VIDA: Interview with Elena Campbell-Martínez

Actress Elena Campbell-Martínez, who plays Doña Lupe in Starz series, Vida, recently answered a few questions about portraying the local neighborhood healer on two seasons of the celebrated Latinx series. If Elena looks familiar, then you might have recently seen her as Alejandro Patiño’s wife in the cross-cultural comedy film, Papi Chulo, also starring Matt Bomer. Didn’t see that one? Well, then perhaps it was Clint Eastwood’s biopic, The 15:17 to Paris, or one of her many television appearances, including This Is Us, The Big Bang Theory, Modern Family or Hand of God. I’m excited to share my exclusive interview with Elena Campbell-Martínez.

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TV Series Hub: What was it like working on Vida?

Elena: Well, first of all it was thrilling to find out that I even had the opportunity to work on a show like this. Just from reading the pilot, I knew this was going to be something completely different—something that didn’t even exist on TV yet—and as a Mexican-American woman, I couldn’t wait to see it on my TV! And then each time I walked onto the Vida set was also a completely different experience from anything I’d ever known as an actor!

As a Latina, you’re always either the only Latinx actor, or sometimes there may be another one or two of you, but I had never been surrounded by Latinx artists in all different beautiful shades of skin tones and accents! So, it felt like family, like home. It felt like I didn’t need explain my “difference” or try to tone down my “difference” for someone else.


TV Series Hub: Tell us about playing Doña Lupe and how much preparation you did before stepping onto set.

Elena: Oh my gosh, I’m having so much fun playing Doña Lupe! Before I ever got onto set, I of course did my own research, by talking to family members who’d visited “señoras” like Doña Lupe, and watching lots of YouTube videos of different curandera rituals.

While we were shooting, our show runner Tanya Saracho was incredibly helpful at getting all the details just right in terms of Doña Lupe’s techniques. Tanya has so much experience with all the different señoras she’s worked with, it’s amazing! In fact, she’s working on a new show about Afro-Latinx women in Chicago called Brujas!

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TV Series Hub: Did anything about the character change from the first season to the second? 

Elena: I felt a slight change in Doña Lupe from the first season to the second season in terms of the way she deals with Lyn, the younger of the two Hernández sisters, the one who comes to her for help on her journey. In the first season we started out just days after Lyn and Emma’s mom dies. So not only is Doña Lupe dealing with her own grief at the sudden loss of her friend and neighbor, but she’s also very much understanding that the girls are in the first few days of dealing with this shocking tragedy and loss. So that feeling of shared grief and her empathy colored her interactions with Lyn obviously.

Now in the second season we’re just a tiny bit more removed from the death, but as we move through time, Lupe is getting to know Lyn a little more as the adult she’s become. So, in a way, she has her professional guard up a little more in terms of how she supports her. Lyn is a very lovely but somewhat manipulative person, and she’s used to getting people to help her! And Doña Lupe has to be sure she’s helping Lyn in the way that both Doña Lupe and Lyn’s mom Vida know is best – so poor Lyn sometimes feels a bit of that “tough love”.


TV Series Hub: Vida has a very loyal following, so does that feel like a burden or a bonus?

Elena: Wow, the loyal following for Vida has been amazing! Obviously, we do feel like we have a huge responsibility to get it right, but it’s not a burden at all. First of all, our writers room is 100% Latinx, so the writing is coming from such a pure and authentic source, which then makes it easy for all the rest of us to do our jobs well! So, the loyal fan following is just such a bonus.

When a fan approaches me to say that they recognize their own tía in Doña Lupe, it confirms for me that she is an authentic character — and it’s not too surprising because she actually has a little of my own tías in her!


TV Series Hub: Assuming Doña Lupe will continue on the show for future seasons, what would you like to see her doing next?

Elena: From the character’s point of view, in addition to continuing to support Lyn on her journey, I would love to see Doña Lupe have some interaction with the older sister, Emma. As we’ve all seen, Emma can be kind of a hard nut to crack initially, and she still has a lot of stuff to unpack with all her mom issues, quite justifiably. As someone who has known Emma all her life, and was also very close with her mom, it seems natural that Doña Lupe could possibly help bridge that divide and maybe help Emma find some answers from the past—or even from the present, since she’s still in touch with Vida on a regular basis even after her death.

Now from my actor point of view, I personally would love the chance to play with Mishel Prado, the amazing actress who plays Emma, and also with my friend Ser Anzoategui who plays Eddy!

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TV Series Hub: You were even being considered for an Emmy for your work. How does that feel?

Elena: Being considered for an Emmy® just feels pretty amazing and kind of unbelievable! You would never have been able to convince the painfully shy little girl Elena that something like this would happen.

Fifteen years ago when I moved to LA from Guatemala, where I’d been volunteering as a social worker and doing community theater in my spare time, I knew that I wanted to continue acting, to keep learning and getting better at my craft, to keep chasing that joy of sharing stories and making people laugh or cry. But if you’d told me then that after what feels like a blink of time, someone would consider my work worthy of Emmy® consideration, I would have smiled and shook my head. It wasn’t something that was ever in my thoughts or dreams.

Now that it’s happened, I can tell you the last couple of months have been so wonderful because in sharing my work, I’ve also been enjoying the amazing work of my fellow performers and loving getting to know them as actors and as people. This whole “For Your Consideration” season has deepened my sense of the fellowship and generosity of our community of performers, and that’s been the biggest prize of all! As a friend’s little boy told her recently “Mommy, you’ve already won!” I definitely feel that’s true for myself and all the other contenders.


TV Series Hub: As an actor, what’s been your main take away working on this show?

Elena: Working on Vida has confirmed what I think many of us already knew. If you come from a place of authenticity—starting from the show runner on down, to the writers room to the casting director to the actors to rest of the people working on set—if you start from there and you write complex characters, interesting and affecting stories, not only will the people who are ethnically represented by those kinds of characters eat it up and love to see their own families and their own lives reflected on a TV show, but also people who don’t share those ethnic or cultural background traits will love it too!

I mean, I don’t think people adore Game of Thrones because they’re of that particular ethnic background, right? So this show and others I love, like One Day at a Time and Insecure, for example, these shows are showing our industry that there’s an audience for good stories, authentic and possibly slightly broken characters that touch your heart, make you laugh, and even maybe confuse you or aggravate you.

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TV Series Hub: You also had a film recently release titled Papi Chulo; what can you share about that?

Elena: Oh, it’s just beautiful! Papi Chulo was written and directed by John Butler who is an Irish filmmaker. The film is set mostly on the East side of LA, and it’s about Matt Bomer’s character Sean who is a lonely TV weatherman going through a painful, difficult experience being single again. He strikes up a friendship with a middle-aged migrant worker Ernesto (played by Alejandro Patiño). As Ernesto‘s wife Linda, I’m amused by all of his adventures with his new and very different friend.

What I love about the film is that it’s such an endearing human-scale story that maybe could only happen in Los Angeles—it challenges stereotypes like how gay men deal with relationships and what a Mexican working-class family is like. It’s a gorgeous representation of our city and of our shared humanity.  Even we don’t speak a common language, we can still communicate.


TV Series Hub: Overall, what inspires you creatively?

Elena: Going back to my theater roots inspires me so much. Working with playwrights on their new works, digging into new stories and characters, always feels like the purest form of creation. So, I volunteer with Theatricum Botanicum’s Seedlings program that supports the development of new plays. It gives me the chance to read and direct fresh works which makes me so happy!


TV Series Hub: Lastly, on any given night, what can we find you watching on TV?

Elena: There are so many good shows on so many platforms, I feel like I never have enough time to see everything I want to see! But the chance to sit down to watch TV at night is something I love sharing with my husband–and our three dogs, of course. If we aren’t catching up on last week’s Jane the Virgin episode, I’m getting hooked on newer shows like On My BlockThe Chi or Shrill. And I can’t wait for Gente-fied which will be coming out on Netflix!


Thank you, Elena Campbell-Martínez, for taking the time to chat with us.

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