Check our interview with talented Dominican born Latina actress raised in the East Coast Ismeli Henriquez. Her family migrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic when she was 3 years old to New York City. They later moved to Connecticut where she began acting in school plays. After high school she moved to Los Angeles to start a career in acting. She is known for her charismatic on screen persona and ability to draw in the audience with her strong performances. Ismeli is also a screenwriter.
Hi Ismeli, please tell us a little about you?
I was born in the Dominican Republic, to both Dominican parents. I moved to New York when I was almost 4 and then moved to Connecticut when I was about 8 or 9. I was raised by my mom and stepfather – my dad to this day has never left Dominican Republic – who were both very overprotective, so even though I grew up in a bad neighborhood I was sheltered from it all. I knew a lot about what went on in the streets and was always a good listener so I learned a lot from other people’s experiences – so I like to say I grew up very innocent but also very aware. I had to mature very fast as well because my mom to this day doesn’t know English so I had to take on the role of translator and basically little personal assistant very young so I learned a lot that way. I also always liked reading and learning as a kid – I used to annoy my mom questioning everything – to this day I’m still the same. Fast forward to now I currently live in Los Angeles, I moved here after high school for film school and for the first time was really able to spread my wings and be independent for myself not for anyone else.
Describe yourself in 3 words?
I would say I am Fiery, optimistic and individualistic. Fiery because well it’s in my Dominican blood! But I tend to get passionate about things easily, I like to speak my mind and challenge people. Optimistic because I’m really like a little ray of light, I’m that annoying person that’s always like “hey guys lets looks at the possible good outcomes, it’s not all bad yet… at least you’re not dead…” and the third explains itself. I like to think of myself of a 10 person team I like to learn everything and be hands on with everything so that I can do it myself, if it were up to me I would do everything on my own- imagine having 10 Ismeli’s running around doing different tasks… It’s a good and a bad thing.
Who is your biggest supporter?
My boyfriend is my biggest supporter. It’s interesting how life works because we’ve been together for less than a year but we’ve been thrown a lot of challenges since we met that I think really shows you who a person is and what they mean to you as well as who you are. Not long after we met was when I booked the recurring role on Games People Play and at the time I didn’t know exactly what we were filming but I knew it would involve partial nudity – not everyone is comfortable with their partner doing scenes like that. He wasn’t very happy seeing the scene but he sucked it up and has been there when I need him. He keeps it real and is there to motivate me when I need him, or when I need advice or help making a decision. He creates a safe environment free of judgement where I can be myself and feel secure while also staying grounded and confident in myself – I think that’s a very important thing to have especially when you’re in this industry.
How did you get started in the industry?
I started in film school – I went to Colombia College Hollywood – where I started acting for other people’s short films. Then I learned about background work so I started doing that for a while. I got to see what it was like being on a ‘real’, professional’ set – with a budget over $50,000, A & B list actors, directors, producers, and a seasoned crew. Then I started auditioning – my first ‘real’, payed job was a commercial for a company named Rebtel.
What is the best and worst part of being an Actress?
The worst thing about being an actress is AUDITIONING! Driving over 45 minutes in traffic EVERY time to be in the ACTUAL audition room for less than 5 minutes is the absolute worst. AHHH and the inevitable nerves! BUT the feeling you get when you’re on set, playing the character and being allowed to run wild with it – oh & the feeling on set, when everything around you is still and you can feel it in the air when everyone is submerged in the acting – to then see the final product on screen… one of the best feelings, it makes it all worth it. It’s what I can imagine giving birth is like!
What advice would you give to those who want to be in this business?
Do your research! Ask other actors what it’s been like for them but also go and get on a set, whether as background, production assistant, if you know someone who’ll let you shadow them or whatever you can do so you can see what it’s actually like and if it’s an environment you see yourself thriving in as well as being able to deal with – because before you get to the actual job you want, you will have to go through a lot… unless of course you’re one of “the lucky ones”. Any position you want in this industry will most likely not come overnight and if you’re going to devote your time and emotions – because inevitably this industry will tease your emotions and test your inner strength – you want to make sure you don’t realize too deep in that it’s not for you.
I’m sure we’ve all heard it, the industry is not all fame, glam and fortune – it’s a BUSINESS and coming into it most people don’t realize it and navigate it all wrong. Learn how the politics work, how to manipulate them to your advantage. And piece of advice specifically on auditions – don’t take them personally, don’t wait around for a call, just let it go as soon as you leave that room. You’ll very quickly learn that not getting the call doesn’t have much to do with you and what you did right or wrong it’s a business and there’s a lot of politics involved, so again learn to play the game, make people remember you in a positive light. SO EDUCATE YOURSELF! GET EXPERIENCE! DON’T TAKE THINGS TOO PERSONAL! AND LEAVE A GOOD LASTING IMPRESSION WITHOUT TRYING TOO HARD.
Best advice ever given
Everything happens for a reason – the good and the bad, the people we meet, the places we end up in, the situations we are put in – all of it has a purpose whether it be a lesson and/or discovery – so take everything in with an open mind and next time something different or unfortunate happens take a moment to analyze it and try to find its purpose. And remember that there’s always someone dealing with something worse – so no, it’s not the end of the world. Get up and keep going it gets better. Look forward to that ‘better’ to motivate you.
“No tree it is said, can grow to heaven unless it’s roots reach down to hell.” I’ll let you decide what it means to you because it can be interpreted in so many different ways depending on where you are in
Tell us about your work on BET hit series “Games People Play,” and your role as Kalinda Walters?
I play Kalinda Walters in BET’s new hit series “Games People Play” – which is based on the book Games Divas Play by Angela Burt-Murray. Kalinda is one of the dancers for the main character Marcus King’s team whom he’s been having an affair with for many years before he moved to LA. My character Kalinda has been in love with him for a very long time and pretty much followed him to LA. Fast forward to where the show starts – Kalinda is found dead and as the show progresses we are trying to figure out who did it while also dealing with all the drama that revolves around the main characters – cheating scandals, betrayals, fights, secrets, it gets very juicy. Games People Play was my first recurring role on national television so it was a scary thing. I remember for my audition my agent said to me you have to go in there looking real sexy so I was like, ok ,jeans and a crop top to show the curves, and she was like no… sexier… so I went in to this audition with a trench coat and just my undergarments underneath. I was freaking out waiting in the lobby because I’d never been that exposed at an audition but I said F*** it – all or nothing. And I got it. It was a lot of firsts – first sex scene, first partial nudity, first time working one on one with A & B list names like Lauren London or Sarunas Jackson, and producer Tracey Edmonds – it was all very high stake – I was lowkey scared of messing it up. We probably did my scene about 30 times. It didn’t hit me for a while that I was going to be on BET because the whole time I was worried that they would cut out my scenes because well you never know in this industry. But it was a great first experience, everyone was very welcoming, the cast and crew all amazing and very humble people. I remember my first probably 5 times on set Tracey and Vanessa one of the writers kept apologizing because I had to be on the floor practically naked mixed in with the dirt and and leaves – they kept saying don’t worry you have a really good scene coming up just hang in there.
Who is your favorite Actor/Actress? And why?
My favorite actress is without a doubt Meryl Streep. She’s played over 70 roles in her lifetime – each with different accents, different backgrounds and personalities all over the spectrum. I became a fan when I saw the movie Silkwood, she showed so much range in that movie and every role she’s played after and before and I mean the way she prepares is so thorough. It shows how serious she takes her job. She also brings integrity back into being an actress and showing that it’s a craft just like anything else, that takes a lot of research and work – it’s not about looking cute and having a lot of sex appeal to make people watch it’s about portraying real life on screen in the most authentic way possible.
There was an interview she did in which she spoke about her audition for King Kong, where the director said she wasn’t pretty enough for the role, in Italian, not knowing she understood Italian. She replied “I’m sorry I’m not pretty enough” and she walked out and didn’t give up – more than 40 years later she’s been able to keep her place in the industry through all the changes and has not once gave a bad performance. She’s what I aim to be one day and hopefully more.
What music do you like?
I love Spanish music! I’m Dominican so bachata, merengue, dembow, salsa, reggaeton – all of it! Spanish music is actually my therapy for anything. When life gets stressful or overwhelming I put on some Spanish music, dance or sing along to it and I’m content again – it never fails to completely turn my mood around. I also love Jazz and Country but honestly, I love all sorts of music – we’re so blessed to have music – I wish I had the gift of making music. It’s incredible what it does for our spirit.
How do you see yourself in 5 years?
5 years from now I see myself being married, probably had my first kid and traveling while also growing my production company and podcast – with interviews from people from all over the globe. This would probably be the around the time where I’ll start my foundation to help the homeless and start planning ways to expand it to other countries, where it won’t just focus on the homeless but education and living conditions as well. I’m not really aiming for fame but I definitely want to be respected and known in the industry as someone people want to work with and enjoy creating with – as well as someone that is contributing something meaningful and new.
Where we can follow you?