Yelyna De Leon on her role as "Fernanda", mom and being latina...
1-What was the part of your character in Milfriend that most attracted you to it?
In one word, “Comedy.” In two words, “great writing” In three words, “kickass funny Latina.” In hashtags, #Rideordie #babymama#hahaha.
2-Is your character like you? In what way?
The short answer, well see above. “Kickassfunny Latina.” Hahaha. There were so many similarities between Fernanda, a “ride-or-die” character and myself, I read it and the writing was so funny, strong, fresh and clearly written by someone who knows women, and women of color, so when I found out that the script was written by a kickass woman of color, Judy Jean Kwon, I prepped for the audition as though I was going to shoot that day because I really wanted to bring this character to life. And just like the character of Fernanda, I too was a teenage “baby mama”, I only have one dead beat baby daddy and Fernanda has five, the role of single mom is the same.
That’s what I really loved about the role of Fernanda, her unconditional positive spirit and heart of gold despite the obstacles thrown her way. She is a survivor, she is your best friend, she is loyal, she is fierce, blunt, fearless andhas no filter but says things with the best intentions. Moms are truly amazing Wonder Women!
3-When did you start your acting career?
My training started in first grade when I first hit the stage. Both of my grandparents were hard of hearing so I would always have to talk very loudly and in school one of my teachers said, “Hey Miss Chatterbox, you have a really loud voice here, memorize this, we’re putting you in an oratory contest. Shortly after that, an NBC show with Dennis Farina was shooting in my neighborhood and they came to my house and asked my grandma if they could rent our house for a week because they wanted to grab some shots from our second floor porch, this was before drones! So for a week I had the whole cast, director, producers and crew in my living room. I remember asking the director if there was anything I could do to help and he said, “yes when you hear a gunshot, peek out the window,” and I said, “are you sure I should do that? Usually when we hear gunshots we are not supposed to be anywhere near the window.” A week later I saw my “shadow” and my house on TV in the episode and I couldn’t understand how I was seeing my house on TV although it was not happening at the moment, so I guess that could be considered my first professional debut!
4-How has being Latina affected your career?
I will for the most part only get to read for “Latina” roles. But it blows my mind how whenever they are casting a “Mexican”, it seems like anyone and everyone is considered for the role and actually gets cast, despite not even being Latino sometimes. But sadly it doesn’t work the other way around. I have only read for roles that are Latino and Mexican at that, I usually don’t get to read for OTM roles (Other than Mexican) with the exception of very few roles. Although someone recently told me, “you look Italian or French, because Mexicans don’t have high cheek bones. You should really play Italian and other non Latino roles.”
The ugly. I’ve read a lot of scripts and the roles without a doubt are way better for non Latinas, as they aren’t five lines here and two lines there and actually require acting and are lead characters and have a full fledged story arc. Most are stereotypical and at times degrading. But it’s no secret that the stats on the roles for women in general isn’t good but it’s close to non-existent in comparison to non-latina roles for women.
5-Do you think MILFriend is helping break stereotypes?
Ab-so-lute-ly! And thank goodness because it’s our time. I’m grateful to Judy, Richard and Anton for making sure that they represent this diverse city with real life characters that exist and have existed in this community and are the fabric that make this great city what it is.
I don’t know why Hollywood refuses to tell our stories and write better roles for us but from what I have seen first hand, I am of the opinion that the decision makers feel safe with stereotypes because they can put us in a box that is less than, the hierarchy is clear, we are the “workers, the bad people”, the “others” invited to the playground, ... in actuality the real history will tell you that there are generations of Latinos who have been here when all of the southwest belonged to Mexico. We are not the guests in this country and it’s time we stop being treated as such.
6- What has your experience been as a mom?
My experience as a mother has been a tough one because I was a single teenage mom and did not have the support of the other side of my son’s DNA, due to lack of accountability on his part and well that’s a whole other story not worth talking about. But it has made me the fearless, resilient woman I am today and I live with no regrets and wouldn’t change it for the world. Through education I was able to open doors for him that would never have been possible had I not pursued my dreams and stayed on the southside of Chicago. And I have always been of the belief that we should leave the next generation better than the last and because of that I feel like I have done my job as a great mom. Although a mom’s job is never really done!
7-Do you think women can be truly happy without becoming a mom?
It all depends on the woman and her goals and aspirations. Being a mother completely changes your life and makes you a selfless person because now you have to put your child’s needs before your own.
8- What does being a Latino woman mean to you?
Being a Latina woman means putting my heart and soul into everything that I do, professionally and personally.
Being a Latina means celebrating my rich culture and traditions and shouting out stories to the world, that show how awesome we are. Seriously, I wish ethnic studies was a requirement for everyone in school. When I was at UCLA I learned so much about the African American and Asian experience in the U.S. and we have all had our own discriminatory and unfortunate experiences in this nation yet we also have great cultural capital wealth that most people don’t know about because they don’t teach our history in school, unless you actually pay a lot of money and chose to learn about it in college.
As a Latina woman, I’m so proud of my rich history and it’s so empowering and that’s something I make sure to let people know, “sise puede, siempre.”
I’m from Chicago, an extremely segregated city. Seriously, it was and still is so divided by the gangs and ethnic groups. Mexicans live from this block to that block on the southsideand the Puerto Ricans on the north side from this block to that block. And for years, as a kid I though everyone in my school and neighborhood was Mexican! Until I was in 6thgrade and learned what being, Peruvian, Arabic, Dominican and Puerto Rican was, thanks to International Day!
Being Latina also means having social responsibility to my community, and using my voice whenever it’s needed.
9- What do you think about how Latino women are represented in film and television in Hollywood?
Oh wow, I could write a book. Actually, I should write a book about my experiences and interview all my circle of friends. We all know the stereotypes out there, the sexy Latina (good luck playing this if you love tacos!) the housekeeper Latina, (I don’t even like cleaning my own place, so I don’t really play those roles), The tough chola, yes I’ve played them must be the Chicago in me, the nanny, again I don’t play these. The undocumented woman, (one line maybe two, doesn’t speak English, will probably die in the second scene). The tough cops, far and few between.The nurses, hey I have played that and my best friend is a nurse and yes there are a lot of Latina nurses but there are also Latina doctors, lawyers, principals, PHD’s, professors, business owners, reiki healers, bankers, and I’m only talking about in my own family!
I feel like there is always talk about change but then you see the movies out for the year or pilots with Latina roles that could be counted with your fingers and it seems like it was all just talk. No real change. I myself was asked to take a role on a project because I was the only “funny Latina they knew” but I was already super busy so couldn’t do it, so the role went to a non Latina, because according to them “there were no funny Latinas”
10- Any fun anecdotes from set?
When I got to set, I took a pic with the boy playing my son, the very talented Manuel Correa and when my real son saw his picture, he said “wow he looks just like me at that age.” I said, “Yup that’s great casting”!
There were also two beautiful babies there, and at first I thought that they were both going to be in the scene because I do have five kidsin the script. When I saw them I was like “wow, they look like twins.” And this wouldn’t be the first time I play a mother of twins. It’s those good Latina genes, thank you goddess of fertility! Hahaha. Anyhow, then I found out that the two babies were actually playing the same role and then I met their double, a really cute doll. And we had to keep changing each baby out because they would cry every time they would see Judy dressed as a clown! And the only thing that could get them both to calm down was our Producer Anton stepping in and talking to them with squeaky toys, seriously he was like a one manchildren’s show, “Mr. Producer Mom”.
There were so many funny moments where we would all just start busting out laughing,especially the scene with Judy, my grandma and my brother, played by amazingly strong comedic actors, Sheila Korsi and Cuete Yeska. In the scene we were smoking a prop joint and every time I would just look at Judy, I was cracking up inside,
We all were to a point we had to question what was inside of it. But no, it was a prop, the thing was that Judy’s facial expressions were just hilarious, she is hella funny and I didn’t know this until the day of the shoot because during the audition process, it was all serious business but once the cameras rolled it was pure comedic genius magic!
I had a blast and definitely looking forward to doing more comedy because change is here! This is the counternarrative. Latina women, Asian women, women of color, WE, ARE FUNNY! Moms rock!Women rock! Babymama’s UNITE! J