Breaking out in the Academy Award-winning film “Precious” in 2009, actress Stephanie Andujar continues to hustle in an industry she loves and is always on the lookout for opportunities to branch out in different directions.
In her latest film, “Marjorie Prime,” a sci-fi drama that stars Lois Smith, Jon Hamm, Geena Davis and Tim Robbins, Andujar, 31, plays Julie, a caretaker for the title character Marjorie (Smith), an octogenarian who finds comfort in conversing with a virtual image of her late husband Walter when he was a younger man (Hamm).
During one emotionally-resonant scene, Julie, a character who is not seen in the original play from which the film is adapted, confides in virtual Walter about conversations she and Marjorie have about growing old and even communicates with him in Spanish.
A few weeks ago, Andujar jumped on the phone with me to talk about her role in “Marjorie Prime,” what helped her develop the character and how she’s still grinding it out in Hollywood after eight years. She also talked about a few new enterprises she has been working on and how it all fits together under the new Andujar label.
How did you come upon this role in “Marjorie Prime?”
Billy Hopkins was the casting director for the film. He also did “Precious” and some other projects that I’ve been in. I guess he thought, “You know, maybe Steph will fit this role. Let me bring her in.” So, I had an audition. I read a few lines for the character. In the play, they only mention my character Julie. You never see her on stage. [Marjorie Prime director] Michael Almereyda, actually wanted to develop her and give her more of a heartbeat and include her in the family dynamic. That’s when my character evolved. Thank goodness he wanted to add another element to the role.
Talk more about that family dynamic. Julie seems like she’s very close to the family, but Geena Davis’ character, Tess, doesn’t seem completely sold on her. How did you see how she fits in that dynamic?
Yeah, I think I’m seen in [Tess’] eyes as a daughter, but then she is also the daughter of Marjorie, too. For me it was like I was trying to gain the love and the attention from a mom that we all want. But then [Tess’] father is there in this way that is artificial, but comforting. I think it’s interesting how our human emotions interact with technology. You can’t help but feel it’s real in some ways.
Since Julie isn’t physically in the original play, how do you go about developing a character like her for the film version? Did you have conversations with Michael about who she is?
Yeah, Michael had this vision for her background where [Julie’s] father passed away. Her Bible and beliefs have been comforting and soothing for her. It’s how she handles her loss and how she copes with it, yet she is trying to share it with Marjorie, but [the family] is not really having that. The director wanted to build on that. I added to her story a little bit, too. I felt she should approach them, but not try to overpower [Marjorie] with her beliefs. It was really interesting, especially [the scene] where she confides in Jon Hamm’s character, Walter. You get to hear a bit more of her backstory and what she’s dealt with.
When I interviewed you for “Precious” back in 2008, you talked to me a little about your own father, who had just passed away. Did you use your own experience to influence your character in any way?
I always think of my father, no matter what – every day of my life. I miss him so much. There were times on set that I was thinking of him. I’m always thinking of him as a guiding force in my life and my family’s life. I always have him in my heart. [Julie’s background] was something I could relate to. I was taking it all in because it was also sad, too, with what was happening with Marjorie’s character. All those dynamics added up to making it emotional for me. Normally, I’m a happy person. With this film, you can have those interjections because it’s normal, but there was this constant feeling like, “This is some heavy material. What we’re dealing with here is pretty deep.”
Now that you’ve been the industry for a few years, does it still feel like a hustle?
(Laughs) Every day is like a hustle! (Singing) Hustlin’, hustlin’. (Laughs) Yeah, man, I feel like it’s always a constant grind. It’s always a constant hustle. You always want to elevate and grow with what you’re doing. That’s why I created a one-woman show on my digital platform (“StephA: One Woman Show”). It’s on YouTube. I went there creatively so I could spread my wings and show my comedic range as well. A lot of the projects I’ve done have been on the dramatic side. So, this [one-woman show] is to show people that I can be funny, too. I wanted to give a little fragment of what my life is like when you see my show.
Do you think creating your own material like you’ve done with “StephA: One Woman Show” is something a lot of young actors need to do to get themselves out there?
Yeah, I’m a firm believer that you should create what you want and do what you want. The resources are there. It’s like the Golden Age of Social Media – of YouTube and of streaming sites. It’s there for us, so do it! It’s a great outlet. It lets you put out content that you hope is received well and people enjoy. I have fans that’ll tell me, “Yo, Steph, I didn’t know you could do this.” Fans are always looking for something, so you never know if something you create is something they would like. Hopefully, it will pop off from there.
Do you want to use the show as a calling card?
Yeah, exactly. It’s a reference for anyone who wants to see my work, including my family. It’s a family effort. It’s under my Andujar Productions, which I created with my family about two years ago. Now, we have a TV show and my brother is helping me produce music videos. My mother and sister are producers, too. Your family is your most honest critics. They’ll give it to you straight. You can always take their word. My mom is my manager now because she’s my biggest fan.
What else do you do to get your creative juices flowing?
I sew. My grandmother gave me a sewing machine, so I’ve been sewing away! I’ve been making garments. I like to dress up and feel a little fancy. I actually sewed a dress for the “Marjorie Prime” premiere that was in August. My sister has a fashion design background, so I guess it’s in our blood that we know how to sew. My sister helped with the pattern and design for the dress and I sewed it myself. We pulled it together for the premiere. It came out great. [Sewing] is something I want to keep on developing. It’s a lot of fun.
So, if you’re on the red carpet wearing something you made and a reporter asked you, “Who are you wearing?” do you say, “Stephanie Andujar?”
Yeah, it’s actually Andujar Couture because it’s by me and my sister. The tops that I make are more just me, so that would be part of the StephA Collection. But for the dresses, Andujar Couture is going to be the moniker for it.
What celebrities would you like to dress in the future?
Everybody! I’m happy if anybody wears my stuff. I would be so honored. I make my dog clothes, too! I would be so excited. It’s for everybody and anybody.
Oscar nominations are coming in a few weeks. If not enough minorities are nominated, do you think we’re going to get another #OscarsSoWhite backlash?
I just hope the right people are represented no matter what background you come from. I base it on talent and the best performance. It shouldn’t be about anything else. I do want more Latinos and minorities to come and shine and bring their projects to the table, so that way they can help the next generation. If you’ve got the talent and you can perform, shine, no matter where you come from. If one day I can be there to rep Latinos, I’d be happy. It would be an honor. I may not win, but I’m here for my people.