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An Interview with Elena Sanchez

By Oliver Webb

Photo: Ben Cope

Elena Sanchez is an actor and stunt performer known for The Walking Dead, Avengers: Endgame, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and Mr. Right. I spoke with Elena about landing her first role, the most challenging stunt to perform, and the upcoming film Open.

Did you always want to pursue a career in acting?

Elena Sanchez: When I was growing up, I wanted to be a veterinarian. Then I did an internship at an animal hospital and realized that I love animals too much to be able to see them in pain every day. So, I went to college for Hotel Management at Cornell University, thinking that my international background and that I loved traveling would lend itself nicely to a career in hospitality. Nope! Turns out that I would rather just stay at a hotel than have to manage one, hah! When I was in college though, I took an acting class to fulfil one of my elective requirements, and I immediately fell in love with it. Within a couple of weeks, I had decided that that’s what I wanted to do with my life.

Did you receive any formal acting training?

Elena Sanchez: The first acting class I took in college was my second to last semester, so I took another class my last semester. After I graduated, I moved to New York City and about 10 months later I enrolled at the Lee Strasberg Institute. Within two years I got my SAG card on a movie in New Orleans and was lucky to start working fairly quickly as a stuntwoman. I didn’t want to get pigeonholed into being only a stuntwoman though, so a couple of years after that I spent the summer at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. My time at these schools were incredibly valuable and taught me a lot about acting. I specifically took a lot of classes that were geared towards acting on camera because it’s very different to stage acting and I knew I wanted to work in film and television.

How did you land your first role?

Elena Sanchez: My first real job I booked as an actor was a world-wide commercial for a Sony Ericsson cell phone. They were specifically looking for actresses who could do gymnastics. I submitted myself online and went through two rounds of auditions before I got a call that I had booked the job! I still remember that feeling vividly. I got a voicemail while in class at the Strasberg Institute and stepped out onto the sidewalk during a break to call them back. I was shaking. Within two weeks I was on a first-class flight to Mexico. I couldn’t believe it.

Who are your acting heroes?

Elena Sanchez: Tom Cruise! I always wanted to be a female Tom Cruise. I remember seeing Mission Impossible and thinking how much fun it must be to do something like that and get to call it work! Growing up as a gymnast, I always loved climbing on things and jumping and hanging. Doing action movies is like the adult version of that!

You're also a stunt performer. What's the most challenging stunt you've done?

Elena Sanchez: That’s an interesting question... What makes a stunt challenging? Is it the physical skill or strength needed to perform it? Is it the toll it takes on your body? Or is it the danger of it? Because all three of those factors can be mutually exclusive, or they can be combined. If I think about the first of those, a stunt that was particularly physically challenging was probably the time I was wearing a 60 lb space suit, from head to toe, including the helmet and backpack. I was floating around on a wire horizontally pretending I was weightless. Usually, you can have wires attached to multiple “pick points” to help with this kind of manoeuvring, but for whatever reason, probably time, we didn’t do that. So, I had to use the muscles in my back and core to extend my legs and boots behind me, and my arms and gloves in front of me. As a gymnast, I’m very used to doing these kinds of movements, but adding the heavy suit definitely made it challenging and took my body to the brink of what it was physically capable of.

Do you enjoy the variety of work? Which do you prefer?

Elena Sanchez: I love both acting and doing stunts, but my favorite is when I get to combine the two. Luckily, I’ve been getting to do a lot of that over the last couple of years. Variety is one of the things I love about my job! Every job is a little different. Besides just the actual story and roles being different, you’re also in different locations, sometimes around the world, exploring new places, and meeting new people and experiencing new things with them. I consider myself very lucky.

Could you tell me a bit more about your role in the upcoming film Open?

Elena Sanchez: In Open I play a character named Emma, who is the friend of a couple that decides to open their marriage because they’re going through a bit of a rough patch. The wife starts dating an ex tv-star, played by Jeremy London, while the husband decides to romance me. Throughout the film, the wife hallucinates that she’s the drummer of a 1980s new wave band, and everyone in her sphere has an alter-ego in this other world. So, I get to play the drummer in her band! Things get a little crazy and I try to enlist the help of my father, who is the police captain, played by the great William Forsythe. The movie is the weirdest and wackiest project I’ve ever done! It was such a fun experience.

What are you currently watching/reading?

Elena Sanchez: One of my favorite books I recently read is The Untethered Soul by Michael Alan Singer. It’s about how to free yourself from thoughts, emotions, and energy patterns that might be limiting you in life. It’s life-changing!

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