Arriving to Los Angeles about six years ago from Spain, actress Christina Ochoa had plenty of career options to choose from before deciding to roll the dice in Hollywood. She had studied oceanographic engineering, advance marine biology and physics in college, but fell in love with acting the first time she performed on stage.
After small roles in TV shows like “Modern Family” and short-lived ones like “I Hate My Teenage Daughter” and “The Neighbors,” Ochoa, 29, landed a recurring role on the El Rey Network’s series “Matador,” which follows DEA agent-turned-spy Tony Bravo (Gabriel Luna) working undercover as a professional soccer player. In the show, Ochoa plays Karen Morales, Tony’s childhood sweetheart who Ochoa says, “represents the normalcy and stability Tony craves.”
During our interview, Ochoa and I talked about what attracted her to the role of Karen on “Matador” and what someone like co-creator Robert Orci brings to the show since he is mostly known for writing Hollywood tent pole projects. We also discussed her love of science and what she’d like to do in that field if given the opportunity.
How was the transition for you moving from Spain to Los Angeles six years ago?
You know, I was very motivated in growing as an actress and taking classes and auditioning. Culturally, it was a bit of a shock from what I was used to in Spain, but I was very focused professionally and wanted to put all the building blocks together. I go back to Spain maybe twice a year if time allows.
I have to admit, I don’t have El Rey Network and therefore haven’t seen “Matador” yet. So, why should I switch my cable provider and check it out?
(Laughs) It’s just badass! I don’t know another way to say it. It has spies and action and soccer. We have amazing talent like [executive producer] Robert Rodriguez and [co-creator] Bob Orci. There are many reasons you need to be watching.
I’m sure you should be part of that list of reasons. Tell me what it was about the character Karen Morales that made you want to be a part of this series.
Karen is another element of love and family for Tony. She’s written so wonderfully, anyone would die to portray her. Everything in Tony’s life is tumultuous and very complex. I think when he comes back to his family and Karen, who is his childhood sweetheart, she represents going back to the basics for him. [Actor] Gabriel Luna does a phenomenal job of portraying Tony on every part of the spectrum – whether he’s at home or undercover or on the soccer field.
What does it mean to the show to have someone like Robert Orci involved? He has such a blockbuster pedigree with writing credits in franchises like “Star Trek,” “Transformers” and “Spider-Man?” Does it give the show more legitimacy?
I think he provides the baseline for the show. I think a lot of us on the show are new to carrying big roles. I think he sets the tone. It’s very easy for him to lead by example. It’s very inspirational and motivates all of us to do a good job. He makes it so exciting. He is very invested in the show.
Even before “Matador” launched this past July, the network signed the show for a second season. Do you think that’s because producers feel this show is going to be one of the leaders of the network or is it because El Rey really just needs to start building as much content as they can for first few years?
I think it’s two fold. I think it’s unprecedented that even before airing the pilot, we got renewed for Season 2. It was wonderful and exciting news for all of us. But, yeah, El Rey committed and invested in this show and wants to build on their content. They took a lot of care into what they are investing in. This is their baby. They want to make it as good as possible. The critics have been responding so well. It’s a show that targets a very niche audience that hasn’t been targeted before. I think they’re very smart in building on that.
What do you think a network like El Rey is providing to the TV audience that wasn’t there before?
I think the network is for a new generation of Latinos in this country. I think now, no matter where you’re from and what your background is, if you are second generation in the U.S. you probably speak English, but are still reflecting [Latino] customs at home. There hasn’t been a Latin James Bond, so that’s what a show like this does. I think the audience it’s targeting is going to respond to it very well.
Is there something specific you’d like to be doing in this industry? I know you’ve had small roles in a few TV shows in the past, so is TV you’re main focus or is acting in films the ultimate goal?
I want to grow in both mediums. I think before, films and TV were much more segregated. Film actors didn’t cross over to TV that much. Now, with single-camera TV shows, it’s much more cinematic. Many shows have the same quality as film. You can’t tell the difference many times whether you’re watching a film or a TV show. I think I’m just really excited to work with whoever is going to be the next generation of talented, artistic individuals. It easy for me to name the Oscar winners of this year, but I want to work with the Oscar winners 10 years from now.
A couple of the TV shows you’ve had roles in were comedies like “Modern Family” and the short-lived show “Neighbors.” Do you feel comfortable in that genre? Do you think you’re funny?
(Laughs) I don’t think I’m funny, but I have no sense of ridicule and no self-awareness, so I have no problem making fun of myself. Working in comedy sort of envelopes you in laughter. You’re always reworking jokes and doing improv and having fun. I really like working in that environment. I would never consider myself a funny individual, but I definitely think that when talented writers and directors and artists brings the material to the table, I’m willing to take it as far as they need me to go.
You have a very interesting family history. Your great-uncle was a physician and biochemist who won the Nobel Prize in 1959. I know you studied science in college. It that still an important part of your life?
Yeah, I still work in science when my schedule permits. I think science keeps me grounded as a person because it’s familiar to me and somewhat objective compared to acting and auditioning and that process. I tend to think that science keeps me sane. One of the biggest loves of my life is the pursuit of knowledge. So far, science and [acting] have not been incompatible.
Is there a dream job in the science world that could take you away from Hollywood?
I don’t think there is anything that could take me away. I fell in love with acting. At this time in my life, I am completely committed to seeing where acting can take me. I think any dream job would be dictated and determined by the people involved. So, if I got to work on research with [marine biologist] Sylvia Earle on ocean acidification, I would love to do that. But work on “Madator” is a dream job for me, too. It’s the people that make it for me.