Some time last year, I invited Sharon Wilharm, movie producer at Faith Flix Films to an interview on TBAP. I also reviewed her latest movie at the time, The Good Book (you can read the review here), and I can tell you, it was wonderful and brilliantly inspirational! Made me remember how powerful the Bible is. Today and in the coming weeks, I will be interviewing some of the cast/crew of Providence, Sharon’s new movie presently in production. So without further ado, I invite you to get to know Irene Santiago in our chat below! She’s such a fun person! Irene plays Edith, a role where she ages 40 yrs and eventually has a stroke. Join us and learn more about Irene and her role in this movie!
Me: Hello Irene! Lovely to have you visit TBAP today! Could you please tell us a bit about yourself?
Irene: Well, I grew up in a little town called Kearns in Utah about 30 min away from the Salt Lake City. My parents were immigrants from Puerto Rico. I am the youngest of eight kids: three brothers and four sisters, and then there is me. BIG FAMILY! Something about me that I don’t tell much is that I almost died when I was born due to an umbilical cord that was wrapped around my neck. The doctor almost gave up! He told my dad that he may only be able to save either my mother or me. He was afraid he could not save both. Well, we both made it. I am happy to be here and alive to live life. I am married and have two great kids: a boy, 15, and a girl, 9 years old . We live on the East coast. I love sushi, Italian food and travel. Whenever I get a chance, I like to learn about historic places when I am on the road. I am one of those people who likes to actually read the plaques and signs in a museum, and on a walking tour (it drives my husband and son crazy). Also, on June 19th, we held a red carpet premier of a redemption feature film I helped produce called Adrenaline. I am part of the casting team and acted in the movie as well.
Me: Wow! I thank God you survived! What a miracle Story!
How did you become a Christian? What’s the story behind it? What led you into acting? As opposed to secular, why choose the Christian film industry?
Irene: I grew up Mormon and went to the LDS church when I was a kid but my parents still practiced some Catholic beliefs so I always had God and the Bible in my life in some form or another. Then I fell away from anything I was taught. I was rebellious. I was involved in the modeling scene and every day was a party. I got in with a wrong crowd.
In 1993 I got married. We had our 1st child and I started to really question if I was doing everything I could to be a good mother. We were happily married, a new baby but a piece was missing. Then one day I was in my car, it was a beautiful blue, sky day. On my radio the Christian evangelist, Luis Palau came on. I don’t remember the exact message but it had something to do with “…living your life fully on this earth. God has a plan for you.” I looked at that blue sky and it just clicked. I decided right there on that highway that I was going to turn my life over to Christ. I realized that HE was the missing piece. JESUS.
Me: These are the kind of stories that give me hope that people can still be saved. Once again, I’m reminded to not underestimate the power of evangelism, even the traditional kind.
What led you into acting? As opposed to secular, why choose the Christian film industry?
Irene: I wanted to be recognized for something I was good at! Being the youngest in a big family can swallow you up so you almost can’t be seen. I remember I would observe all my siblings’ antics and talents. We had beauty queens, singers, dancers, comedians, and smart people and I admired all of their talents so much. Two of my sisters would perform as backup dancers in a group that traveled all over the U.S. One was on a USO tour around the world. I wanted that! I wanted what they had. I wanted to perform. It seemed so exciting.
So I took dance and was a cheerleader in Junior High Drill team in high school, and auditioned for community theater on the advice of an old boyfriend (who for the life of me I will never remember his name, but he gave me great advice!). In my 20’s I was modeling. Got a job as a singing telegram. I could do comedy, sing and perform. I hit the trifecta, performing all the time. One night while I was delivering a telegram, the bartender told me I made her laugh so hard! She gave me the name of her agent and I made appointment with her. The following week I went in and when I came out, I was represented by the largest agency in Utah. That is how I started my acting career. It was not an overnight thing.
I do both Secular and Christian TV and Film. I like good projects as a whole. I choose Christian Films because I will not have to ask myself if my kids can see my work. I know this is something that I can contribute my talents as a good steward. Not all of us are called to be pastors but we all have a calling … a blessing. This is my calling. God gave me this gift. I pray that I am part of a good project whether it’s Christian or Secular. I pray that I may touch the life of someone with hope, and love, perhaps even lead someone to redemption. My job is to make the audience feel emotion. I also feel closer to the Lord when acting. On Christian sets, the atmosphere is different. I like having the strength from the Holy Spirit on set.
Me: Nothing good and true is ever overnight. It’s easy to hear success stories and then believe in overnight successes. Sometimes we fail to realize the hard work and long days that led to the success. Thank you for that, Irene!
How different do you believe the Christian film industry is from the secular? How can it be made better?
Irene: Hmm … Christian films have come a long way. They are getting better. I’ve seen some amazing films that have it all come together. I am so proud of what those films are doing to get a captivated audience. Unfortunately, Christian film-making still has a ways to go. Real life can be portrayed in Christian films.They can be edgy, have good acting and tell a real story. There is bitter and sweet. There is good and bad. Although, I think there are many poorly made Christian films with a sappy storyline, weak scripts, poor acting/casting, and the film quality is lacking which gives the idea that the title, “CHRISTIAN FILMMAKERS” is synonymous with “amateur films”. Many shows I’ve seen make it appear that once someone is saved in a Christian movie, everything is tied in a nice little bow at the end and there is no more trouble. Where is the real life story in this? Where is the reality of conflict? This is not interesting storytelling. Everything seems too perfect and predictable. It feels like we make Christian films just for the Christian. Shouldn’t it be an outreach ministry for those that are questioning what God is all about?
Me: I totally agree! I’m glad that a filmmaker has pointed this out. Well done, Irene!
What lessons have you picked up along the way? How has your journey improved your relationship with God?
Irene: One time I was working on a very popular Secular movie set. Just to let you know, I pray before my meals no matter where I am. This one day I was praying before my meal and the extras casting person said to me, “Oh look there is another one of you.” Sitting across from me was the still photographer also praying over his meal. When he finished, he looked at her and told us how grateful he was for everything because, …” if it wasn’t for God I probably wouldn’t be alive today.” I love having God-winks everywhere. You bet that spoke volumes. I learned I am called on sets to be the light where it can be a dark world. I am so proud of that. I am not going to hide my light. Also, it is not about me. That hurt my feelings when I learned the truth. (Snicker). As I mentioned before I feel closer to God. I always remember the scripture, “…Surely, the Lord is in this place and I did not know it.”Gen 28:16
Me: Wow! A testimony like this is so encouraging. You’re not the first Christian I’ve heard say this. Thank you for sharing it! 🙂
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
Irene: You ask good questions Miranda! Wow. I would’ve stopped getting in my own way; being fearful and procrastinating. I regret giving myself reasons why I can’t do something, then being angry at someone who accomplished something I wanted. I was just afraid, lazy or angry to really look at the real reason why I wasn’t moving forward. Those voices did not and do not serve me. That is fear. That is the enemy talking. That is not serving God with my gifts. I was burying my talents.
Me: You’re confession is truly humbling. Saying this encourages me to let go of my fears and procrastinations. I’m learning everyday to let go. Thank you for sharing this, too!
Can you tell us the movies you’ve starred in?
Irene: Yes. Thank you for asking…The Disney movies: High School Musical 1, Minute Men, Hounded. Recently, the incredibly, moving silent film, Providence, Badge Of Faith, (in which I play a spunky female cop and I got to work with a helicopter! Yeah baby! Thank you Donald Leow!), Adrenaline, One Tree Hill, Secrets and Lies, Touched By An Angel, The Emmy Nominated T.V. series, The Rusty Bucket Kids, Forever Strong, Blind Dating…over 50 commercials and voice overs for radio and animation, locally, nationally, and internationally.
Me: Quite an accomplishment there! I am looking forward to seeing Providence!
When you act, what do you hope to pass on to the viewers?
Irene: As I mentioned, my job as an actor is to create emotion. That is my gift. I want viewers to feel the character is real. I want them to be so engrossed in the story that they don’t know they are watching a movie. I want them to feel happy, sad, excited, angry, frustrated, etc. You see, if I could add just a bit to their day and make them forget the struggle of what brings them down, then I have done my job. I have given them something in return: a gift.
Me: Irene, I love and admire your passion. May God keep your fire burning. Amen!
What actors/filmmakers have you worked with in the past? How has working with them made you a better actress and Christian?
Irene: I have worked with so many great people and famous people. I can’t list all of them and all the great stories as there isn’t enough time. Three of the greatest mentors that made a mark on my life and career are Robert Redford (The Great Gatsby, A Walk In The Woods), the late Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote, Charlie Wilson’s War), and Joan Darling ( M*A*S*H*, Mary Tyler Moore Show). I was fortunate enough to be a guest artist for 5 separate years at the Sundance Film Lab in Sundance, UT, where I met these legends. They coached me through difficult times when other actors became difficult and felt as though they were entitled. They reinforced me to listen, stay focused no matter what distractions were happening, and that my time and talent were/are valuable. I remember on Blind Dating with Chris Pine (Star Trek), a friend asked me who was in the movie, and I said, “I don’t know. Some guy named Chris Pine.” My friend’s daughter freaked out and couldn’t believe I was working with him and didn’t know who he was. He was so easy to work with.
Working with Directors Donald Leow and Rick Garside (Badge Of Faith), and, Sharon and Fred Wilharm (Providence) has taught me that faith can be shown anywhere. In all of these opportunities of working with such great people, I realize that God made all of us and has gifted all of us through storytelling, and He is changing lives in one way or the other. We may not be the same or worship the same, but we are all His creations.
I just want to add that I had worked on a horrible set where a couple of actresses treated everyone with disrespect and were full of negative vibes. I dreaded coming to work everyday, but my faith kept growing stronger in the face of adversity. It was like out of the blue, Ephesians 6:1317 came to me. Sometimes I’d have a little running joke with one of the Christian producers of the show and ask, “Do you have your Ephesians armor on?” And he’d say, “OH YES I DO!”
Me: So funny! I actually chuckled when I read this! Please, keep your Ephesians Armor on! FYI, the term Ephesians Armor is a keeper! Haha!
In your journey so far, can you say that the actual experience is different than what you imagined it to be? If yes, how so?
Irene: Yes! I thought I would be getting great roles earlier in my life. But somehow I always felt this little feeling that it wasn’t to happen yet. I thought I would be in L.A., and not on the East Coast. It was all God’s timing. I would have never gotten to be a part of the producing team of Adrenaline with my husband, or meet Sharon Wilharm, if I didn’t move here. I am pleasantly surprised and content with the way my path has turned out. I had to have the experiences of pain, happiness, marriage, motherhood, the death of my parents etc, in order for me to be a better actor. Like I said, It’s all in God’s timing.
Me: God does teach us patience and perseverance through trying situations. In the end, life turns out in ways that we’re most grateful to Him for. This has humbled me and taught me to trust Him more.
What are you most grateful for at this time in your life?
Irene: I am grateful for my husband and children daily. My husband gave me courage to follow my dreams. He has been my biggest cheerleader. My children have changed my acting from 2-dimensional to 3-D! There are so many more layers of richness to my life because of my husband and kids. Also, I have to say thank you to my siblings and friends that believe in me. I am so grateful for a strong support group.
Me: People and fellowship are a gift from God to us. These blessings enrich our lives in ways that are unfathomable.
What word of advice would you give to anyone venturing into the acting business?
Irene: I have a little theory that has helped me along the way. I don’t really know where I heard it but this is it. It is the SW theory:
1. SW (Some Will): Some will want to hire you and think you are perfect for the role.
2. SW (Some Won’t): Some won’t be interested in you at all. Be ready for that.
3. SW (So What!): So what because……
4 SW (SOMEONE IS WAITING!): YES! SOMEONE IS WAITING TO HIRE YOU. YOU ARE PERFECT FOR WHAT THEY ARE CASTING.
Also, I have a little saying: I know my A.B.C’s: Act Because of Christ!
Me: Oh, my! I love your acronyms! How creative!
THIS or THAT (The fun Questions!)
Coffee, Tea or Mocha? I like them all but Coffee ROCKS!!!!
Heels or Flats? Both but not at the same time. Sneaker with heels??? Haha! So funny!
Boots or Sandals? I like Boots! Me, too!
Chocolate or Vanilla? Is it lactose free?
Vegetables or Fruits? I don’t know….I should have had a V8!
Juice or Smoothie? Smoothie!!!
Rain or Snow? Rain I’ve shoveled too much of the snow in UT.
Spring or Fall? FALL
Summer or Winter? Summer
Cooking or Cleaning? Sure come on over! I like to clean. Yay!
Breakfast or Dinner? Breakfast!!!
Music or Books? Music
Dresses or Pants? What’s the occasion? Hmm. Good question.
Gym or Outdoor? Outdoor!
Leather Jacket or Blazer? Blazer (with extra Blaze).
I had a ball!
Me, too! So much fun having you here!
About Irene Santiago
Ms. Santiago has been blessed with a powerful training background in film, theater, television, and the voice-over industry. Her extensive list of credits includes various challenging roles. Her recent most challenging role to date is as the character of Edith, a domineering business woman who ages almost 40 years, whose character suffers from a stroke in the independent, redemptive feature Providence. In Badge of Faith she plays a gritty, no nonsense by the book police woman and in the award winning independent, faith based film, Adrenaline, she plays the track reporter in which she also co–produced with her husband Del Baron and Joseph Q. Simpkins.
Some of her other extensive credits are Touched by an Angel, High School Musical, Secrets and Lies, One Tree Hill, Forever Strong, and Where Are You, Bobby Browning?
She has been invited as a guest artist to the Sundance Institute Filmmakers Lab for 5 consecutive years. During her years at Sundance, she was mentored by distinguished Oscar and Emmy winning actors/directors such as, Robert Redford, the late, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Joan Darling.
Ms. Santiago is married to film producer, Del Baron and they have two beautiful children. They live on the East coast. When available Ms. Santiago teaches acting to at-risk youths.
Watch the Adrenaline Trailer