Actress Yvette Yates and the Depth of Character

Yvette Yates (2)Yvette Yates (In the Blood, Without Men) real life depth of character reveals a new way of viewing how actors and actresses in the New Millennium are sophisticated, immensely talented and exceptionally well-trained.

According to grocery store fanzines, it would seem most people are only interested in the dirty laundry of actors/actresses. You know… Celebrity gossip.

What a focus on celebrity-hood fails to do is reveal and understand the craft of acting. Gossip is fun, but audiences in the 21st Century are more sophisticated than the days when movie stars were seen as Gods and Goddesses prone to falling off pedestals. Is it not possible that general audiences — movie/TV fans — want to know more about the magic and craft of acting, and more specifically, the actor/actress as storyteller?

Jerry Flattum: When it comes to stardom, fans see the actor/actress on screen, and perhaps that’s the way we like it when it comes to the entertainment biz. But underneath is a resume, and your resume reads like a well-trained scientist as much as it lists acting credits. You have a BS in Physiological Science, from UCLA, no less. You also have the beauty of a classic starlet. How do these two worlds collide?

Yvette Yates: I feel fortunate to have received my degree in Physiological Science from UCLA and a strong advocate of higher learning. It took a lot of work, perseverance and dedication, and I admit all my spring breaks and summers were consumed in UCLA’s research laboratories, from Physiological Science to Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology (MCDB), to the School of Medicine, specifically dealing with Sleep Apnea.

I have such a deep respect and admiration for the sciences and technology. My education has shaped a large part of who I am and it definitely bleeds into my work in the sense that my personal journey for my education, in addition to life’s experiences and the people around me, have shaped and influenced who I am and what I bring to the table. It’s a palette I infuse in all my work, and depending on the role, I take from different places, people and experiences.

JF: Or, perhaps the issue of brains vs. looks is old school. Maybe you’re an example of the 21st century actress: Exemplary brain power in addition to looks and talent. Is the film industry taking advantage of all this power? Or do you find yourself fighting against the stereotypical focus on looks?

YV: I don’t feel restricted by looks. It’s probably more about being categorized as “Latina.” I genuinely feel I can play a range of roles and in various genres. I get into the skin of my characters and become them, and it’s always in the details, their nuances. My first few roles were in shorts which were either in Spanish or with an accent, so when it came time to being submitted for English-speaking roles, I remember it being hard to get seen because casting directors didn’t think I spoke English and/or had an accent, so I wouldn’t get seen.

I spoke Spanish, but I was born in El Paso, Texas — spoke English without an accent and had always studied in the States, so that created an interesting conundrum. It was with time and getting the opportunity to go into the room. Thankfully, I was able to move into those vehicles where I could showcase other facets of myself and I was fortunate people opened the doors, eventually.

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Some of the characters I’ve played have lent themselves to exuding a certain sexuality but to judge solely on that, is one-dimensional. Each role is going to have varying elements that shape who they are. Yes, there’s the makeup, hair, clothes, shoes which are telling of that character, but I would like to think that is just one layer. There is more than meets the eye than just outward appearances.

Each character, like people in the real world, are shaped by experiences, relationships, environment, past history, education, society and sometimes an outer layer is quite the opposite from what they are about. With my roles thus far, I feel as though they have varied in types, so to speak.

I haven’t felt restricted necessarily when it comes to looks, unless if there’s a breakdown of a role that calls for a type with perhaps a specific height or a certain race since it takes places in such a specific region that there’s no room for a diverse look, that… I can’t change. The beauty of the business is that there are times when a type for a role can change if the writers, producers, director fall in love with an actor’s work or they figure out another role for them or create one anew.

In regards to our industry and the role of women, there are more women at the forefront in the entertainment business who are not just actresses but also producers, writers, directors and we’re all anticipating. They’re paving the way, but the opportunities have to continue to be created and given. There’s still more work to be done.

I was producing comedy specials with Scott Montoya (LOL Comedy) when I was beginning my acting career, and making the transition was a bit different for me since I was going from producing to acting, which is usually the other way around. I had to prove myself as an actress to my peers through my work and I did just that. I let go momentarily, of the producing as it’s still something I would like to do in addition to my acting, but for now, I want to solely focus on acting.

JF: That’s not all: You salsa, play classical piano, cook, bike, swim, lift weights, yoga, ride horses, even Chinese Kenpo… My God, do you sleep?

YV: I love waking up early, always have. There’s a stillness and beauty about the morning that you can’t capture at any other time of day. In between work, I definitely keep busy, whether it’s time with family, and that always involves food, which means lots of cooking. Lucky I got my mom’s cooking sensibilities. I probably have about 50 cookbooks now, and for the holidays they all teasingly scold me for making too many desserts… And of course we have to eat them! I love food, and I love staying active. I’m always at the gym. Living in LA one has to take advantage of all our surroundings, so there’s sometimes biking along the coast or hiking up the trails. It’s a beautiful city and I take it all in.

JF: All those extracurricular activities — if you will — require immense skill. Underneath is the concentration, focus and tremendous discipline it takes to develop those skills. Add to that, fluent in Spanish, and of course, acting, and all the training that goes with it. How does such a disciplined and focused life influence you as an actress? Are you able to utilize these skills in the roles you play?

YV: Since I can remember, my parents instilled education, belief of oneself, determination, passion, perseverance, and a positive attitude that carried me. I’ve transferred it all to my craft. The strength of that foundation is the endoskeleton of my craft, so to speak, and then I’m able to layer it with all that makes me unique. I personalize everything I do, and the matter of approach is different because the circumstance, the motivation, the relationships are constantly changing.

JF: In an El Paso Times article, you were quoted as saying, “I tell my parents I may not go to medical school, but at least I’ll understand the terminology if I get to play a physician.”

YV: It’s a little hard to tell if you were being tongue-in-cheek. But, humor aside, it does point towards life experience and how this influences you as an actress. How important is life experience?

Life experience for me has shaped my work tremendously. I learn from it constantly and my perspective to a character is influenced by it. I really meant it when I said I would love to play a physician, whether it’s in television or/and film, why not both!

It would be fun to do a role with a scientific background, and the verbiage doesn’t scare me because it’s not too hard to understand when you’re able to break down the words since they’re mostly Latin based. I guess that’s the nerdy part of me, I enjoy things like that. I’m sure my parents would love it to, I just figure it would be a great way to utilize some of that Physics or Organic Chemistry I learned in those sciences classes at UCLA!

JF: In contrast, many of the greatest roles are played by talented actors/actresses who, of course, were never queens, generals, criminals or cops in real life. Where does the “stuff” come from that allows you to, well, pretend to be someone else? Using the phrase, “pretend to be someone else,” is not meant to be superficial. After all, everybody in real life at one time or another pretends to be someone else, and that’s not acting. What is acting? Is it “becoming” someone else?

YV: I touched on that in my earlier comments. But to add… I think acting is so personal and it’s different for everyone. Personally, acting is allowing yourself to be vulnerable to your emotions, who you are at the core without judgement, and finding that truth. When you find that moment of truth and expose it, that’s when one becomes the character. There’s no fooling the audience. They see it, hear it, feel it and connect. To trigger a memory, cause a discussion, to entertain, bring laughter or tears, all this is what makes acting such a special medium.

NOTE: Her father, Carlos A. Yates, who now teaches math at El Paso Community College, was president of Azteca Films in Mexico (1986-89).

JF: We — meaning society— are so conditioned to view each other along the lines of color and heritage. Are these walls breaking down in film? I mean, can’t you be an actress from El Paso, Texas instead of a Latino actress?

YV: I feel that at first when people don’t know your work, you’re judged by what they see, literally. But, as time continues, and you show various facets of yourself through your work, that’s when the opportunities can change and your spectrum increases. I’ve done Latina roles, a Native American role, and simply American mainstream roles. But yes, the initial thought of many is to fit us in the “Latina” box.

I will continue to work hard to challenge myself and to show others what I am capable of, so that I can go from playing a role displaying a colorful Latino culture, such as playing a Mexican Actress from the Golden Age of Cinema (which I would love to do a la La Vie En Rose) to a doctor or detective, who is not defined by color or heritage, but rather adds another layer to my character.

JF: You’ve done commercials and TV work as well. And of course, even commercials tell a story. Is it like doing a short film, or is it just a job?

YV: Work is always fun. I love it no matter the medium. It (commercials) is a short story told in a few seconds, and you are creating a feeling, something that the audience can connect to immediately, which is what makes commercials effective.

My body of work consists mostly of films, which is my first love, but at the end of the day, good writing is good writing and when you see it, you immediately want to jump in. Television is a medium I would love to delve into more and is just as important. There is so much original content out there with phenomenal writing. It’s exciting.

JF: What’s it like being directed by a female director?

YV: One of my first films as the lead was as Nina Quebrada (Broken Girl) that garnered attention in the festival circuit and was directed by AFI’s Jen Kleiner. It was such a dark subject matter, dealing with human trafficking, and she made sure I was in the safest of environments physically and mentally, meaning checking I was comfortable with the situations. When I had to emotionally go to a certain place, she’d allow me to go there at my pace, and just the same, to come down from it.

Every day was emotionally exhausting, but the end result speaks volumes. To this day, 6 years later, universities screen the film and ask us to attend because the topic is still so relevant.
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I then had the opportunity to work with the ever driven Director, Gabriela Tagliavini, in the comedy ensemble, Without Men, produced by Eva Longoria, and soon after with Film Independent’s Director, Shana Sosin, in 70’s inspired true story, Free Ride, produced by Anna Paquin and her CASM production.

I have loved each and every one of my experiences, and I know I am fortunate to be working with such amazing women equally behind-the-scenes and in front of the camera, each one so receptive with a nurturing environment. I do think it’s rare to have worked with so many female directors early on, but it’s inspiring and we need to continue to support that growth, in all areas. I’m looking forward to the next experience.

JF: And then, does it all have to be so serious? Isn’t acting just plain fun?

YV: It’s where I’m happiest. I hope everyone is as lucky to find what they are most passionate about because when you do, no matter the profession, nothing can stop you and it fuels you like nothing else. I’m here to stay, so you’ll have to keep an eye out for me.

JF: What’s next?

YV: I recently wrapped a comedy vampire feature, Bloodsucking Bastards, opposite Fran Kranz (The Cabin in the Woods), Joey Kern (Cabin Fever), Joel Murray (Mad Men), and Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones).

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In addition, I have a total of five films out this year beginning with Free Ride, alongside Academy Award-winner Anna Paquin (Water & Power), based on a Mark Taper play; and Sorority Party Massacre.

This past April, Anchor Bay films, in association with Twentieth Century Fox, theatrically released the action thriller, In The Blood, with a prominent cast: MMA fighter-turned-actress Gina Carano (Haywire), Cam Gigandet (Twilight), Danny Trejo (Machete) , Stephen Lang (Avatar), Luis Guzman (How To Make it in America), and Amaury Nolasco (Transformers).

There are a few other films I’m attached to, and I’m also developing a project, Mikki & Lola, a la Thelma & Louise meets Breaking Bad.
And the next thing you’ll see me in this year… I can’t really say, but I promise it won’t disappoint.

Connect with Yvette:
IMDb, Facebook, Twitter @YVETTEYATES, Instagram

More articles by Jerry Flattum

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