- Interview by Thief12 (Carlo Giovannetti)
Karina Arroyave is a Colombian-American actress who played the role of Jamey Farrell, CTU's main analyst during Season 1 of 24. Born in Medellín, Colombia, Arroyave moved to the US when she was still a baby. As she grew up, she developed an interest in acting and ended up studying at the High School of Performing Arts in New York.
Arroyave has made her name in iconic films like Lean on Me, Dangerous Minds, and Crash, as well as TV shows like Law & Order and NYPD Blue. But it was her role on 24 that really put her on the map. After the show, she has maintained a steady career in TV and theatre. Wiki 24 interviewed Arroyave to know about her life and career, her experience working on 24, as well as her future projects.
Wiki 24: In what part of Colombia were you born, and when did you move to the US?
Karina Arroyave: I was born in Medellín and came to the U.S. when I was 1 year old.
W24: We've read you started acting when you were still a child. How would you describe the process of realizing this was the career you wanted? Did your parents approve of your decision?
KA: When I was around 5, I would watch TV and then run to the mirror to mimic the commercials I'd just seen. I guess you could say acting was in me somehow because I did this spontaneously, with no one telling me to do it. My mother was actually my first acting coach. I would do commercials for her when I was around 10 and she would coach me. She also put me in acting class at around that same age (10) and got me my first agent.
When I was 12, I was in the drama club and learned there was a high school dedicated to learning acting (The High School of Performing Arts, now known as LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts). I told my drama teacher I wanted to go there and I believe she gave me a monologue suggestion, and I found the second one on my own. Once I got into Performing Arts I was on a definite career path.
W24: You went from playing "Girl #1" in the classic 80's TV show The Equalizer, to having a significant role on the iconic film Lean on Me. How was that evolution for you as an actress? How much of a change did that represent in your life and career?
KA: That was a significant change. When I got Lean On Me, the agency I was working with (which was different from my first agent at age 10) signed me. Although I'd trained for 4 years, I had to relearn things through the process of auditioning. I was mainly trained in theater, so acting on camera took a while to figure out (something I'm still working on). Also, the process of auditioning itself is something you can only learn by doing, regardless of the amount of training you have. When I got Lean On Me, I left the real estate office I was working in and knew I was going to dedicate myself to acting full time.
Lean On Me also changed my life personally because I kept in touch with its director, John Avildsen. He and I reconnected in a big way in 2012 when he became executive producer of a play I wrote. We remained in steady contact until his death last year. In fact, he was set to direct a feature I'm producing. I will forever be grateful for how caring and supportive John was towards me and for everything he taught me.
W24: Being a Latin woman, have you found it hard to carve a career in film and TV?
KA: I really hate that I have to answer "yes" to this. I don't want to play the victim and there are several Latina actresses that have been able to have amazing careers. The fact is, though, that there are much fewer roles for Latinas and that does account for something. I got very lucky with Jamey on 24. She was written as Caucasian. The casting director, Debi Manwiller, knew my work and brought me in anyway. I'm so incredibly grateful to her!
W24: Right now, Latinos represent almost 20% of the US population, but sometimes that doesn't transpose to the screen. What do you think has to change in the entertainment business for Latinos to be represented accordingly and accurately?
KA: Part of the change needs to happen in actual life first. Things have to improve for Latinos in the real world. The task is daunting as we are talking about everything from ending racial bias to eliminating the need for gang life, to better education and economic opportunities for Latinos, to an immigration plan that upholds the dignity of the human spirit... the list goes on. And, in order to make things better for Latinos in this country, we must make things better for Latinos in their countries of origin. Poverty in Latin American nations will usually translate into poverty for first generation immigrants.
As far as the entertainment industry goes, I think part of what keeps casting rigid is fear. As in "we can't make the maid Caucasian and the lawyer Latina, no one would believe it!" That's fear and rigidity talking. There ARE Latina lawyers and there are Caucasian maids, but staying in a certain box represents safety. So, operating from a place of braver writing and casting choices is one step. We've heard this said before, but I'll concur that more Latinos getting involved on the production end of things will certainly help. We have to remain hopeful that things are moving forward because they are, despite the current administration's attempts to hold this kind of progress back.
W24: You say "things are moving forward despite..." Now, with the amplified focus on immigration, ethnicity and race, have you as an actress sensed any kind of halting in that progress?
KA: I haven't sensed any halting in that progress. In fact, it's the opposite. Now that there's more focus on race and immigration, there will no doubt be more stories reflecting that and more roles for Latinos as a result.
W24: Any change of approach and/or reception from casting directors, co-workers, audiences?
KA: This industry is pretty liberal, so casting directors and co-workers will usually be sympathetic to the cause. As far as audiences go, I think people bring their views into their TV rooms, so that reception is going to vary from region to region in the U.S.
W24: Any hint that progress might've stopped, or worse, might be moving backwards?
KA: No hint at all on my end that progress has stopped. As I mentioned, the more Latinos are in the news, the more producers will want to tell those stories. The one factor that could be seen as a step backwards is that with immigration being in the forefront now, Latinos will be associated with that more than ever. However, if the stories this brings forth help move the conversation forward and furthers understanding of the issues and struggles on both sides of the immigration debate, ultimately we all win.
W24: What will you consider to be your most gratifying professional experience?
KA: Well, I hope I haven't had it yet, but in terms of the ones I have had, I'll have to say shooting the film 187. Everything about it, but in particular working with its director Kevin Reynolds and with Clifton Collins, Jr. To get even more specific, shooting the final speech at the end of the film. If I remember correctly we only did 4 takes and for the last one Kevin said to me "what if you just let it go" - meaning all the emotion I was holding back in the first 3. I was thrilled with the direction and once we shot that 4th take we knew that was it. I remember it like it was yesterday. So, so gratifying.
W24: How did you get involved in 24?
KA: It was actually a last minute, same day audition. I mentioned Debi Manwiller earlier and how she knew my work. I got the call to go in and had to leave right away, no time to prepare. Jamey had major attitude in the scene I was auditioning with (for the hard core fans – it was when we first see her and she's just come from the club), so I thought to myself "now this I can do."
W24: Being a new show at that moment, what was your attitude, and of everyone involved as far as its potential success?
KA: I don't remember anyone saying anything about thinking the show would be a hit. My attitude about it had less to do with its potential success and more to do with being thrilled that I finally got to play a really smart character. It was the first time in my career that I could use my own way of speaking without having to have some kind of accent. But we all knew the concept was incredibly innovative and that the writing was exceptional.
W24: Did anybody think the show would end up being such a big hit?
KA: I think we were all just in the moment and ecstatic to be working on such exciting material.
W24: I read a 2002 interview in a website called Television Without Pity in which you emphasize how much you "underplayed" Jamey when compared to other stereotypical Latin characters you had played before, and how you made a "conscious effort to do something different". What was the feedback from the producers and everyone involved? Did they like it? Were they expecting something different?
KA: It's funny that I started to address this in my previous answer. The way I played the character on the show was similar to how I auditioned and because Jamey was written as Caucasian, the producers weren't expecting a stereotypical Latina portrayal, so all was good and we were all on the same page, thankfully.
W24: I've been rewatching Season 1 to prepare for this interview and I have to be honest, I didn't remember how subdued and subtle your performance was. I particularly liked the moment when Tony [Almeida] and Nina [Myers] discover you and confront you. That was some good acting on your part.
KA: Thank you so much! I really appreciate that! I remember that as if it was yesterday as well. It was thrilling for me to have the opportunity to do that on the show, since I'd been doing mostly tamer scenes that had to do with relaying/gathering intelligence information. I remember making very strong personal choices for those scenes. Those scenes are among my most gratifying professional moments.
W24: At what point in filming did you find out your character was a traitor? Did you make any adjustments in your performance to reflect that?
KA: I found out on the same script that the audience found it out on, so there was no time to make adjustments in my character since the cat was out of the bag in that very same episode. It was the episode when Teri Bauer calls the CTU and Jamey picks up. If my memory is correct, Teri's been kidnapped and she tells Jamey where she is. Jamey then tears up the piece of paper with the info. It might be of interest to know that we tried to shoot that scene on September 11th. The producers then decided it was too hard to shoot that day and shut down production for the rest of the day.
W24: We all know this is a show that's pretty much written "on the go". For you, as an actress, how much of a change was there between script and screen? Were there a lot of scenes filmed that didn't make it to the final cut?
KA: I don't remember any of my scenes not making the final cut. I also don't remember any scenes I'd read not making the final cut. Perhaps some didn't, but it wasn't something that happened a lot on the show. I could be wrong about this though. That's just how I remember it. I don't remember any changes between script and screen. We would get rewrites, but the final rewrites always made the screen, as far as I can recall.
W24: The CTU set looked really impressive and expansive. What was it like to work in that space? Do you wish your character had gotten out on location at some point?
KA: The CTU set was really impressive and expansive. I remember the first time I walked onto it. It was definitely a "Whoa!" moment. It was very enjoyable to work there. I believe that was on the FOX Studios lot. I don't think I ever felt that I wanted to go out on location. Jamey was a computer person. The CTU was where she felt most comfortable.
W24: Do you know if the writers knew that Nina would also be a mole right from the beginning or was that something that came up in the process? Also, did they give you any clues about why Nina exposed Jamey when she was also a mole?
KA: I wish I knew the concrete answer to any of this. My guess is that they didn't know that Nina would be a mole. They were so brilliant, they could write in this way, only seeing a foot in front of them and still knowing which turns to suddenly take. As far as Nina exposing Jamey, I imagine it was to move the focus away from herself, but no, this was never explained to us. Better to leave folks wondering and guessing, I say.
W24: Was there any scene that you thought was particularly demanding on the show?
KA: In terms of my performance, I'd say the scene when Tony and Nina interrogate Jamey and then leave her alone to think about what she's going to do... right before they find her dead. When we shot it, it was a pre-suicide scene because it hadn't been written yet that it's Nina that kills Jamey. So I had to play the scene as if I was close to making the decision to end my life.
W24: I've interviewed several members of the cast and crew of the show and if there's anything that they've all emphasized is how much of a family they all became, and how pleasant the experience was. How would you describe it?
KA: It WAS like a family. It was wonderful! It could not have been better. Truly a dream come true to work with all those fantastic people.
W24: Any funny anecdote or memorable moment during your time in the show?
KA: I'd like to say a funny anecdote, but actually the most memorable moment was finding out about the terror attacks on September 11th. I guess because the phones were so jammed, I hadn't heard from anyone back home in New York. I hadn't turned on the TV or listened to the radio that morning. I got in my car to go shoot and the traffic was unusually heavy (even for LA). That was the only indication I had that something wasn't right that morning. I got to the set a few minutes late and rushed out of my car saying "Sorry, sorry!" One of our PA's, Samantha, said "It's okay, we know what happened in New York." I said "What happened in New York?" I still get emotional thinking about it. I wish I could go back to that moment, before I knew.
W24: Are you still in touch with anyone from the show?
KA: I wish! I was in touch for a long time with Carlos Bernard and his wife. They would invite me out for dinner and get-togethers with their circle of friends, but then I started spending more and more time in New York.
W24: You've been very active in theater also, both as an actress and as a writer. How different is it from TV or film?
KA: The biggest differences for me are that you get a lot more time to figure things out in theater and the experience of doing a play is very different than shooting a film or TV show because acting in theater is linear vs. shooting things out of sequence and having to start and stop to do different takes. The experience of doing a play from start to finish really makes you feel as if you've lived this other life. You can still experience that with TV and film, just to a lesser extent. Yet TV and film can be equally as rewarding. If I'm really honest with myself, I'd say I prefer film/TV because the idea of reaching a wider audience has always been appealing to me.
W24: I saw an interview on YouTube for Local Theatre NY about the play The Love Junkies of Hell's Kitchen, which you wrote. You say your character in the play was based on your mother, and that you had "played" her before during stand-up comedy. What would she think about those performances?
KA: That is a GREAT question! I hope she'd be flattered by those performances because whenever I "play" her, people love the character of "Chula" and I think I portrayed her respectfully. That said, she might not be thrilled by my portrayal of certain aspects of her personality, but as an artist you have to tell your truth.
W24: What is the next step in your career? What projects do you have in the near future?
KA: I'm going to be recurring on season 7 of Orange Is the New Black. I'm also shooting a role in Y: The Last Man in 2 weeks. It's an FX pilot starring Diane Lane based on the sci-fi comic book series. I'm producing a feature that I will hopefully also get to play the female lead in called Vigilant. That's the film I mentioned that John Avildsen was set to direct before he passed away. We now have another prominent director on board. It's a long, challenging process but it's been very rewarding to work on and I've learned a lot.
W24: Finally, any particular director, actor or actress that you dream of working with?
KA: Is it cliché to say Meryl Streep? Probably, but there you have it.
W24: A good portion of actors/actresses that we've interviewed have said the same, so you're not alone.
KA: Thanks for putting my mind at ease about it! I recently saw the Ethan Hawke (he would be another dream to work with, btw) film First Reformed and Paul Schrader is an absolute master.
W24: We'd like to thank you for your time, and wish you lots of success in your career.
KA: Thank YOU for this fun opportunity and for your interest in my answers! I enjoyed your well thought-out questions!
- ↑ Gustave (2002). 24 TV Show: Jalapeno Speaks.
- ↑ Love Junkies Interview/Karina Arroyave & Gary Hilborn.