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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE: Updates, resources, and context

Actor Irene Santiago talks memorable moments, working as a Puerto Rican in film, and working with at-risk kids

Actor Irene Santiago.
Irene Santiago.
Actor Irene Santiago.

This week, WHQR’s arts reporter Demia Avery interviewed Irene Santiago — she’s a Wilmington-based actor who has appeared in movies like High School Musical and Iron Man 3, spent time honing her crafts with film greats, and works with at-risk students in Rose Hill, in Duplin County.

You can find more information about Irene Santiago here.

Listen to Demia Avery's full interview with Irene Santiago

Demia Avery: I absolutely could not wait to introduce our featured guest. Her name is Irene Santiago. You have been at your craft for quite some time. How long have you been acting? And what inspires you to keep working at your craft for so long?

Irene Santiago: That's a really good question. I've been acting for over 30 years. So I've been doing this for a long time. And I always say, I grew up in a family where everybody is always looking at me, look at me, right? So there's tons of kids in our family, and everybody wants to be noticed. So I feel like I was kind of born into it.

DA: Right. Now, you've worked with some amazing actors, other celebrity actors. Now, if you can pinpoint your most memorable actor that you've worked with, who would that be?

IS: High School Musical always comes up, but they were all little kids. Everybody was little kids — Zac Efron, you know, all these, these kids were little kids. So I didn't think much of it. But then I remember watching the Today Show, and it says, Well, if you've been under a rock, you probably don't know that High School Musical was one of the largest movies and I thought, ‘What the heck,’ and I went, coffee just spit out of my mouth. But you know, but that's an experience within itself. But I remember working with Eric Roberts, and that man has done so many movies. He's actually done more movies on the Guinness [Book of World Records] or something like that. I learned so it's like a masterclass masterclass. Because he he gave so much of himself. When I was at Sundance Institute, oh my gosh, working with Philip Seymour Hoffman. One thing he said was, “say what you mean, and mean what you say, but don't say it mean.”

DA: Now, if you don't mind, I want to get a little more personal if that’s okay with you. You are of Puerto Rican descent.

IS: Yes, ma'am.

DA: Many of us know that there is a severe lack of Latin representation in film and television. So what are your feelings about that? And how do you keep a positive mindset?

IS: That is a really good question. Because I have come from Utah, where there wasn't any representation unless you were the gardener or the maid. And I remember sitting in the makeup chair – and this is a story that really happened – and I remember sitting in the makeup chair and the makeup lady was doing my makeup. And she goes this is Irene, she plays all the maids. And I mean, because it's like there was a Disney show I did, and then there was a another show I did, and I just felt like I was only getting hookers and maids because that's all that was available. And yeah, we were represented – but not represented like everybody else. At the time, I was just happy to get a role. And now jumping forward all these years, there has been a huge breakthrough. And I think now it's getting better. It's getting better all across the board.

DA: I love it. Tell me a little bit more about what you do at Rose Hill.

IS: Rose Hill Friends of the Arts is a program where I teach seventh graders specifically for at-risk rural kids, these kids really don't have anything unless they're in the agriculture. It's heavy in agriculture, or if they're in sports, if they're not in between that they fall in between the cracks, okay? Kids don't really have an opportunity out there. It's a small, little area, it's out in the country, it's Duplin County. And everybody should be given opportunity.

DA: Alright everyone, we want to thank Irene Santiago for dropping by today as we wish her once again tremendous amount of success and a lifetime of happiness. This is Demia Avery with WHQR.

*This project was supported by the North Carolina Arts Council, a Division for the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources

Demia has over 20 years of entertainment experience. She has worked in almost every facet of the entertainment industry, from radio promotions to talent coordinator, publicist, podcasting, and now to journalism.

In addition, Demia is co-founder of The Avery Agency, a SAG franchised talent agency located in Atlanta, GA, alongside her partner/sister, Gerra Avery.

Demia is the author of two motivational eBooks entitled, "The Roadblock is You," and"Meditations For the Right Now", as well as a twice being a nominee for the Delaware Black Awards and recently a Wilmington Chamber of Commerce Minority Excellence in Business Award nominee.

Lastly, Demia is CEO/Host of the local podcast Whatchu’Doin NC (formerly Whatchu Doin Wilmington).