Shannon O’Connor ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Editor-in-Chief
You may know actress Patricia Rae from her breakthrough and critically acclaimed role in Maria Full of Grace as Carla or you may recognize her as the recurring character Bolonia Grimes on Chuck. However, Rae’s next role in the star studded romantic comedy, The Big Wedding, she plays the biological mother of divorced couple’s adopted son who is getting married and is the cause of a lot of the craziness of the film. A role Rae was recently nominated for an Imagen Award.
I caught up with Rae recently to chat about her role in The Big Wedding, her past and future career.
So your character in The Big Wedding, Madonna Soto, what kind of role does she have?
She is the catalyst for a lot of the deception that goes on in the film. Basically the premise is a divorced couple’s adopted son is getting married and the guest of honor is the biological mother and she is a very religious woman and she’s a little old fashioned in her morals. So, the family the family decides the best thing to do is to pretend that the parents are still married in order to appease her religious beliefs.
What intrigued you about playing this character?
Well, obviously working with such an amazing cast and the script was very funny. It is a romantic comedy but it does have a lot of heart and I think is has a very lovely message that in order to be part of a family you have to make sacrifices and you have to be able to embrace other people’s ideals. [Also] Working in general is always a gift, so unless I can’t do a project I am always ready to go; if you have a job for me, I’ll be able to work on your project (laughs). I don’t say “no” to too many jobs, because acting in general is a difficult profession that when you have a job that comes your way unless it’s really something that’s not, like I really try not to do any jobs that I feel that I don’t believe the image that the character is portraying.
That’s very understandable, so how did you become involved in this project?
I had an audition, my manager then my agent set up an audition for me and it was an audition here in California with the casting director, but I happened to be in New York at the time visiting my daughter for her college graduation. They were able to work it out and I was able to meet with the director and the producer in New York, because they were on their way to do castings in New York, so, they set up an early session to see me. Some parts are just fate, I knew and understood the character very well because my grandmother is a very religious woman, very Catholic and raised in a very strict Catholic environment; and even though I am not exactly like the character I’ve witnessed that kind of devotion, because I was raised like that so it was very easy for me to portray my grandmother in this film.
That is great that the character is so relatable.
I know, I think that is one of the strengths of the character is to have that really strong sense of faith and that pillar of religion that Latinos have.
You guys must have had a huge set and with all the people you have working on the film, what was the energy like on set?
It was awesome; everyone was super gracious and very, very kind. It was a great set, from the top of the pecking order, from the director and the cinematographer and the whole crew, everyone just got along really well and they were all happy to come to work and everyone was in a good mood. We were under a time frame, we only had like thirty-something days to shoot the film, so we were working very fast. Diane Keaton was like “wow, I am not used to working so quickly are you sure you are going to be able to get the movie done?” and Justin Zackham, the director, was like “Don’t worry about it, I am going to get all the shots and everything is going to be great.” We worked very quickly but he (Zackham) was very open to suggestions and to input about the characters and if someone still felt like they needed to still work something out in the scene he was very available to any ideas. It was just a great environment.
That’s good, because usually sets can be, like you said, very hectic and stressful, especially with such a tight deadline it’s good you guys had such an open set.
Yeah and with such a big named cast with so many icons, a lesser director might have been intimidated but Justin was like, “Listen, if there is anything you guys think that you can bring to the table, I am all for it.” That was a really smart way for him to work with all these people that have been in the industry for so many years.
Yeah, you guys have a lot of big names in the film, what was it like working with them?
I was amazing. I mean, Robert De Niro was very shy and very introverted, but a very sweet man, very genuine and funny. Diane Keaton was just gracious, the ultimate professional and endearing she was really lovely and complimentary and encouraging and I love to watch her work, her process is amazing. Susan Sarandon had so many anecdotes, because she has been in the business for so many years. Robin Williams was just so funny, but very gracious he really is very open and allows the other characters in the scene to shine as well and be funny, he never tried to upstage anybody it was only when the director said, “Okay, now do whatever you want,” did he ever go and do his own take or whatever. He was very respectful and just very sweet, he said “Hello” to everyone and the kids on the set and everything, and he was so charming. Everyone was really cool, Amanda Seyfried was sweet, Topher Grace was really funny, and Katherine Heigl was really a nice woman and she was there with her family, she is very family oriented. Ben Barnes, who plays my son, is just really charming and he worked really hard, because he does an American accent and he speaks in Spanish with a Colombian accent, so I really commend him for doing all the work because he worked very hard.
You have said in past interviews that it took you a long time to get to where you are in the acting world today because of the parts that were available, do you think your journey would have differed if you started out now instead of then?
Oh gosh, right now it would have been too difficult to start a career, because first of all I am a woman and women in their 40s about ten years ago didn’t even really have careers in their 40s. Only because Hollywood is aging these most famous movie stars in the world, Demi Moore, Sandra Bullock and Halle Berry, we are all in our 40s at this point and so Hollywood has really embraced not only women that are aging, but women who are heroines. So a lot of females are opening films and being a heroic character which has never happened before. So, it’s the perfect time for me to be in this age bracket, if I would have started at this age, I don’t think I would have had a career, because I wouldn’t have any credits and it’s very difficult to get started even for a young person who has no credits.
Your break out role was in the 2004 Columbian film Maria Full of Grace, what process did you go through to get that role?
That was a very long process. I was moving to Los Angeles, I had just gotten here, and a friend of mine was in New York who was auditioning for this film and she suggested me to the casting directors. So I started communicating back and forth with them because they were in New York, so they wanted me to put myself on tape and the audition was in Spanish and I didn’t have an agent or any connections here yet, so they super gracious and they were able to set up a casting session at HBO Studios. Then, I went and started putting myself on tape there and sending the tapes to New York, this went on for a few weeks. Then I happened to be going to New York for something, so I called them, went into the office in New York and met them in person, and put myself on tape again over there. Then months later, after they had been in Colombia and hired Catalina [Sandino Moreno] and some of the other female roles, they finally called and they said they would love to have you be part of the project. That took 2 or 3 months, it was very stressful (laughs).
I can imagine, waiting all that time to find out. I get antsy after a week if I don’t find out something.
It was just that I have to leave it to faith and it was meant and just let it go. That was one the films that I was like I know I am meant to be in this movie and if this is what the universe wants it will happen. It was such a long process and my faith sustained me through it and I was fortunate and did get the role. It definitely opened a lot of doors for me; it was like a threshold to get through to another level.
Yeah, definitely it got very good reviews, critical praise and Oscar nominations. How did your life and career change after that role?
I would go into casting sessions and the casting directors would know my work and they would be like, “I loved your performance in Maria Full of Grace,” and I was offered film roles after that. It just gave me a lot of respect in the industry, which was amazing, because I was working for 15 years at that point, so to have kind of have a stamp of approval made my career and my process a little bit easier, it did open a lot of doors for me.
That is good, especially since a lot of actors are waiting for that break out film and its hard to find.
Yeah, and it doesn’t always come. You have to be so patient, because you never know when it is going to come. You have to have such commitment and conviction to keep going, because some days you feel like quitting and you quit the day before something amazing happens for you.
It’s a lot of having faith in yourself and the industry.
Absolutely, but it is like that for every career, it takes years to become a doctor or a lawyer. I think that you have to understand that it is a career and it’s a process and it doesn’t happen overnight and you have to put in the work.
I think a lot of people have a different view on acting, that you just get into the industry and you get all these parts.
Exactly, yes. Sometimes people get very lucky and they will get discovered right away, but even if they do they will still have to have a career after that and put in the time and the work to sustain a career.
What projects do you have coming up next after The Big Wedding?
I am actually working with my partner, I actually have a production company with him, and we are writing a script, it’s a female lead driven script that is a vehicle for me and we are going to produce it and shoot it. I am not the type of person that sits around waiting for things to happen, I make things happen, I’m very proactive about my career. If another job comes along I am always in motion moving towards the next job and I think work gets work, if you are constantly creating the universe kind of reciprocates that and brings it back; you reap what you sow. I am also writing a book, it’s anecdotes about the industry and my years struggling as a female, as a Latina. It’s just really funny stories about not giving up it’s called, How to Make it in the Middle, because you can be an actor and have a career and not be famous. People don’t understand, just because you are in a lot of movies and do TV all the time, everybody thinks you are automatically a famous actor and that is not true, you are a working actor (laughs). So, I have been working on that for like a year, so I am hopefully going to have it done so I can get it out and share and inspire people. The more that we write, the more we produce, and the more that we become show runners and directors, we will be able to change the Latino image in the perception of television and film, nobody is going to change it if we don’t.
Definitely and it is already starting to change a bit too.
Yeah it is, definitely, but we still have a long way to go and I would love to, at some point, have a place where I could encourage young writers and performers to follow their dreams. Art and theater were a very important part of my life and without it I wouldn’t have become an actor and I think that part of our community and education is disappearing and we need it, because dreams are what sustain a society.
Shannon O’Connor ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Editor-in-Chief