Education Dramaturg Ted Sod spoke with Jacqueline Guillén about her work on 72 Miles to Go...
Ted Sod: Where were you born and educated? Did you have any teachers who had a profound influence on you as an artist?
Jacqueline Guillen: I was born and raised in Matamoros, Tamaulipas Mexico, which is a border town to Brownsville, Texas. Though I’m a dual citizen, I lived in Mexico for most of my upbringing. We had to wake up at five in the morning to cross the border and to make sure we weren’t stuck in customs for too long. My mom, who worked for the school district, loved being early to work, so we would finish sleeping in the car in an empty parking lot before anyone else showed up.
After my parents separated, we moved to Brownsville, Texas with my grandmother to make our lives a bit easier. That’s probably the only reason I discovered theater. I was a big band nerd and that was my life all through middle school. When high school came around, I was accidentally put in a theater class. I was furious because this meant I had another thing keeping me from becoming the greatest flute player to ever live. But I got hooked on acting from the beginning. My high school theater teacher changed the rehearsal schedule to fit my schedule: I’d go to band practice from 4:00-6:00 and theater rehearsal from 6:30 to whatever time we stopped. I’ve never quit anything in my life and my theatre teacher knew I couldn’t quit band based on that principle and I am eternally grateful. I am not sure I would’ve discovered my endless love for the craft of acting had my theatre teacher not made it so accessible.
There is no way I can finish this answer without mentioning Jeremy Torres, who changed me as an artist while I was at Texas State University. He passed away a few years back, but I am not sure I’d be the artist I am today without him.
TS: Why did you choose to do the play 72 Miles to Go… and the role of Eva? What do you find most challenging/exciting about this role?
JG: I read an early draft of this play a few years back. I followed this play for a long time and when I found out that Roundabout was staging it this season, I went a little crazy. I did the Equity Principals Audition; I harassed my manager to submit me and I contacted Hilary Bettis, the playwright. I even planned a trip around the auditions and callbacks just in case I did get seen and I didn’t even have an appointment yet.
I don’t often get to tell stories about where I’m from. There aren’t that many stories out there about the border. I am so excited to explore everything that comes with the role of Eva. This is a girl who has to grow up quickly and be a mother/caregiver figure to her entire family. She immediately puts everything on hold to make sure her family is taken care of. We see Eva go from young adult at 17 or 18 years old to being 28. The changes happening at those ages are so subtle, so that will be challenging. There’s a lot of “could’ves” and “would’ves” for her, everything comes at a cost and all of that plays a part in who Eva grows up to be.
TS: Please give us some insight into your process as an actor? What kind of preparation or research did you have to do in order to play this role?
JG: When it comes to preparation, I am all over the place. “Organized chaos” is what I call it. It changes based on the project or character. I always focus on what the playwright is giving me. I focus on the behavior of my character and justify everything they say and everything they do. I write a lot. Meditate a lot. One thing that is consistent with my process, is the amount of questions I ask. I go to sleep thinking about the text, individual moments and relationships and often wake up in the middle of the night with an “a-ha” moment. My brain doesn’t stop even after a show is done.
TS: What do you think the play is about? How is this character of Eva relevant to you? Will you share some of your initial thoughts about who Eva is with us?
JG: I think this play is about sacrifice. Everyone in this journey has to give up a part of themselves to survive. After my parents’ divorce, I became the second in command for both my parents. I helped my mom with my younger brother who was three-years-old at the time. With my dad, I became the “little woman” of the house. I relate to Eva a lot. Eva is resilient, she is tough as nails, she is loving, ambitious and an overachiever.
TS: Will you talk about your current understanding of the relationship between Eva and her mother, father and siblings.
JG: I’m not sure how to answer this question at this point in the process, but I’m excited about what the dynamic od the cast will unravel. The one thing I do know is that there is so much love in this family. They would do anything and everything for one another and I think this affects their relationship on a personal level.
TS: What do you look for from a director when you are collaborating on a role in a new play?
JG: I work best with directors who have a clear idea/vision as to what they want or how they want the story to be told, but who also have room for things to evolve through the process. I love directors who guide an actor through questions and trust the actor to explore what the answers are. Jo was so great about this during the audition process and if you weren’t getting to where she wanted you to be, she would rephrase and guide you, never by telling you what the “right” answer was, but by asking you questions that could get you there and accepting what you had to offer.
TS: What keeps you inspired as an artist?
JG: Music. I love music. All types of music. I grew up listening to some of Mexico’s greatest music icons. Their storytelling is incredible! Instrumental music with heavy brass gets my little heart going and my mind running. I also watch a lot of TV, A LOT of TV, all sorts of shows. Whenever I discover a new show or a new actor, I research them endlessly. I love watching every interview I can find. I get excited when I find an interview and hear about an artist’s journey and how they got there. Especially artists of color and women of color! On a more personal level, my friends keep me inspired. If I ever feel stuck, I meet up with them and we create whatever we can on that given day.
TS: School students will read this interview and will want to know what it takes to be a working actress — what advice can you give young people who say they want to act on the stage?
JG: Make sure you know why you are choosing this career. Being an actor can be exhausting, NYC is exhausting. You have to hustle every day and you need to want it more than anything else. Find what works for you as an artist. School isn’t for everyone, but training is essential. To those who have been discouraged in an academic environment, DO NOT STOP! Some of the most successful people working right now were told they didn’t have “it” by some professor. Trust your gut and continue working for it. But above all, always stay true to yourself, work with people you admire. Make friends with people who excite you. Say, “Yes and…” Rest when you can, save your money, network honestly. Find your people and cling onto them for dear life. Their support will get you through the dry seasons. And no matter what, always do it for the love.