Mr.Iglesias Season 2: How Elora Casados Went from Set Costumer to TV Star in Just 3 Days.
This piece comes supplemented with audio excerpts from the conversation with our guests.
There’s a deeply touching heart of gold at the core of everyone working in front and behind the scenes on Netflix’s Mr.Iglesias. Just yesterday, Season 2 was released worldwide and its message continues to resonate, “You deserve good things.” This may sound simple, but as the show’s creator Kevin Hench puts it, “The society we've grown up in, doesn't always lay out good things for certain kids in certain schools.” These certain kids are often Black and Brown students who deserve a shot at a good education. In the first season, Gabriel Iglesias played a history teacher who tries to rebuild his students' self-worth, but in Season 2, the students remind him that he too deserves good things. That’s when Jackie Ontiveros, the school’s new guidance counselor walks in and becomes Gabe’s new love interest.
Mr.Iglesias' Executive Producer Peter Murrieta on casting with authenticity:
For the past five months at Woodrow Wilson High School, where the show takes place, students have been left without a counselor. “So many schools don't have the funding for things like a school counselor,” says Hench. This is a reality the show wanted to explore. “Jackie [Ontiveros] is just representing all those incredible counselors who lose sleep at night worrying about their kids.” But the list of “experienced” actors that fit the role was small, and there were no new faces. Hench goes on to explain that, “When people have been denied opportunities, they don't have a reel with six different TV shows they've been on.” - “How does that person [without experience] ever get the opportunity?”
Between clothing racks and props was then-set costumer Elora Casados, and she was ready to make the biggest bet of her life. “The costume designer on the show actually said, ‘Elora, why don't we just put your name on the list?’ And I was like, ‘I don't think that's a thing you can just do. That's not really how it works,’’ she said. Elora had worked behind the scenes during Season 1 of Mr.Iglesias and had come back for Season 2. Now, she was in the running for the role of Jackie Ontiveros.
When the producing team heard about Elora, the casting process was close to an end. It was the final callback and understandably they had some concerns about considering someone new. “It's so awkward because we didn't know she was an actress. We don't have any tape on her,” said Hench.
Elora knew she had it in her. “It's not a surprise to anyone who knows me. I had been acting for a long time. I was always a really dramatic kid. Like some of my first memories are singing along to Evita and I love to quote Titanic.” She had started performing in high school, and even earned a BFA in Musical Theater in college, but then, “I didn't pursue it, I kind of put my dream on the shelf.” Her college experience had stolen a piece of her confidence, something that she’d reveal later.
Peter Murrieta, the show’s Executive Producer also had some fears. “What's going to happen when she doesn't get the part? And then [Gabriel Iglesias] has to go to work with her and she has to put his coat on. Oh my God, somebody put him in a terrible position”.
“I'd never had an audition really before for anything. Like I've done musical theater auditions. But yeah, that was my first audition for TV” says Elora, but the nerves never got to her. “I always had it in my back pocket, you know, and part of me never truly thought anything like this could possibly happen. But in case it did, I was always ready. If you stay ready, you don't have to get ready.”
From the start, “Elora came in, and really did the hardest thing to do in our business; to do a good audition. It's so hard to become that character in a cold sterile room” says Hench.
“I immediately loved this character, because she was really ballsy. She knew what she wanted. She was having this kind of witty banter with [Gabriel.] So you could tell she's smart. She's funny. I was like, Oh, yeah, I get this girl.” said Elora as she auditioned with Gabriel as her scene partner. Murrieta was impressed but became nervous when Gabriel decided they should go again, but this time, without the script. “What happens if in the second read it collapses? Like, what's going to happen? And of course, she was stone cold, off book and ready to go” said Murrieta. “I started to get emotional, I can't let them see me cry, and now I have to make sure this happens.”
While Peter and Kevin worked behind the scenes to do everything in their power to make sure Elora got the role, Gabriel, the star of the show, asked Elora a question that encouraged her to look within. “How come you're not doing this? You know, how come you're not performing? You were so good.” With the trust she had built with Gabriel for two seasons, she finally opened up. “When I was in college, the feedback I was getting was that I wasn't big enough or skinny enough and I wasn't white enough or brown enough. I was so in between.” Then, she mentioned her complicated feelings about Orange is The New Black. “I thought, Oh, well now I've missed my opportunity of ever being on TV. The only way they would ever put someone who looks like me on TV is in a show that takes place in prison,” but this audition felt different. “When I walked into the audition room, I didn't feel insecure about the way that I looked. They already knew what I looked like. The question was, does she fit the part?”
Elora's message to actors discouraged from following their dreams:
Elora is a manifestation of the soul of the show: Even if you don’t believe so, you deserve good things. Kevin Hench and Peter Murrieta truly live up to that message. “I invoked in that moment to try to get people to do the daring choice, we're not every other show. We do everything unlike any other show. So let's be that show here. Let's do the crazy, reckless thing. Because that's our DNA,” said Hench. With the Mr.Iglesias team on board, there was one final approval left to get. “We called Netflix on the phone and we said, ‘this actress you cannot check to see if she was good on Modern Family, she’s never been on anything. All you can watch is the tape of the audition. And you're gonna have to trust us and your eyeballs" - “And they said fine. They said great. They signed off.”
It happened. The dream Elora had put on the shelf, the dream she was discouraged from pursuing, had actually come true. “The fact that they saw that in me, like, makes me want to seriously almost cry,” - “It's a special show. And I think because it's a special show, that's why something like this that is so unique was able to happen.”
You can catch Elora Casados on Netflix's Mr.Iglesias.
*Photos courtesy of Elora Casados
Francisco Cabrera is a Venezuelan-American trying to make his immigrant parents proud. He focuses on "slice of life" character-driven stories with radical explorations of vulnerability and empathy. Recently, Francisco graduated from FSU's College of Motion Picture with a BFA in writing and directing. This past year, his latest film YUNIOR premiered at HBO’s New York Latino Film Festival and later Outfest.
A few years back, he was awarded a Student Emmy by the National Academy of Television & Sciences for his short REVOLVING CHILD which screened at the TIFF Vanguard Honors. There he received positive reviews and was named "The New Promise of Latino Cinema." by People Magazine.
Learn more about Fran here: https://www.franciscocabrera.com/