Close-up: An Interview With Erica Hernandez

Actress, writer and comedian Erica Hernandez stops by on Close-up Culture for a fun chat about life and her recent projects.

Q: ‘Brittany Runs A Marathon’ arrives in the UK this month. How was your experience being part of this film and playing the role of Molly?

A: I’ll preface my answer to this by saying I have a very small supporting role in this film.

That said, this was the first feature film I ever worked on. So it was a big, exciting moment for me, and it was extra cool that I got to work on a film starring a lot of actors/comedians I admire and telling a story that I find really touching, funny, and inspiring. It was great to work on something where everyone was so nice, and where you knew the story you were telling had it all. I love being even a small part of that.

Q: The film follows Brittany (played by Jillian Bell) as she attempts to turn around her life by training for the New York City Marathon. What are your memories of running that same marathon back in 2015?

A: It’s funny, because as far as I know, one of the reasons I even got to audition for this film is because I ran the NYC Marathon! But that’s why it meant so much to be in this movie. Watching it brought back so many memories. I might have cried (…I definitely did––but it’s also just a good movie).

For me, similar to the stories in the film, running the marathon had an added personal significance. It wasn’t just about finishing a marathon. It was about what that meant in relation to my life––so in some way, also about turning my life around. And like she does in the film (sorry, spoiler! go watch it!) I also got injured while training but it happened early enough that with physical therapy, I bounced back and did better than I’d hoped. It was such an achievement for me in so many ways.

But it’s also just such a cool day to be a part of. You get to see so many different parts of NYC. And the whole city really comes out. It feels like a smaller community on marathon day. Neighbourhood people hand out snacks. There are bands playing. People make these signs that are funny and sweet and you’re thinking “don’t make me laugh, I can’t breathe!”

My friends and family came to cheer me on at different points along the route. I remember one friend in particular jumping really high in the crowd just so I would see him screaming, “Go Erica!” It still makes me smile because this friend would be the first to say, he’s not the kind of person who just jumps. Like, he loves a good chair. He’s got really chill energy. But that day, he got some serious air. Like, he flew! Seeing his head just springing up above the crowd, frenetically screaming my name. It was great. I was so touched by everything that day.

You feel like you’ve gotten run over by a bus after it’s done but you’ve also never been happier. I mean, you can imagine the endorphins. I literally felt like I could do anything when it was over. I think I told someone, “I’m going to run for president now.” I did not. Obviously. But it was nice to believe that made a gram of sense even for a second.

Q: It takes a special mentality and drive to train for and complete a marathon. Do you see any overlap in the mental strength needed to succeed as a runner and as an entertainer?

A: Oh, absolutely. I think it’s really easy to give up on a marathon. Not only the stamina, but logistically the amount to time you have to have, to just go on these long runs and be alone with your thoughts (or a podcast, let’s be honest) constantly thinking “my knee hurts,” “I’m hungry,” “I think this is the eighth time I’ve run by this street in the past two hours, also I think my tennis shoes are permanently molded to my feet now.”

I would say, the entertainment industry is maybe even more of a struggle. There are all these factors constantly weighing you down, making it seem really appealing at points to just give up, and it’s a long haul. Working in the entertainment industry is like running a marathon, except you’re not sure how many miles the race actually is. It could be the 26.22 miles and you’re done, or it could be 107, while it seems like for some of your peers it’s only 2… you don’t know, and you just have to keep running.

On top of that, while you run this marathon you might be working another job, so it’s like running while pulling a wagon behind you so you can sell the stuff in the wagon while you run or something. And people in your life say things like, “Why don’t you just sit in this park. It’s safer.” And you’re like, “I can’t, I’m running a marathon!” …My metaphor maybe got away from me…

But yes, you have to have a lot of grit, perseverance, and general resilience to keep going in entertainment.

I think there’s definitely an overlap in mental strength. You have to just tell yourself it’s possible, and don’t let the setbacks get to you. And you’ll definitely cry a lot in both scenarios. So that’s a fun parallel. But it’s all worth it. You do it because you really want to!

Q: You are a correspondent on the CBS show ‘Mission Unstoppable’, which is executive produced by Geena Davis and hosted by Miranda Cosgrove. It’s a wonderful show that spotlights women in STEM. How did this opportunity come about for you and how excited were you to be involved?

A: Anna, the executive producer on the show, brought me onto the Mission Unstoppable team. She wanted someone with a comedy background and I feel very lucky it ended up being me!

I think the mission of this show is incredibly important. We need more women, and especially women of colour, in STEM. It’s a truth that applies to so many fields, but I think STEM careers especially have largely been dominated by men. But STEM fields are all about asking questions and trying to solve problems, or just thinking what question you have not asked?

We only stand to benefit by having more diverse voices asking those questions and coming up with more ways to explore. It seems obvious that diversity in STEM is important, and yet I think still there’s such a disparity in the field in part, because women are taught to view, and feel, failure differently. And largely because we still don’t see those role models in TV and film, or in our day to day lives. But it’s changing.

I think having a show like this, where young girls can see people like them in the real world doing these amazing, interesting, and widely impactful things in their fields is huge. That didn’t really exist when I was growing up. I’m glad it does now and I hope it inspires the next generation of women. They’re going to have to deal with more than we ever have. The greater strides and dangers in technology. Climate change. New medicine. Changing resources. I hope this inspires a lot of young girls to to be the trailblazers tackling all of that.

Selfishly, I also love doing this show because while I decided to pursue a career in entertainment, I come from a very STEM-centric family, so I’ve gained a lot of cred in my family by working on this show (I think)! I’m stoked to be a part of something with such a great goal!

Q: You have such a fun and engaging presence on the show, whether it be on the ice hockey rink or working with power tools. How much fun did you have stepping out of your comfort zone and interacting with these inspiring women?

A: Thank you!

And I had so much fun! All these women are incredible. They’re all different. They’re all smart. They’re all brave. They’re all so resilient. And what they’re doing is so cool. I would say luckily my parents and siblings primed me for talking about things I wasn’t an expert on or even familiar with. It’s fun to use that muscle again but still get to be my silly self. I’ve loved finding how down-to-earth and fun these women are.

STEM doesn’t mean boring at all! It’s been such a great time, and I’ve learned so much. I built a toolbox. I learned how to collect data. I’ve learned about squids, and sharks and bears. I’ve danced in the middle of the sidewalk with women who have more accolades and degrees than I do matching socks. I can’t give away stuff that hasn’t aired yet, but I get to do some really cool stuff and meet people who get to do that cool stuff every day. Every time I’m like, “this job exists?” It is so cool.

Q: Speaking of inspiring women, who are some of the figures who have helped or motivated you over the years?

A: There are a lot of people who have motivated me. Too many to count honestly. I’ve always looked up to my sister. She’s a doctor because she loves caring for other people. She is so kind and earnest in what she does. If all doctors were like her, or really if all people were like her, the world would be a much better place. She gets that from my mom. I’m honestly inspired by my whole family a lot.

And… my dermatologist. She’s both an inspiration because she’s a force in her field and also just my personal hero because she helped me with rosacea. Let’s just say I went through a lot of dermatologists before I found her. High school wasn’t fun. Not all dermatologists are alike.

Also, I’m lucky to have a lot of ambitious, generous, and conscientious friends. They motivate me every day. I’m inspired by their integrity and determination. And I just think Phoebe Waller-Bridge is amazing. And Greta Thunberg. She shouldn’t have to be doing what she’s doing. She’s so young! But she cares about something that affects all of us so much, and is really fighting to make a change. I think she’s incredible. I realise this is a wide gamut of people, but there are a lot of cool people in many different fields that inspire me to be better in one way or another!

Q: ‘Mission Unstoppable’ showed you have a wonderful talent for the entertainment correspondent role. Have you ever thought about doing something similar of your own on a YouTube channel? Or maybe even putting together a travel show?

A: I’ve always pursued more of a straight acting route, but I’m not opposed to the idea per se. I mostly use social media to ask people how to keep my plants alive, but I do love getting to be myself on camera and ask questions. I love learning. I love traveling. So while it might not be something I pursue as actively as acting…it could be interesting.

Q: I read that you completed a manuscript for your first book, ‘Waiting On America’. Can you give us a flavour of the book and what drove you to write it?

A: I did! It’s not published. It was a passion project I wrote when I was… waiting tables. Hence the title. It’s part memoir, part snarky commentary on the food service industry.

I was really proud to finish it. It was cathartic to write and kept me focused. I always wanted to be an actress and an author, so it helped satiate one of my creative outlets at a time when I didn’t have time or money for much else. I was like, “I hate waiting tables, I’m not auditioning as much as I want, well, ok. I’ll write!” And I did, and it turned into a book’s worth of material. I would have to wildly edit it if I decide to revisit it. Right now it might be too cheeky.

I’m a people pleaser. I want everyone to be happy. But not everyone who goes out to eat seems capable of happiness on any given day?.. So it took a toll––I was fairly jaded when I wrote it. But I would love to publish it in some form one day.

Q: You’ve appeared on a number of big US TV shows including ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’, ‘Madam Secretary’ and ‘Elementary’. What have you taken away from those experiences?

A: Many of these are small roles, but all very different! I got to work with some of my idols on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. They were so kind. I loved finding that out. I hope I take that with me always. Madam Secretary was really fun because I got to play pretend in an NOAA/Airforce plane for a day. It was like an amusement park ride.

I learn a little bit from each job. But the biggest takeaway is always be prepared and be kind. Because those are the people I’ve really admired working with, so I aim to emulate that.

Q: We are fast approaching the end of 2019. How will you reflect on this decade and the journey it has taken you on?

A: I’m so grateful for where I am right now. A decade ago, I was in college, struggling with college-age issues. And I think I had huge dreams but also would have never been able to predict where I am today. That’s kind of exciting. You don’t really have control. I’ve learned that as I’ve gotten older. There’s no one formula for how to do any of this right. So you just have to live.

Looking back, I’m grateful for both the personal good and bad of this decade. You learn a lot about yourself through every experience, and I’m really proud of where I’ve arrived. I can box now! I’m creating stuff I love with great friends! I ran a marathon! I found a hairdresser I like! And I’ve gotten to that point of young adulthood where I can unabashedly be myself. That’s fun.

Writing this out felt like a therapy exercise, like the things you write on post-its to put on the mirror for morning inspiration. “You got this girl! You put your AC in your window by yourself successfully five years in a row this decade!” (True). Everyone should answer this question! It gives you perspective. So thank you!

Q: What are your ambitions and hopes for 2020?

A: I really just want to keep working in what I love, and be a good person. That sounds cliche, but it’s true! Also, practically, I hope to have better posture, maybe plant some trees, and find someone who can cure (among many other things) seasonal allergies.

But again, I hope I’m lucky enough to keep doing what I love, and work with even more incredible people. And if I get to a place in life where I can comfortably care for a dog, then, wow. That will be amazing. That will be it.

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