Having recently spoken to her good friend and former co-star on Grey’s Anatomy, Jake Borelli, we knew that an interview with Jeanine Mason would be a wonderful experience (much like that one was). However the Miami-born actress surprised us in ways that we couldn’t imagine when we spoke with her from the set of Roswell, New Mexico (in which she was filming one of the final episodes of the season). Mason was a sparkling presence and a memorable interview subject as Brief Take learned a lot of secrets from the series (which is set to debut on Tuesday, January 15th on The CW and Showcase). The freshman show is a re-adaptation of the book series and builds on its previous television incarnation (Shiri Appleby even returns to direct!).
Mason embodies a compelling lead character in Liz Ortecho, and brings her own unique style and presence to the series, and I am very excited to follow along as the audience reaction comes through.
The following is an edited condensed version of our talk as we bonded with the compassionate and energetic Jeanine Mason.
Brief Take: How does the landscape of New Mexico in Roswell, New Mexico affect your experience filming the show there?
Jeanine Mason: I’m so glad that you brought that up because in TV, one of the big draws of our show has been that it’s a blessing to actually get to film in New Mexico. Not only is it stunning, but this is the story of a woman from a border state and is Mexican-American, and that moment in which they said “maybe we can double L.A. for Roswell” and then The CW committed to shooting in Sante Fe, all of us were so relieved. It is very much a character on our show. It’s been so lovely and the city has been wonderful to us. We really take advantage of the landscape, just the sense of pure, absolute sky, drone shots and we’ve been shutting down streets. I can’t wait for people to see it, on this network in particular, it will feel very singular. It will feel gorgeous and cinematic like the other shows that have shot here. The cool thing about the show has been seeing every show that shot here, the way that it has paid off.
BT: You got to address this on Grey’s Anatomy as well, but I imagine that you lean into the topic of undocumented immigration on Roswell.
JM: Absolutely. At our core, really it’s a show about “otherness”. It’s a show about feeling like you belong, who are you, and where are you going. We have different levels of alien on our show – “other” in terms of community and “other” in terms of our world, you know? And it’s about identity; it’s about who you are and who you want to be, the stories that you tell yourself and the stories that the world tells you and what are you going to choose for yourself. It’s been a wonderful coincidence and I’m so grateful for the way that it has worked out, getting to tell Dr. Sam Bello’s story on Grey’s and now getting to tell Liz Ortecho’s story on Roswell. Both shows worked with a wonderful organization called Define American and they are incredible. They’re working with media outlets to portray good stories accurately and in that way, they really believe, and I agree with them, that we can change the culture, that it just takes one story, it just takes one person, and knowing them intimately and opening up your heart to them, that can ripple into a change in our perspective, that experience, you know, which is being undocumented. How many people are undocumented Americans with no way to obtain citizenship? Because once you’re here, you have no path to citizenship. It’s something I believed in and I’m so curious about, and both of these projects have given me this origin window and insight into meeting people who are very knowledgable, and meeting people who this has been their experience firsthand. And now it just lit me up because it’s hard not to have your heart broken when you are sharing one person’s perspective, one person’s story.
BT: What is the experience like speaking with Mexican-accented Spanish?
JM: That’s the stuff that I didn’t really find that hard. [laughs] I’m Cuban myself. My acting coach has been great, and I have been working with a good friend, who’s an actress, she’s going to be on Orange is the New Black next season, which is awesome. She’s also an activist and a podcaster, her name is Melinna Bobadilla. We worked on a production together last year at Centre Theater Group of Zoot Suit. That was my first sort of foray into going deep into Mexican culture. Melinna was such an asset and a valuable tool for me. So I asked her when this job came to fruition, I said “could you be my consultant?” and she’s been wonderful for me. Expressions in particular are so different culture to culture, so our Cuban expressions very rarely play, you know? And also just foods and colours and textures, and a lot of books, too, she always sends me books and I’m constantly reading them. She’s been a wonderful tool, so it’s been awesome and a joy.
BT: Are you a skeptic or a believer in terms of aliens?
JM: At this point I’ve always been a believer, but in terms of aliens. As for the events that happened here in 1947, I’d never really done any digging. But now that I think about it, with the Manhattan Project and in terms of that was happening at Los Alamos, in terms of building the bomb, it makes sense to me that if they were willing to investigate any area of our Earth, that they would investigate Roswell. [laughs] So it makes sense for them to come here. Recently there was a weird-shaped cloud in Albuquerque that looked kind of like a UFO, and we had the cast kind of look through photos, and you can’t post stuff just yet, and someone put it in there and it lit up our photo stream, like “the aliens are coming”!
BT: Is there a song that stays with you from Roswell?
JM: Absolutely. I love doing playlists, so I actually made a Roswell playlist. One of the main musical elements of the show is that it’s a ’90’s throwback thing, which we have done partly because what orchestrates the show is the death of my sister, Rosa Ortecho (Amber Midthunder), and her and I, our glory days, our growing up days were the ’90’s. We have this jukebox in the diner that is stuck in the ’90’s and no one has ever updated it. So in the pilot, I’m dancing to Counting Crows. [laughs] So there’s a lot of Counting Crows, a lot of Alanis Morissette, we’re playing Death Cab for Cutie. Our showrunner, Carina Adly MacKenzie, is a huge musicologist, she loves all of that stuff. It’s been fun to get some of writers’ recommendations because they are very specific about getting “the song” that they are imagining for scenes, and that’s been really fun in prep to go, okay, Liz and Max are at this point in their journey and their relationship, and while I’m prepping, I try to listen to that song. Actually, every one of our episodes is named for a ’90’s song, it’s pretty cool.
BT: We’re big Shondaland viewers here at Brief Take. I imagine that your time on Grey’s Anatomy was a blast.
JM: Oh my God, it was the best gig I could have hoped for! The way that it prepared me prior to booking this gig last year was a dream. I felt like I had such a clear sense of what I would want in terms of a work family, and getting to watch Ellen (Pompeo’s) work and the way that she prepares seemingly effortlessly and poses questions and how to elevate the material. It was the best sort of drama school, and I felt so lucky.
BT: Considering how an audience views content, The B Team webisodes must have been interesting.
JM: Oh! The most surprising thing I had ever been a part of, because it felt like a good opportunity to work with Sarah Drew, who was a first-time director and a beloved cast member, and it was a chance to work with the club, and to gain a little respect for the club within the Grey’s universe. And then we got nominated for an Emmy! That was such a fascinating call to get. It was a really fun thing that was just in service of pleasing the fans and creating more content for them. It was such a thrill for all of us, and it was just so cool to see that the show has such artistic integrity. I mean Ellen is so proud of all of us, but the next day it was so cool getting the tweets from her, like “my babies!” She was so proud! [laughs]
BT: Do you think of acting and dance as separate pursuits or are they intertwined? Because you carry yourself very differently in each project in your acting journey.
JM: First of all, thank you very much for saying that. I honestly think it’s all one thing, and I think that artistry is circular, almost like a globe, and I imagine that we have all of these different colours that inform our artistry, as we come from different colours and different kinds of instruments in order to do our work. I come from the theatre, and I’m a vocalist also and I love weaponry, and I hope to use my knowledge of weaponry one day on film. So all of that stuff, I think that it’s like as an artist, it’s our job to be a well-rounded full tool of instruments. So the way that I have been able to use my physical background, my dance background, has been so much fun, and in the pilot episode we have one scene in which she gets to dance around and I had to make the choice of how good she is as a dancer. [laughs] She’s worked at her family’s diner for years, so she has physically been around the diner and is in such great shape, and that has been fun to kind of go: “okay, how can I teeter on a very fine line here, in which I’m moving along with the plates in a way that would make you, as an audience member, nervous that she’s doing it with such ease.” So yeah, I think of it all as the same thing. I think of it all as free rein of art and every artist is a fluid instrument and it’s important to be in touch with every single aspect of your artistry.
BT: Will you be live tweeting along with the episodes?
JM: Absolutely! I love that stuff. This job has been such a gift in that it has inherited family and inherited fanbases, just from the original series, and that includes Shiri Appleby, who is so generous and wonderful and who has been on my side from the day that they picked this thing up. Jason (Behr), who played Max, him as well, the creatives who were a part of it then, we have a couple of people, some in our wardrobe department, some in our transportation department, who were involved in the original series too. Then there’s inherited fans from the book series, from the original book series, who are reaching out and who are so excited, and who are very vocal on Instagram and Twitter. The cast is so wonderful and they’re so jazzed up, and then we have just fans of aliens and fans of sci-fi. [laughs] I think that’s justified and it’s an important thing to get the kitsch up, the alien kitsch. The alien kitsch is delicious, you know? That’s been such a gift of this job, and I can’t wait to post on the status and to update people who are supporting us from the top. Everything is to make them proud and to make everyone happy, and the details are I think what people are going to love about this show. The menu items at the Crashdown Cafe, this last week I had a line, I was serving someone and I said “cosmic cakes and crash browns”. Just every detail on the show I think is going to be really delicious and people are going to enjoy spending time with us in that way. I’m definitely one of those people who I’ve got this back stock of photos that all of us cannot wait to release once the episodes start airing!