I first really took note of actress Otmara Marrero when she starred alongside Sydney Sweeney in the atmospheric film Clementine. Now that she is a lead in the NBC series Connecting, another project which we highly recommend, the planets aligned in such a way for us to seek out Marrero to speak about the series and about her career to date. It was a really fun and surprising interview because she had fascinating insights into her life and to the series Connecting.
The following is a condensed and edited version of a spirited chat with Otmara Marrero, who plays Annie in Connecting.
Brief Take: You’ve been in a number of serious projects. Would you consider this role to be a departure?
Otmara Marrero: Not a departure, drama is where I thrive and is what I want to do forever. But I’ve always felt like I was funny and I never really got the chance to be funny. Also, I don’t think that I’m traditionally funny….I guess that I’m called “funny” a lot, but then I am never cast in a comedy. It’s nice, for once, to let loose and not be tense and pensive and be outside my body. Not a departure, just a new lane in which to drive. I would love to do more comedy.
BT: In an interview from a couple of years ago, you made a point of saying that you are not a computer and phone person, this must have changed!
OM: Um…nope! Still hate technology. But now, the difference is that I’m a little better with it. Back then, I was completely technology illiterate, but now I kind of know what I’m doing. I know little tricks and stuff. I found out that you can hold the space button down on the iPhone on the keypad, and move it to wherever you want it. Can you believe I didn’t know that before? Do it! If you go to get your phone and you type an email or a text or whatever and you hold down the space, you can drag it to wherever you want.
BT: Great tip! In terms of your pink hair, is this for the character or is it something else?
OM: Well…I think that the pink hair is a subconscious move and maybe I trusted my intuition to go in that direction, but it really was a spur of the moment thing in which I was finally feeling the weight of the quarantine and the pandemic and things coming to a stop and I felt like I needed something to ignite my creativity and a little bit of change to give me the “ooompf” that I needed to do self-tapes and feel good. I went to visit my family back in June in Miami, where I am from, and I have a really good friend who is a hairstylist and I was like: “Do you think that you can make me pink in one day?” Which is an insane thing to do, because normally you’d bleach your hair in parts and you’d go blonde in the process and then you’d add the pink. So we did it all in one day, in 12 hours and I was like….okay! And my Mom gave me her blessing, and she’s very much like: “No, you’re crazy, don’t do that, you’re…it’s a bad idea, don’t get tattoos”. When she was like: “That’s a great idea, I want to do my hair pink”, it made me want to do it even more. And then, when I got home I got the email [laughs] about the self-tape and I had a couple of other tapes and all of a sudden, I was like: “Oh shit! Can you tell the casting director that this was me having a Britney moment? And then afterwards, I will go back to the dark if they need me to do or I can wear a wig, whatever, I can take it off”. And they happened to love it! And they were like: “This works, this is Annie” and I was like: “Oh…okay!” And they were like: “Keep it and we’re going to pay for it to be refreshed”. And then I was like: “Wow. Cruising now”.
BT: In the first episode, music plays a large role. In particular, The Band’s The Weight features prominently. What music inspires you?
OM: It’s weird because I listen to music based on my mood. It depends how I’m feeling, but I can go anywhere from classical to rock to hip-hop to Latin music, it depends what my body is feeling like, but as you know, I danced for many years. I love eighties music, because it has drums, it’s very upbeat and funky. I love anything that’s funky. Eighties music, that’s my go-to, but I can listen to literally anything.
BT: This show is about a group of friends and a diverse group of friends at that.
OM: I think that’s what so special about this diverse cast is that none of these characters are defined by the diversity. They’re not defined by their gender or their sexuality, they’re just a group of friends and it just so happens that we have a little bit of all the flavours, but we’re not defined by it, which I think is extraordinary that NBC allowed that and the creators incorporated that. But my cast mates are indeed my new family and friends. Actors are usually like: “I love my cast mates” and then they turn around and they’re like: “God, I hate him”. But this group of people, they’re actually really special and I think that was why the chemistry was like…it was there. It was able to happen without the camaraderie on set. It was there. It came naturally and was second nature. And it’s probably because it’s a really good group of people. They’re really genuine people, they’re authentic in who they are and they know who they are and none of them are locked, they’re very in their body. It allows them to be good friends and good cast mates and it really just worked.
BT: What inspires you when looking for specific roles?
OM: I think that my main purpose is always finding something that’s going to challenge me and that’s going to get me outside of my comfort zone. And I think that with Izzy (in StartUp), the challenging part is that she is a Stanford drop out. I wouldn’t say that I am as smart as she is, I am barely good with an iPhone. She created an entire digital currency and she revolutionized the Internet. So she’s very, very, very smart. But the common ground was that she is very driven and I’m very driven. And there were things that linked us together but there was a lot for which you could tell us apart. I think that I am looking for something that challenges me. I think the challenge with Karen in Clementine was reliving heartbreak. At the time that I was filming Clementine, I was in an a really good place! I hadn’t been in a relationship in a while and I was loving on myself really hard and I was really happy and I was really focused. And reliving that heartbreak and going through grief and grieving and learning how to grieve again, that was the challenge and it was interesting to do. Yeah, something that challenges me and something that’s….I’m not a character actor by any means, but something that gets me uncomfortable.
BT: In Clementine, you and Sydney hadn’t done any sort of chemistry read or even for the director and you seemed to get along famously, and in this show, you have to believe in these friendships. What is it that you look for in a scene partner?
OM: I think that it is very unusual with Connecting because you are acting with a phone. So you’re not getting the reaction from the other person. It’s like playing ping-pong with blinders over your eyes. There’s a lot of listening and a lot of trust, which is something that I love from a scene partner. With everything else that is in-person, I like acting with people that are present. I like to discover things as I go and I don’t like to premeditate my choices and I like to be present and live in the moment. And if that requires you out of nowhere to slap me, then that’s fine. I’ll take it. I’m not Method, but I like to be present. Because I think also when you live in the moment, things will come that you didn’t even see on the page or that you didn’t even think were there. It happens and I think that’s where all beautiful moments are born, you’re being present and something happens.
BT: What do you think about bringing serious topics to a funny series?
OM: It’s scary with pandemic and COVID talk because it’s very real and it’s affected many people and it’s taken over our lives to the point that the normal that we thought was normal doesn’t exist any more right now and it will never exist again. It was very scary to take this on because when is too soon? Is it too soon? Can people handle laughing at the trauma that is still very prevalent in our lives? But I think that with Connecting, it was being aware that we are making something that is very present and doing it in a way that allows people in as an invitation. That they don’t feel like they’re on the outside, but that they feel like they are in and they are in this group of friends and sitting on our couch with us and it gives them a safe space to finally have a laugh at everything that we have been through. And be like: “Fuck, remember in March, when this started and we were hoarding toilet paper?” And allowing them in an invitation to laugh and let the pressure go a little bit and allow them to reflect a little bit and be like: “Fuck! Look how far we’ve come”.
BT: How do you play Annie? I don’t want to say “adorkable”, but it’s definitely different than how you’ve approached other roles, especially that you are looking head-on rather than side angles?
OM: I think that with Annie, not that I haven’t been honest with my other characters, but I think in this situation it required a much more intimate level of honesty. I think that my main goal was to be as honest as I could and never allow myself to act, which 1. I didn’t even have the opportunity to act because acting was almost an afterthought. I had to do a lot, between set deck and continuity and doing my hair and makeup and setting up the shot and setting up the lights, and by the time all of that stuff was ready, I was exhausted and acting was almost an afterthought. It kind of helped because I never wanted to get in my head about anything. I wanted it to be a conversation between me and friends and be honest and allow things to not be perfect or not care about if I am pretty or where I am looking or if I’m getting a good angle or suck in my stomach, be as honest as I could. I think that this is the thing, because that’s the only way that we can really get through to people, especially in this time. I didn’t want this to be a mockery of everything that we have gone through. I didn’t want it to be a joke. I wanted it to be a safe space.
BT: What have you been able to do on screen that you are most proud and what is something that you haven’t yet done on screen that you would like to do?
OM: That’s a great question! I think that I was able to sell- which you said it- being a dork and letting loose and saying things sometimes that don’t make sense and having those stupid blonde moments. Sorry, no offence to blondes, I guess I’m a blonde now, but having those moments in which…there was one episode in which I ordered a thermometer, because I should be taking my temperature all the time, and it ended up being a chicken thermometer and I was like: “Should I stab it in my thigh like a chicken, or…?” Allowing yourself to have to have those moments in which you are like: “Fuck, that’s really stupid”, like asking how many presidents there are, shit like that.
I’ve got a fucking long list of shit that I have yet to do. Probably the thing that I have shown most is vulnerability and how deeply I care. I care a lot, I’m an empath. I care about people I don’t know, I care about people I know. I’m in a constant state about caring about something. But in terms of things that I haven’t shown, I would love to show my dance background. I would love to integrate that with what I do now. Not necessarily in your typical dance movie, but to be able to use movement, whether it be in horror or something, I haven’t done that either, I haven’t done anything like a thriller or horror in which I can show you how much of a pussy I am, that is yet to come. Yeah, there’s a lot of things that I want to do. I want to do high action and stunts and really, really use my body and get in the best shape I have ever been and things like that.
BT: What do you think of the use of technology in terms of Instagram and how you present yourself there. Is that an extension of who you are as a performer or a separate thing?
OM: Man, Instagram and that world and technology is interesting. I have a really big love/hate relationship with it because I think it’s done a lot of damage to our society. But I think that I teeter on the line in which I see how it’s discovered people and how it’s allowed people to find other people and it’s done so much. I think with my socials, it’s tough because I’m a very private person and there’s a lot that I want to keep to myself and that I want to hold close and I want to protect. At the same time, if I can share something, I want to be honest and I want someone else to be like: “Oh, that resonates”. I don’t want it to be like: “Oh…fuck, this is cute”. I’m very personal with the stuff that I post and make sure that it’s my truth. I think that it took me a while to find my voice and be comfortable in me and my beliefs and not be scared to share my opinion even if it’s opposed to somebody else’s and it’s different. I think that has been what I have been trying to curate these past couple of years in who I am is standing firm and allowing that to show, and if it can resonate with someone, cool. If not, that’s my truth and I leave it there for you.
BT: I think that you have found your voice in the past few years and this reflects on and off screen. What does this mean for you in terms of responsibility, do you feel the need to be more politically or socially minded?
OM: I don’t know if this is going to be controversial or not, but I am going to say it. I feel like lately I’ve seen a lot of performers- whether it be actors, musicians- taking on some sort of activism. And for me, activism is very sensitive. I don’t want to do something because I think that now I have a platform and I am responsible. I want to do things in which I truly believe. If I talk about something or if I mention something, it’s because I believe and stand by it. But activism is sensitive to me and something that I try to do every day and it’s not something that is really meant to be documented. For example, I don’t ever want to be that person that is giving out food on Skid Row. If I go take a couple of meals, if I give someone some money, if I do something, if I travel for some charity work, whatever I do, I want to do it because it’s personal and that’s where my heart is. Which is why I am not vocal 24/7 because I’m empath and it’s exhausting to think about. I think that the real work is not posting a crazy caption or informing someone on something, it is really going out into the world and opening the door for that older woman or holding the elevator for that person who is walking or helping someone with their groceries or smiling at someone that you might know that they are having a terrible day and a smile is going to take them a long way. Just being present in the world, so if you see something, you can help. Or being present so that things don’t pass you by, that you can have real interactions and change someone’s life with exchanging words at the grocery store. That’s my activism and there’s a lot of things which I stand for and I’m with a lot of movements and my idea of being an ally is doing the work and not constantly being on the internet and…for me, it’s not performative. If I’m posting, it’s because my heart called me to do that, but I am trying to do the work in real life and every day as I move forward outside in the world.
BT: On Connecting, you’re sort of made fun of for liking the movie When Harry Met Sally. What movies have meant something to you in real life in this same way?
OM: Gosh, you’re asking so many good questions. I think that right now I’m really into Lovecraft Country. That’s my shit right now. Misha Green knows what the fuck she’s doing. But Ozark was like…that got me through early pandemic days. I also rewatched Magnolia, which fuck! That is an insane movie. I really needed that. I kind of went on a Philip Seymour Hoffman binge. Because any time I watch him on screen, he is my guy. Any time that I see him on screen, I am completely moved and reminded why I love to do this.
BT: The Master?
OM: The Master is great. I didn’t rewatch The Master. It kind of creeps me out sometimes and I start thinking about you know. No, The Talented Mr. Ripley. Frickin’ Matt Damon, I have a weird love / hate relationship with him because he’s kind of amazing, but I feel like I’m just finding that out. That’s weird.
BT: If Tom isn’t played well, that movie doesn’t work.
OM: I know! The Talented Mr. Ripley is a beautiful movie, I rewatched that one twice early pandemic days. The Departed is one that I always go to. About every two months, I’ll watch The Departed just because. Yeah, oh! Killing Eve. Sandra Oh, give that woman her fucking flowers. She’s incredible!
BT: How would you like an audience to experience Connecting?
OM: Well, if they can watch it with family and friends, that would be great. But because we’re still very much in the quarantine, if that’s not possible, then with a nice glass of wine and allow yourself to be as relaxed as possible and sit on the couch with us.
Connecting airs Thursdays at 8/7c on NBC and 9:30pm ET/PT on on Global