by Steven Sanchez
Every year, hopefuls from around the country move to Hollywood to fulfill their dreams of achieving acting stardom. The glitz and glamour of the art form is displayed at award shows, on social media, and in magazines. Some make it and some don’t, but that doesn’t stop people from giving Tinseltown a try. For a wife and mother in the Central Valley, honing her craft and attracting attention from LaLa Land for her gritty portrayals and character range, guides her career path. That woman is Alena Gerard.
Alena is doing what aspiring starlets do to build a resume. She’s a model, she’s done hosting gigs, commercial work, and has made the transition into short films, feature films, and now, a series. She’s the embodiment of the belief that sometimes the best story told is not on a screen or in a book, but one that’s been lived. She’s got quite a bit of source material to work with when getting into her characters, because even though she’s followed drama as a career path, Alena has lived through drama in her personal life.
King’s River Life featured her last year for her participation in the short film based on her life, Impossible, which was directed by KP Phagnasay and produced by Alena herself. It told the story of how a wife and mother escapes her abusive relationship with her husband, and she and her daughter seek salvation through the power of her faith and passion. It was not an easy shoot for her as it brought back painful memories, but through that negative reminiscence came something wonderful. The film was nominated for nine awards at the 168 Film Festival in Los Angeles, including a Best Actress nomination for Gerard.
She then transitioned into darker subject matter by going into the horror genre with The Evil Down The Street, directed by David Espinosa and produced by Craig Ahrens. The synopsis of the film:
“The Ryan family move into their dream home having no idea their new home is possessed by a demon. Katie Ryan becomes tormented by the demon and begins to terrorize her family. A Paranormal Horror Thriller inspired by true events.”
To go from a victim-turned-survivor in one project and then into a possessed woman is quite a stretch, but if anybody can do it…it’s Alena. It’s currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Her most recent horror film, The Crumbs, another endeavor directed by David and produced by Craig, just wrapped and now it’s in the post-production process. IMDb describes the film:
“The Crumbs is a story about a Doctor who creates a life-preserving serum. Together with his family he runs a Bed and Breakfast Inn in the woods, where unsuspecting visitors are subject to The Crumb Family procedures.”
And now, her talents are being showcased in the mini-series, The Bench, which is currently filming. Details are limited on the pilot, but no matter what the story is, they made the right choice in casting Alena. Kings River Life had the privilege to sit down with her to get her take on her acting methods, the impact of delving into a character and story that hits close to home, what it’s like to be in a movie that deals with possession even though she’s a woman of faith, and what the future holds in store for her career.
KRL: What was the spark that lit the fuse that became the main motivation or inspiration for you to want to become an actress?
Alena: Well, I’ve always wanted to become an actress when I was a little girl, but never had the opportunity; and then I became a stay-at-home mom and life kind of took me in a different direction. It was always in my heart, and one day I heard about an event that was going on at one of the hotels downtown (not knowing it was one of those scam events); it sparked that little light that I had been holding on to. Things just kind of fell into place after that…it was so strange, but such a blessing!
KRL: What’s your age? At the age you began and the age you are now, are considered career suicide, since conventional Hollywood will deem you “old.” What’s your response to that and how do you deal with it?
Alena: I’m going to be 38 years old in August, and started my acting career two-and-a-half years ago. I think Hollywood has changed so much in terms of “conventional Hollywood.” I believe there really isn’t an age limit anymore or a certain look you have to uphold. That’s the amazing era that I think we’re in right now, where diversity is being accepted now more than ever. It’s a total game changer for everyone.
KRL: When you started did you already have prior acting experience, or was it an endeavor that was a bucket list thing that you always wanted to do and just never got the chance?
Alena: I had just barely started acting classes; I’ve never had any prior experience before this. The only thing I knew how to do was play softball and take care of kids! When I was a kid, acting wasn’t the only thing I wanted to do. I mean I wanted to be a police officer, firefighter, horseback rider, gymnast—I mean you name it I wanted to try it! The really cool thing is that with acting I may still be able to be get these off my “bucket list” in a crazy unconventional way.
KRL: So how you would describe your acting style? Are you a method actress, constantly staying in character, or do you become the character when they say action and you stop when the director says cut?
Alena: I definitely consider myself method; when I know I have a role to play, I constantly embody that character. Even before I’m about to film I notice the change. For example, I run lines or scenes in my head, and people have mistaken me for looking “scared” where I have to relay the emotion in my eyes that I am fearful. I think it’s important to constantly stay in character, to live out the moment for an authentic reaction.
KRL: You’re a wife and mother and you live here. You have to commute to Los Angeles for auditions and gigs. What’s it like juggling the workload of going back and forth, and being a family person while being an actress?
Alena: L.A. is really not that far of a drive, and to be honest with you, I think I’m fortunate to live in Fresno because it’s centrally located between L.A. and the Bay Area (where filming is prominent, too). With technology changing, it has opened up opportunities for everyone because they are gearing towards self-taped auditions. And that saves a lot of time and money. But juggling can be extremely hard when there are times when you cannot go to some of your children’s extracurricular activities.
KRL: Fresno has a good film community. It’s rising and people who are a part of it are willing to help each other. But we still have a long way to go to come close to what Southern California can offer. For you, what separates the Fresno film community from Hollywood?
Alena: It’s always great to see local filmmakers doing their thing, and there are so many talented actors here. I think we do have a ways to go because we are so limited with resources, like local acting classes or just general information that goes on in the back-end of production. There’s really nothing like being around people who have been in this industry for a very long time that can personally show you the ins and outs of this industry.
KRL: Last year we featured the film you were in, Impossible. It was based on your life and how you escaped an abusive relationship and found salvation through the power of your faith and passion. What was it like going down that dark abyss of memories to bring that story to life? Was there a time where you second-guessed yourself and the production on why you were making it, and thinking it might be best to stop?
Alena: I never second-guessed what we were doing. One thing I’ve always wanted to do is show awareness to others that suffer in silence. I’ve lived a pretty rough life, and some of the things I have experienced I’m barely opening up to because it’s extremely personal and sometimes shameful. But, in order to be a voice [for others] I guess that’s the name of the game—to be vulnerable and open about certain situations and to understand that everything happens for a reason. Impossible did take me back to a few different places in my life that were very dark; it brought back a lot of memories…good and bad. I thank God every day for my faith because if it wasn’t for Him I honestly don’t know where I’d be at today.
KRL: You’ve seen the finished film. Is it hard to watch or is it something that, since you’ve already been through the pain, watching it is easier now?
Alena: It’s never easy to watch again. It’s kind of like when you turn pages of a photo album and you see a picture of your grandfather that has passed. You remember how special that person was to you, you remember the day when that picture was taken, you remember the joy he brought into your life, and then sadness sets in because you realize you miss him. Every picture you look at takes you to that moment and what you were feeling at that specific moment. The film is like that: a photo album with each scene and multiple emotions going on all at the same time.
KRL: You were nominated for best actress at the 168 Film Festival in Hollywood, and the film was nominated for eight other awards, as well. What was it like knowing that, even though it was inspired by your personal tragedy, the end result was a satisfying product that received praise?
Alena: Something someone told me a long time ago was, “in every bad situation there will always come good out of it.” I may have never thought that back then, but I see the goodness now! And I personally think the only reason why we were nominated was because of the dedication of the cast and crew and my manager/director, KP’s vision. Every ounce of that film had a piece of everybody that was involved in it making it a beautiful masterpiece. To be honored with that many nominations all goes to cast/crew.
KRL: Right now, the #MeToo Movement is a big thing, and a lot of the abuse that has taken place in Hollywood is being exposed. When you started out, was it ever a concern that it could happen to you, and now that it’s a prevalent topic do you plan on making a contribution to this movement? If so, how would you go about it?
Alena: This is such a touchy subject! And it’s unfortunate that so many people are experiencing this…it saddens me when I hear about individuals who were taken advantage of because of power or just being naive and given false information or promises.
KRL: Your most recent film, The Evil Down The Street, is about a haunted house, and possession. And the short film Impossible is about abuse. You’ve been quite involved with dark subject matter. Are you attracted to projects that are dark, or are they just the productions that you’ve been given?
Alena: Ha ha! I need to start doing more positive roles! I don’t think I’m attracted to dark matter…it just happened that way.
KRL: You’re a woman of faith, and this recent film is about possession and the supernatural. Is it tough when dealing with these kinds of topics, and if so, how do you handle it?
Alena: As a woman of faith I also believe in the supernatural and have experienced it in my life. It is a topic I think that a lot of faith believers steer away from because it’s very real and scary. But truth is truth, and I think Craig Ahrens and David Espinosa did a wonderful job sharing a story that is based on actual events. It wasn’t over the top with possession but a bold statement on what can potentially happen when you dabble with the dark forces. I’m not going to lie: I had my holy oil in hand and was constantly in prayer for protection.
KRL: Are you a horror fan? If you are or not, then why?
Alena: I am a horror fan! But not so much of gore. I love horror movies that are based on true events. There is something about a film that is based on true events that is so intriguing and captivating. It makes you really think about this world and what goes on between the lines…if that makes sense.
KRL: Are there genres that you haven’t been involved in that you would like to try?
Alena: Comedy! I would love to be on a set where everyone is laughing all day long, or improving and blurting out the first thing that naturally comes to mind. It reminds me of when I’m with my boys and they are hilarious. So, I can only imagine what it would be like to be around a bunch of silly people having fun!
KRL: There are a lot more opportunities in Hollywood than there are here, so why don’t you live in Los Angeles?
Alena: Because traffic sucks! There’s a lot of different variables that keep me here. Especially the fact that Fresno is my home. I was born and raised here in the Valley and it’s not that easy to just pick up a blended family and move. You have to consider the kids first. Later down the line I do have a plan that will allow me to stay months at a time if need be.
KRL: What is your end goal as an actress? When people see your career, what would you like them to remember you for, and what would you like your legacy to be?
Alena: I’ve never really thought of an end goal, I just allow God to steer this journey and wherever it takes me is wherever it takes me. I’m just grateful for the opportunity to be able to do this. As far as a legacy, I just want my kids to be able to say someday that I was a wonderful mom and that they love me.