Born and raised in inner city Chicago, Mexican-American actress, writer, and dancer Carmen Corral is a living example that no dream is too big, if hard work goes along with that dream.
1. Carmen, tell us about your journey, as a daughter of immigrant parents, to UCLA’s School of Theatre, Film, and Television?
In retrospect, I’m in awe of the fact that my dad raised my entire family of 6 on a salary of $35,000. What my dad really wanted to be was a Mexican corrido musician but he couldn’t provide for my family with that career, so he worked fixing machines in a factory his whole life. I think this is the reality of being an immigrant in this country: your first priority is surviving and the second are dreams. But being the daughter of immigrants gave me the chance to put my dreams first. I knew that my dad could never afford a UCLA education, so when I was in the 7th grade, and I set my mind on going to UCLA, I worked my butt off day and night, barely eating or sleeping, to get the best grades I could get because I realized that the only way I could go was on scholarship. And it paid off, I was salutatorian of my graduating class and I got into my dream school, UCLA. I still remember calling my mom from school and asking her to check the mail to see if I got an acceptance letter, she answered, “Te llego un sobre grande de “Ookla,” she was trying to say UCLA in her thick Mexican accent. I just laughed. I will never forget that moment.
2. You were cast in, and co-wrote the play “Melancholia,” which earned great reviews by LA Weekly and the LA Times, you have also been cast in HBO’s “Workout,” in “3:15,” in TNT’s “Southland,” among others, do you believe, aside from your talent and hard work, that having the name UCLA on your resume has opened doors for you in Hollywood?
Yes, absolutely, having UCLA on my resume has definitely helped. UCLA was where I met one of my mentors, Jose Luis Valenzuela, the Director of the Latino Theater Company. He recruited me to join their Youth Lab and there I forged deep relationships with some incredibly talented young Latino actors. That, actually, was how I got the chance to audition for Walkout because my friend and a fellow labee’s dad, was producing it. Also when I tell people I went to UCLA to study acting, they usually reply in awe, in respect. I think it shows people that I’m not just an actress, but that I am trained and smart, and by smart I mean hard worker.
3. The plot of your film “Clave,” which you are both producing and directing, revolves around an undocumented Mexican dancer who joins a local LA Salsa competition to impress the girl he likes, who or what inspired this plot? And will you also be part of the cast?
I actually wrote and directed Clave, and co-produced it with producer Erica Bardin. I was inspired to write it after a breakup with a boyfriend who was an amazingly talented salsa dancer. He was also undocumented. I saw the shame he felt for being undocumented and saw how trapped he felt. He saw me going after my dreams but he couldn’t go after his. The only thing that gave him a sense of freedom and self-esteem was salsa; on that dance floor he could be the king. And he wasn’t the only one. In my time in the LA salsa scene, I found that many of the top salseros are undocumented. I want to tell their story through this film, in which I play the main character’s love interest and the bona fide princess of salsa, Maribel.
4. What role does Salsa play in your life?
Salsa is therapy for me. There is something about having a hard day and then going salsa dancing, the music fills your heart and mind, and you forget about everything else. It’s also another way I make my living. I teach salsa. I love being a supportive teacher to my students. And at the end of the day, salsa is what inspired me to write, Clave, which was life changing for me.
5. What are your hopes for “Clave,” where do you see it? And what would you want viewers to take from it?
My hope for Clave, my Rocky, who I see as continuing, and as having the power to become a franchise, is for it to screen at all the major film festivals. What I really want viewers to take from it is the realization that the undocumented community has a lot to offer, that they are not just blue-collar workers, that they are artists with dreams. In the end, I hope this film will shed light on their reality, and in that way, instigate political change.
6. How can your fans, people in general, help you make this film a reality?
We are currently raising funds to make this film possible. If you are inspired to tell this story with us please donate at this link: http://bit.ly/ClaveFilm and/or share this link with as many of your social networks. All donations are tax deductible.
7. What gives Carmen Corral Alegria?
Enjoying all the amazing gifts God gives us daily: the shining sun, a gentle breeze, laughter with a best friend, a hug from a child, and the chance to live your dreams.