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Exclusive Interview with ‘Casa Grande’ Star Loren Escandón

Award-Winning Afro-Latina actress and filmmaker Loren Escandón is making her mark in the entertainment industry. The Cali, Colombia native got her start in the arts at the age of eight through the National Ballet School. Ballet quickly awoke Loren’s curiosity about the world, growing her desire to travel to understand other cultures and people, sprouting her passion in a career steered towards acting and storytelling. After graduating from the Universidad del Valle in her native Colombia with a degree in Theater in hand, Loren made the massive move to the states in pursuit of achieving her dreams.

It didn’t take long for Loren to make her mark in the industry recurring in series such as MGM’s The Baxters and CW’s The Messengers. She can also be recognized for several guest appearances on popular series, including Fox’s 9-1-1, Netflix’s Gentefied, CBS’s S.W.A.T, ABC Studio’s For the People, Netflix’s Selena: The Series, and Apple TV+’s Truth Be Told to name a few. Most recently, Loren appeared in Netflix’s hit summer film Purple Hearts as Marisol – Single mother to singer-songwriter Cassie, who agrees to marry a troubled Marine. The film can currently be streamed via the platform. 

Expanding her resume, Loren is also a highly recognized filmmaker known for her contributions as a director and writer,  starting with her debut short film anthology, Phone Tales, which was invited to multiple festivals in 2018. Her most recent film,Los Patines, later won several awards, including Best Short at San Pedro International Film Festival, Best Latino Short and Director at NYC Downtown Short Film Festival, and Screenplay at the Panamanian International Film Festival/LA, among others. Fans of Loren’s work can keep an eye out for her latest film in response to the overturn of Roe v Wade, Give Me An A. She is next set to head back home to Colombia to bring her latest project to life, where fans can expect it to hit the festival circuit soon after. 

Loren hopes to follow the lead of fellow influential filmmakers such as Ava DuVernay, who have made incredible production models for diversity and inclusion through all opportunities created, allowing new voices to find a place to speak up. Coming from a bi-racial background, Loren plans to use her platform to tell stories that connect us to our humanity, bringing joy and hope. Still, most of all, Loren wants to represent her AfroLatinx culture proudly. A proud activist at heart, Loren has previously taken part in the Humans Who Feed Us fundraising committee — an organization run by Monica Ramirez and Mujerx Rising — and even sat on the board of the Boston Court Pasadena Theater. She looks to continue contributing to causes related to diversity, equity, and inclusion, including fighting hunger, pets, and mental health, which has personally affected her family.

Hi Loren, welcome to OLC! Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you found your passion in the entertainment industry?

Thank you so much for having me. My name is Loren Escandón; I am an actress, filmmaker, and producer. I wear all the hats needed in order to get our stories to see the light. My artistic career started in my childhood. When I was 8, my mother came home and told me I would audition for the National Ballet School in Colombia, Incolballet. I didn’t even know what ballet was, but my mom convinced me to do it. Over the years, I realized that she wanted to remove me from the challenging reality of my neighborhood; that was her way of doing just that.

I became a professional ballerina, but it got to the point that my body was not up to the task. Ballet can be brutal to the body. However, I really missed being on stage and performing, so I auditioned for the theater program in college and got in. I became part of the college theater company. I traveled around the world, which opened up my perspective on storytelling and the human experience. That’s when I decided storytelling was my path regardless of the discipline or tool I would use to do it. 

Let’s talk about your new limited series, Casa Grande, can you tell me a bit about it and who you play?

I am super excited to be part of this show. And happy it finally found a home on Freevee. Casa Grande is a place where farm owners and farm workers’ realities collideto bring out the best and the worst of their humanity. A place where love, loyalty, survival, injustice, and the dynamicsbetween all those elements find fertile ground to flourish. It’s a microcosmos of the society we live in. 

As for Ximena,she reminds me a lot of myself and my mother. She is a fierce defender of her family while also being the life of the party. She is like a spark plug; I adore her! She exudes warmth; she is a leader in her community and family. She had her kid, Mael, early, so she missed having the freedom of her youth. She is keenly aware of what is happening in her home as a wife and mother, always watching everything to ensure that harmony is preserved.

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What was your experience like working on this show?

It was fascinating. On a very personal note, Ximena came to my life to help me heal from my mother’s recent transition; as an artist, it came to allow me to explore motherhood and faith, two fundamental parts of my own mother’s life, so it was like stepping into her shoes and having the opportunity to honor her existence through my art; as a person we were in the very beginnings of Covid, we were all trying to figure how to live, work and survive these new circumstances and reality. It was quite a journey to be quarantined with all these people I didn’t know before stepping into my first day of shooting; at the same time, it was pure magic because we really bonded and created our little family away from home. 

How did you prepare for your role, and how much of you went into your character?

I prepared like I do with all the characters that come my way. I initially connect with what we have in common, parts of this humanity that are similar to my own, and then start digging deeper into the root of the character’s core beliefs and their origin. Under different circumstances, I would’ve taken a trip up north to visit farms and talk to farmers, but it was not possible. However, since I am a filmmaker, I was working on a story taking place on a strawberry farm in Oxnard for a while, so all that leg work really informed my crafting of Ximena. Mostly, I intended to create a character filled with pride and respect for her own journey, an imperfect human the audience could relate to because of her flaws. 

You are also a writer and director, what do you love about creating film as opposed to being on the screen?

Both journeys filled my heart differently, and I love doing both.

As a writer, I have some control over the narrative. I can explore the characters I want to create, keeping a close eye on composing lives that feel like an accurate reflection of my community and the realities familiar to me; I aim to write stories that focus on the universal experience of humanity while keeping race and cultural background relevant to the story and diving into themes I want to use as a starting point of conversations. 

As a director, I get to collaborate with the most varied set of people possible. I love creating a playground where every person on set enriches the stories and infuses a sense of veracity that is otherwise hard to fabricate. 

As an actress, I’m somewhat limited to portraying roles that have already been developed, occasionally resulting in stereotypes. Regardless, I always embrace the characters with empathy and respect. When I act, I put my humanity and compassion front and center. It’s like therapy, the opportunity to explore all these parts of me that otherwise would go untouched.

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Now this is something that’s very important to you, so I want to ask, why do you think representation as an Afro-Latina is vital in today’s media?

Because we are a significant part of our society, we are creators, consumers, and an active part of the economy. Because we exist. Since we are appealing for Latinx/e representation in the entertainment industry, media, and storytelling, we can not ignore the fact that the Afro-Latinx / black Latinos make Latinx culture vibrant. About 130 million people in Latin America are of African Descent: Colombia, my country, is number 3 on that list only after Brazil and Haiti, and Mexico is 7th after the Dominican Republic. If we want authenticity and accurate representation, we need to be part of the conversation and go deeper and examine those who are writing the programs, setting the plots, and creating the characters who are meant to be us. Media is a pivotal educational tool; if the business decides to turn a blind eye to our existence, it would be a denial of our contributions to Latinidad; if our stories are told from the lens of someone unfamiliar with our ancestry, we will keep promoting a clichéd and/or one-dimensional life experiences, and that would be the way the world would keep perceiving us. 

Do you have any more film projects in the works you can tell us about?

I am working on a new story called Gris. It is the tale of Sofia, a grad student based in Los Angeles, who is applying for an MA program and encounters the question of ethnicity. At that moment, Sofia goes down memory lane to remember the first time she had to answer the same question in the first grade. I am excited about the project because I intend to return to my country and shoot it there. I am excited about creating a piece that would allow for a conversation about race, colorism, and bias in our culture to find a ground to happen. Besides the theme, it is a true challenge for me, as it is the first time I will be directing a film that mixes live-action and animation. Finding the funds and support to make it happen as an independent filmmaker is also a challenge, so there is a lot of learning in the process. However, I am sure the right collaborators will join to make it happen. It’s a sweet, timely story.

I have a question I have often wondered about; How do you go about writing a film, and more importantly, once you’ve written it, where do you submit it?

Well, that is a complicated question. Some stories come like thunder. An idea comes to your heart, and you can’t stop writing it. I wrote The Last Store, a short part of Give Me an A anthology, pretty much in one day and took one set of notes to get it to shooting draft. It was a story burning my soul when the overturn of Roe.V. Wade happened; it was like a story that always lived in my heart. However, with Los Patines, for example, it was a story with an initial draft I created seven years before I revisited it. I wrote it in Spanish and translated it to English, then I shot it in English and edited it in Spanish; that story had a life of its own.

I am at a moment of my writing journey where I write what is familiar to me, my life experience, so there is some familiarity with the subjects, but that doesn’t make the process easier. Writing is an exercise in vulnerability, sometimes serving as therapy; sometimes, you need therapy before or after. Seriously. 

Once you write it, you need to figure out what kind of story you have in your hands. Is it a project doable on your own or with a few friends? Does the project need a more structured foundation, like a producer or financial plan? Is this a sample that would get you to a writer’s room? Or is the goal to make it a stepping stone for fellowships? There are so many ways to Rome, but mostly, it is about getting many “No’s” out of the way so you can get to “Yes’s” fast enough. 

What advice do you have for aspiring actors who hope to one day be discovered?

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I really don’t think you “get discovered.” You prepare your craft and prepare for when the opportunity comes knocking on your door. Then you work diligently and ethically, show respect to everyone involved, have some fun, and repeat the process all over again. And because the path is not necessarily easy, regardless of how it comes to you, I advise any actor to be seriously aware of their mental health. Everyone should pay close attention to it, but as actors and artists, we constantly tap into our vulnerabilities, so having a mental health routine is indispensable. 

And don’t wait for opportunities; create your own and share with others what you have learned during that journey. Once you open a door, keep it open for the ones behind you.

What’s next for you in 2023?

Writing, finding opportunities to break into TV directing, and hopefully, we get another season of Casa Grande. I would love to keep exploring Ximena and her relationships with her community. Keep expanding on my journey as a human and artist, becoming a better person. 


Socials: @neillfrazer

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