Callie Hernandez was in her early 20s when she decided to pursue acting full-time, and though she might describe herself as “late to the game,” it didn’t take long for her to catch up. Raised largely in Texas, Hernandez’s first film job was on Terrence Malick’s long-awaited Weightless. Within six months, she had an agent and was studying her craft in New York. Since early autumn, she’s been reaping the fruits of several years of non-stop work: first with Blair Witch, which screened at the Toronto Film Festival; then with the new Epix series Graves, in which she plays a free-spirited waitress working in the hometown of a former hardline Republican president played by Nick Nolte; and, as of Friday, with another TIFF film, Damien Chazelle’s La La Land, in which she sings and dances alongside Emma Stone as one of Stone’s struggling actress roommates.
Things aren’t about to slow down, either. When we talk to Hernandez over the phone, she is back in Los Angeles having just wrapped Under the Silver Lake with Andrew Garfield and Riley Keough. “I couldn’t have anticipated just how right I felt on that set,” she says of the project. “I felt very connected and in the right place, which doesn’t always happen.” Then, of course, there is Ridley Scott’s Prometheus sequel/Alien prequel, Alien: Covenant, for which she spent two months filming in Australia. While she can’t divulge anything about the film’s plot or her character, Hernandez is generous with stories of her co-stars. Michael Fassbender, for example, has “incredible posture”—”I’ve never seen anyone eat chicken wings with such a straight back,” she tells us—while Danny McBride was the most frequently recognized. “We couldn’t take him anywhere,” she says, laughing. “It was just a bunch of mostly dudes running down the street yelling ‘Kenny Powers.'”
HOMETOWN: Austin, Texas. I moved to Austin when I was 16. I moved quite a bit, actually, growing up. We lived in New Orleans; we lived in the Midwest; we lived all over Texas. I was in San Antonio for a lot. I think I had to create my own creative environment, but I was always involved in stuff like that as much as I possibly could be.
MUSICAL TALENTS: I sang as a kid. I started playing guitar when I was 12. Then, when I went to high school, I decided that I wanted to start playing cello. I was a bit late to the game. I’m usually a little late to the game. But I just walked by the [orchestra] room and I heard them warming up and I walked in and said, “I want to play the cello.” They said, “If you can teach yourself over the summer, then you can join orchestra.” So I did. I had some help—knowing how to play guitar really helped—but by no means do I play conventionally. I was never quite the same as everybody else. I used to play in some bands in Austin. A friend of mine named Jess Williamson just put out a record, and we used to play together a lot. It was kind of this farce feminine folk band—she played banjo and I played cello. But I don’t play as much anymore. I want to. I’d like to start again.
EARLY AMBITIONS: I was just talking to someone the other day about, “Did you always know that you wanted to be an actor?” It’s weird, I went to my mom’s house, she was getting rid of a bunch of stuff and was like, “Can you go through your elementary school stuff and see what you want to keep?” Every single thing that I was opening that had, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” on it, it all said that I wanted to be an actor and a singer. And somewhere along the line, I think it got a little bit buried. I do remember watching The Rocketeer, which is a Disney movie with Jennifer Connelly and she plays kind of a 1940s siren, and then I started taking singing lessons. Then I remember seeing Catherine Zeta-Jones in [The Mask of] Zorro and of course I started taking fencing lessons. I only took one or two. Then I saw Legends of the Fall and I wanted to take horseback riding lessons. I didn’t really realize that I wanted to be an actor—I always knew it deep down, but I didn’t really come back to it until a couple of years ago.
REDISCOVERING ACTING: I had kind of a lost year where I wasn’t sure what I was doing. A lot of my friends used to refer to Austin as the “velvet rut” because it used to be—not anymore—pretty easy living: cheap rent, pretty laid back. I went on a two-week tour in the Pacific Northwest with a band that I play with, and it all hit me at once that I was quite miserable. It was a really strange series of events that led up to being stripped away from everything that I had at the time. I got fired from my job, then I got my car wrecked, then I broke up with my boyfriend and moved out of our house. This sounds so cheesy when I talk about it, but I sat down and for the first time in a really long time, and asked myself what I wanted to do. I just knew it was a weird “now or never” moment and I decided that I was going to do the thing that I had avoided trying to do for so long. Coming from Texas and being like, “I want to be an actor!” is kind of weird—especially because I was late in the game; I didn’t really study theater, I studied photography. It was kind of out-of-the-blue-seeming. But I think I repressed for a long time. After that two-week tour, I came back and my life completely changed. Within a couple weeks I got my first job on a Terrence Malick movie and then got on a Robert Rodriguez film. From there on out I’ve sort of had tunnel vision in pursuing this.
FIRST STEPS: It was a really strange intro; people ask me, “How do you get an agent?” and truth be told, I have no idea. I started photographing weddings for money. Then I was just watching films morning, noon, and night; looking up schools; reading books. After I got my first job on the Terrence Malick film I was like, “Okay, well I’ll just see if I like this, I don’t even know.” [laughs] And I went on set and I was like, “Oh, there’s Holly Hunter. There’s Natalie Portman. There’s Ryan Gosling. There’s Rooney Mara.” It felt immediately—not because of any of those things—[but] it felt so inherently right that it just gave me the go-ahead to keep going. At the time, of course, I didn’t realize that it was a pretty amazing intro into the world of film. I had kind a blind confidence in the beginning, as a lot of people do. Some part of me just knew that it would work out. Now is when certain human emotions like doubt come into play—after you start working.
Full interview: interviewmagazine.com