Interview: Mercedes De La Cruz on Spirituality and Building a Career in Canada and Europe During the Pandemic

CREDITS: Brandon Elliot (Photographer), Eleni Tsapas (Fashion Stylist), Zahra Dee (Hair/Makeup)

“Being mindful of emotions and beliefs that are behind behavior gives me depth to play with. It helps me find motivation, tactics, and actions to fuel my scene.” – Mercedes De La Cruz

Mercedes De La Cruz is a Canadian actor best known for her charismatic performances in more than two dozen television shows and independent films, including Hallmark’s upcoming Right in Front of Me opposite Janel Parrish, AMC’s Bates Motel opposite Freddie Highmore, Bravo’s Girlfriends’ Guide To Divorce opposite Lisa Edelstein (House) and History Channel’s Project Blue Book opposite Aidan Gillen (Game Of Thrones).

For her role as Carla, a savvy pregnant prostitute, in Ramshackle Blues, De La Cruz was nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the 2019 Vancouver Badass Film Festival. De La Cruz recently wrapped filming a co-lead in the feature Because You’re Dead To Me and a co-star on the Netflix series Maid.

Describe yourself as an actor. How would you pitch yourself? 

MERCEDES DE LA CRUZ: Oh, man. This is the hardest question because I don’t want to just play a certain kind of character, I want to play them all! My exotic look lends me to play a large range of ethnic backgrounds from Hispanic to Middle Eastern to Eastern European. My quirky and charismatic personality mixed with the deep pain I’ve felt in my past gives me a huge range to portray characters truthfully in almost any circumstance. My aim is to play every kind of character truthfully.

You’re now living and auditioning in two different countries: Canada and Serbia. Tell us about your experience as a bi-continental actor. 

MERCEDES DE LA CRUZ: I realized I had to be open-minded to new ways of doing things. I was shocked to find out how different the acting world is in Serbia than in the west. It’s not like Canada and the US where you have an agent that pitches and submits you for roles. When I moved to Serbia I was asking actors to refer me to a good agent and they told me that they don’t really work with agents: it’s mostly who you know. I was blown away!

Should actors start to position themselves differently in the international marketplace?

MERCEDES DE LA CRUZ: I don’t necessarily think I have to position myself differently but position my mind differently.   I needed to drop all the old stories, change my mind to what’s possible, and allow new possibilities. For me it was important to allow my ideas of how things “are” or how they have shown up in the past, to be destroyed and uncreated. All the constructs of how I say life is doesn’t have to be the way life shows up moving forward.

For me it was to stop saying all the limiting things that weren’t working or weren’t the way I wanted them to be. Words and beliefs create, so the things that I say will be my reality.

“To audition, you have to be in town…”

“To get any work, it’s bloody hard work”

“I always play strippers and hookers” and so on…

I was limiting myself with these phrases.  It wasn’t how I wanted my future to be, they were just how things happened to show up in the past. Also, the biggest thing I’m dealing with now is trusting in the process and the timing. I believe there is a divine plan that’s unfolding for me, I just have to allow it to show up as it does, not how I expect it to be! My wanting to control things gets in the way of that. I have to let go of my idea of how things should shape up and know that the divine plan is better than any plan I could come up with myself. It’s uncharted territory so my aim is to let go and find the joy in letting the universe surprise me!

How has the pandemic changed your approach to the business of acting and looking for work? 

MERCEDES DE LA CRUZ: Because the majority of things went online, I was finally able to fit in all the stuff I wanted to do! I was able to take acting classes, voice over classes and script writing classes all at once. I’m actually now writing my first feature film! There would have been no time to get to all these classes in one day if I had to drive there!  I love to travel, and I love acting. However, I found it challenging to have ease with both together. In the past, when I went out of town I basically had to put acting on hold, or come back to audition. Now all auditions are done remotely! I gave all my possessions away during the pandemic so now I’m free to go anywhere in the world to work and have no real responsibility holing me to one place! I have auditioning on the road down to a science. No matter where I go, the first thing I pack is my tripod and ring light! And I stopped worrying about having to find anyone to help me tape the audition, because now with my phone, computer and zoom I can tape with my acting coach from anywhere in the world. Technology is so amazing when it works!

From your content on social media one can see that spirituality is an important part of your life. How has spirituality impacted you has an actor? In what ways is it an asset? 

MERCEDES DE LA CRUZ: My spiritual pursuit has changed my entire world and everything I do, as well as my ability to act. I got to a really dark place in my life where I felt like I could not go on. It felt like either I would die of misery or just kill myself. However, there was a small part inside of me that told me I was meant for greatness. I had small glimpses of light and a picture of what a beautiful life I could have if I changed my perspective. I decided that I would do anything and everything necessary to find that peace. My spiritual path has included countless modalities, rituals and practices that have all made impacts in my transformation one way or another. I’ve done everything from energy work to plant medicines to Breatharianism.

All of these modalities helped make me aware of and transform my limiting beliefs that held me back in life and as an actor. These beliefs got in my way of doing my prep work, seeing my true beauty, asking for help, voicing my needs, saying no, and pursuing my goals fully. It also showed me all the insecurities that held me back from producing a beautiful final product. I felt like I needed to do so much, to show so much, and be so big for people to see me.

I also didn’t have awareness about my tells and unwanted ticks. In the past, my self-judgment had me in my head about what I looked like, what I thought the scene should look like, worries about my next lines, and my inability to listen or be present because I was judging my performance.  I now see that all things are energy and vibration, action and reaction that is constantly moving. Acting to me is that same flow of energy. For there to be a good flow in a scene I have to be available and present to flow with it.

My spiritual practice has helped me deepen my relaxation and listening skills and given me the confidence to trust my instincts and flow with the energy. I am now more present in my body and can respond truthfully to whatever arises. Since emotions are energy as well, what we are feeling internally will affect how a line is said. You don’t want to look like you have planned how you are going to say something, you want it to feel like a genuine reaction, and I can’t do that if I am just playing a scene the way I rehearsed it alone. Once I am playing a scene with another human, how they say their lines will change how I react to them. The energy will be different each time and I have to be open to that happening.

Do you think there is a relationship between spirituality and acting? 

MERCEDES DE LA CRUZ: I think the word spirituality gets misconstrued. I’m not talking about the consumerism antics of crystals, essential oils and saying namaste! I’m also not talking about going to church and preaching the gospel. It’s important to understand that when I say spirituality, I mean awareness, oneness and the belief in a force greater than myself. I look at my spiritual work as helping me get back to who I truly am in spirit, which is everything and anything, pure positive energy not bound by limitations, constructs, and points of view. My aim is to shed all the aspects that block this truth from me.

I feel like my spiritual work and my acting work go hand in hand. The more spiritual work I do, the better of an actor I am. The more acting work I do, the more I learn about myself which broadens my personal spiritual awareness.

CREDITS: Brandon Elliot (Photographer), Eleni Tsapas (Fashion Stylist), Zahra Dee (Hair/Makeup)

What techniques from meditation or other mindfulness practices can be applied to acting? 

MERCEDES DE LA CRUZ: Meditation for me is key. It is incredible for grounding, as well as calming excessive thought which allows me to be more present for my prep work and moving through a scene.

Breath work helps me move the stagnant energy and trapped emotions in my body. It also helps me with relaxation and getting myself into my voice and breath.

Movement and dance helps me get present and grounded into my body as well. From there I can find nuances for my scene and ways in which my character may move their body.

Being mindful of emotions and beliefs that are behind behavior gives me depth to play with. It helps me find motivation, tactics, and actions to fuel my scene.

Being silent and listening gives me the availability to be the space where new impulses can arise and gives me freedom to respond in a new way for every take.

Taking a nap is a big part of my mindfulness practice as well. When I feel the momentum of negative thought, sometimes the only way to turn it around is to sleep it off! I also use napping in my prep work. After I get a good understanding of the lines, I nap and typically get new ideas about who the character is!

Are you able to tell if an actor is spiritually awake or not? If so, how? 

MERCEDES DE LA CRUZ: I think there are two kinds of people out there. People who strive for personal development and self-actualization, and then people who don’t. I’ve seen both types of people have great success.  There are many people out there that are very successful and not interested in seeking a higher truth. Someone may do a really great job on a role they are playing because of personal experience yet not believe that there is anything for them to strive for spiritually. However, for me, I’ve become a better actor after pursuing a spiritual path.

What role did your spiritual journey have in helping you overcome your personal demons?

MERCEDES DE LA CRUZ: In the past I thought that bad things just happen to good people. I had no idea that I had any hand in creating my reality. I thought I was a victim to the world, the people in it, and my surroundings, I had no idea I had any control. I now see that there is no one standing in my way, except for me. That shift in victim-hood changed everything for me! That kind of realization is pure freedom! Once I saw that my thoughts and beliefs created my reality, I started looking at my intentions for everything I was doing. I quickly saw that EVERYTHING I did was because of what I was believing inside. I saw that I had beliefs of guilt and shame, worthlessness, not being enough, not being lovable and so on, that were creating a reality that I didn’t actually want.

Because I didn’t have the awareness and tools to deal with these painful beliefs, I merely dampened them with drugs and alcohol to avoid feeling the pain. Realizing that I had the choice of a new kind of reality was the first step in the direction of letting go of those self-limiting beliefs and putting a stop to the destructive behavior.

First things first, I had to stop using! Then I needed to allow the painful thoughts to come through and feel them. From there it was to learn to change my mind about the beliefs that I made up about myself. It was not true that there was anything wrong with me: I am perfect just the way I am and there is nothing I need to do to prove my worthiness.

The final step was to move towards love. Focus on the way I actually wanted to feel, do things that light me up, and just have fun and play! This may sound simple enough…but it was not! It was scary as hell at the time, and definitely was not easy.

Thank you for sharing yourself with such transparency: this is very moving to hear. How do you use these personal demons or past traumas as fuel for your acting?

MERCEDES DE LA CRUZ: Acting is all about conveying truth. My past trauma is my past truth. All of those emotions that I once felt are the same emotions that others feel too: it’s just the story and behavior that’s a little different from person to person. Acting is expressing, talking and moving…telling a story of what it’s like to be someone else. We have all felt disappointment, worry, anger, sadness and fear. I use those same feelings in my scenes to portray the character’s emotions. I may not know what it’s like to be a murderer, but I do know what it feels like to be so angry that I wanted to hurt someone. So, I use it!

Paula Patton once said that acting is an addiction. Did you replace your former addiction to alcohol and drugs with an addiction to acting? 

MERCEDES DE LA CRUZ: I think you can use anything as escapism, however acting is not that for me. After I put the bottle down I found myself using other distractions and ways of avoiding feeling pain, but none of that was acting. I chose being very busy, working hard, eating, exercising and friend time.

Now you may be thinking that none of this stuff sounds detrimental to anyone’s health…however they were ways I used to avoid truly looking at the problems. I don’t really think it’s what you do that is harmful, but what your intentions are behind what you are doing. Not one thing is innately bad. That’s why there are many people out there that can drink and not have a problem, where it was one for me. I used it to numb the pain as well as give myself evidence of self-made-up lack and unworthiness. It just goes to show that we find what we are looking for.

Acting for me is not an addiction, it’s my passion and something I used to help me unravel the beliefs that brought me to my addictions.

Has acting made you a better person? 

MERCEDES DE LA CRUZ: Every time I do an acting class, I learn something new about myself, I get a little less in my own way and become more free and self-expressed. Many exercises we do in class push me to do things that scare me and get me out of my comfort zone…which pushes me to new limits and makes me a better person.

As an actor, I’ve studied behavior and where it stems from which has given me a lot more compassion for myself and others. Whatever I focus my attention on, I will get more of. The beautiful thing about joy is that it produces more joy. And the truth of the matter is, anyone that is doing what they love is a happier person, and I love acting.

FOLLOW MERCEDES:  Instagram  Facebook

Guest interview by Adam Davenport

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