I recently got the chance to talk to Jenny L. Saldaña about her role in Sacha Baron Cohen’s new film, ‘The Dictator’. Here, Jenny talks about how she got involved in the project and what it was like working with the cast and crew on-set…
Hey Jenny. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me about your new film, ‘The Dictator’.
What’s the general plotline surrounding the film?
It’s about a dictator a la Saddam Hussein who comes to the United States and his whole world turns upside down when he loses his beard, goes incognito and ends up working at a hippie supermarket.
Tell us a bit about the character you play in the movie…
I play Hannah, a South American dissident who had her hands cut off for protesting. She’s very quiet and looks like Frida Kahlo only not as attractive.
How did you get involved in the project in the first place?
I love telling this story. My manager, Jason Steinberg sent me on an audition for it. I auditioned for the casting director while they filmed; it was less than 5 minutes. I didn’t hear back in a week so I thought I didn’t get it. Almost months later Jason calls me again and says “clear your day Sacha Baron Cohen wants to meet you.” I had no idea what he was talking about as I had forgotten about the audition, but he reminded me and they sent a car for me right away. I had no idea where I was going in the car the drive just say, Brooklyn, I was so scared, I didn’t know if it was going to be a ‘Borat’ or ‘Bruno’ situation where they would do something crazy to me. But I went straight to SBC’s trailer and Larry Charles was there waiting for me too. I had to improv with Sacha and I was so excited about that, it was all I cared about, I never expected him to actually cast me, but he did, he and Larry liked me and I became Hannah that day.
What makes this film different and unique compared to the other Sacha Baron Cohen films – ’Borat’ and ’Bruno’?
Well this is a totally scripted film where as the others had a lot of improv and a documentary feel to them. This is a huge cast with a ton of celebrity cameos. I never knew who would be sitting next to me at the hair and make-up trailer.
The film stars Sacha Baron Cohen, Sir Ben Kingsley, Anna Faris, Megan Fox and Sayed Badreya – what was it like working with the cast and crew on-set? Any good anecdotes?
I worked mostly with SBC and Anna. They were both so great. Anna and I would do hair and make-up at the same time so we were always chatting. One of the funniest things that happened on set is that almost everyone at one point or another ended up feeding or ‘watering’ me. Because the prosthetic hooks I had were a huge harness, I couldn’t do anything with them on. Someone had to dress and undress me at all times and before they came to dress me they made sure I went to the bathroom. One time we had parasols because we were out in the sun but I couldn’t hold mine so they called a PA to just stand there and block the sun from me. That same day my skirt fell right off. It was untying and I couldn’t tie it and as I walked over to wardrobe it just slipped off of me. It was hysterical.
Let’s talk a bit about you Jenny. What made you want to get into the industry in the first place?
I’ve been acting for years. I have my degree in theatre from the University of Pittsburgh. I fell in love with being on stage in the 2nd grade when we had an international day in school and my class had to perform a dance. I loved it. I’m also a writer and have written several comedic plays. Comedy is my first love.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to pursue a career in the industry?
Don’t do it expecting to become a super star. Do it because it’s your passion and you can’t live without it. Never give up and create work for yourself. If you haven’t been cast in the perfect role, create it! Write it yourself and find somewhere to perform it, even if it’s a park. You have to stay busy to get busy I know that sounds crazy but it’s true. And NETWORK NETWORK NETWORK!!!! Make friends with everyone!
If you were stranded on a desert island, what three ‘personal’ things could you not live without?
- My MacBookPro. On my desert island I have Wi-Fi. I can truly say that I had no idea what computers could do until I got my Mac. I love it and can’t live without it. It’s like having a baby, I run home to play with it and I can’t stop looking at it and discovering new things with it and everyone was congratulating me when I got it.
- Bacon – I LOVE bacon and I want to put it on everything. Everything tastes better with bacon.
- My Wonder Woman pyjamas. I am obsessed with Wonder Woman, I even have a Wonder Woman tattoo and my whole apartment is filled with anything I find that has Wonder Woman on it. I was always her at Halloween growing up and I still want to be her.
If you could have dinner with three guests – (living or dead), who would you choose and why?
- Bill Clinton – I love that man. I think he’s brilliant, charming and sexy. I would be in complete awe at anything that came out of his mouth. I want him to know that I would never tell — EVER!!!!
- The Beastie Boys (I count them as one unit) I’m a huge fan and have been so brokenhearted over the death of MCA. I’ve been sitting my own personal Shiva by only listening to Beastie Boys music on my I-Pod since he died. I think dinner with them would be amazing. I picture them cracking jokes and it being like the “Fight For Your Right” video.
- Tennessee Williams – I write because of Tennessee Williams. I want to create something 1/8 as good as his worst piece. I picture us sitting in a sidewalk café in New Orleans and I’m wearing a huge chapeau like I was at the Kentucky Derby and he’d be in seersucker.
What is your favourite word?
BOOBIES! You can’t say it without smiling and I’m a boobies lover!! I’m a breast cancer survivor and a breast cancer advocate so I want to save all the boobies in the world.
What’s coming up for you in 2012?
I am currently working on writing season two of a web series I co-created with my writing partner, Linda Nieves-Powell. It’s called ‘Happy Cancer Chick’ - (www.happycancerchick.com) and it’s about life after cancer. We are really enjoying writing it and it’s giving cancer civilians (as I like to call them) an insight into what survivorship is really like.
Thanks for the interview!