In the comedy sequel “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2,’’ actress Daniella Alonso plays Divina Martinez, the straight-edged general manager of Las Vegas’ Wynn Hotel where title character Paul Blart (Kevin James) and his mall cop colleagues hold a national convention and get into some trouble.
“Everything moves smoothly under her command until Paul Blart and all these other mall cops show up,” Alonso, 36, told me during a phone interview last week. “I really liked the character because she has a great arch. She starts off very in control and a little rigid. She runs into Paul and he turns her world upside down.”
During our interview, Alonso, who has starred in such TV shows as “One Tree Hill,” “Friday Night Lights,” and “The Night Shift,” talked about working with James and told me which classic comedy star he reminds her of. She also spoke about her career as a Latina actress and whether or not she got the chance to ride a Segway like her co-star.
Talk about working with Kevin James and sharing some scenes with him. What does he bring to the table as a comedian?
It was wonderful working with him. He has so many ideas. He knows his character inside and out. He’s been working on this script for six years. He knows it better than anyone else. He’s very generous. When you’re working on a scene with him, he gives you so much. He never gives you half of anything. It’s a full performance every single time. He makes sure you’re happy with what you shot. It was very freeing to work with somebody who is so funny. He’s absolutely hysterical. He would make everyone laugh every single day.
A lot of his comedy includes slapstick. Is that kind of comedy something you find entertaining personally?
Yes, of course. He always reminded me of Jackie Gleason. He has that style of humor. It’s his slapstick and his delivery that makes me laugh. I appreciate all kinds of humor. The world needs more of it. I think this film brings that for everybody.
So, what kind of comedy speaks to you the most? What makes you laugh?
I guess I like more of a dry sense of humor. I think “Curb Your Enthusiasm” is one of my favorite shows. I also like the show “The Comeback.” I like shows that are kind of based on reality, but with people that are a little off and quirky and crazy. Those are the kinds of characters that make me laugh.
Were there any opportunities for you on the set to get on a Segway and ride around like Paul Blart?
You know, I’m so bummed because there were, but I was wearing these five-inch stiletto platforms and I was scared of falling off! The last thing I wanted to do was get on the Segway and break my leg. But if we have one at the premiere, I’m getting on it!
Talk about Raini Rodriguez. She’s a young Latina actress in Hollywood. Did you have any advice for her on the set since you started in the industry at the same age she is now?
I love Raini. She is one of my favorite people in the world. She’s so positive and full of energy and life. She makes me smile. She is so talented. I actually went to visit her on the set of her [Disney Channel] show “Austin & Ally” where she directed her first episode. And she’s only 21! She is very inspiring to me. She is a great role model for young girls. If anything, I learned from her.
You’ve worked in a lot of different genres in the last 14 years. How comfortable are you in comedy? Have you figured out all the intricacies of it and how to make something funny?
Comedy is hard. I figured out I have to be the straight person in a comedy because I love to laugh and I love to be entertained. As a straight person in a comedy, you have to be even more serious than you would be in a drama. Kevin is the one that does the humor, but I loved it. I definitely got bit by the comedy bug. What I learned on this set is to always try different things. If it doesn’t work, it’s OK. The most important thing about comedy is to be ready to play.
What have you learned about yourself as an actress over the course of your career?
It’s funny because when I first started, I trained at [the] Lee Strasberg [Theatre and Film Institute]. The teacher told me that it takes 20 years to be a real actor. Back then I thought, “20 years?! No, I need to be an actor now!” But finally I feel like it’s my job. This is my career. I have this confidence now, which is fantastic.
How do you use that confidence moving forward? Is there anything in this industry that you want to do or a dream job you want to book?
I think confidence gives you the freedom to play more. I’ve just given up trying to control things and hope for certain roles. I’m just open to whatever comes my way. If it’s the right thing for me at the right moment, I’ll do it. For me it’s all about the work and never taking it for granted and being in the moment. It’s very fulfilling.
How much more challenging is it as a Latina actress? I’ve interviewed plenty of Latina actresses over the years and some have told me they are pigeonholed all the time. Some have even taken roles they really don’t want to do just because they want to work. Have you gotten to that point where you can say no to things? If so, can you give me an example of something you’ve said no to?
At this point, I want my family to be proud of what I work on. I’ve said no to a couple of films and TV shows with nudity and stuff. I just don’t see the point in it for me. I’ve not done certain projects because of it. In terms of being a Latina, there has definitely been a lot of progress over the course of my career. At the same time, sometimes when I audition for certain things it’s still for the sexy girl that breaks up the couple who’s in love. Or you’re the best friend of the lead role. It’s starting to change though with Jennifer Lopez and Eva Longoria and directors like Guillermo del Toro. There are people who are giving opportunities to other Latino actors. But we still have a ways to go.