SPOTLIGHT on Maria Elena Laas

interview by Alexandra Bonnet
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The talented Maria Elena Laas embodies class and beauty as she blissfully works on different platforms from all around the world. From commercials to television to film, she never ceases to surprise us. Whether she plays a role in the critically acclaimed series “Vida,” THE HOT CHICK, or numerous international commercials such as the face of Garnier skincare, Maria Elena is always leaving us wanting more.


1.You currently play the role of Cruz in the critically acclaimed series called “Vida,” tell me more about this experience: do you face any challenges while playing this character?

Playing Cruz is a dream for me as an actor in that I get into her skin in ways I don’t usually have the opportunity to do when approaching roles. The shifts in voice, posture, clothing, gait, personality, piercings, and of course the gorgeous tattoo sleeve are all tools that allow me to do justice to this woman who is way cooler than I am. The challenges for me with the project felt bigger than playing Cruz. It was in the pressure that comes from representing a specific community correctly. It takes place on the eastside of Los Angeles and some can understandably be sensitive to how their culture and community are portrayed on-screen. And the nudity. I’ve never done that before, actually none of us had, but like the others I felt it was for the greater good. So that people can see themselves reflected on the screen. Not only are we showing many different body types but also the sex scenes are not shot in a glossy, perfect Hollywood way. We’re showing that sex can be messy, uncomfortable, vulnerable or disconnected, and sometimes even degrading.

2.Being born in Puerto Rico and raised in Saudi Arabia and Japan, how did you know you wanted to get into American film and television? Is there a specific moment when you decided on this career?

I became obsessed with all things theater-related at age 6 and was always acting in school plays. At 13, I started working professionally in Japan. We lived in Yokohama, 30 minutes outside of Tokyo by train, and every time I went into the city for jobs and castings I was so excited I couldn’t contain myself. In Saudi Arabia, there were no movie theaters growing up. There was a video store with some of the newest Hollywood movies but they were bootleg copies. Ones that were filmed from the back of movie theaters where you could see people getting up and walking across the screen, hearing them cough and talk. Any scene that showed kissing, sex, or women showing too much skin were cut out. It left me hungry for more, wondering and imagining what had happened during those large missing chunks. I always knew I would pursue this career and it wasn’t until I had the luck of moving to Hollywood with my family that I began to focus on it solely. My father was transferred to LA for work for one year before moving back to Saudi Arabia and I stayed.

3.Would you say that working on different platforms in this industry (commercials, television, film) has allowed you to be a better actress? If yes, how so? 

Definitely. Each discipline has its own set of parameters, challenges, and opportunities for growth. I am a big proponent of putting the work in and being dedicated to the craft. Then at some point just letting it all go, knowing that the safety net is there. Yes, and even for commercials. To be specific and committed while capturing a room of varied creatives and corporate clients in 30 seconds or less is an art in itself.

4.You have been part of over 150 national and international commercials and print campaigns: how do you prepare yourself before each one?
I do my homework, get enough sleep,  and focus on being present. My heart and connecting with the excited little girl within is where my creativity lies. From the styling, hair and makeup to the distinct yet magical exchange with directors and photographers, I find so much joy in the creative collaboration. It’s what fuels me.

5. In addition to playing in front of the screens, you also take part in experimental theater and participated in the first production in Los Angeles of the Latin American theater experience, Micro Teatro: did that experience teach you anything new about yourself?  

I learned so much about myself through that intimate theater experience. Mostly of being emotionally stripped down and  moving past walls I still had around my vulnerability. Our amazing director created a safe space where I could face hard truths about myself since the subject matter coincidentally mirrored what I was going through in my personal life at the time. There were two of us actors doing a very intimate and emotional play in a minuscule room with 15 audience members inches away, 4 to 6 performances per night at the top of every hour, and myself naked under a thin sheet that was constantly shifting since I was being massaged. It was scary to do but a wonderful challenge that I hope to take on again. The intimacy between us and the audience was so special, something that happens when a person or camera is only a few inches away.

6.If you could speak any other language in the world, what would it be?

Japanese, hands down. What I know is basic and not enough to go deeper into the culture. I am fascinated by Japanese tradition, design, the juxtapositions between conservatism and sexual kink, high standards, and incredible attention to detail. Tokyo rivals Burning Man in feeling like you are on another planet and I love that.

7.When faced with a challenge, what would be your advice to best overcome it?

Ideally, face it head first, don’t procrastinate, follow your heart but use your head, speak up, try to see the bigger picture, be vulnerable and honest, lead with compassion, tell your truth, be kind to yourself, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. But we’re only human so just do the best you can. And most important, don’t forget to acknowledge the support and love around you.

TEAM CREDITS

Photography  ARTHUR GALVAO @artgphoto

Styling ROBIAT BALOGUN   @ririrabbit

Hair CREIGHTON BOWMAN

Makeup ANDRE SARMIENTO  @andremakeup

Production Maison Privée x BELLO Media Group

About The Author

Stephane Marquet
Creative Director

First of all, excuse my French! … I was born in the South of France. Lived in Paris for 10 years and travelled the world until I moved to Los Angeles in 2008, because obviously recession was a great time to move to a new country! I also arrived around Halloween and was greeted at the Social Security offices by a nurse who directed to the window Number 6 so a witch could hand me my social security number. Welcome to America. I am a painter, a photographer and the creative director of BELLO mag.

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