Close-up: An Interview With Cristina Vargas

Cristina Vargas joins us on Close-up Culture to talk about her acting journey.

Q: You recently talked on Instagram about the influence of LACER (Literary, Arts, Culture, Education & Recreation) in helping you discover your passion for performing arts. Can you tell us more about your background and what led you to acting?

A: Growing up I was shy and quiet and didn’t really know how to stand up for myself. I was bullied a lot in my years at grammar school, up until late Junior high school. I remember hearing the announcement of an after-school program called LACER, which offered extra-curricular activities like soccer, guitar lessons, and even homework tutoring. I started out by taking a mural painting class. I made some new friends there and signed up for classes they did as well.

The next class I took was hip-hop dancing where I got to learn a dance routine and perform it at the school auditorium in front of my peers and family. I remember the rush of excitement that it gave me to perform and how I slowly started coming out of my shell.

My friends and I decided to take a drama class next. I didn’t know what to expect. We played a lot of theatre games to get to know one another, which made it easier to work with everyone. I remember performing my first play, The House on Mango Street, written by Sandra Cisneros. I had so much fun playing a different character and exposing myself to theatre.

Then the following year, my friends and I, along with the drama instructors, wrote a play titled, Art Attack, in which I play this big boss man (I wore a mustache) who owns big corporations and was trying to outrun a small-family owned bakery. After that, I knew I wanted to continue performing in any capacity that I could, whether it was acting and/or dancing.

Q: You went into to do work with the Rainbow Theatre Outreach and The Ricardo Montalban Theatre. How do you look back on those experiences and how have they shaped you as an actor?

A: Rainbow Theatre Outreach was a whole different experience when I joined during my years as a student at the University of California, Santa Cruz. It is a branch from the Rainbow Theatre Troupe (which is led by Donald Williams), which performs multi-cultural plays and we took small excerpts of these plays and traveled to high schools in the Los Angeles area to perform them in front of students.

We would also play theatre games with them and talk  about the importance of having a higher education. This was memorable because I was able to help students realise that they had resources, such as financial aid, at their finger tips and that they could pursue whatever their passion was.

The Ricardo Montalban Theatre was something similar to this experience.

I volunteered my time there helping write grant proposals and helping out with different multi-cultural events they held there. They both have shaped me as an actor in the sense that I can make an impact within the community, not just by acting, but by showing representation and the lack of that there is in Hollywood today.

Q: Who (or what) has been the biggest influence on your career so far and why?

A: I can proudly say that my parents have been the biggest influence on my career because of their work ethic and their endless love and support. They migrated to Los Angeles from Mexico, and my mom became a housewife taking care of myself and my siblings while my dad worked up to three jobs to be able to provide for my family.

Growing up, I always admired the hard work, dedication and sacrifices my parents made. I told myself I would always work hard to achieve my goals and make them proud!

Q: I imagine you have many fun stories from your five years working at Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween nights. Can you share any memories or thoughts from that period in your career?

A: I started out by auditioning for a Latina character they were bringing in the year 2010 named ‘La Llorona’. I grew up being told stories about how she drowned her children and herself in the river, and how her after spirit goes on crying in search for her children. If you heard her cry, you were marked for death.

I went in to the audition just to have fun, but never really thinking I would get the role since I had no experience at being scary. Then I ended up getting chosen and not only that, I was also able to do some press where I cried as the character. I remembered a lot of people coming up to me telling me that they had goosebumps when they saw me perform.

Q: What other joys does acting and performing bring to you?

A: Acting excites me when I get to be different characters. I like the fact I have to use my imagination and be able to transform myself into a specific character. It’s even more satisfying when others enjoy seeing me portray a different character.

I also like that acting gives me the confidence to be able to stand in front of an audience and be able to perform. If I told my shy younger self that I’d be able to do this later, I wouldn’t have believed it.

Q: You bring up your love of playing different characters. What kind of roles and stories excite you as an actor?

A: I like portraying the serious roles like a cop or a lawyer. I also enjoy playing the best friend or the love interest of the protagonist. The stories that excite me are the ones where there is a struggle of some sort in the character’s life and they are able to overcome it. Something that the audience can relate to and be inspired by.

Q: On the flip side, what kind of struggles and hurdles have you faced in your career so far?

A: One of the struggles that I have faced thus far is working a part-time job that requires me to work odd hours just to make ends meet. I’ve also struggled with trying to find people that take me serious in the industry because a lot of the times I get empty promises and/or hit on, which puts me in an awkward and uncomfortable situation.

A perfect example would be with a previous manager that I had (I won’t mention any names), but he promised me a lot of gigs and traveling. He would tell me to take certain days off from work only to be left doing nothing at home and losing money at the same time.

Q: Do you have any upcoming projects or ambitions to tell us about?

A: I have started doing voice acting, which I am excited about. I recently did my first voice audition with Disney, so we’ll see where that goes!

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