Marlene Forte is Acting

A co-star of the upcoming "Dallas" reboot is quickly becoming one of the most recognized Latinas on TV

By Al Carlos Hernandez, Contributing Editor
Published on LatinoLA: May 9, 2012

Marlene Forte is Acting

Marlene Forte appeared in many independent films since the early 1990's. She received Imagen Foundation Award's nomination for her performance on the 2008 movie "Little Girl Lost: The Delimar Vera Story". On television, Forte appeared in recurring roles on "House of Payne" and "Crossing Jordan".

Her film appearances include the transporter chief in the 2009 "Star Trek" reboot and Mrs. Glass in "Real Women Have Curves". In 2012 she will be a series regular on TNT's revamped "Dallas" playing Carmen Ramos, longtime Ewing family housekeeper and mother to Elena. Her younger sister is television journalist Lesley Ann Machado. She is married to playwright and writing instructor Oliver Mayer and her daughter is actress Giselle Rodriguez

Marlene Forte has done it all - she has experienced motherhood, owned a business and lived a full life before setting foot on stage. She is quickly becoming one of the most recognized Latinas on TV.

Marlene married her high school sweetheart and played house for four years until she divorced. She didn't have the luxury to start acting; she had a daughter and had to finish college. She turned 30 (her daughter was about 10 years old) when she opened up a video store in New Bergen, New Jersey. She thought that this was going to be her way of becoming an actress - being her own boss and she would be in the "movie" business.

She ran her own business for six years and the last three were spent dabbling in acting, going back and forth to New York and doing dinner theater in New Jersey. LAByrinth Theater Company, the Latino's Actors Base, and a new theater company that was being formed in New York, was holding auditions and she got in. She is one of the thirteen original members of this now prestigious company. LAByrinth was where she learned everything she knew about acting at that point.

Marlene currently is very involved in the Los Angeles Latino community. She took the job as creative director of the famed theater group Company of Angels. In short order she made her filmmaking debut, directing a series of webisodes for Latina Magazine. She earned her Directors Guild membership by directing ground breaking webisodes of Ruth Livier's "YLSE".

In addition to acting, she teaches at East L.A Classic Theater Company. She is involved in the East L.A. Unified School System and teaches a thirteen week course on playwriting. Contributing Editor Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez was delighted to speak with Marlene earlier this week. A special thank you to great friend, Ruth Livier for the introduction.

AC: Tell us why your Cuban family came to New York. What inspired you, as you grew up, to pursue the arts? What was your childhood dream?

MF: My parents left Cuba for political reasons in 1962. We came straight to New York because my dad's sister was already in New York and my dad really wanted to get as far away from Cuba has he could get. So Florida wasn't even a choice.

I am the oldest of three girls and my dad named all his girls after actresses! Marlene Dietrich. Yvette Mimieux. Lesley Ann Warren. I was thirteen when my baby sister was born so I helped picked her name. Lesley Ann Warren was doing "Cinderella" on TV and we were looking through the TV Guide! LOL. So acting was destined to be in my family.

I think he was trying to keep us off the streets with piano and dance lessons but he didn't realize he was actually molding my career - even back then! Acting wasn't his choice for me. He wanted me to be a lawyer and I almost went to law school. I had very good grades and was a very good student but I ALWAYS wanted to act!

I had a wonderful music teacher in 4th grade and she put me on stage and I never looked back!

AC: You married your childhood sweetheart at a young age and had a baby girl. Did that encourage or impede your career?

MF: It did take me a long time to actually get to it because I did marry young and became a very young mom. It did keep me from starting at a young age but my daughter saved my life. I was never really able to get too crazy because I had to get up early and take my daughter to school. So being a young mom was my salvation.

AC: As a business person, you started your own video store at a young age and did that for six years. Tell us about that.

MF: The video store thing was my brilliant idea. I thought if I was my own boss I would have time to act. Well, that didn't work out so great because I had to run the place 24/7. Acting didn't happen 'till I sold the store much later.

Although, I did learn everything about movies from my video store. I didn't study acting in college. I was going to be a teacher or a lawyer or something practical, so my movie training expanded in my video store. I loved my six years in the video store and if it wasn't for Blockbusters, I would probably still have the shop. Although I think I got out just in time.

AC: Like Quentin Tarentino, did owning a video store inform your career?

MF: My daughter loved the store. Her favorite movie was "Young Frankenstein" and "Beaches". I'm not too sure if it helped our acting but I know we both learned lots in that little store! Later I would audition for an acting group that was just starting off called LAB....Latino Acting Base, which later turned into LAByrinth.

AC: Tell us about your experiences when LAByrinth Theater Company came along? (LAB - Latinos Actors Base in New York)

MF: I became a founding member of this amazing theater company and it was with these talented folks that I learned everything I know about acting. Actors like Paul Calderon, Gary Perez, John Ortiz, Sam Rockwell, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Judy Reyes, David Zayas, Ana Ortiz, Yul Vasquez, and Steven Adly Guirgis! I was in very good company! It was with this group and at Intar that I first got on stage in New York. That was my first professional stage job.

AC: Tell us about your first performance. Who is your greatest supporter?

MF: I was so scared and excited and I still remember the first time I walked onto that stage! I played David Zayas drunken sister. I think my greatest supporter was my daughter. She has always been there. I would drag her to all my rehearsals. It's no wonder she's an actress. I headed to LA when my daughter started college. I thought it would be a good time for me to go to LA since my daughter was going to live in college.

AC: What was your very first professional performance?

MF: My first TV gig was a commercial in Spanish. Alka Seltzer Plus. That got me into the SAG. Being bilingual has always been a plus! Even in acting!

AC: What was your first TV part and how did it feel to see yourself on TV? How does fame change a person?

MF: My first TV show was a show called "Judging Amy". I didn't really like to see myself. I always think I look fat! I don't know if fame changes a person. I'm not famous! LOL. I will let you know!

AC: Which acting platform do you prefer? TV, Film, Stage

MF: I love all three platforms. I love acting. It doesn't matter where. Ideally I could do one play a year! Theater doesn't pay much so one a year is enough. BUT I do love it!

AC: Favorite TV project so far?

MF: My favorite show that I've worked on is "Dallas" right now! I loved working with these guys! I think Cynthia Cider is wonderful! She is also Cuban and I think she is an amazing writer. It has been a pleasure to work with her.

AC: Everyone in town wanted to book that part!

MF: I'm not sure why I got it, although I know that every Latina in town did audition for the role before they actually saw me! And I have always been a big fan of Larry Hagman! Way before "Dallas". I loved in him in "I Dream of Jeannie".

AC: Everyone wants to know about your "Star Trek" experience as transporter chief on the USS Enterprise.

MF: "Star Trek" was wonderful because it was an offer. I had worked with JJ Abrams on "Lost" so "Star Trek" was a great Christmas present! They booked me right before the holidays! The best part was my costume. I had four fittings for that thing. They were ALL custom made for each actor on that set! I don't especially seek out the emotional roles.

AC: You always seem to play strong, sometimes angry, often times emotional women. Do you seek those roles?

MF: That just seems to be what's out there. I find myself crying a lot! LOL. Although the older I get, the less I cry! Even Carmen has a great sense of humor! I'm very grateful for that.

AC: Tell us about your role in the new "Dallas" series on TNT. I understand the pilot is written by a Latina?

MF: I didn't want to audition at first for Dallas because it was for the part of the cook. I actually didn't even read the script. I just was not interested but then I read it and loved it! Cynthia Cidre wrote a wonderful role. A wonderful pilot and a very smart way of redoing an American classic. Don't redo it at all. Just continue it! So, you remember the Ewiings? Well, here they still are! And the family has gotten bigger! Carmen is my mom! Loving and opinionated! She runs that household. And even though she has a problem with JR, she did bring up his kid too!

AC: People hear "cook " and they think stereotypes. How do you plan to interpret the role?

MF: I don't mind stereotypes; as long as they are fully formed characters. Three dimensional people! And Cynthia has done just that.

AC: I'm told that if you were not an actor you would like to teach. Tell us about your work with Tony Plana and young actors.

MF: When I first got to LA, I had a hard time booking commercials. Commercials have always been my temp job. It is how I kept my insurance and my health and pension, but LA was commercial-challenging for me. It took a couple of years for that side to kick in!

So I audition for a wonderful company called East LA Classic Theater Company. It is Tony Plana's theater company that does amazing work in the East LA community bringing the classics into the East LA schools and introducing these wonderful classics to 5th and 6th graders. The program supplemented my income for the first couple of years out here and I loved working with them. This program is really wonderful and it works! It teaches young people how to "share their voices." Literally! It was here that I met Tony Plana.

Years later we actually got to play husband and wife in "Law and Order LA".

AC: You worked with our good friend Ruth Livier on the groundbreaking web program "Ylse".

MF: I met Ruth Livier in the theater. She came to see a play I did at the Met Theater in Los Angeles and she introduced herself to me after the show. We later got to do a play together at that same theater. Sexo, Pudor, Y Lagrimas! We had a blast and have remained friends. So, when she called me about working on a webisode, I immediately said yes.

AC: How do feel about 'new media' and what do you perceive about this media platform in the future? Will it change things?

MF: I believe the new media is the wild, wild, west and it is still to be tamed! I'm not sure if it's good or bad, but I am having lots of fun working with my friends and having the freedom to do what we want.

AC: Do you have an interest in doing more directing and producing? What kinds of projects would you like to do? What kinds of stories are they not telling?

MF: "Ylse" got me into the Director's Guild and I'm hoping to get enough hours through new media to actually do this someday. I love working with actors and I love directing, ALMOST, as much as I love acting. Although, right now, I want to act as much as possible. I can always direct later! I'm not getting any younger and I want to use my on-camera years wisely!

I also got to direct on stage during my three years at CoA. Company of Angels is the oldest rep company in LA and I joined forces with Armando Molina as co-artistic director for three years. It did take a lot of time from my on-camera work, so I decided to retire from that and get to acting, and ONLY acting, last year. And I've been very busy since. I got back from Dallas and started working on a "Paranormal Activity" spoof with Marlon Wayne and then went on to book another recurring on ABC Family's "The Secret Life of An American Teenager".

This should keep me busy 'til "Dallas" starts up again in September. Assuming it gets picked up for a second season! I hope it does! I am asked that question a lot.

AC: What advice would you give to young women who would like to pursue a career in the arts?

MF: What advice would I give to a young actress? First, I ALWAYS say, "If you can see yourself doing ANYTHING else then do that! But if you MUST act? Then learn to do it all! Produce! Write! Direct! EVERYTHING you can arm yourself with! This is a very hard choice. You MUST love it! AND NEVER do it for fame! This is America! Fame is found in many places!

AC: When it is all said and done, what would you like your legacy to be? How would you like history to remember you?

MF: Acting is the hardest way to get there! I just want to be remembered for my work. I want my colleagues to respect my work and to be a good actress. It's pretty simple. I love what I do and I want to be respected for it.

About Al Carlos Hernandez, Contributing Editor:
Edited by Susan Aceves
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