Selenis Leyva – Spider-Man: Homecoming

July 7, 2017 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

After a handful of seasons as a recurring character and then a series regular on “Orange is the New Black,” Selenis Leyva – the half-Cuban, half-Dominican actress who plays inmate Gloria Mendoza on the Netflix original series – is starting to turn more heads, and has found herself in one of the biggest blockbusters of the summer.

While her role in the newest Marvel Studios film “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is a small one, Leyva is not taking anything for granted. She realizes movies like this don’t come too often, and takes pride in the fact that filmmakers saw something in her that resonated with their vision for the reboot of the franchise.

In “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” Leyva plays Ms. Warren, a high school physics teacher whose student, Peter Parker (Tom Holland), is coming to terms with the responsibilities he has adopted as superhero Spider-Man, which include battling a villain known as the Vulture (Michael Keaton) as he tries to annihilate the world. In the original comic, Ms. Warren is actually portrayed as a male science teacher.

Easily the funniest of all the Spider-Man films, “Homecoming” also feels more genuine than the others for the simple fact that Holland, despite being 21 years old, portrays Spider-Man as a real teenager with real teenage problems. Holland is not some actor in his late 20s, as was the case in past movies starring Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield, and it shows.

The authenticity of the film is strong, especially during Peter’s interactions with his fellow students at school, a setting that is important in keeping with Peter’s boyish character makeup. As Peter’s teacher, Leyva adds to that sense of community. She is someone looking out for the best interests of her students. In one particularly funny scene, Ms. Warren catches Peter’s nerdy best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) secretly hacking away in a computer lab during the homecoming dance. When she asks Ned what he is doing, he makes up the worst possible lie any kid could give an adult in that situation.

During a recent interview with me, we asked Leyva about her new film and if she feels “OITNB” has given her more opportunities as an actress. We also discussed the latest season of “OITNB” and how her character has evolved over the last five years.

Do you think OITNB has opened more doors for you in Hollywood?

Absolutely! “OITNB” has propelled my career and given me a wonderful platform so people could pay attention. I’m still the same actress that I was before “Orange,” but now people are more interested in me because of the platform that I have. Now with this movie, “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” I certainly feel an even a bigger platform has opened for me. I’m so happy and fortunate that Marvel and Sony decided to open up the possibility of this character being a Latina woman. It’s such a wonderful cast. It’s really, truly diverse.

What was your relationship like with Marvel growing up?

What kid doesn’t obsess over Marvel and superheroes? For me, it was huge. I have to tell you, my family is very excited that I’m a part of this film. They think I’m cool! It’s like I have street cred now.

Would you like to see a Latina superhero movie happen?

I know that’s next. I think that’s what we’re winding ourselves up for. We’re seeing it with African-American superheroes. It would be nice to see a Latina superhero. Latin women are strong and fierce and devoted and have superhuman strength already. When I was little, I always thought my mother was a superhero with everything that she did. She always had everything in control. I had a superhero mom.

How did you prepare for your more emotional scenes during Season 5 of “OITNB?”

I focused on the moment. Gloria has been such a huge part of my life for the last five years. I love her and I’ve grown to really feel for her. The actress in me really takes her story line to heart. It was really easy for me to go there as a mother myself and feel the character’s pain. What I’ve always wanted to do as an actress, no matter what role I played, is to be authentic, to be real and to be natural. This season, I was able to showcase a little bit more of my talents on the show. I’m really grateful for it and feel really fortunate that it was such a strong character.

Since snacks play such an important role in Season 5, what snacks do you prefers the most: Hot Cheetos or Takis?

Oh my God! I was all about Cheetos, but after shooting Season 5, my daughter got me into Takis. They’re amazing! They burn you. They stain you even more than Cheetos. But I have to tell you, putting them together is a good combination – Hot Cheetos and Takis. You just made my mouth water.

How do you feel Gloria has changed in Season 5?

We’re showing a more vulnerable side of Gloria. Gloria has been the one that takes care of everyone. She’s strong. We’ve already seen her be sassy. We’ve seen that side of her. I love the fact [the writers] peeled all that back and exposed her the way they did this season. As an actress, I felt so fortunate to be able to go to different places with the character since Season 1. She fell apart this season because she was focused so much on her personal life, but I have a feeling we’re going to go back to a more ferocious Gloria Mendoza.

When do you start shooting Season 6 and what are you looking forward to the most?

There is no start date [for filming] right now, but I know it’s going to be somewhere between the last week of July and sometime in August. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens after the chaos of Season 5 and having all these key characters in a dangerous position. People are getting on buses and we don’t know if we’ll ever see them again. We don’t know what happens when all those men with guns go through those doors. I can tell you that [show creator] Jenji Kohan is not afraid to get really down and dirty. So, I have a feeling Season 6 is going to start with a bang!

Selenis Leyva – Orange is the New Black (Netflix)

September 6, 2013 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

In the newest Netflix-exclusive series “Orange is the New Black,” actress Selenis Leyva plays Gloria Mendoza, one of the many inmates in a women’s federal prison in Litchfield, NY. The show centers on Piper Chapman (Taylor Shilling), a Connecticut woman serving 15 months for transporting drug money for her drug-dealer girlfriend (Laura Prepon). During our interview, Leyva, 41, talked about working with a cast that is predominantly female and how much she knows about Season 2, which she is currently shooting.

What attracted you to the role of Gloria Mendoza?

Well, initially I didn’t even know there was a Gloria Mendoza in the script to be honest with you. I had auditioned for another role and didn’t get that one. A couple weeks later I was called and they told me through my manger that I was offered the role of Gloria. Of course, I didn’t know what that meant, but I knew I had to be on board. I hadn’t even read the entire pilot, but I knew it was going to be really good. So, I took the role without knowing too much about the character.

Is there anything specific about the women in this prison you can identify with?

Well, I grew up in New York where there is such a different variety of people. That’s the beauty of this show. There is no cookie-cutter [characters]. There’s a story for everyone. I thought it was wonderful to come into this world. It’s relatable.

What is the dynamic like on the set with a cast that is mostly women?

(Laughs) Well, it’s interesting because I always thought a cast full of women could get a little nuts, but it’s a wonderful, sisterly environment. It’s like we’re in a college dorm or some kind of sorority house. We laugh and share stories. It’s a wonderful place of support. I’ve never experienced that. I’ve never been on a show that has been predominantly women. It’s great to show the industry it works. Women do sell. We do have power.

Something I really found refreshing about the series is that it shows the women in a raw light. No one is wearing makeup. You can see everyone’s flaws. Do you think that’s important for audiences to see?

(Laughs) I have to laugh because it’s really hard for us to come in with any lipstick or mascara on and then have to wipe it off. We come in with a blemish and they’re like, “We’re going to highlight that blemish!” I think there is something very vulnerable about that. But it’s the real world. We’re not trying to make it pretty. If we’re going to do a show about women who are incarcerated, we’re not going to sugarcoat it. As actors, it’s a very vulnerable place to go. But for the audience, these imperfections are welcoming and refreshing.

Netflix has had some success with its exclusive shows like “House of Cards” and “Arrested Development” and now “Orange is the New Black.” Do you think releasing TV series in this format has staying power?

I think so. I think back to what HBO did a few years ago when they shook it up for mainstream television. I think Netflix is introducing a new way of showcasing talent and putting out programs. [“Orange is the New Black”] is always going to be part of that. People will look back at this time and think, “Netflix changed television.” I think it’s brilliant what they’ve done. It works for people. It works for the busy mother or someone who works all the time that doesn’t have time to go home and worry about setting the DVR. You can watch this show at your leisure. You have control. That’s what it’s about nowadays.

Are you the kind of Netflix viewer that is going to watch a show like this in one sitting or will you watch an entire season little by little?

Well, I watched “House of Cards” in three days – and only in three days because I had other responsibilities like my daughter. I couldn’t just sit there and watch the entire season in just one sitting. It took me two days with “Orange is the New Black.” But having more control now is great. It gets people more involved.

How do you think you would fare in the prison system yourself? Would you go in with your head down and keep to yourself or do you think you’d want to make sure everyone knew who you were by fighting the toughest woman on the cell block?

(Laughs) If I had to go in [to prison], I’d have to go in as the baddest woman in the system. I would have to let [the other prisoners] known not to mess with me. I would put a show on. It would be my Oscar performance. I think the toughest survive. You have to link up to the strongest and make sure you’re friends with them. I would have to play the game if I wanted to survive.

What would you miss the most about the outside world?

I couldn’t even imagine not being able to take long, hot showers or wear makeup whenever I wanted or shave my underarms. There are certain things people take for granted. I appreciate freedom now even more.

How far are you into shooting the second season?

We are just wrapping up the third episode of the season. We don’t know much. Like the first season, they’re keeping everything very hush-hush. It’s kind of like Christmas when we get a new script every other weekend. The writers are doing a great job of keeping everything fresh. It’s absolutely amazing. I’ve never been in such awe of writers before. I don’t want to know what’s going to happen to be honest with you. I like Christmas! Give me a gift every other weekend and I’m good.

In the first season we saw some flashbacks that give the audience a backstory for certain characters. Do you hope we get to see that for Gloria in Season 2?

I think it would be great for every actor on the show. Who doesn’t want more screen time? But just being a part of this groundbreaking show is so amazing. If I get a backstory, wonderful. If I don’t, that’s OK, too. Whatever they give me, I will take happily because my life has been changed in the best way by this show.

Do you have a backstory in your head you’ve been using on your own to get into your character?

You know, when I came into this I had to be like, “OK, I’m going to be a clean slate.” As an actress, there are thinks you have to create in your mind, but even recently the writers told me something they were thinking and I was like, “How interesting because I was thinking the exact opposite.” So, we’re really creating as we go. But our writers really listen to us. They want our input. They ask us questions. They’re open to our suggestions and creating as a team.