A commonly asked, life-revealing question, goes as follows: What is the difference between receiving and earning? To quote Theodore Roosevelt, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.” After candidly chatting with the extraordinary Priscilla Quintana, it’s quite evident that through perseverance, persistence, and an unnerving amount of courage, she has rightfully earned all of her remarkable success. As the rising star details, she dove into the world of Hollywood headfirst through challenging acting classes, taking on numerous odd jobs through Craigslist, and sharing a one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment with six roommates. Now, Priscilla’s highly honed talents can be seen in CW’s series, Pandora, along with the reprisal of her role in Freeform’s hit spinoff series, Good Trouble. In this exclusive interview, we had the opportunity to chat with Priscilla to discuss her breakout role in Pandora, an inside look into her career thus far, and how she turned her biggest challenges into life-altering triumphs.
Megan Morgante: Did anything/anyone, in particular, inspire you to pursue acting?
Priscilla Quintana: At school, they would put on The Princess Bride and that was the first movie that I ever fell in love with. No one in my family was involved in the arts at all, everyone is very left-brain, business-minded. I always knew that people had careers in the arts, but I never thought it could happen to me. I ended up going to school for producing, which was still in the arts, but the business side, which is what I was more familiar with. I kind of just fell in love with what people were doing on the other side of the camera, so I knew I wanted to try acting, but I had no idea how. I started modeling, which then led me into commercials. For my first commercial audition, ever, the Casting assistant was like, “...On the count of three, when I snap, I'm going to need you to cry on command.” Do you know that "math lady" meme where the confusion is written all over her face? That was my exact reaction. I couldn't cry. I was making an ugly face with no tears coming out, so she pulled me to the side and said, “sweetie, it's just going to be a waste of everyone's time if you come in and you don't know how to audition- I'm gonna need you to get in some acting classes.” From there, I took acting classes and the rest is history.
MM: What did your life look like before you entered the entertainment industry?
PQ: I was in my early 20s’, just trying to figure it out. I was selling used cars, I was a waitress and I was getting all these odd jobs off of Craigslist. I was dog walking for a bit, I was parking the taco truck on the street for way below minimum wage... I was just trying to figure out my place in the world. There's no amazing backstory, besides just trying to make enough money to pay for rent and food, really.
MM: Can you give an overview of your past in the entertainment industry and how it led you to where you are now?
PQ: Well, as I said, I was finding a lot of really odd and end jobs on Craigslist. My first acting job, (well, we’ll call it acting, because I just sat in hair and makeup and they never put me on screen), but, it was the first time I was on a real set and I was like, “...Oh my God, this is amazing.” You see the lights and all of the moving parts that go into it, and it’s so exciting, but I started off just doing non-speaking roles. I was an extra in a movie with Mark Wahlberg called The Gambler, and my whole family and I went to the theatre to go see it, because I was going to be in there. You see me walk by on the screen for like half of a second, and my whole family is just going crazy [laughs], so you start with a lot of really small jobs. Eventually, I worked my way up to my first speaking role, which was so exciting. I had to say “...Hi sir, would you like water?” and I couldn't get the words out. I was shaking. I could just imagine how annoying I was, like, you have one line [laughs]. But, it’s really just a lot of auditioning, and Pandora was my first big role, so by then, I had gotten my sh*t together. I was just hungry, I wanted to be doing it, but I just didn't know how and I didn't know anyone in the industry. My way of bypassing that was just taking any and every acting-related class in the city. I took classes on scene study, improv, camera auditioning techniques, and speech classes, just so that when I finally did go try to find an agent, I wouldn't just be like, “...Hi, I'm just another girl who wants an acting job!” There was nothing professional on my resume, but at least I could show them that I'm doing what I can to prepare myself for when an opportunity does come.
MM: The second season of your show, Pandora, airs October 4th on the CW, congratulations! Can you give a quick synopsis of the series?
PQ: Pandora is a science fiction series set in the year 2199. It's about a girl, Jacqueline “Jax,” AKA, Pandora, who loses everything and her life is completely turned upside down. Somewhere between episode one and episode two, we find out that besides being a typical, everyday girl, she has this very small task of saving the entire universe from destruction [laughs].
MM: What was your experience like working on this show?
PQ: I kind of went in with no expectations because I didn't want to get my hopes too high. The cast is amazing. We are all like a family and we’re connected at the hip if we're not working on set together. I got so lucky, we got blessed with such an amazing cast and crew. We shot the show in Bulgaria and the crew speaks Bulgarian, so there was a huge language barrier. At first, it was really just a giant game of charades, but now everyone in the cast speaks a bit of Bulgarian and the crew speaks a bit more English. Other than that, it’s a lot of hard work. Everyone told me that hours were going to be very long, but I don't think I completely registered that. We wake up at five, we're on set by six getting in hair and makeup, we begin shooting at seven, and we don't wrap until eight at night. You’re essentially on set for your entire day, so through that, I may or may not have developed a small coffee addiction. There was a point where I was drinking six cups a day, so the biggest surprise to me was how addicted you can get to coffee [laughs].
MM: Did you find that you have any similarities to your on-screen character, Pandora, or did she teach you anything throughout the series?
PQ: I would love to say that I'm similar to Jax, but she is so much cooler than me. It would be a disservice to her to compare myself to her, she’s always willing to fight for what she believes in and gets in these huge brawls. I had to learn how to do stunt choreography in order to play her, so I have some stitches and bruises, but nothing I can’t handle. The thing that we do have in common is that we're both very impulsive. We both oftentimes don't think things all the way through before acting on them. Also, we're both in our 20s’, so we're both just trying to figure out our lives and I think that's something that all human beings can relate to.
MM: You also star in the Freeform spinoff series, Good Trouble, alongside Maia Mitchell and Cierra Ramirez. What has your experience been like working on this series?
PQ: I was so nervous at first. It reminded me of the first day of middle school. All of the 8th graders have already been there, they all know each other, and you kind of just don't know what you’re doing. That's how I felt at first, but not even five minutes into being on set, I was in hair and makeup, and Tommy Martinez walked in. He doesn't know who I am, and he's just like, “Welcome to the show,” and gave me this huge bear hug, and that type of energy just went on throughout the entire show. Everyone was so welcoming, kind, and so loving. The two shows that I have done I got so blessed with the people that I get to be surrounded by. I just keep hitting the jackpot. Beyond that, the show touches on such important issues. One of the writers of the show, Patrisse Cullors, is one of the co-founders of Black Lives Matter, so it’s heavily influenced by that. We talk about a lot of LGBTQ+ issues, mental health, and just everything that's relevant going on in the world right now. They handle the topics with such grace. The thing that I really admire about the showrunners is they're not touching on these topics because they're "supposed to," they don't have a diverse cast because they're "supposed to." They always have and they always will. It's just the core of who they are.
MM: I completely agree, the way that the show handles difficult topics is beautifully done, and the diversity within the cast is so phenomenal.
PQ: It truly is, and they've been doing this for years, since The Fosters and now with Good Trouble. They’re true to their values and who they are. I'm really proud to be a part of that.
MM: What advice would you give to younger actors looking to break into the industry?
PQ: I once overheard Josh Pence say that "the best way to hear an actor complain, is to give them a job." So, I would say to future actresses and actors to always remain grateful and to always remain humble. Until you get to that place, stay in class, do all the work that you possibly can do to show people that you're serious about the work. I think a lot of beautiful, young people come to LA and they're like, “Here I am, sign me,” but it's not like that, you really have to earn it and work for it. What I found is that however hard you're working, there is someone else working twice as hard, so try to be that person who's working twice as hard. Also, don’t go on Craigslist for jobs because they won't pay you! I made that mistake too many times. Learn from my mistakes!
MM: Have you ever experienced any notable challenges throughout your career?
PQ: I think one of the biggest challenges that most creatives can all agree on is the money issue. If you don't come from money or have a bunch saved, then until you're working, you're a starving artist. I found an apartment on Craigslist with six other girls, which was a one-bedroom and one-bathroom. I slept on the kitchen floor on a blow-up mattress, and I just remember not knowing how I was going to pay my rent every month. It was stressful. There were times where I would pay rent, and then have like $3 left in my account and head to Ralph's down the street and see what they had on sale to eat for dinner that night. That was probably the biggest struggle, making ends meet. Looking back now, it was all so worth it to take that first step, otherwise I wouldn't even be here.
MM: Through your work on Pandora and Good Trouble, what would you say your most memorable experience has been, onset or with the cast?
PQ: My most memorable experience was on Good Trouble. We were shooting the Valentine's Day episode, so the whole cast was there and we're all giving each other these hilarious, crazy lap dances in a scene. In the middle of the scene, our producer comes in and he lets us know there were wildfires outside and how we had to evacuate ASAP. The freeway was shut down due to the fire, so Zuri Adele, Sarunas Jackson, Dhruv Uday Singh, Beau Mirchoff, Josh Pence, and myself all ended up getting a hotel room because we couldn't get back to LA. Everything was completely shut down anyway, so we all thought we might as well grab a bottle or two of wine. We ended up just drinking at the hotel playing never have I ever, Rone (Sarunas) lost big time. We stayed up all night watching the news and making sure everyone was safe, and in the morning, they told us the wildfires were contained. So, me, Josh, and Beau ended up going back to the studio. It's like six in the morning, there's a hill in the backlot and we just decided to climb it. Beau didn't have his clothes besides his set clothes, which were pajama pants, so on top he had a hotel duvet cover around him and a pipe that he was using as a walking stick. We probably looked so crazy, and Josh said something so funny that we all just started dying laughing. We were hysterically laughing, tears coming down our faces as we were overlooking the top of our studio at 6 AM. That was probably the hardest I have ever laughed and I've come to the terms I don't think I'll ever laugh harder than I did that morning.
MM: What would you say your personal style consists of?
PQ: I'm always very simple in the daytime. I'll wear mom jeans with a white crop top, high top converse, with a maybe a vintage Chanel backpack or just the Classic. And LOTS of dainty layered gold jewelry. I never wear makeup during the day because I'm constantly reapplying sunscreen. For the evening, I'll gravitate towards black leather pants and a cool blazer with some chunky boots OR my favorite vintage snakeskin Manolos. And I'll just slick my hair back into a low bun and throw on some red lipstick and maybe a little mascara.
MM: Who is your ultimate style icon?
PQ: Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Emily Ratajkowski. Emily’s daytime style is very effortlessly put together but still chic, she's just effortlessly an it girl. Rosie's looks are more polished and you can see every last detail she puts into her looks.
Photography by: Emily Sandifer