The new original Starz drama “Vida”
has been gaining momentum since launching on May 6th. Created by Tanya Saracho, the buzz for the series mainly emphasizes its Latinx focused, female-driven, queer storyline. But, it would be a shame if the solid supporting cast were to go unmentioned as part of the reason for its success.
One such member of this stellar group is actress Elena Campbell-Martinez
, who shines as the neighborhood’s motherly figure and spiritual healer ‘Doña Lupe’.
Think Elena looks familiar? Well, she should considering this talented actress appeared in Clint Eastwood’s biopic “The 15:17 to Paris” and also on popular television shows, such as “The Big Bang Theory,” “Modern Family,” and Amazon’s “Hand of God.”
I recently caught up with Elena Campbell-Martinez to find out more.
Tell us about Doña Lupe from “Vida.”
ELENA CAMPBELL-MARTINEZ: Doña Lupe is a Mexican curandera (spiritual healer) that lives in the building that the two sisters have just inherited. Doña Lupe has known these girls their entire lives. Lyn in particular relies on Doña’s Lupe wisdom and guidance, as she’s feeling lost. Doña Lupe provides spiritual comfort, healing treatments and sage advice from herself and from the spirits.
What would you consider Doña Lupe’s best quality? And worst?
ECM: Doña Lupe’s best quality is her honesty about what‘s going on. She knows what each person around her is thinking, feeling and doing – and she doesn’t hold back with the truth. I guess to some people, depending on the situation, that same honesty and piercing insight could also be perceived as her worst quality.
Did you do anything specific to prepare to play her?
ECM: To prepare to play Doña Lupe, I drew upon my own aunts in Mexico, who tend to have a very wise and knowing quality about them. They will basically tell you anything from how to pray or how to dress to what to take for a particular kind of headache. I did some of my own research, plus I got coaching from the showrunner Tanya Saracho, about the tools and practices of the curandera. Everything from the uses of specific candles, herbs and prayers to the proper way to smoke and spit. This is a spiritual calling with a rich set of traditions, so it was important to honor that and get it right.
How much discussion was there with the series creator Tanya Saracho about this world and what she was trying to create?
ECM: The series creator and showrunner Tanya Saracho was on set all day, every day of the shooting. It was very clear that she was creating a world that was extremely realistic, avoiding the whitewashing or brown-facing that happens when Latinx stories are told by others. Tanya weighed in on decisions large and small, whether it was which virgin Doña Lupe was petitioning in a specific instance or what style of shoes she might wear when she is alone in her apartment. Tanya knew all of the characters in such detail, she knew when we would speak English or Spanish or Spanglish. She could even explain to the art department exactly how clean Doña Lupe’s apartment should appear.
You’re also starring in the second season of the web series “Couch Potato Chronicles,” right?
ECM: Yes, the second season of the web series “Couch Potato Chronicles” is out on YouTube (Lainnie Felan Channel) – episodes 1-4 are up already and episodes 5-6 will be available May 14th and May 21st. I’m so proud of this web series, created and written and produced on a micro budget by a young Latinx woman. Lainnie created a near future apocalyptic world where you have a millennial whose worst nightmare has literally come true—no more TV or streaming programs! And she’s grounded this fantastic sci-fi plot with family relationships that are so real and funny and familiar, both Latinx and non-Latinx viewers see flashes of their moms in my character of Matilde.
Anything else you’re working on?
ECM: A beautiful indie film I recently worked on is currently in post-production, and I’m so excited for people to get to see it! The film is “Papi Chulo,” written and directed by Irish filmmaker John Butler and starring Matt Bomer and Alejandro Patiño. Fun fact: Alejandro coincidentally happens to be my “Couch Potato” co-star! I can’t say much about the story yet, but to me, it’s a love letter to Los Angeles and our Latinx people and culture. I’m also looking forward to the premiere of the new NBC sci-fi thriller “Reverie” where I’ll make an appearance as ‘Detective Bregman’ this summer!
Since you work in both, if you could choose do you prefer comedy or drama?
ECM: Wow, it would be so hard to choose only one, but if I had to, I suppose I’d choose comedy. I believe you can affect people’s perceptions of life’s challenges and even facilitate change through both comedy and drama. Comedy has the added benefit of making people feel better happier for a while about the world and themselves, which is something that we can all use. I love to laugh and I really love to make other people laugh.
And, now just for fun:
Who’s your favorite actor/actress?
ECM: My favorite actress is Viola Davis. She’s magnetic and honest and a force of nature in every role, every scene that she does. She works wholly without vanity, which allows her to expose herself in the most vulnerable ways, which then affects audiences so deeply. I once heard that Viola was inspired to be an actor by Cicely Tyson’s performance in the 1970s mini-series “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pitman,” which I also remember as the specific show that sparked my understanding of how impactful a role could be, as opposed to simply being entertaining. It makes me happy to think of the two of us kids, each in our own living room, watching the same show, feeling the same way.
What role from the past do you wish you could have played?
ECM: I would have loved to play the lead on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”! I was a kid of course, but I was enthralled with the weekly adventures of this single, independent woman. She wasn’t a super hero, like Wonder Woman, but she WAS a hero to me. She showed me a completely different way to imagine my life, nothing like what my mother had shown me or imagined for me. The idea of playing a character who inspires so many women and girls, while making people laugh and still keeping her honest and real—that’s the dream right there.
Favorite movie or TV show from your childhood.
ECM: My favorite movie from my childhood is “It’s A Wonderful Life” directed by Frank Capra. It was one of a handful of movies you’d see every year, and no matter how many times I’d seen it, I would cry several times during the movie. The boy that played George as a kid broke my heart as much as Jimmy Stewart did as the adult. There are so many moments of heartbreak as well as joy in that movie -- who doesn’t need a couple of good cries during the holidays, right?
Tell us one thing that would surprise our readers to learn about you.
ECM: People are usually surprised to learn that in 2004 I was lucky enough to volunteer as President Jimmy Carter’s personal interpreter for a Habitat for Humanity project in Mexico. It was an amazing experience to be alongside President and Mrs. Carter for an entire week, building homes, doing press interviews, attending dinners and events and making speeches. They were two of the smartest, kindest and hardest-working people I’ve ever met. President Carter had just turned 80, and the toughest part of my job was convincing him to take a break every once in a while!
How can fans keep up with you?
ECM: The best way for fans to keep up with me is to check out my website at CampbellMartinez.com link
, where they can read about my latest projects, sign up for updates and connect with me on social media.
Twitter: @ElenaCampbell link
Instagram: @elenurcia link
FB: ElenaCampbellMartinezActor link
Elena Campbell-Martinez in 'Vida'
Elena Campbell-Martinez at 'Vida' red carpet premiere