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Interview: 'Taken' star Jessica Camacho talks 'Go big' Santana

by jmaloni
Thu, Feb 1st 2018 01:30 pm
`Taken`: Jessica Camacho stars as Santana. (NBC photo by Panagiotis Pantazidis)
"Taken": Jessica Camacho stars as Santana. (NBC photo by Panagiotis Pantazidis)
Actor also stars as Gypsy on 'The Flash'
Behind the Screens with Joshua Maloni
In an unexpected series of moves, the on-screen "Taken" team was disbanded following the events of the season one finale and, so too, the actors playing those roles were let go prior to the show's sophomore term. Though "Taken" was fairly well received by audiences (each episode is graded 7.5 or higher on IMDb), its ratings could've been better. As such, the show's creative team opted to reboot the series.
"Taken" wisely kept stars Clive Standen (portraying the pre-Liam Neeson Bryan Mills) and Jennifer Beals (Christina Hart), while trimming the supporting cast to two: versatile film and TV actor Adam Goldberg (Kilroy), and Jessica Camacho (Santana), who has been a standout performer as Gypsy on "The Flash."
Having a smaller team is a logical decision. In the big-screen versions of "Taken," Neeson steers the action, while a handful of assets occasionally pitch in with weapons, manpower or other resources. Essentially, though, it's a one-man show.
On TV, Standen's Bryan also is the focal point, while Beals' Christina is the well-connected former government agent, bad-guy-busting team leader and moral compass. Beyond those two, the question is what else does the show need?
Though the leads are paramount to the story, they couldn't carry the show alone - especially because the plotlines are typically action-packed and filled with heavy emotions.
Enter the recently jail-broken computer hacker Kilroy, and the big-gun-toting former Army quartermaster Santana, and "Taken" has definitely improved.
The newcomers provide needed levity, but also some cool tricks of their own. Kilroy has taken command of a villain's vehicle via a video game remote control, while Santana has used a rocket launcher and other fancy weapons to help Bryan escape captors.
Through three episodes, Camacho's work has been particularly stellar. From an acting standpoint, she surgically placed Santana right into the "Taken" world without any friction or distraction. Moreover, Camacho has given Santana just the right blend of cool, calm and bad to the bone. She has created a likable character - and that wasn't a given with this role.
In just three episodes, Santana has already shown her worth. From tricking a warlord into giving her the "Donkey Kong" of electric signal jammers, to sniping bad guys and blowing up vehicles, she has proven to be as adept in battle as any of her teammates.
For the third time in Camacho's career, the actor has been asked to bring new life - and a new character - to an established show. She joined FOX's "Sleepy Hollow" in season three, portraying FBI agent Sophie Foster. More notably, and most recently, she has been a recurring guest star on "The Flash." Camacho arrived in season three as the portal-popping Gypsy: a reluctant hero, metahuman bounty hunter from another dimension, and love interest for Cisco.
BTS chatted with Camacho right before the third episode of "Taken." She shared her admiration for Santana, and gratitude for more high-profile, action-packed parts.
An edited Q&A follows.
As Santana, Jessica Camacho has brought a particular set of skills to "Taken." (NBC photo by Jan Thijs)
Q: "Taken" was such an iconic film franchise. It was interesting to hear the story was coming to television. It had a solid rookie campaign, but then the creative team opted to reboot. Had you seen the show in season one, and what was the appeal in joining for season two?
Jessica Camacho: When I got cast, I hadn't seen the show. Initially I just loved Santana. I loved who she was on the page, you know, the materials that I got from my audition. And I was super-excited at the idea of doing a show that would, essentially, take its characters all around the world and find them going into the underbelly of the crime world or whatever - you know, places that we never actually see, but are very real.
And having action and chases -- I love stuff like that. I've always, always wanted to do action. It's been a very real dream of mine. And so that was the initial appeal.
I hadn't seen the show, and I got cast; and so, for research purposes, I started binging season one. And I was excited. It's an exciting show. It's nonstop. That really kind of appealed to me. It's not a show where you just find two characters sitting down and just talking for hours on end. (Laughs) Which is fine; this is a different genre. I think I just wanted the adrenaline rush that this show provides.
Q: We're just getting to meet Santana. We've only seen her in two episodes so far. What can you tell me about this character - and what did you like about her; what was it about her that made her come off the page for you?
Jessica Camacho: Santana, she's totally confident in her own skin. She owns who she is. She acts without hesitation. She's kind of been through the fire, I think, certainly having been a woman in what used to be very much - and is only now starting to change - the military; very much a man's world. She had to prove herself time and time again. And not only prove herself, but prove that she could go above and beyond to handle what her male colleagues handled as soldiers.
I think there's something - there's just a grittiness that that gives a woman. A certain awareness of who they are and what they're capable of. I love that. I'm definitely a strong woman. I'm a determined woman. (But) I wouldn't say I'm nearly as confident as Santana is. And it's fun to be able to walk in those shoes.
Q: We've only had a few hints about Santana's past. I'm wondering: What will we learn about her in coming episodes?
Jessica Camacho: I think that story is still unfolding. I think it's fun for me because, just as the audience is learning who she is, little by little, piece by piece - that's how she comes to me. They don't give me too much. (Laughs) I think they like to keep us guessing. But, I think that we'll definitely find what makes Santana tick. Why she kind of is so - why she kind of bulldozes her way through situations, and why she feels compelled to do that. What, morally, kind of drives her. We'll be able to learn a little more about that.
Q: The reason I asked to interview you was because I had like a 'holy crap' moment in the second episode. I was really taken aback at how well you fit into the storyline, and how well you meshed with Clive and Jennifer. It was like you'd been a part of the team for years. What is the challenge in fitting in right from day one, and how did you do it so well?
Jessica Camacho: I don't know. I came to set the first day with a very real package of nerves. A bundle of nerves. It's intimidating. It's intimidating like you said. It's coming onto an already established set - an already established show, an already established camaraderie.
But, honestly, I mean, before we even started filming, I met Jennifer and I met Clive, and they're just such warm humans. They're not affected. They're just very open. They're very real. They're very humble human beings. And they went out of their way to extend a welcoming hand and let me know that I was welcomed - more than welcomed; that I belonged there. And that meant the world to me. It really meant the world to me.
That enabled me to kind of say, "OK, this is where I'm supposed to be." You know? And here at the beginning of this journey, now let me put my head down and study and kind of find this character. The warm welcome that I received from them allowed me to just sink into the work that was waiting for me.
And then one thing that is always fun for me, when I'm playing a character who's coming into an already established team, is just as I'm bringing my nerves, and just as I, me, Jessica, am trying to find my comfort zone with the other actors and on-set, and trying to navigate my way, my character's doing the same thing. I can put those nerves and maybe that slight hesitation, or the not-knowingness of that feeling, I can put that into my character. And it just works.
Q: You've been a working actor for some time now. You've got the acting thing down. But like you said, this is a big action show. And Santana, so far, we've seen her use some grandiose weapons. What was that aspect of "Taken" like for you? What sort of interesting training did you have to do?
Jessica Camacho: Well, like I said, I've been dreaming about being an action actress for a long time. So, periodically, I would take different classes. I would do stunt training. I would do fight choreography training. I never kind of became an expert at anything, because I was always busy auditioning and whatnot. But, you know, I would dedicate whatever time I had to trying to keep my body - to keep it challenged. To keep trying new things. To keep learning new ways of moving my body and learn how to move.
Especially when you're doing fight choreography, stunts and stuff, you can still do damage. If you throw an elbow and it's a little too wide, that can land on somebody's jaw. So, you have to learn how to control movements and how to just kind of own your movements and be aware of your body.
I did a little bit of my own training leading up to getting this role. And then production provides us with amazing experts - you know, weapons experts who come in. They teach us - somebody who has a military background - "This is how you clear a room with a weapon. This is how you hold it. This is how you load it." So, we don't go in blindly. And certainly, for the first few episodes, I was leaning heavily on my experts, because I wanted to do it right.
Santana is a weapons expert. She is highly trained in many areas of combat and weaponry. I needed to project that comfort with weapons and with different fighting styles.
My awareness was totally limited, so I definitely leaned on the experts they provided for us. And that gives me confidence. They're there on set watching us. They watch a take and, "Oh, OK, that was great. Now, make sure you tuck your elbows in." So, they're there kind of guiding the way.
And then, in addition, I have a phenomenal stunt woman who really gets in there when the going gets rough, and I'm so grateful for that. It's a collaborative effort.
Jessica Camacho also plays Gypsy on The CW Network's "The Flash." This series airs at 8 p.m. Tuesdays. (The CW photo by Bettina Strauss)
Q: As you've said, this is your first foray into the action genre. From what I've heard and seen of you on "The Flash," you're very popular in the sci-fi genre. What's it been like in the past couple of years becoming more well-known as an actor?
Jessica Camacho: It's interesting. (Laughs) I think it's interesting. It's interesting now, because social media is such a big part of that. It's such a big - it's a newer phenomenon. You know? And I mean, it's something that shows you - it's like a gauge - that shows you how you're becoming more visible and I guess popular with the public, within the public realm, because you gauge it by the number of followers you have. And so it's this weird thing.
I think that people rely too heavily on that as a way of determining how successful they are, or they've made it. I just think that's a very tricky area. I don't want to lean so much on that. Like, "Oh, yeah, all these followers - I'm really coming up in my career!" No; it's not about that. I just try - I try and keep my head down and focus on the work. I'm grateful for all of the opportunities that I get.
This acting thing, this was a dream. I mean this was just a fantasy in my head at one point. This was in no way a reality until I started taking the steps toward it. It's been a long road of small steps, you know. And to find myself where I am now, it trips me out, and I'm completely humbled by it. I just try and remain grateful, and I just say, "Hey, you know, whatever is supposed to happen in my career, and in my life, I embrace it." And I want to treat it with grace and just appreciation - and not expectation.
I don't expect anything. I want certain things. I want to be in certain movies, because that's part of my dream. But, you know, it's all a blessing - each day and each opportunity, it's just a blessing. I'm grateful.
Q: Inasmuch as I'm enjoying your work as Santana, I want to know if we'll see more of Gypsy this season?
Jessica Camacho: Um, you know, I think anything's possible. (Silence) (Laughs)
Q: Very good. That would be the non-spoilery answer I would expect.
Jessica Camacho: (Laughs)
•"Taken" airs at 9 p.m. Friday on NBC. Click HERE for more information.
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