“My teacher [said something] the other day, that I thought was brilliant: ‘comfortable is suburban,’” says Callie Hernandez. “What he really means is that comfortability in yourself is not interesting.”
The 21-year-old actress, who broke out in “La La Land” and “Alien: Covenant,” might be seated rather comfortably — reclining on the couch of her room in the Smyth hotel — but playing it safe is not exactly her forte.
The Austin native enrolled at UT Austin at the age of 16, changing majors “every semester,” she says. “Then I studied abroad in Barcelona, dropped out of school, lived there, fell in love, didn’t want to come back, came back with my lover, went back to school, changed my major again.” Got all that? “I did a lot of circling. It’s just circling the thing you know you have to do. It’s like, ‘I don’t wanna look at it!’”
“It,” of course, being acting.
It would take a bit more for Hernandez to take the plunge. After losing her job, her apartment, her boyfriend, getting into a car accident, then finding a new apartment over the course of 24 hours, she knew she had to make a change. “I was sitting on this bed that wasn’t mine, and it just felt like my life wasn’t mine. It was the first time I’d asked myself, ‘OK, what do you want, Callie?’”
The answer — acting — sprang from half-love of the craft and half-circumstance. “’I don’t have any money, I don’t have anywhere else to go, I don’t have anything else to do, I don’t have anywhere else to be. Why the f–k not?’” she recalls. “‘I can’t not do it.’”
Hernandez must have done something right. After a breakout role as Tracy, one of Emma Stone’s roommates in “La La Land,” she switches gears to sci-fi in a role alongside Michael Fassbender and Katherine Waterston in “Alien: Covenant,” which debuts on May 19.
“Ridley Scott offered me a job and I said yes, blindly,” she says. “I don’t even know what part I’m playing, I had no script, I had nothing to go off of.”
After all the success of “La La Land,” there’s a lot riding on her next move. “I didn’t know it’d go that big,” she confesses of “La La Land.” “But I had a feeling, just the way everyone was moving through the process of filming it. It was so lucid at the time. That sounds so lame; you hear everyone [say], ‘we just knew it was gonna be a special movie!’ and you’re like, ‘There’s no f–king way!’”
Her career success is still taking time to sink in. “I remember calling my mom, and I was like, ‘I just feel like I’m kind of OK, or maybe I’m bored,’” she says. “And she was like, ‘I think you’re just happy.’”
For most, Damien Chazelle’s La La Land would be considered a beautiful work of fiction, but for Callie Hernandez, she is living out her own real-life version of the Hollywood story after landing a main role in the film. Before she played Emma Stone’s sassy, spirited roommate, Hernandez was couch-surfing and eating vegetables out of cans as she studied her craft in New York, struggling to fulfill her deep, lifelong desire. Hernandez decided to start her acting career in her early 20’s, after she had hit rock bottom and all that was left was the faint ember of a childhood dream. With no job, no place to live, and nothing to lose, Hernandez stoked those hopeful flames and pretty soon, they caught fire and flourished into a full-blown career.
Since La La Land, Hernandez has landed several other major roles. Currently, she stars opposite Nick Nolte in Epix’s Graves, a political satire where she plays a liberal waitress who ends up sympathizing with a former, guilt-ridden GOP president. She’s also starred in Blair Witch (2016), a new story that takes place in the same movie universe as the iconic Blair Witch Project (1999). And now, after wrapping up another starring role in the modern-day noir crime thriller, Under the Silver Lake, Hernandez awaits her featured release in one of the most highly anticipated movies of 2017: Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant. Hernandez stars in the core ensemble cast opposite Michael Fassbender, James Franco, and Noomi Rapace in the prequel to the original Alien (1979). Alien: Covenant is set to release on May 9, 2017, where Callie Hernandez will fly into the star-studded reaches of outer space, just as she begins to become a star herself. Dancing and singing in a fire-engine red dress in La La Land seems to be a bold, outward reflection of Callie Hernandez’s inner, burning passion to perform. It’s a poetic Hollywood ending, or rather, a beginning to Hernandez living out a life doing what she loves.
I heard you played the cello growing up. As a kid, what career did you originally envision for yourself?
Well, what’s weird is I always wanted to be an actress. I kind of forgot. When I looked back at first grade and kindergarten [written] things of “what do you want to be when you grow up,” they would all say the same thing: “I want to be an actress and a singer.” I went to college when I was 16 and I was in a soft cello band. I majored in film music composition for about a year, and I realized it was all math. It was not going to serve me well at all. I was an art major for a semester and found out I was a terrible visual artist, and then I was an interior design major which I was even worse at. I finally got my major in photojournalism. I tried every creative avenue possible, except the one I knew that I wanted to do. The most frightening option was the one I saved for last. I remember having the thought of, “This is the last thing that I haven’t tried, this is the only thing I haven’t tried.” There’s a reason for that.
What was the moment that changed your mind?
I was working at this shitty clothing store in Austin. I had already graduated college. I was just in this lost year of my life. And I remember waking up every morning and feeling like, “I know there’s something I’m supposed to be doing, but I don’t know what it is yet.” Then I was playing cello for a good friend of mine who just put out a record, Jess Williamson. We went on a little two week tour, and to be completely frank, I lost my mind a little bit. It was the first time I stepped away from Austin and got some perspective. It was just this jolt of a revelation, where I was like, “I’m miserable” and I didn’t even know I was so miserable. When I came back from the tour, I was ready to pull some chords out of the wall. And I did. I broke up with the person I was with, I moved out of the house, then the next morning I got fired from my job. I got into a car wreck in the same day. I didn’t have a job, I didn’t have any money, I didn’t have anywhere to live. I remember going to my parents’ house, getting on a computer and frantically looking for a new job. Then I just stopped and I remember asking myself a bizarre question. I don’t know where it came from. “What do you want?” And I heard a very clear answer. It surprised me too, which was being an actor. I was terrified and I also knew I didn’t really have another choice, and I didn’t have anything left to lose. So I went for it. That was the pivotal moment.
Tell me about the moment when you first heard you landed your role in La La Land.
I was shooting something in Vancouver, and I put a tape down and then they asked me for another tape and I couldn’t believe it. Then they said, “Okay, you have to go to a dance callback,” and I said, “You have to be kidding me.” I’m a notoriously horrific dancer. I had to go to a one-on-one with Mandy Moore, who’s the choreographer. I had one day to prepare, and I went to a dance studio in Los Angeles and I took every class I could get my hands on all day. Then I remember walking into the callback and thinking, “I’m not going to try to convince them that I am a dancer, I’m not a dancer. And maybe I can use that with the character.” So I just went in there and didn’t try to dance well. Just normal cringe-y dancing. When I received the phone call that I had somehow gotten the role, I had actually flown to Texas and I was sitting on my friend’s porch in a rocking chair watching her braid her horse’s hair. My manager was very calm on the phone, and said, “You got it.” And I hung up the phone and started screaming into a field of horses. That’s how it felt when I got La La Land, it was a very surreal moment. There are roles that you get excited for, but that one felt really special.
In Alien: Covenant, did you come across any challenges similar to dancing in La La Land?
Oh yeah, trying to look like you know how to drive a spaceship, or know anything about being in space is challenging. I owe a lot to Amy Seimetz, who really broke it down in simple terms for me. First I was like, “Okay, you have to get in this mindset of being in outer space,” and Amy had a very simple approach to it: “Just do it like you’ve done it a million times.” And then you think, “Oh, okay. Right, that’s easy!” Although I don’t really know if I ever felt comfortable doing it, but that’s part of it too.
You’ve described Graves as a show about forgiveness and a shifting of consciousness. As you’ve grown in this industry, has your role in Graves mirrored a shifting of your own consciousness?
That’s a hard question. Well, I’ll say this. When I began acting, it was kind of a blind impulse. I didn’t know what it really meant. I didn’t quite know what I was going to find, but I remember going into my first acting class and the walls come down, and then you realize it’s about people. It’s about understanding what it’s like to be human. So I guess when I started acting, I was learning the human side of things, and it was something that I felt genuinely that I wanted to learn more about. It made me love people a lot. It’s spiritual in a way in that it has nothing to do with you. It’s human and it’s grounded, you live on earth, you’re not better than anyone else. We’re all part of the collective unconscious, all part of the same thing. When you realize that art has nothing to do with you, it’s really freeing, and you can really experience people. I really love being able to do that openly.
Callie Hernandez spent the better part of two years sleeping on other people’s couches. From 2014 until recently, the Texas-raised actress relied on the kindness of friends, who welcomed her into their New York City apartments. She also relied on coconut oil. “When you’re crashing with friends, you start to notice what you can utilize without feeling like a total leech, like coconut oil,” she says. “You can use it for pretty much anything.”
Hernandez’s laugh, which punctuates her endorsement, is as generous as her frame is slight, and helps explain why she was invited to stay in people’s homes for so long, even if she felt guilty about it. “You start to feel like you’re just infringing on people,” she says. At the time she was an acting student, then an acting-school dropout after not being able to afford tuition at the William Esper Studio in Manhattan. But a lot can change in two years. “It was pretty raw,” she recalls of that period while seated in a cabana chair in the garden of the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel. She lives nearby now, in the hillside neighborhood of Los Feliz. “I mailed whoever let me live with them a key,” she says, “and was like, anytime, please.”
Today there are billboards for her latest feature, La La Land, all over Los Angeles. The movie, a Hollywood Golden Age-style musical from writer-director Damien Chazelle, stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling as two aspirational creatives who fall in love against a technicolor L.A. backdrop. Hernandez plays friend and roommate to Stone’s character, and shares an intricate musical number with her famous co-star. “I was definitely the worst dancer,” she says self-deprecatingly. She is currently filming another L.A. story, Under the Silver Lake, a psychotropic California noir written and directed by David Robert Mitchell, who is following up his 2014 horror hit It Follows. To prepare for the role, which Hernandez is keeping under wraps, she was advised by Mitchell to watch David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. “It was the only Lynch movie I hadn’t seen,” she says. “Watching it, I was like, this is the best Lynch, so no wonder!”
Before joining the cast of Under the Silver Lake and after shooting Ridley Scott’s top-secret sci-fi sequel Alien: Covenant, Hernandez spent several months wandering around Los Angeles, wondering how she’d gotten here so quickly after her meager New York existence. “I worked for a year and a half straight,” Hernandez explains. “I was going off of curiosity and intuition.” After Alien: Covenant wrapped, a project whose details Hernandez is sworn to protect, “that was the first time I got to step back, and I realized I was in a different place. It was kind of sudden.”
Full interview: nylon.com
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
Hello everyone! First poster of the upcoming movie ‘Alien: Covenant’. I hope movie will be so good as the poster 😀
Also ‘Alien: Covenant’ will now come out on May 19, 2017.
“I went to Toronto for three days to work with Callie for the Toronto International Film Festival, or TIFF, where she was promoting her new movie La La Land with Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. This was for one of the press junkets she did. You won’t believe it, but the color I used on her lips is the Kylie Lip Kit in Kourtney K.“