Chicago native Aimee Garcia has slowly been climbing her way to the top on television with roles on George Lopez and Off the Map. She has a movie that was just released on DVD called Go For It. Her part has just begun as Jamie Batista on Dexter and we talked about its huge fan base.
Gozamos: Hey, Aimee. Where are you calling in from?
Aimee Garcia: I’m in Los Angeles/
You are out there making television shows.
AG: You know how it is. I’ve got to represent Chicago out here.
You are from Chicago?
AG: Born, raised and educated there. My parents, and friends are still there.
What part of the city?
AG: Oak Park, River Forest. I was born in the actual city but I grew up in Oak Park. I went to Fenwick then went to Northwestern in Evanston.
It must have been rewarding to do this film that is set in Chicago.
AG: Yes absolutely. Chicago is very near and dear to my heart. I’m a Chicago girl through and through. To read a script that not only has Chicago as a backdrop but has a Chicago native in the forefront was such an honor. The fact that I got to do my own dancing was an added plus. I started my career dancing so it was nice to put my professional dance steps into play.
I was going to ask you if you had taken classes before.
AG: Definitely. I started at the Chicago Ballet. I went to the Academy of Movement and Music in Oak Park. I played Clara in The Nutcracker at the Arie Crown Theater. I did Cinderella at the Auditorium Theatre. I was trained in classical ballet and about eight months before the film I trained in hip hop four to five times a week. I needed classes even though I was ballet trained. I wanted to get my hip-hop groove. It was pretty intense because we didn’t have money or time or any sort of real backing. We had three takes, three shots so it was dance your heart out onscreen otherwise it wasn’t going to work.
It was all filmed in Chicago?
AG: It was mostly filmed in Chicago. We did a few pickups in LA. I think 85% of it was shot in Chicago.
Are you similar to that character in any way?
AG: Yes, she’s a Chicago native like me. She’s Mexican American as I am. She was aspiring to be a dancer and live to dance. I did as well. There are many similarities. I was glad I got to bring her to life. It is not everyday that you get to see a chick carry an entire film on her shoulders, much less a Latin girl. I was stoked at the opportunity to do so.
What part of Mexico is your family from?
AG: They are from Pachuca, which is about one hour outside of the city. My mom is from Pachuca and my dad is Puerto Rican from San Juan.
How much of the film was improvisation?
AG: It was scripted but a lot of times we just riffed on it and went off book. Carmen was such a great director. She let us go off and do our girlfriend thing. It was fun. The basis was on the page but once we got to take three we could have fun. I think a lot of that actually stayed in the film.
The movie has a lot to say about education.
AG: I’m a big advocate of education, like I mentioned going to Northwestern and being a triple major. I have always put my money and my time where my mouth is as far as believing in the power of education. I like that in the story. Her parents are immigrants and maybe they don’t have more than a fifth grade level of education but they know education is important so that rang true to me. My dad went to college but his parents didn’t speak much English but my grandmother always said that I was going to college. I remember being four years old and going to college. I didn’t even know what college was. I didn’t know if it was a restaurant or a country! I just knew I was going. Carmen’s parents really support her and want her to go and finish school because they know that is the gateway to endless opportunities. Especially in the Latin community we need to emphasis education I think that is why I am doing well out here in Hollywood is because my college degree helps me every single day. When I talk to kids in East LA schools and other public schools I can proudly get up there and say, “you should go to college. I did and I am doing very well.” It is just nice to have that accountability. It is hard to tell someone to stop smoking if you smoke or go to school if you never went. I think that is one of the major messages of this film. Education is key to doing what you want to do.
Is being Latina an advantage in Hollywood sometimes to be picked for certain roles?
AG: I feel like it’s an incredible thing. My last couple of jobs have been great. Being Latin has helped me. I was on the George Lopez show and have been able to play Andy Garcia’s daughter. This wouldn’t have happened if I weren’t Latin. On Supernatural I got to play Irish, Nancy Fitzgerald. I didn’t have to change my name. I was just the best actor for the role. In Lost in America if I wasn’t bilingual and completely fluent in Spanish I wouldn’t have gotten to go to Hawaii for three months and share the screen with Zach Gilford from Friday Night Lights. On Dexter I wouldn’t be able to play the hot 25-year-old grad student from Miami who is David Zayas’ little sister. So it has definitely helped me. When I did Family Guy I played a blonde girl with huge tits so I still get to play Irish and blondes, All American or Greek, it just gives me an added value. It has only helped me. The fact of playing a minority is not going anywhere. Everybody nowadays wants to see that community represented on the small and big screen.
You auditioned for Selena. What is that whole story?
AG: This was back when I was too young for the role. I auditioned on a whim in Chicago. I was just getting into high school. I put myself on tape and the next thing I knew I was being flown out to Warner Brothers to do a screen test. It was a shot in the dark. They liked my dance but I was too young. I was flattered and honored that I got to go out there. I think they got my name from Baz Luhrmann because I had screen tested with Leonardo DiCaprio for Romeo and Juliet. I was this kid from Chicago and the next thing I knew I was looking around the room and it was Christina Ricci, Claire Danes and Natalie Portman. I thought, “Oh man, I should have put on some makeup!”
Are you on an arc of a few episodes?
AG: I am on all of them. I am on the entire sixth season. I got really excited when Showtime released a promo. It is so cool to be in that kind of company. I am on staff with Colin Hanks and Eddie James Olmos. I was the only girl on the promo. I’m surrounded by such amazing actors and performers. It is not everyday that you get to be with Mos Def and an Oscar nominee Edward James Almos.
Dexter has a huge following.
AG: It is creepy. The day after I signed on I received tweets from Germany and mail from Brazil. Dexter hits that sweet spot where it’s critically acclaimed and Emmy nominated but it is globally and commercially successful. It has more fans on Facebook than Modern Family and True Blood. It is hard to find a show that is so cool but constantly pushing the envelope and keeping people on their toes. It is a rare breed of a show. If I could have picked a show to be on it was this one. A year later here I am on my dream show.
Dexter must take up all of your time these days.
AG: You can’t mess around when you are going to work with Golden Globe winner Michael C. Hall. I would love to get into producing at some point. We will see where Dexter takes me. For now I am in the serial killer world.