives. I’m not scared of working hard to achieve what I desire.

AC: In five years where do you see yourself?
YY: Evolving in my work and eventually building a family. It will all unfold, I’m positive of it.

AC: And in the end, 100 years from now, what would be an ideal legacy for you to leave?
YY: That I loved and cared for my family beyond anything. That I gave back to my community, that I created awareness on social issues, and that I inspired with my work. And that for my craft specifically, it was vitally important I find that moment of truth, expose it for what it is because that is when one becomes the character. There’s no fooling the audience, they see it, hear it, feel it. To trigger a memory, cause a discussion, to entertain, bring laughter or tears…that is when it all connects. And when you accomplish that feat, it’s the most euphoric feeling.

 

Edited by Susan Aceves
Photos: Yvette Yates

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