1. Hello Jessica, can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to be an artist/musician/actress?
I started off playing music at a very early age. I first started off as a classical violinist taking lessons privately. I also sang weekly at church where my grandmother would teach me a new hymn to sing and I would present it to the congregation. I played morning, noon and night and on the weekends I would play with a local Orchestra here in Brooklyn New York. I also played with chamber music ensembles, played shows and street fairs and got to sit in several master classes at Juilliard.
For junior high school I went to a specialized school and found that the music program was not exactly where I was so I decided to audition for the drama program and that's where my love of acting began. So I continued to take my music courses outside of school while taking drama classes in school. I then auditioned for LaGuardia high school also known as Fame in New York City and started my career there as a music Major. Later, when I was a teenager I started having problems with my wrists and hands which made it very difficult and painful for me to play. I did love the school very much and I wanted to stay so I auditioned for the drama program there and made it in while still taking music theory and occasionally sitting in as best as I could and playing in the school orchestra. I had a very wonderful training program in the acting department but I found it impossible to give up music and I realized that it was easier for me to play certain instruments like the guitar so I picked that up on my own as well as any other stringed instruments that provide my hands a little bit more movement. I then started playing locally in New York hardcore, punk and heavy metal bands in New York as a guitarist, bassist and vocalist. By then I auditioned and was accepted into the American Academy of dramatic arts where I graduated with a degree in Theater Arts and was a member of their professional acting company. I am still an actress and a musician and don't plan on changing that anytime soon.
2. What projects are you working on at the moment?
I am currently filming season 7 of Orange Is the New Black where I've had the honor of playing the role of Maria for the past 6 years. I've recently finished a short film shot in Stockholm Sweden written and directed by Greg Poehler a which I hope you all be seeing soon. I also have some other short film/tv projects in the works that I will be starting in 2019. I'm also the front for extreme heavy metal band called Alekhine's Gun and it is rumored but I am also the backing vocalist for the band Brujería, both of which are working on new material. I also had the honor of contributing strings to the latest Valhall album 'Grimoire' in 2018 and plan on hopefully doing more things with them as well as coming out with some solo music in the future.
I am also a DJ on gimmeradio.Com a streaming radio station that caters to the heavy metal community around the world.
3. What do you do to stay at the top of your game as an artist?
Study. Constantly study. Practice your technique and study other actors. Study the world around you, especially when it comes to acting. Our job is to reflect the true nature of humanity, the good and bad, honestly and without judgment. In order to do that you must know the world around you. read about other cultures. Learn about people who live differently than yourself. Know that all human beings are driven by one essential force and that is the desire to be happier than the moment before. Knowing that will inform you as a human being and as an actor and why people make the decisions they make.
4. How do you deal with rejection?
This is perhaps the most difficult part of what we do. Being constantly rejected. Most of the time the actor has a tendency to blame themselves. I would go into an audition prepared, nervous, excited and completely committed to doing my best for this audition...and then not get the part over and over and over. Then I started thinking what what's wrong with me? What did I do wrong?
It took me a very long time to realize that there are many many factors and many moving pieces when it comes to casting a role. It could be that you are too tall or too short or too old or too young. They may have cast the person that's going to play your brother an hour before but you look nothing alike. there may be an actor with a bigger name that wanted that role before you got in the door. There are a million things that happened that are out of your control, things that you cannot change about yourself, things that have nothing to do with you or your audition. So as long as you go in there knowing that you've done the best work that you could do to prepare yourself to walk in that door, you have to learn to let it go.
The positive thing is that if you go in there for a role that you're not right for, for the millions of reasons that you could not be right for it, if you go in there and do a great job they will remember you for something else. So think that every rejection is one step closer to your next role and let it go. there will be times where auditions will be the only time you get to act so and Savor that moment enjoy it and do it as if it's your last time every time. Then move on.
It is also very helpful to have a full and rich life outside of your profession. Have hobbies, have friends, have some kind of spiritual life something that brings you pleasure that has nothing to do with acting. your career is just one small piece of who you are and there will be times when it feels like nothing is going your way and you feel like you'll never get that role, that's you'll need those other pieces to remind you what life is truly about.
Do not compare your success or failures to any other's because we are each on our very own path and trajectory and the seeds you planted will Blossom and ripen at the time when they are ready to. There is no finish line and it will never get easier so get comfortable with that and enjoy the ride.
5. We do a lot of mindset work in Flow, how important is it to have a healthy mindset as an artist and how do you keep yours healthy and positive?
First of all be thankful every morning that you get to live another day with endless possibilities. I am also thankful everyday that I get to do what I love for a living. I surround myself with positive enthusiastic, creative, loving, spiritual people who inspire me everyday to be a better person.
Meditation is also very large part of my life. I have different types of meditation I use as medication for all the ailments of body and mind. I've been a Buddhist for over 25 years now. As a Buddhist it is my job to realize that every single thing I do needs to have the intent to make the world a better place and somehow ease the suffering of other beings. So it keeps me in a positive mental state to know that there is meaning behind everything I do. Assign every small, little thing you do some kind of positive value and it will definitely change your outlook. Also know that when things don't go your way that is also a blessing and a lesson in patience and humility. Because ultimately it is desire, anger, ignorance and our own egos that turn beautiful situations into ugly things.
I also accept the possibility that there are many possibilities and as they say one door closes another one opens that is the truth and you have to be open to accepting the fact that sometimes you have to walk through an unexpected door. Sometimes the things that arise for us are greater than anything we could have ever hoped for or imagined and you lose that opportunity when you get stuck on a situation that didn't go the way you wanted it to. Life is a dream. You can make it anything you want it to be and it all depends on your mindset. The way you see the world is a reflection of your mind.
6. You starred as series regular Maria Ruiz in the Netflix hit Orange is the New Black! Congratulations. Did you ever visualize that sort of success?
Thank you! I don't think any of us did. We had a very little information about the show when we first started. We only knew it was fairly new on the Netflix platform to make an original series there had only been one before. We also knew that Jenji Kohan was behind it so we knew it would be good. We didn't expect to wake up the next morning after its release with our lives completely changed. I am so thankful for the opportunity because it came to me at a time when I was ready to give up altogether on acting because I wasn't sure that I wanted to live a life of constant rejection and uncertainty. But, I knew when I was cast in the role and started working later that week, that I had been doing so many other things to keep myself afloat that were actually blocking the energy I needed to go further in my career. I had no idea if Maria was going to be a character for one episode or 50 episodes I just knew that I didn't want to do anything from that point on but wasn't related to acting or the arts anymore.
So shortly after Hurricane Sandy hit and I lost a significant amount of things I went into my "day job" and announced that I would no longer be working there anymore and I never looked back. You know the old saying don't quit your day job? I did. And that made all the difference in the world. Now, I'm not encouraging everyone to go off and quit the job that keeps them fed and a roof over their heads but, there is something to be said about taking a leap of faith, and putting all your energy into something that you really want to do. And the jobs that I had to keep myself afloat were taking energy away from being successful in what I really wanted to do.
7. There are a lot of negative connotations in the arts, you have to be this or that in order to be successful? What is your take on that and what is it that drives you to overcome these limitations?
Success is relative. You have to decide what that means to you. once you have decided what that means to you you need to do everything within to make that happen while keeping your integrity. A lot of times we are our own worst enemies. Self-doubt, fear, insecurity, laziness and outside influences can greatly hinder your having the happiest life that you can possibly have. One thing I can say is that my drive has never been Fame. Fame is a side effect of a hard work and karma (or a great publicist) but it's not going to fulfill you in any way.
8. Getting an acting job often seems like it’s in the hands of the God’s. Do you believe it is or do you think there are things we can do to turn things more in our favour?
I do believe that everything is somehow related to force is greater than ourselves. Whether you call it God or the gods or Karma. But one thing you can do is constantly rejoice in the success of others and learn from their struggle as well as your own and support others doing what you do. treat their success as if it were your very own and lift them up. Stay persistent and consistent because things happen not when we want them to but, when the time and the circumstance and the opportunity and the preparation all align. and if you gotten to a point where you seem that you can't find work then create your own work. Create the things that you want to be in or find people who are in tune with a similar Vision to yours and help them manifest their dreams. Help those just starting out as often as possible.
9. Knowing what you know now, if you could go back to a time when you were just starting out as an artist and maybe struggling for work and a healthy income, what advice would you give to yourself?
Everything that has happened to you through out your life in the past has made you who you are today. Therefore I cannot/would not go back and change anything but the advice that I would give to a younger person starting out is to completely eliminate from your life people who stop you from reaching and achieving your goals. People who put you down and hold you back because of their own insecurities and fear of what will happen to them if you succeed. Opportunities come very rarely and they're very precious so it's very sad to see someone give up an opportunity because of someone else not wanting to see them shine. I did that a lot in my life. Negativity only breeds negative results. Cut it out as soon as you encounter it. Be strong and demand respect personally and professionally. Always. And treat others the same.
10. And finally, how important is social media for you as an artist?
Social media has been an integral tool in my career in the past few years. First of all, it allows you to connect with your fans and hear their feedback which is motivation to keep going and doing grat work. More importantly, it has put me in touch with writers, directors, actors, producers, designers and artists of all kinds l I love and admire. I have booked work through it and use it to make money as well as connections. It's amazing for promoting new projects (and yourself) to a wide audience. Pretty much anyone you want to talk to is in the palm of your hands. It's a miracle! Utilize it!