You probably know her from her emblematic and hilarious role as nurse Carla Espinosa in the comedy show Scrubs, but Judy is currently starring in a Sundance film called Gun Hill Road.
Judy plays the lead female role in Rashaad Ernesto Green’s Gunhill Road, which is competing against 15 other feature length American dramas this week at the Sundance Film Festival.
Gun Hill Road is the first feature-length film by Rashaad Ernesto Green, an award-winning director of short films such as Premature, and Cuts and Choices. Green began writing the script in 2009 and filmed it in only 22 days between July and August of 2010. The film was shot on location in the Bronx, in areas including Dewitt Clinton High School and on Gun Hill Road itself.
Gun Hill Road is a family drama set in the multiracial Bronx. An ex-con father played by Esai Morales returns from his latest three-year prison stint to find that everything has changed. His wife and child reject his attempts to re-establish himself as head of the household, and continue to harbor deep secrets that, if discovered, will tear at the fragile bonds of their embattled family. In Judy Reyes words, the movie highlights a very important premise: “If we are asking to be accepted, we must be accepting of others.”
HS-News had the immense pleasure of talking to Judy Reyes about the film, “Angela,” the character she plays, Sundance and much more.
Judy Reyes, was born to Dominican parents, and grew up along with three sisters in the Bronx. After a life-changing performance at her mother’s church, the young actress enrolled in theater classes at Hunter College in Manhattan, and in 1992 she landed her first major acting role in the independent feature film Jack and his Friends opposite Sam Rockwell.
From here she went on to perform extensively in the New York theater.
She is particularly proud of her work with the LAByrinth Theatre Company, a multicultural acting space in Manhattan where she is a founding member, along with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sam Rockwell, John Ortiz and Lauren Velez, among others. She has served as a member of the Company in numerous productions over the past 15 years.
Okay, tell us about Gun Hill Road
Gun Hill Road is a wonderful indie feature Starring Esaí Morales (Bad Boys, La Bamba, NYPD Blue) , myself and a young newcomer named Harmony Santana, and is about a man who is finished with three years in prison and returns to his stomping grounds in the Bronx, to his family—his wife and son. Hoping to pick up where he left off and follow a straightened out path, he finds that his wife is estranged, his son doesn’t really want to be like him, and is also going through a huge sexual transformation and identity crisis that is pretty much threatening to tear the family apart. I played the mom, Angela, who is trying to be the glue that holds this family together, and comes to have some serious issues at home, as far as maintaining the family, understanding the son, and trying to be the peacekeeper between the two of them.
Sounds complex. Tell us more about this character, Angela. How did you become interested in the part? What did you do to prepare for it? It’s a bit of a departure from comedy. It’s a drama, correct?
Yes, correct. I am trained in the theater mostly; this was actually an opportunity I was really excited to see when I was offered the role. A dear friend of mine told me “There’s a script that went to your manager, read it and let me know what you think, ‘cause they’re going to offer it to you,” and sure enough, a couple of days later, I got this script called “Gun Hill Road”
I was born and raised in the Bronx actually, the street that I grew up on—most of my life, is perpendicular to Gun Hill road.
I just couldn’t believe the opportunity that came before me when I saw this magnificent script, with this magnificent role, with so many colors… where I’m the greatest mom but go through all these changes, and this incredible journey, in terms of trying to be there, be a present being, and be a real woman also, be there for her husband and for her child.
I just had a baby, my baby was seven months old then, when I was shooting, and it was an opportunity to get back to my roots and to really challenge myself. Once I got it, I got so excited and… terrified I had to do it, I couldn’t stop myself.
And in terms of preparation, at the moment I got the role and it was confirmed that I was going to be fortunate enough to definitely play it, I got to New York City early, and I wanted to work with my usual acting coach but she wasn’t available unfortunately, but Rashaad Ernesto Green the writer/director, was working very closely with Harmony Santana (who is playing the role of Michael) because Harmony has never acted before, so that was a good way to prepare thoroughly for the role.
Tell us about working with Esaí Morales. What was it like being married to him for 22 summer days?
Esai is great, he’s super super thorough, he’s quite the professional, I’ve been a fan of his since before “La Bamba”, since “Bad Boys,” you know? What we did was we kind of like instinctive. We immediately fell into our of characters, and interacted just as husband and wife, from the beginning and sort of built a history, staying in character even when we weren’t in rehearsals just talking to each other as the character Angela and Enrique. That was a lot of fun. He understands the life on set, camera angles, and knows exactly what he likes to see. Esai was very very helpful , especially in such a limited budget environment, by being helpful to the crew and things like that, he’s a professional guy.
Let’s talk about Sundance. Are you going to Sundance?
Yes. I’ve never been and… before I moved out to Los Angeles I had the good fortune to be in a bunch of independent films, but I never made the trip out to Sundance. I’m a huge fan of independent film, so to be there, with our film…nothing short of a passion project… to be able to make it to such a well regarded festival with our film that was shot in 22 days, that is such a successful reward that I’m just so honored and excited to be there.
In Sundance, you are competing against other 15 independent films in the American Drama Category. Some of these films, explore similar themes to Gun Hill road, Latino issues, woman issues, sexual identity issues… What sets Gun Hill Road apart from these films?
I couldn’t tell you because i haven’t seen any of them. That said, I’m looking forward to see them, and see what sets it apart—That’s one of the most exciting things to me about going; not only to have done the kind of work that actually puts us in the competition, but also to be able to see the work of our peers in that competition, so there is just no way I can answer your question honestly, because I don’t know. But I’m definitely looking forward to finding out.
What are Judy Reyes’ expectations about this week at Sundance?
You know? I don’t have any… I’m trying to not have any, because you never know… I think Gun Hill Road is an outstanding piece of work. I’ll have to be wide open when I get there, only because there’s going to be so much going on there, is what I hear. I’m going to go and enjoy the fact that we did the kind of work that actually got us into that festival, and enjoy being with our peers, out there, the kind of filmmakers that we want to be, hopefully.
I expect that people will appreciate an amazing piece of art, I think Rashaad did amazing work with it, and our blood sweat and tears went with it too. Harmony Santana, who again did an incredible job, considering the fact that she never acted a day in her life! I expect to be completely blown away by the response, I guess, that’s all i can expect, and to enjoy the ride while I’m there.
Finally, Judy, what other projects are you working on?
I have a couple of opportunities in television that I’m exploring currently, and a few things in production that I’m producing with my Baby Daddy—with my boyfriend, in terms of feature films a story set in New Orleans post Katrina… nothing that I can actually elaborate, as a superstitious Latina…
You don’t want to jinx it, we understand. Judy, it was great talking to you, best of luck at Sundance!
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