SR: I guess I've always wanted to be a lawyer. I don't remember when it started. I just remember being very vocal as a child and everyone in my family telling me that I would be a good lawyer. I always had a good argument for everything and a comeback. When it was time for me to go to college I just took up political science. I wasn't one hundred percent sure that I was going to go into law school but I did know that I wanted to do something in the social sciences. I did that and I took a Constitutional Law class. I found it fascinating. Yet, I still didn't go straight into law school, I went into the workforce before applying [to law school].
MS: Did you find that your ethnicity and your gender had an impact on how you were received in the legal profession?
SR: I mean yeah. That happens all the time, every day. I live in Connecticut and a lot of the lawyers that I work around and a lot of my colleagues when I first started working in the profession, were older white men and I wasn't taken too seriously in the beginning. And also, because of my very small frame, I kind of looked young when I first started out. A lot time, they mistook me for the client. I would go into a courtroom, and I remember one time…you know the lawyers can bypass the public entrance and go straight to the clerk, so I went towards the lawyer line and the martials and court staff would ask me to go to the other [public entry] line. I have my suit on, I have my briefcase...(laughs)
SR: 'I'm an attorney! And this my client'. I would say. They’d say, 'Oh! Ok. I'm so sorry...' I don't think that there was any malice intended but they have-- a lot of people have this view of what an attorney should look like, and it wasn't me.
MS: So you're still practicing, even though you're also acting now?
SR: Yes, I still do both. I work with my brother, we have a small office. I work part-time because of my auditions and all that. But it's better because I can actually pick and choose--because we've been open between 10-15 years, I believe. He started off without me and then brought me on later.
MS: That's wonderful. Congratulations to you guys.
SR: Yeah! So now we kind of choose the cases we want and we can help more people. We do a lot of pro bono work and we take on people and clients that don't necessary have a lot of money so we're usually not going to get a lot of money from the case, but I still like to do it. Everyone asks me 'when are you going to leave the office?' But I like helping people with what I know and what I studied. I like doing that a lot. So I don't know if I'll ever stop.
MS: How did you make the transition from being a lawyer to acting?
SR: Well you know, when I was high school, I was in the Drama Club...but you know, growing up second generation...my father came to the United States from Puerto Rico at the age of 14 and we started out in the U.S., but we actually left the U.S. for a while to go back to Puerto Rico when I was like 7 or 8.
MS: How long did you stay [in Puerto Rico]?
SR: I was there until I graduated high school... Education and higher education were really important to my parents. They really didn't take acting seriously...(laughs)
SR: ...They were encouraging me to go for higher education and when I brought that up [acting], my father was very supportive, my brother had actually pursued acting for a year, but what my father told us was get your bachelor's degree in something else and if you still want to pursue that I will support you one hundred percent. And that's what we did: we both got our bachelor's. My brother, after he graduated from college he went straight to New York to do the acting thing and he found out very quickly that it just wasn't for him. So he went to law school. And then I started acting, but for me it was more of a hobby. I found that I did really want to go into the legal field. Before I went to law school, I worked as a social worker and worked for Child Welfare.
MS: In NYC?
SR: No, in Connecticut. And that was not for me. And I really wanted to make a difference. I started working with inmates who were coming out and I was trying to help them get back into the community. And then, I remember a couple of times, these attorneys were coming to help my clients and there was a huge language barrier. The Caucasian English-speaking attorneys were talking to the Hispanic clients and the Hispanic clients were signing off on things and saying yes to things that were not beneficial to them, and it was mostly because there was a language barrier! They thought that the attorney was smarter and knew better so they would take whatever they were offering. And I was appalled. That's when I said, 'that's what I want to do'. I want to help people, I want to be a lawyer and help the Spanish-speaking community. But all the while, I was still doing theater in New York. I would go on the weekends, I would go at night. So I did all that and then, after I got my degree and was great at what I was doing, I got a little bored. I wanted to go back to my creative life a little bit more than just the weekends and that's when I decided that I could do both. I'll try and do both [I thought]. And that's what I did.
MS: That's going to be inspirational for a lot of people--to know that it's possible to do both. Just on a personal note, I'm a playwright...
SR: That's awesome...
MS: Yeah, I've been working in New York for a little while now, and because I know how difficult it is to work in theater, how have you managed the stress of working in New York theater and your other career? I mean, working in the arts, is very...it requires commitment, sometimes things are going great and other times, not--
SR: Right! It's very up and down...let me tell you, I'm happy my Dad made me go and study something other than the arts, that's why I've been able to do both, I've always had a meal ticket. I've always had a paycheck. And so, when it wasn't going well in theater, I was ok, because I was getting a paycheck. And I feel like, we all have those days [working in the arts], when we're like "Why am I doing this?" But when you're not doing it, Mai, you feel it too.--
SR: You feel like--and I'm sure you can relate to this--like you're in a box, like you got to get out. Like you're suffocating.
MS: Absolutely, I understand.
SR: And so, you inevitably go back to the creative part of it. Even if you're not getting money for it, even if you're not showing it to anybody. It does something. It's cathartic to me. It's something that I need to do. Sometimes I would go away from it for a while, but I would always come back to it because it makes me happy. You ask yourself ‘When is time flying by?...When am I most happy?' and that's when I was happy--when I was [acting]. Even when I was getting rejected, when I wasn't getting the part. I started small, in Connecticut regional theater, but the problem with that is that everything is about Chekhov and Shakespeare and I'm brown! I'm a Latina. I'm obviously a Latina. And so, very often, they wouldn’t cast me. Even if they said, ‘We’d like to cast multi-racial' or whatever. It wasn't happening. And so that's when I went to NYC. And so sometimes, because I had my employment, if it wasn't going well, I could take some time off and not audition for a while, but still have my other job, to immerse myself in helping other people. And then I realized that that's something that's probably going to happen for the rest of my life: even if something really huge comes along and I'm working on a project for 3-6 months, like a film, I'm still going to help people and use my legal background.
SR: Well for me, I love the theater. I love TV and film, but the reason I love theater is because I like working with people every day for a long period of time and getting to know them and feeling like family. You know that feeling you get when you're working on a play?
MS: Oh yeah, it's wonderful...it's like, if it works, it really works, but if the dynamic doesn't work, it really doesn't!
SR: Exactly! ...I love it. I love the rehearsals and getting it right...doing something different every night. Although, every time I go on stage, I feel sick to my stomach, and I ask myself, 'How did I get here and why am I here?' But I always love it at the end, you know? And so, the difference between both of them and why I stopped doing theater is because I started a family. I had babies and I still wanted to act but I wanted to be home for bedtime, and I wanted them to have a present mom. So I said, I can still act, I just can't do a lot of theater because it's too much of a time commitment. And, so it's all about balance. And it ebbs and flows, so, when they're older, I might go back to theater. But I like TV and film because you get to know the character and do a lot of your own homework and there's not a lot of rehearsal time, usually, and you can actually put it on and it's done. If you're doing a short film, you probably have two days of work. If it's something longer than that you probably have a week or more of work and that's ok, because then it's done. And I like that part of it.
MS: Also, in the arts, something a lot of us don't do well with is the business side, and I wanted to ask you about how your education as a lawyer sustains your artistic career. How important do you feel it is for artists to have an education about contracts and legal matters?
SR: I think it's very important, especially if you are a non-union actor because you can really sign your life away. A lot of times, what happens is that many actors are so hungry to get a job and so hungry to start acting that they sign anything. And then they regret it. So really, just knowing what to look for. I already know that. And a legal education really does prepare one to read contracts and to know all these new union laws, and SAG-AFTRA merging together...a lot of things have been happening, a lot of things are changing. If you have a good agent or a good manager, they're always going to keep you in the loop, but you really have to do your own homework and figure out what you're getting into. Also as a person with a legal education, it reinforces the fact that you have a voice. A contract is really a meeting of the minds. And so, you can have an input too. You can want something and actually ask for it.
SR: Well...I play a lawyer! (laughs)
MS: (laughs) Well...there you go! That's works.
SR: It did work, and you know, probably the fact that she was a lawyer, the fact that she was the older sister, the fact that she was the voice of reason, all those things. I feel like, not only was the story very good, and relevant for our times, but it was just a fun role to play--to play the voice of reason. My character is trying to help the main character keep a balance. And that translates into everything, however you choose to live your life, whatever you choose to do: balance. That really drew me to the part, because that's the role I play on a daily basis.
MS: Is this your first feature film?
SR: ...I did another feature film probably like 4 years ago and in that role, I also played the voice of reason. But I played a Latina. It's called Babygirl...The writer/director is Macdara Vallely and he is from Ireland, but he's married to a Puerto Rican from the Bronx, so he really fell in love with our culture and he wanted to write something about that. And I'm basically an Aunt to the teenager and she comes to my character for comfort. Right now I'm also doing a webseries called The Bodega Series, and that's also a really fun role...
MS.: Tell us more about Delusions of Guinevere?
SR: It's about social media and how we can go too far and how when you're looking at social media and related issues, legal or otherwise, you have keep a balance between it and the real world. And the protagonist really has to make a lot of choices with that. Is her celebrity on Youtube and Facebook more important than her family? And I feel like we can all relate to that. Even if you don't think you're that person. Especially now with Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc...a lot of us have situations where we are like 'Why am I even looking at Facebook right now?' Even when we don't want to. It happens to me, where I have a minute to myself, I drop the kids off at school or go to my yoga class and instead of picking up a book, I pick up my phone and I start looking at Facebook, even if I've seen it 15 minutes ago and know exactly what's on it!
MS: Yeah, we all do it...
SR: It's scary. (laughs) And I think it's [Delusions of Guinevere] a cautionary tale. I feel like everyone can relate.
MS: Great! When's the release date?
SR: It's going to be in New York on December 5th at the Cinema Village. It's gonna be there for a week or more. And it'll also be shown 4 times a day while it's there. If you go to DelusionsofGuinevere.com it will give you more info on distribution dates.
MS: I wanted to ask you a couple of questions about the Martin Scorsese project and how you got involved with that?
SR: Well you know, I can't talk a lot about it. But it was a wonderful thing to be a part of. I was in the pilot. Nobody knows who's coming back, so everybody on set was trying to figure it out and rationalize... (both laugh) you know? It was crazy all over the set. You know what's funny? I try not to think about that. And whenever someone would ask me what I thought about returning after the pilot, I would shut it down. I don't want to think about it. Why not enjoy what's happening now?
SR: I mean, just being around all these talented people, I was starstruck for a lot of the time. At one point Bobby Cannavale came up to me and remembered my name and I just freaked out. He was trying to start a conversation with me Mai, and I had to get out of there, I was starstruck! It was crazy...
MS: That's awesome! ...that's really great. ...My last question, as always: why is diversity important?
SR: I know this sounds kind of hokey, but the main reason is that we're all one. We're all here. We're all a part of each other. Whatever you have is part of me, and whatever I have is part of you. And I feel that when we embrace diversity, we embrace ourselves.
MS: Thank you so much.
SR: Thank you for inviting me to chat, I didn't know what to expect, but this has been great.