Jessica Pimentel: An Inside Puerto Plata Exclusive Interview With OITNB’s Multi-Talented Star

Dominican-American actress, Jessica Pimentel, has a leading role on the hit Netflix series, Orange Is The New Black, a recurring role on Person of Interest, is the lead singer of Alekhine’s Gun and is a classically trained violinist. In other words, anything Jessica touches surely turns to gold. This gorgeous and talented graduate of La Guardia High School for the Performing Arts has worked very hard in the entertainment industry, paying her dues and gaining well-deserved success.

Inside Puerto Plata had the opportunity to catch up with this incredible talent and learn more about what drives Ms. Pimentel.

We were shocked to hear that prior to OITNB, you were considering putting acting on hold. I bet you are glad you held out a little bit longer. Can you tell us about your OITNB audition process and how you came across the role?

Jessica: I had auditioned for Orange, but for a different part. I had been called back a couple times, but didn’t get the part. I really didn’t think it was going anywhere, since I did not get the part. I was also auditioning for another show and I didn’t get that part either. I felt like I was done with acting and that I was never going to make it. I was tired and told my manager I wanted to take a break. I was considering taking a well-paid job with Microsoft at this point.

My manager said she had one last audition for me, and it was for Orange, but it was for a different part, a character named Maria. I was like, [laughing] “Of course it is, another Latina part”. Then she told me that Maria was pregnant, and I was like, (laughing) “Of course she is, another pregnant Latina part”. And then she told me that Maria is pregnant and in jail, and I was like, [laughing] “Of course, pregnant, Latina and in jail”. Typical stereotype. When I auditioned I didn’t expect anything to come out of it. I thought it was a good audition, but didn’t want to get my hopes up. A day or two later, I got the part and started working almost immediately.

Now that season 3 is out (and amazing), OITNB fans were shocked and saddened when Yadriel made it clear he would not be bringing Maria’s daughter back. How did you draw such raw emotion on this subject? You did a phenomenal job! 

Jessica: Thank you so much. Pepa is Maria’s reason for living. It is her hope that gets her through. I believe we all have some kind of hope that gets us through difficult times whether it’s your faith, the love of a child, a promise of a reward at the end of the road… [Yadriel] took her hope away. 

Jessica sees similarities between her character, Maria, and her own mother. “They’re both tough yet sweet”. From an early age, Jessica’s mother, Loida, encouraged her to always work hard and think big, which is exactly what Jessica has done. Upon learning of Jessica’s SAG nomination, her mother remarked, “I told you you’re going to make it”.

How do you feel season 3 differed most from the other two seasons?

Jessica: I really loved all the layers of interaction and the mingling of people who never spoke before. I think this season is beautiful. I am so proud of it.

Aside from acting, Jessica is a violinist and metal and hardcore musician extraordinaire. We asked Jessica when her musical talents began.

Jessica: I started as a classical violinist at a very young age. I literally would eat, sleep and breathe violin.

While attending her performing arts junior high school, Jessica enrolled in an acting program, which gave her a break from her intensive music regimen. However, while at La Guardia High School for the Performing Arts she found out that she was experiencing nerve and tissue damage in her hands and wrists, which led her to audition for, and get accepted to the full theater program.

Alekhine’s Gun is an amazing metal band. What do you feel has been the secret to your success?

Jessica: I don’t want to do anything other than what I am doing. I feel the key is to absolutely LOVE what you do. Be true to yourself and your integrity. Listen to your heart and have patience and remember there is no finish line. The ups and downs are all part of the journey

If you had to choose between music or acting, what would your choice be and why?

Jessica: I couldn’t choose one over the other. I love them both; they are both such a large part of my life and who I am.

You have a very impressive acting range. What are some roles you would like to see yourself playing in the future?

Jessica: I would love to get into some darker roles; some Sci-Fi and Thriller type of roles.

Since you are so incredibly busy with your acting and music careers, when you do find spare time, and how do you like to spend it? 

Jessica: For Orange Is The New Black, I work a few days and then I’m off a couple days, so I am able to use the time I am off to recover, and also review the next script.

You have been very involved in several charitable causes. What causes in particular would you like to shine a light on?

Jessica: The Women’s Prison Association does amazing work in helping women get their lives back after jail. Meeting the staff and the women they help has been key for me to help create the role of Maria. These women are true heroes and role models.

Are there any projects you are currently working on that you can share with us?

Jessica: Season 4 [of Orange Is The New Black] is already filming!!

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Jessica: I don’t…. I just see today. And today I am the luckiest woman on earth.

 

Jessica Pimentel Facebook: TheCrusher007
Jessica Pimentel Instagram: @TheCrusher007
Jessica Pimentel Twitter: @TheCrusher007

Alekhine’s Gun Website: Alekhine’s Gun
Alekhine’s Gun Facebook: 
AlekhinesGun
Alekhine’s Gun Instagram: 
@AlekhinesGun1
Alekhine’s Gun Twitter: 
@AlekhinesGun

Selenis Leyva: OITNB’s Queen Of The Kitchen Dishes On Her Hit Show, Charitable Causes And Her Dominican Roots

Our exclusive interview with the very beautiful and talented Selenis Leyva left no stone unturned. Ms. Leyva, who plays the fierce and formidable Gloria Mendoza on Orange Is The New Black, sheds some light on her character this season, dishes on what it’s like on set, and inspires us all to be our best selves.

Your character Gloria is sassy and brazen, a fierce protector of her family and her prison family. Since taking on the role of Gloria, do you see women in prison in a different light?

Selenis: I totally do and if you’re not in it you tend to forget and not pay attention to the “others” around us. It’s because as we move through life if we’re not experiencing something firsthand we don’t really care. That’s the honesty of it. For me, now having had three seasons on this show and also talking to women who have been in prison, and who are currently serving time, I really see them differently. There is no difference between me and a woman behind bars today because we are all one mistake away from being on that side.

Can you tell Inside Puerto Plata what the average day for you is like on the set of Orange Is The New Black?

Selenis: We start off by getting really stripped down; no makeup, they strip us of any cuteness you could possibly possess. If you come in with a zit that’s a good day because they’ll highlight that pimple. We have an amazing hair and makeup department. [Laughing] I always say that they get paid to make us look bad, which is so different from any other show I’ve ever worked on. We get on set very early and we order our breakfast. We always chat; there’s never a moment that you’re not having a conversation in someone’s dressing room, in the hallway, in the makeup chair. Everyone is very chatty on that set. We’re all women and there’s so many of us and we don’t get to see each other all the time. It really is like a really boisterous sorority filled with lots of fun and love.

What can fans expect from Gloria in season 3?

Selenis: We are going to see Gloria in a very different light than we have so far and that’s the beauty of the writing; it’s very complex and they really start peeling back the layers. The beauty of season 3 for Gloria is that we’re going to see a different side of her, perhaps even more vulnerable. We’re definitely going to see what this woman is really made of and what she really cares about. I think that’s going to be very prominent this year and I’m excited about that. For all of the characters we’re just really diving deeper into everyone and just when you think you know someone, you don’t, which is the beauty of this show.

You are incredibly busy with a very successful acting career, and you are a mother as well. When do you find free time for yourself and how do you like to spend it? 

Selenis: My free time, believe it or not, is on my couch watching Lifetime Television because I don’t get to do that enough. I’m so fortunate to be so busy; I’m either on a set, doing an interview, I’m doing an event, I’m at my daughter’s school watching her play basketball or taking her to lessons, or running around. So when I get to just sit at home with my daughter, with my cat and my dog, and the TV and a glass of wine that’s a really good day. I really do sometimes miss my home so whenever I can be just home in sweats, no makeup and messy hair I love it.

You’ve had the acting bug from a young age. What advice do you have for young women who are interested in pursuing acting in theater, television, or film?

Selenis: You have to really be your own cheerleader. You have to in this business and you have to believe in yourself. Especially for women of color, you’ll have more people saying you can’t than you can. The beautiful thing about acting is that you can become whoever you want to. And that’s why I fell in love with the idea that I can be a villain in one moment and a damsel in distress in the next or a prisoner and then turn around and be a governor; I love that.

For young women, whatever you decide to be in life, not just in the arts, but if you want to be a doctor, a lawyer, the president of the United States, you can. There are so many more opportunities for us today than there ever have been in history and we really have to take advantage of it and prepare ourselves for the naysayers. For me, every time someone says no, that ignites a fire in me and I just want to prove them wrong. I always say to go about your business to prove people wrong.

Your father is Cuban and your mother is Dominican, and you were born and raised in the Bronx. Can you tell us what it was like growing up in a Cuban and Dominican household in NY?

Selenis: A Cuban and Dominican household in NY at the time that I was being raised was rare. You were either Puerto Rican or you were nothing. That’s how it was in the Bronx because there was a huge population of Puerto Rican people. My friends were all Puerto Rican and then Dominicans started coming in during the late 1980s/early 1990s. I saw people who sounded like my relatives [that lived] in the Dominican Republic and I felt like I wasn’t alone. It was also hard, however, because at the time the Puerto Rican community wasn’t united with the Dominican community. Since I was born here and raised amongst the Puerto Rican community they would forget that I was not one of them. I’m so happy that has changed but at the time I would hear really unflattering things about Dominicans.

I had a lot of Cuban relatives that lived in New Jersey and we would always get together on the weekends and listen to Cuban music and eat the wonderful Cuban food that was being prepared. I’m so proud of being a Latina; I’m so proud of being Dominican, Cuban and I feel Puerto Rican too because I was raised within that beautiful community that I have so much respect for and love. Gloria Mendoza is Puerto Rican and she came from that life that I had in the Bronx.

Do you travel to the Dominican Republic often? If so, when was the last time you were there to visit and/or vacation?

Selenis: I haven’t been there in the last four years because my time hasn’t allowed me. I do want to go before the end of this year; that is a must. 2015 cannot roll by without me stepping once again into my beautiful country and enjoying my family, the music, and the food. It’s just so beautiful and the people are so lovely and inviting and I’m just so proud of it. I would love to go back and see my family. My family hasn’t seen me since the blowup of Orange Is The New Black!

We know that you have your hand in many charitable causes, including Gabrielle’s Angel Foundation, The Doe Foundation and you are devoted to LGBT rights. Is there one particular charity or cause that is close to your heart that you’d like to bring more awareness to?

Selenis: I’ve associated myself with specific things that have affected me – that I have personal ties to. I have a sister who is transgender. My best friend is a gay male and I’ve always felt like I needed to advocate for them and to make sure that they are taken care of. So that’s a passion of mine. Cancer research is key and unfortunately we lose too many people to this disease. My brother is a two-time cancer survivor and my father was diagnosed with skin cancer recently and luckily we got it in time. The LGBT community and cancer research are really at the top of my list because they’re so personal to me.

You must be incredibly proud to star on a show with the very talented Laverne Cox, who has been a voice for so many in the transgender community.

Selenis: When I met Laverne I knew that she would be a voice and really show another side of the transgender community. She’s been able to do it in a smart, eloquent, and poised manner and she’s been crucial to the changes that are occurring right now. I really appreciate everything that she’s been able to achieve at this critical time.

What would you like to do that you haven’t yet – maybe writing, directing or producing?

Selenis: I have two scripts that I have hidden here that I’m always working on and it would be wonderful to bring that forth in the next year or two. The idea of directing is really something that I’m looking forward to doing. It would be great to direct one of my own pieces and see my vision come forth.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Selenis: In ten years I see myself making a move to Malibu although I love New York City. I see myself directing, producing, and acting and I think I see myself with a couple of little awards added to my mantel.

Instagram: @selenisleyvaofficial
Twitter: 
@selenis_leyva

Inside Puerto Plata’s Exclusive Interview with OITNB’s Rising Star Dascha Polanco

D.Polanco 5It is undeniable that Dascha Polanco is experiencing well-deserved, whirlwind success and loving every minute of it. Dascha was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and raised in Brooklyn, New York to parents who instilled in her a sense of pride in her Dominican heritage. “I always say that I am so thankful that my parents kept the culture alive in my household. I’ve always been proud of my nationality and as a student, I was able to take dual language courses. While growing up, I was so proud to be Dominican and now that I am older I am also very proud of being American.”

The energy and excitement Ms. Polanco brought to her interview was palpable, contagious and heartwarming. Inside Puerto Plata spoke with this bold and courageous actress about what viewers can expect this season on Orange Is The New Black, her personal style, and where she sees her career going in the future.

When you auditioned for Orange Is The New Black you were working at a hospital. Once you knew that you were awarded the part of Dayanara Diaz, can you tell us how life changed for you?

Dascha: I was told that my life was going to change and I embraced the fact that I was being given the opportunity to do what I’ve always wanted to do. [Despite that] I still held on to my job and nursing school because at the time I thought that I was just going to be adding something fun to my life. Once the show became popular and people started recognizing me, that was when the path was cleared and I was allowed to focus on one thing or career.

Your character, Daya, is quiet and shy, yet a fierce protector of her family and struggles with doing what’s right. During your more emotional scenes, where do you pull from?

Dascha: In life we don’t think our emotions; the environment affects our response to it. When shooting an emotional scene, I allow the feeling to come to me. With my roles, I create the background for each character and then I react to the background that I’ve created. Since Daya is incarcerated and has a totally complicated relationship with her mother, I can’t fall into judging Daya because I wouldn’t be able to portray her in a genuine way. It’s very important for me to portray her with no bias.

Can you tell our readers what the average day on set of Orange Is The New Black is like?

Dascha: It’s fun! I love getting into hair and makeup and I love wearing the pregnant belly every day. I get to interact with other cast members in the dressing rooms and on set and I get to work with different directors. I personally did not know the impact the show would have and so I was on set learning so many things, from the different camera lenses that are used to how sets are created. Observing the whole process of creating the show was just amazing and now that we’re in season 3 and I’ve gained some experience I’m able to play more yet still have that level of curiosity.

Can you give Inside Puerto Plata any insight into season 3 and what fans can expect from Daya?

Dascha: Orange Is the New Black is produced in a way that maintains the success of the show by keeping the same formula of using character backstories. I don’t have a backstory this season but the show is revisiting some of the other characters’ backstories. This season my character, Daya, is pregnant and dealing with the drama of two men being in love with her. She’s hormonal and still learning how to deal with her life. She’s also learning how to become a woman even through her incarceration. I think my work has reached another level this season and hopefully the fans will enjoy how much effort and authenticity I bring to the role. I want to really keep it honest, real, and relatable.

Can you tell us about other projects you are currently working on?

Dascha: I’m in an upcoming movie called “Joy” with a legendary cast starring Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, and Bradley Cooper. Working with them has pushed my love for acting a huge step further and challenged me in a very good way. It’s so good to work with such talented and experienced individuals and I’m really looking forward to this journey with them and seeing where it leads.

You are incredibly busy. When do you have free time to yourself and how do you like to spend it?

Dascha: I have become a little bit more private with my personal life and I don’t expose my children or my romantic life at all. But I do like to go home and just spend time doing things together with my family like ice-skating or going to the museum or just cooking them a home-cooked Dominican meal. Socially, I like to go out with my friends. I like to dance and travel and I love music.

Your style is amazing and you are extremely cutting edge. How would you describe your style and who are some of your favorite designers?

Dascha: Style for me is emotional; what I wear is all about my mood and how I’m feeling. I’m so open about embracing different styles, cuts, and accessories and my stylist does a great job dressing my curvaceous body. Oscar de la Renta, Michael Costello, Houghton [by Katharine Polk] are some of my favorites. I love brands that know how to dress a woman with curves.

What advice do you have for young women who are interested in pursuing acting in theater, television, or film?

Dascha: Growing up I limited myself. I would look in the mirror and put myself down; I felt that I was not good enough because of how I looked physically. My advice to young women is to love yourself and to take the time to learn to love yourself. The moment that I started focusing on my heart and not how I looked is the moment everything changed for me.

Since rising to fame, what stands out as the most exciting experience you’ve had thus far?

Dascha: Having Meryl Streep acknowledge me and say that my work was fantastic was so unexpected and so surreal. I started to cry because I was just so emotional and it was so special.

In addition to reveling in the emotions that come with the compliments from a heavy hitter such as Meryl Streep, Ms. Polanco also feels very strongly about helping others and bringing awareness to cyber bullying.

Dascha: Helping people feeds my soul and at the moment I have not dedicated myself 100% to one charity but I do offer my services to many charities. I have a young daughter and one issue that I am very sensitive to is cyber bullying. My daughter’s friend committed suicide because she was being bullied on [a major social media platform] and it worries me how much criticism and bullying affects young kids’ lives. It’s very serious and I am very focused on teaching methods of self-confidence and self-assurance to young people.

Where would you like to see yourself in ten years?

Dascha: In ten years I see myself with a heavy resume and with lots of work and experience in film and TV. I am the first in my family and I don’t have anyone in the industry that helped me up. I’m very business oriented and I’m blessed to be able to do what I love. I’d like to have a perfume line and work with a clothing designer. I have had the opportunity to meet so many people from around the world and I believe that opportunity has helped me to become a better person. I would love to be able to say that I’ve helped to open up doors for other Dominicans, Latinos, and women.

Facebook: Dascha Polanco
Instagram: 
@SheIsDash
Twitter: 
@SheIsDash

 

Laura Gómez: Inside Puerto Plata’s Exclusive Interview with OITNB’s Most Mysterious Star

Laura Gómez, of Orange Is The New Black fame, dons many hats in her professional life. In addition to being a talented and multi-faceted actress, Laura is also an accomplished writer, filmmaker, and producer. It was at the age of nine years old while living in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic that Laura realized that she wanted to be an actress.

Inside Puerto Plata caught up with Ms. Gómez to discuss her career, Orange Is The New Black, her Dominican heritage and personal interests. You were born in New Jersey and raised in Santo Domingo. Can you tell Inside Puerto Plata about your upbringing in the Dominican Republic? Laura: My father is actually from Puerto Plata and he had a vision of starting a business in the Dominican Republic. I was two years old when we left New Jersey and moved to Santo Domingo. Living in the Dominican Republic has given me a strong connection to my roots and for me it has been an essential part of my work and has opened many doors.

What are some of your fondest memories of Puerto Plata?

Laura: We would go to Puerto Plata religiously because my grandparents lived there. Part of my family tradition was to visit Puerto Plata every Christmas and two or more times per year and in a way it was to stay connected. It was always important to both my mom and dad that we know where we came from.

Have you been back to the Dominican Republic or Puerto Plata recently?

Laura: I haven’t been back to Puerto Plata in quite a while because my trips to the Dominican Republic are so brief. I have been back to Santo Domingo because my parents, my brother, and my four month old nephew, who I love, still live there.

You are a very established and very talented actress, writer, and producer. Since Orange Is The New Black is such a huge hit, has life changed for you since starring in the show?

Laura: Oh yes! I can’t deny that Orange Is The New Black has opened a big door into the industry that I was fighting to get into. When I started to write and direct my first two short films, it was precisely to create new roles that I can work in because the roles at that time were a bit limited. Orange Is The New Black has definitely played a part in what my career has come to be and now I have to keep walking through that door that has opened.

Let’s talk about Blanca Flores, your character on Orange Is The New Black. She is a bit scary sometimes and you are beautiful and outgoing and so opposite your character. Was it hard to channel your role?

Laura: [laughing] Thank you! It really is liberating to play Blanca because there is no level of vanity that I can bring. It’s like a gift to an actor to be able to physically transform like that and just let it be. Also, I’m driven by curiosity of where this role is going to be taken because there is still a sense of who the hell is Blanca? The beauty of this character is that there are so many layers to her. What the audience, and even what I thought Blanca was, she’s actually not. I haven’t had the experience that Blanca has had in prison and so I think it’s easier for this type of person to not deal with her reality and to act crazy and to be left alone.

From a fan point of view, the entire cast has communicated the hardships of women in prison very well. Has taking on the role of Blanca changed your idea of women in prison?

Laura: Yes, not only my role but also the show itself has changed my idea of women in prison. I am more conscious of this and other issues within the prison system and its injustices. Also, I am more politically informed on how [the prison system] involves minorities at such a high level.

Because of the show, we have been connected with the Women’s Prison Association, a non-profit organization that helps women in prison readjust in society. The system can be unjust to women who have minor crimes, like the characters in our show, and I have been educated a lot on it.

When you’re filming a scene as your character Blanca, is it directly off the script, or are you doing a lot of improvising as well?

Laura: In the show Blanca speaks Spanish so I’m allowed to improvise on the script and adapt it to how I think Blanca would say it in Dominican Spanish. There is a lot of freedom for us to be true to what we think our characters’ truth is and it really is a gift for us as actors that we get to work with wonderful material and make it ours.

We are hoping to learn about Blanca’s backstory. Can you give us any insight into season 3 of Orange Is The New Black and what may be in store for Blanca?

Laura: [laughing] I always joke that Jenji [Kohan] is going to come here and get me so there’s not much I can say. There are new characters this season that are coming and bringing drama to the prison. Also, there will be people in the gang who will be interacting with people you wouldn’t expect.

In her spare time, Ms. Gómez enjoys going to the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), a place she says is a source of inspiration. “I love New York; I have a love affair with the city and I like to spend time outdoors. One of the pleasures for me is discovering new restaurants that are out of this world. I enjoy simple things.”

Can you shed light on what upcoming projects you will be working on?

Laura: The much anticipated premiere of Orange Is The New Black, of course. I’m a part of the cast of an original HBO original mini-series called “Show Me A Hero”, which was created by David Simon, the creator of “The Wire”, and directed by Paul Haggis. That’s going to be an amazing mini-series. I’m also in the cast of a film called “Daughter of God” starring Keanu Reeves, Ana de Armas, and Mira Sorvino, which is also coming out this year. There is the short film “The Iron Warehouse”, which I directed and co-produced and that is also going to be ready this year, so 2015 is going to be an active year.

In addition to her involvement with the Women’s Prison Association, Laura brings awareness to other charities and causes, including staying connected to the LGBT community and emphasizing the importance of education through The DREAM Project, a non-profit organization that promotes access to quality education for children in the Dominican Republic.

Is there anything in the future that you see yourself doing that you haven’t done yet and would like to pursue?

Laura: I want to grow as a filmmaker. I am very passionate about pursuing filmmaking and am on a mission. I think we need more women and minorities behind the camera directing films. I am a big fan of Latin American films and believe it’s important to have Latino films that showcase what it is to be Latino from our perspective. I’m almost finished writing another short film that I am also directing. The film will be in Spanish and filmed in the Dominican Republic.

When asked where she sees herself in ten years, Laura’s goals are to be an established actor with “a feature film or two or three” and working as a film director.

Inside Puerto Plata will certainly be on the look out for Laura’s upcoming short film, “The Iron Warehouse” and all her future projects.

Website: lauragomez.net
Facebook: 
@Laura Gomez Official
Instagram: 
@lg_lauragomez
Twitter: 
@lg_lauragomez

Photo: Michael Jaffe Photography