What it means to be a grown-up is usually tied to responsibilities in a very structured way. Often, we disregard or even try to repress the fact that regardless of our age, we will always have dreams, play, and enhance the discovery of new things. Seeing the world through the eyes of a child allows us to apply the innocence and joy we have within us to our lives.
Elena Sanchez is a German-born artist with a Spanish father and a German mother who studied acting in New York and London and currently lives and works in the US. Elena says, “Honestly, I think I’m still that 12-year-old dorky girl trying to find her way in the world. That’s still how I feel on the inside. And even though I’ve traveled all over the world, held various jobs, and met a variety of people, deep down, I still feel like that little girl who is often unsure of herself. I like to think of myself as a third culture kid, which means I grew up in a country other than the one I was born in, and my parents are also of a different culture. So, I am a mixture of completely different cultures. And in a way, sometimes, it’s made me feel like I have no home. But then I realized that everywhere is home, and I can make everywhere home. It sounds cliche, but home is where the heart is. Having those experiences of living and studying in so many different places has made me very adaptable to new environments, new personalities, and new people in new cultures. So, I’m definitely very comfortable anywhere. Early in my career, I moved to New Orleans because it was a good place to gain some experience in a market with a lot of filming going on and not a lot of actors, compared to Los Angeles. So, it was easier for me to get my foot in the door there. I moved there not knowing a single soul and made it my home as well as my workplace. I was there for several years, and I believe it has strengthened my ability to adapt.”
Discovering new cultures and connecting with diverse people representing different habits, languages, and ways of responding to life is enriching and opens new horizons for us to understand not only them but also ourselves. Actors’ ability to explore different perspectives through their characters is in the essence of their craft. “That’s probably what helped me or made my career as an actor more interesting to me because I love studying different people and different personalities, as well as meeting new people. In a way, acting or making movies is just that. So I get to do something that I enjoy while also getting paid for it,” Elena shares.
We often refer to winning or succeeding in something from the standpoint of competition. In sports, we congratulate those who are the winners or considered the best. And, as in any other professional field, success in the entertainment industry, for example, is often only celebrated when someone gets the role for which they auditioned, focusing all of our attention on the goal as a destination. But when the process becomes the destination, then we celebrate the not less valuable gift boxes along the way. Afterward, the rest becomes a bonus because we know we will always aim for a fuller experience, and we will always want something more.
“My career is very competitive. But I’ve kind of come to realize that I am my own competition. So, if I start comparing myself to other people, it projects this negative downward energy, which really has no point because, for example, in my job, I audition all the time, and a lot of times, I don’t hear anything. But it’s not necessarily because you weren’t good enough; it could be because you reminded the producer of his ex-wife, or you were three inches too short, and anything in between—just things that are completely out of your control. All you can really do is keep putting in the work, having faith, and trusting that what’s meant to be will be, and, of course, it’s always easier said than done. But then, in terms of the success and defining that success, I’m not going to sit here and pretend that it doesn’t feel good when you finally book that role. But if you only measure your success by what others think or say, I think that can be damaging. You have to celebrate your successes, no matter how small or personal they are, and sometimes it’s just about knowing that you woke up, were productive, wrote emails, worked out, did something for your mental health, and that was another positive day. So, it’s finding that balance. I always told myself that as long as I can pay my bills, do what I love, and maybe have a little leftover so I can get on a plane and see my family, I am happy. At the same time, even when I wasn’t paying my bills with acting and was waitressing, I was still happy because I knew I was working towards that dream. I was still trying to celebrate the successes, no matter how small, to try to keep going and moving forward,” Elena shares excitedly.
When we put many filters in front of certain situations and interactions with people, it can get exhausting to strategize what to say and do. When the definition of the ‘hows’ and ‘whens’ and ‘what to say’ becomes softer, we can be ourselves and fully include ourselves and others. Elena says, “I’m looking at inclusivity and realizing how important it is. Especially in things like film and TV, it’s about telling more people’s stories, and in that way, more people are seeing their stories being told, and they can connect with it more. We’ve come a long way in terms of representation and inclusivity, whether it’s race or gender or sexual orientation, and things are improving. I see it through the lens of what I’ve worked on. At the beginning of my career, I was doing a lot of stunt doubling. And because of my size, I was doubling the lead actresses, all of whom were tall, white, skinny women, so I became very aware of the lack of diversity. As the years went by, I was happy to see that more women of different ethnicities and sizes were being cast in those lead roles. Being in front of the camera, I don’t necessarily have the power to hire and make those decisions. But I still try to have those discussions with people when I can.”
Elena pauses and then, with a witty look, adds, “That’s also the funny thing because I am half Spanish, but I don’t really look like a typical Hispanic or Latino person. So, I’ll get these auditions for Latinas, but I don’t book them sometimes because they are just looking for a stereotype. But then sometimes I do book them and also realize that people are not always aware that Latinas and Spaniards—we all look so different.”
Before Elena embraced her desire to become an actress, she competed in artistic gymnastics. Beyond her physical abilities and acrobatic skills that helped her work a lot as a stunt actor, she took and applied to her acting process what all the sportsmen practice, being fully present in the moment and, as an actor, within the movement of becoming someone else.
“When I stopped competing in gymnastics after graduating from college, I really missed it. And I realized that that’s something a lot of athletes go through: you’ve been doing that for decades, and it’s taken up so much of your life, and then it just suddenly stops. In a way, that’s a traumatic experience because you no longer have this thing anymore, which was so important to you. When I started performing stunts, it filled that hole because it gave me something to train for. So, I was working out, learning new skills, and performing at the same time. It’s pretty fascinating because the feeling I had on set before I had to do a big stunt was exactly the same feeling I would have right before I did a routine in a big competition. It was interesting how it just meshed into this whole new chapter of my life. Having that background and those physical skills and body awareness gave me the ability to do that job and continue doing stunts acting. And then, with acting, even if you’re not necessarily doing something, which is considered a stunt or very physical, you’re still performing, you’re still moving your body a certain way for whatever character, and you’re playing. Honestly, I think if I hadn’t been a gymnast, I would probably be in a completely different career right now,” Elena shares.
Elena plays Latara in the feature film Demigod, which just bowed in theaters. As Latara, Elena had the opportunity to explore new angles and perspectives as a result of this multilayered role. She says, “I’ve played a lot of bad girl type roles, I’ve played an assassin, or I’ve played a drug addict, but I’ve never done those things in my real life. So, in a way, that’s when it becomes a little more difficult because you have to find a way to connect and resonate with that character. Latara was a very fascinating character to play because she had such a complex layering of different aspects of personality. I don’t want to give too much away. But she’s a witch, so it’s very easy to think of a witch and think good versus evil. There was a lot of that in her character internally, questioning what is good, what is evil, but there’s also other things like, family is very important to her, being a good servant, and finding your place in the world and fulfilling your purpose—all of those things resonated with me a lot. Being on this movie just for a couple of weeks, I kind of saw it all condensed into a short period of time. I saw lots of character arcs in a condensed period of time, whereas in my own life, everything’s so spread out over years or even decades. And seeing her go through a lot in such a short period of time made me very aware of that. We are all a work in progress. I’m a work in progress, and I’m continually changing. And just through that journey and development, you will experience different things in your life, and they will affect you in different ways. We’re not perfect. And sometimes, we do bad things, but I think it’s more about how you come out of them and what you learn from them as well. That’s what’s really important to me, to learn from my experiences so I can continue to grow as a human being. And I think that’s kind of what I saw in Latara.”
Elena expects the audience will gain something from watching Demigod. She says, “It’s a horror movie in time for Halloween. Maybe you’ll get a little scared, get some adrenaline pumping. But ultimately, I’d love for people also to realize the depth of the story and resonate with all those different issues that are in there.”
Aside from acting, Elena is passionate about learning how to produce movies. She wants to help bring inspiring and exciting stories to the screen. When we embody and become one with who we want to be, every new direction we choose to embrace is fulfilling and satisfying.
Photography // Katie Parker