How To Make a Memorable Character w/ Gotham’s Victoria Cartagena

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Victoria Cartagena made such an impact during the interview that I was totally thrown off guard. – ILANA

Let’s talk about Victoria Cartagena, aka Vicki, who plays Detective Renee Montoya on FOX’s Gotham.

When an actor takes a huge chunk out of their time to perfect an interview, that also gives one a sense of how serious they take their job.

As with any other job, acting is not just about acting – it’s also about how you conduct yourself, what you do to promote yourself and how to handle rejection and success.

The original topic of this article was about something totally different, but it quickly changed to what it is now when I interviewed Victoria Cartagena.

Victoria made such an impact during the interview that I was totally thrown off guard.

As I thought about it more and more, this is exactly what I, as a viewer, would want – to be thrown off guard. That’s what takes an ordinary character and makes them memorable.

You’re currently on FOX’s hit TV series Gotham as Detective Renee Montoya. Tell us about your audition.

I auditioned with Meg Simon and Findley Davidson from the WB. I was eager to read for them because anytime I’d walk into their casting office I always got this sense that they were rooting for me. Meg has always been really supportive since the start of my career, so it’s always nice to audition for her. Anyway, the producers were very secretive about the project so there was no script but I received dummy sides for a character named Kim which described her as a detective who was stubborn, tough, honest and super passionate. With that information I prepared for the scene as best as I could but I also wanted to make sure that I looked the part. I just had no idea what to wear so I tried to think of another badass female character and the first person I thought of was Sarah Connor! I was obsessed with that show (The Sarah Connor Chronicles). I remember watching Lena Headey’s audition tape where she wore a black tank & black jeans and I was like, AHA! I put on my best copycat outfit, complimented it with some wannabe military boots and I went on my way. I’m pretty sure that the tank is what got me the part so thank you, Cersei! (Lena Heady’s character in Game of Thrones)

What traits in a character would make you feel uncomfortable? How would feeling uncomfortable help or not help you portray the character?

I guess playing a character that has really different traits than I do would initially make me feel uncomfortable. Then again if I take on the role, accept that challenge and do the work (preparation) then eventually or hopefully I will be at home in the character’s shoes. It means I have to be prepared or else I’ll end up not knowing or understanding who I’m playing and I’ll fail. I won’t be able to fool anyone because the camera will pick it up and then so will the audience.

At what point did you know your character had a steamy past relationship with Barbara Kean, played by Erin Richards? Who told you? What was your reaction?

I knew when Erin Richards told me. I met her at the cast dinner and as she walked over to introduce herself she asked if I was playing Renee. I told her that I was and she opened her arms, gave me a big hug and said, Hello, lover! She actually still introduces me to others as her lesbian lover! She’s hilarious, very witty, smart and beautiful and I thought to myself, lucky me this is going to be a real treat!

Do you / did you study with an acting coach?

No, but I am going to. A lot of people may not know this but my partner in crime [on Gotham], Andrew Stewart-Jones AKA Crispus Allen, is a private acting coach. He has offered to coach me although I don’t know how wise that would be since we’re always clowning around, ha! All jokes aside, he’s brilliant, knows his stuff, knows me and I feel really comfortable with him because of that I think I would benefit from taking a class with someone that I respect and trust as much as Andrew. At the same time he should cut me a break. Andy knows how much I love a discount!

Renee’s past relationship with Barbara is complex, as they were both battling addictions. What are your thoughts on your character’s complex layers?

As the actress playing Renee, I welcome her complexity! She (and the writers who created her along with the writers at Gotham) challenge me to stay on my toes. She has so much going on in that beautiful mind. I always have to be aware of her intentions at every moment: she’s compassionate, stubborn, loving, smart, angry etc. there is so much depth and so many layers to play! Bottom line, I get to live in her mind-the most sacred of places and come up with an execution for her thoughts! As an actor it doesn’t get any better than that!

Do you read your script on paper or electronic?

They send us the full script electronically and that’s how I read it first. A hard copy is provided at the cast read throughs, which I prefer because it means I get to mark up my scenes with notes.

What tricks do you use to memorize your lines? Do you have a sacred space where you do your lines?

I have a sacred room in the basement (which I need to have redone) where I run lines. It’s nothing special, in fact it looks like it hasn’t been renovated since the 70s! The previous owner put down this shaggy mustard colored rug and this weird crappy wood to cover the walls. It drives me nuts! In fact every once in while I’ll walk in there and go all Jessica Lange yelling, “KNOTTY PINE!” just for shits and giggles (look it up, you’ll thank me). Anyway, as far as learning lines, I’ve gone through phases. There was a time when I used to write them over and over until they sunk in, other times I would read them again and again but I’ve recently discovered this app called Line Learner and it’s great because it allows you to record the other character’s lines so you can play them back. It’s less time consuming than my old methods and it’s also more effective. Oooh, the best part is that it’s free! (Author’s Note: In case you’re too lazy to look up Knotty Pine, we looked it up for you! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-MUcpPRF-sQ

What’s your favorite Gotham scene?

I have many but recently I am loving the scenes with Barbara, Selina and Ivy. It’s hysterical watching them bond and seeing Barbara take fashion and romantic advice from teenage squatters. They work well together and the scenes are just fun to watch.

When about to work on a scene with Erin Richards, what type of preparation do you do?

The first thing we do, before stepping on set, is that we talk about the scene and we give our interpretation of what we think is going on. Once we get to set we keep that line of communication open and just try and connect with each other so that we are open enough to let Renee and Barbara really come through.

What’s your take on minorities in television and film?

Over the past few years, I think there has been great progress in the representation of minorities on television. And it’s probably because the world’s state of mind has changed and is still changing. There’s more color blind casting which is more realistic in that it represents the diversity we see around us every day, that of a more accepting society. It’s a good thing when you start to see shows that have more than one minority as series regulars because it means that stories are being told from different perspectives and more people are being included.

What’s your food and workout routine?

I wish I ate better but I run six miles a day and I use that as an excuse to eat whatever I want which is probably not the healthiest thing in the world. But I also do 30 push-ups and 30 pull-ups on a pull-up bar I bought off of Amazon. You think I would be proud by those numbers but I don’t know, I’m almost sure that I’m not doing them correctly — I mean, have you seen my arms? They’re less Popeye and more Olive Oyl. I should probably consult with a personal trainer at some point.

What are you addicted to?

Running and ice cream is a constant in my life but I would say that right now I am addicted to Empire, Orphan Black and St. Vincent AKA Annie Clark! (Look her up as well. You’re welcome.) [Author’s Note: http://ilovestvincent.com/ – you’re welcome 😉 )

In any of your auditions, did you ever have a chemistry test?

I had a successful chemistry test for The Bedford Diaries. I was the only girl there testing for the role and there were four guys reading for the part of my my love interest. I sat in the waiting room for about 10 minutes before one of the guys, Ernest Waddell, approached me and asked if I wanted to run lines while we waited to be called in. I jumped at the chance since none of the other guys had asked me and I thought it was good idea. We ended up going over our lines and chatting, by the time we walked in the room we had connection that I didn’t have with any of the other guys and so the chemistry was just there.

Do you have any rituals before starting your work day?

I do because if I don’t find the time to unwind before working it causes some anxiety. So on days when I am shooting I get up early to do breathing exercises for about ten minutes in the morning and then again ten minutes before I am picked up. I find that it actually calms me and the great thing about it is that I can do it anywhere at any time. Occasionally, you can find me doing it on set in between set ups. I’ll go into a corner to breathe, run lines or just to check in with myself. Andrew does this exaggerated impression of me doing the exercises. I always act annoyed when he does it but it’s actually pretty funny!

What good and bad fan experiences have you had?

Knock on wood, I have only had positive experiences. All of my interactions with fans via social media have been great! I’ve never actually met any fans in person [outside of work] though and no one has ever recognized me on the street. Although, I could be wrong about that because there’s this guy that works at a local store I frequent and for about a year we’d always chat at the check out line but the last few times I’ve been in there he doesn’t talk to me. Aside from acting a little nervous he pulls out his phone, brings it up almost like he’s about to take a selfie and starts texting except his thumbs aren’t moving so I’m thinking it’s got to be one of two things: either he thinks he recognizes me and he is actually taking a picture or his eyesight is going and he is in fact, just trying to text. (About me of course :) ) On second thought wouldn’t it be funny if he was just taking inventory? [Author’s Note: Wouldn’t it be even more funny if he was reading this interview?]

What’s the most annoying thing about acting?

I think the most challenging thing about acting is that you are never promised another job.

Are there craft services [food] on the set of Gotham?

ARE THERE ANY CRAFT SERVICES?! ARE THERE ANY CRAFT SERVICES?! Yes, they have craft services and anyone who knows me knows how excited I get about crafty. Just the thought of having every single snack food I’ve have ever craved in one spread…it just makes my heart want to burst! It’s the little things in life, folks!

Is attending conventions and hyping up Gotham in social media written into your contract?

Participating in a certain number of public appearances is in my contract however hyping Gotham in social media is not.

Tell us about the history of your name.

My full name is Victoria Luz Cartagena. It means victorious light! I was named after both my parents, Victor and Luz. I didn’t appreciate my name as a kid because it sounded so grown up but over the years I’ve grown to love it. How could I not when I was named after the first loves of my life?!

Anything you’d like to say to aspiring actors on doing same-sex scenes?

It’s probably easy for me to say but I’d tell them to have at it! In all seriousness, I’d tell them that if they’re uncomfortable they should approach their scene partner and talk. Your scene partner is your life line in a scene. They’re there to support you and vice versa so open up a dialogue so that everyone is on the same page…and THEN have at it, kids! 😉 [Author’s Note: I’ll let you look up have at it on your own]

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