Interview: Chelsea Rendon on ‘Vida’, How She Got the Role of Mari and Her Self-Tape Audition Tips

Chelsea Rendon chats about the last season of Vida, her audition for Mari and how director David Ayer introduced her to acting teacher Ivana Chubbuck.

The last season of the popular Starz series Vida is already underway, and Chelsea Rendon, who has starred as Mari on all three seasons likes how things ended for her character. She was the “youngest one of the group,” she said. “There’s a lot of growth in her that I’m really proud of.”

Rendon started acting when she was seven years old and her success is no fluke. Smart, funny and serious about her work, it’s a sure bet that you’ll be watching her for a long time.

In this interview, she chats about filming the last season of Vida, how she got the part of Mari, her self-tape audition tips and how director David Ayer introduced her to acting teacher and coach, Ivana Chubbuck.

This is the last season of the show. Was that hanging over your head or I guess the entire cast’s as you were shooting?

Chelsea Rendon: No, because I think it was almost like a relief that at least we knew going into it. Because, I think when you find out, “Okay, that we didn’t get picked up for another season”, after it aired or whatever, when it’s normally pickup time, you’re like, “Damn, I wish we could have said this or I wish we could’ve done that.” But the writers knew going into it, this was the last season. So, they were able to write it kind of with closing chapters. Not necessarily like the end of the story. It was, “Okay, this is the end, but the beginning of a different story at the same time.” You know what I mean? I think that was something that we were kind of grateful for because at least we get to be like, “Okay, this is our last scene together.” Or, “Oh my God, this is the last day on the stage!” And we had those moments that we could cherish even more.

How was that last sort of week or final day of shooting?

Chelsea Rendon: It was crazy. Actually the last day of filming was all of my stuff. I actually had to film on a Saturday. And it was with none of the other series regulars, so it was literally a lot of me and then like a couple of day players and everybody still showed up on the last scene. And everybody was there and we did a big, “That’s the series wrap!” And everyone was crying and it was super emotional but it was great.

Do you like how things ended for your character?

Chelsea Rendon: Yeah. I think that it’s one of those things where Mari is the youngest one of the group, you know what I mean? Being 21, experiencing all these things. And from season one to season three, there’s a lot of growth in her that I’m really proud of. So, I’m hoping everybody’s going to really enjoy her arc this season and what she decides to do with at the end.

Did you know going into the season, what she was going to go through what and what was going to happen?

Chelsea Rendon: Well, no. So, the first two seasons Tanya [Saracho], the show runner, had a sit down with all of us to kind of be like, “This is the idea that I have.” Because I was the only one with like the least sexual stuff at all. So the first season she’s like, “So, you’re going to give head, is that okay?” And I’m like, “Okay, yeah that’s doable.” And then like the second season she was like, “Okay, so then now you’re going to be receiving it. Is that okay?” And I’m like, “Yeah, that’s cool.”

So, we had those conversations for the first two seasons of just kind of like, “Okay, this is what we’re thinking of for the story. She’s going to live with the sisters and then get kicked out of her house.” Those sort of things that she told us before we even got scripts. It was when they were in the process of outlining the season.

But for the third season, we had all this scripts before we started filming. So we ended up not having that meeting because we got the script.

I would just think that’s like super beneficial.

Chelsea Rendon: Yeah, well because you get to understand things that you…it’s like having a clear picture instead of like a foggy frame or whatever. You know what I mean? So that’s definitely great as an actor to be, this is where she ends up, and these make sense and these moments make sense. Or, “Oh I can see this in three different ways instead of just one.” So that’s definitely great as an actor to have the whole thing. It’s like a feature film. When you have that feature film you get to see the overall objective, not just scene objective. Because I do like the substitution method, that Ivana Chubbuck teaches, The Power of the Actor thing. You get the whole season, you see the whole overall objective, which is really cool.

From the time you started to now, is her whole character arc what you could have imagined? Or better than you could imagined?

Chelsea Rendon: Honestly, I didn’t have any expectations. I let it just breathe and live as it was growing and as time was passing. Because, the beautiful thing about this show is that these characters are human beings. They’re not written as you’re the bad person. Or, you’re the mean person. They’re all just human beings who have flaws. And who have good sided and bad sides. It’s like we’re all just human beings who have flaws and who have good sides and bad sides. So, it was like everything that they did, you understood from their perspective. Even if you didn’t agree, you’re like, “Oh well I understand why Lynn did that or I understand why Johnny did that.” You know what I mean? And that’s the beauty of it. So I really didn’t have any expectations. It was kind of like, “Oh wow. Oh wow, this is great. This totally makes sense. I definitely can see this being someone’s life.”

How did you actually get the part?

Chelsea Rendon: Well, so the funny thing is, so when the original pilot presentation auditions went out, all the breakdown said full nudity required for all the characters. And I’ve never been for that, so my reps didn’t even submit me. One of my best friends actually sent me the breakdown of Mari and was like, “Yo, this is you. You should go out for this.” And I had just finished out taping some of my friends for like Lynn and Emma earlier in the day. So I remember reading the breakdown when I got home and then I sent it to my reps like, “Yo, like why didn’t you submit me?” And they’re like, “Uh, hold on, there’s a big piece missing that says full nudity required.” Cause she didn’t send me that part.

And I was like, “Oh, okay. You know what? It seems cool. Well, why don’t we just do this self tape and then we’ll see what happens. We could always negotiate closer. If I book a like, who knows?” You know what I mean? We have how many auditions and self tapes do we do and we don’t get a call back, you know? And so I did the self tape and I got the call back, got the chemistry and I ended up booking it. But again, it was a pilot presentation. So then I book it, we filmed it and then when it got pushed to series and I had the first meeting about the character. I remember panicking so much because I was like, “Oh my God, if they want full nudity, I can’t do this. I’m not there yet.” You know what I mean? And I was so panicked when I went into the meeting. And one of the first things that she mentioned, was like, “So you’re going to be a 21 year old virgin.” And I was like, “Okay, cool, awesome.” And she was like, “And then there’s this love interest and then you give him head and then a video gets released.”

And I was like, “Ooh, okay, damn, I could do that. I could give head. That’s cool. And I have my clothes on?” And she’s like, “Yeah.” And I’m like, “Perfect. Oh my God. And I literally like prayed right after, “Oh, thank you Jesus. Brown baby Jesus, you were in my corner.”

Because it was one of those things where technically I knew about it but I didn’t technically sign for it. You know what I mean? And it was a possibility but my character didn’t do it. I’m like a super confident woman but I don’t want to be naked in front of people. You know what I mean?

I don’t want to be naked in front of people.

Chelsea Rendon: Right? But I have this little thing in my head that when I’m older and I have a son and somebody goes up to him at school and says, “I have your mom’s boobies on my phone.” That’s honestly the reason why I’m still against it right now. That little snippet in my mind. It’s not even anything else. Because some people are like, “Oh, my dad or my brother.” And I’m like no that’s part of it. But like the main thing is my kid getting bullied at school. That’s my vision of that.

It went from, again, not even being submitted to getting the pilot presentation and then going to this meeting with Tanya, I was like, “Oh my God, if she says I’m going to be in an orgy. I can’t do this.” You know what I mean? And how do I tell them, “I’m sorry I can’t,” you know? And then it ended up completely working out.

You talked about self tape auditions. What’s your tips on doing a great self taped audition?

Chelsea Rendon: I treat them like actual auditions, so I only give myself a maximum of three takes per scene. So, I’m prepared, I’m off book and it’s like, “Okay, let’s do it.” Unless I mess up a line or I drop a line or something then I give myself an extra one. But on average, I do it in three or less. In a regular audition, when you go into the room, you do a take, they give you notes and you do another one or you do your one take and you move on. So I just gave myself that maximum three, which normally I do it in one or two.

If not, you sit down and then you pick at it. “Oh wow, I moved my hair at that moment.” Or like, “Oh, I looked over there.” You know what I mean? And I help a lot of friends with self tapes, so I understand how they do it. So I was like, for my personal thing, I give myself three, you know what I mean? And it has, it’s actually ended up helping some of my friends.

That’s a good tip. So, you started acting when you were a kid. I think you were, what, six or something like that? Is acting something that you’d always wanted to do?

Chelsea Rendon: Yeah, I kind of came out of the womb ready to perform. We’re actually talking on Selena’s birthday and seeing that movie at the drive-in is what really like pushed me over the top. I would always be performing her songs in my backyard with the vacuum and I was just always that kid.

Actually, when my mom really decided that we should do it, I decided to fake faint in the middle of a Circus Circus, a casino in Vegas. And security was coming around and I’m fake passed out on the floor. And my mom was like, “Oh my God, Chelsea get up, get up.” A whole circle of people, including my own family, really thought I had passed out.

How do you think you’ve managed to keep working all this time and be successful?

Chelsea Rendon: Well, I think genuinely because it’s my passion. You know what I mean? There are those kids that get pushed into it by their parents and things like that and then they fall off. But this is genuinely my dream and it’s my goal that my mom supported. So I think that’s a big aspect of it. But I also was able to grow up normal. I still graduated from regular high school. I still went to public school. So I was able to have the best of both worlds where I would book a guest star here and there, but I was in school living a normal life. And when things started getting busier with my career, I was able to balance it, I think better because I had that, you know what I mean?

And I think being a kid on set, you’re so curious about everything and you’re so like, “Oh wow, what’s that crane doing? Why is that light up there?” You’re so more curious and that just leaves you asking a million questions. So every time I was on set I have another question. And it keeps you wanting more and wanting answers.

You mentioned Ivana Chubbuck. Did you take classes with her?

Chelsea Rendon: Yeah, so recently Ivana’s been my… I took classes with her and I had some personal coaching with her as an adult. It was the first class that I had gone to. I started when I was 22 and I was in her class for about two years and… Oh no, I’m sorry, like a year. I’m all over the place with dates.

I actually worked with the director, David Ayer on Bright. And this is one of those things where people say like, “No part is ever too small.” This was a no line audition for one scene in this movie and I booked it. And because of stunts and because of makeup, we ended up shooting it in three days. Like it was the first block of each day. So, I’m on set and I’m talking to him and… David Ayer is super grounded and his wife is Latina. So he’s super brown on the inside. So we connected, he had worked with a lot of Latino actors that I know. And we started talking. I was talking about boxing and he connected me with his sensei and he was like, “Yo, like you’re good. You need to work with Ivana.” And I started going to classes with her. I worked with him in January, started classes with her and with my sensei in February and it was that May that I booked Vida.

Oh, nice.

Chelsea Rendon: Yeah. So it was one of the things that I was able to look at acting different because I had been acting as a kid, you know what I mean? I hadn’t had to play any adult roles. Even though like now okay I’m twenty-something I’m not a kid anymore, but I was still playing 15-16-17. So, it was a really big shift in my life of, “Okay wait, now you’re a woman. How would you approach this as a woman? Not as a kid anymore.” And that was a really big thing.

I am so thankful to David for helping me and connecting me with Ivana with my sensei. I definitely feel like he… I thank him a lot for where I am now. And then you know, we worked together again. We did a movie, The Tax Collector with Bobby Soto and Shia LaBeouf. That it’s going to be coming out this year. So it’s super surreal how that all happened.

But yeah, I was working with Michael Monk at the Ivana Chubbuck Studio, in the advanced class, before I moved up to her class, which is a master class. And both of them taught me so much. I still keep in touch with Michael. I hit him up sometimes for auditions. They’ve both been really great. Yeah, I definitely recommend them for people that like the substitution method.

What’s been your worst audition?

Chelsea Rendon: Oh my God. I had an audition where I had a migraine… And I’m super, I’m always off book, I don’t even have the sides in my hands actually. And I had this migraine and I was pulling up to the audition and it just got worse and worse. When I was finally like in the room, I completely blanked on my line. And they’re like, “Okay yeah, let’s go back.” And even a line before that, I messed up again. Like, I completely blanked. And I was just so mortified. I was just like, “No! Oh my God.” It was embarrassing. And I was around 18 at the time.

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