With a starring role on television’s Roswell and parts in award winning films like Traffic Majandra Delfino has quickly made a name for herself in Hollywood. She discusses her quick rise to stardom in this interview.
In just a few short years, Majandra Delfino has taken Hollywood by storm, with a starring role on the television show Roswell (now in its third season) and performances in such high-profile films as the Academy Award winner Traffic. Amazing for someone that never intended to be an actress.
Born in Caracas, Venezuela on February 20, 1981, to a Venezuelan father and Cuban-American mother, Delfino moved with her family to Miami, Florida at age 3. Growing up, she excelled in academics, but gravitated towards the arts, enrolling in ballet, singing and acting lessons, and was soon performing in school plays and community theater productions. At age 11, Delfino joined an all-girls singing quartet named China Doll, which included her best friend, Samantha Gibb, daughter of the Bee Gees’ Maurice Gibb.
A few years later, the group disbanded and, by the age of 15, Delfino’s parents, dismayed with her acting aspirations, gave her a six-month deadline to either pursue an acting role or fully concentrate on school. To everyone’s surprise, Delfino had secured an agent and won a role in the film Zeus & Roxanne, within a matter of months. The following summer, she landed her first television series, playing Tony Danza’s eldest daughter on The Tony Danza Show and, before she knew it, she was a working actress.
For the past two years, Delfino has delighted audiences as the sarcastic, high-strung Maria DeLuca on the popular series Roswell. A suspenseful and touching drama that blends science fiction with the alienation of young adulthood in the tiny, but notorious, New Mexico town, the show centers around teenagers Liz Parker (Shiri Appleby) and Max Evans (Jason Behr), who forge an otherworldly connection when he saves her life while risking his own. When Max puts aside the lifelong pact of secrecy he shares with his sister Isabel (Katherine Heigl) and his friend Michael (Brendan Fehr), and mysteriously heals Liz’s gunshot wound with the touch of his hand, he exposes the aliens to the risk of their identities being discovered.
Now one of the most popular characters on the show, Delfino almost didn’t get the role of Maria DeLuca. “I went in to audition and everything was great,” she recounts. “I was auditioning for the part of Liz and, when you go in to test, you have to draw up the contract right then and there, so I asked for a studio teacher because I was only 17, but I had told them that I was 18 because I was going to be turning 18 by the time I did the pilot. They figured out I was 17 and they told me they never wanted to see me again. They told me not to ever go back to that casting office or even try to work for Regency or Fox. They hated me and wanted to blacklist me, so I wrote them all letters explaining, ‘Listen, I’m going to be 18 by the time I do the pilot and, when you’re six months away from your 18th birthday and if you have a GED’, which I had, ‘then you are allowed to work as an adult.’ Finally, they were like, ‘Oh, okay,’ and they brought me back in and said, ‘Listen, in the process of you sending your letters, we already cast the Liz role. Would you be interested in coming in for Maria?’ Maria only had two scenes in the pilot, but they said, ‘We’re totally turning it around. It’s going to be different. It’s going to be much bigger,’ so they sent me the new script and I agreed. I went in and basically got the role the next day.”
As the character who brings some much-needed comic relief to the show, Maria is a wonderfully loyal friend to Liz while proving trustworthy by not revealing the aliens’ secret. A whole new dimension was added to Maria’s character when she reluctantly fell in love with Michael during the show’s first season. Their tortured but passionate romance creates both happiness and anguish for the couple, who are constantly trying to come to terms with their feelings for each other.
With two seasons behind her, Delfino has had some time to contemplate her feelings about the way her character has developed now that she is at work on the third season. “I’m pretty happy with it,” Delfino says, when discussing the progression of her role on the show. “I don’t even see Maria as a character anymore. She’s kind of like my other personality, if I were to be schizophrenic. She’s a constant character in my life. It’s funny because they’ll do these things that we consider random, like, ‘Oh, now your character is very patient and understanding,’ and everybody’s like, ‘Oh, no, but that’s not the character,’ but what is a character? I do so many things in my personal life that contradict what I’ve done before. I’m basically happy with whatever direction they go, as long as they keep switching it up a little. I think that’s a more realistic way.”
Since the pilot episode, the character of Maria has grown and changed quite a bit, just like any real life teenager would. “At first, she was ditzy,” says the 20-year-old Los Angeles resident. “Then, next thing you knew, she was coming up with the plans, so that was interesting. Also, she was very afraid of the whole alien thing and now she’s not. But, this year, they’re making her a lot more mature and not such a scatterbrain and not so difficult on Michael. She’ll be more into her own thing.”
At the end of last season, Roswell’s original network, the WB, made the decision to drop the series, prompting the UPN network to make the rare move of picking it up for the next season. By making the move to another network, the show will have to undergo some adjustments. “The shows are not going to be open-ended,” Delfino explains. “They’re going to make it serial so that it stops and there’s a new story every time, which is much better, I think, because then there’s no confusion. That’s basically the major change the [new network] is making us do.”
Also, now that Maria has gotten closer with her alien boyfriend Michael, Delfino wonders where their relationship will take them. “They haven’t really told me,” says Delfino, when talking about what direction that storyline will take in the future. “They don’t like to give it away, I guess. They’ve just told us how each individual character’s going to be, but as for our relationships, I do know that we are together when the season starts off. Let’s just see where that leads.”
Since Roswell first started, the show’s focus has moved away from the romance and now leans more toward the sci-fi aspects, which has made the series more exhilarating each week. “I am not a person who enjoys a show like Dawson’s Creek,” declares Delfino. “I need action and romance, but I also need something to throw me off a bit. I need something to raise the stakes and keep me entertained. I need action to get me to stay on the channel, so I was very glad that the show went more onto the sci-fi side. Also, it’s just been crazy to see all of us, who are not Sarah Michelle Gellar, deal with our stunts. The girls are all retarded because we’re in high-heels and they’re asking us to run up rocks and run down canyons. We all definitely struggle.”
The aspect of her character that Delfino likes most is the fact that Maria is such a complex, multi-dimensional person. It allows the actress to have a lot of flexibility in comparison to the other actors. “The other actors on the show aren’t really allowed to do a lot because they have to stick so much to their characters,” she says, “but since my character’s crazy, my argument is always, ‘Oh, well, she’s crazy, so I should be able to start screaming right now.’ It’s great because I have the ability to just experiment with her psychology. I can make up lines and I can say or do something, just as long as it’s funny, even if it risks the seriousness of the situation.”
Playing such a close-knit group of friends on-screen has strengthened the cast’s friendship off-screen. “I hang out with Shiri a lot, she’s really fun” Delfino reveals. “I hang out with everybody. Katie’s really cool, but she is very, very focused in the sense that she’s not as immature as me, so I’m always trying to harass her because she’s such a lady. Jason is also very focused and he’s more removed because he’s so focused. I have so much fun with him at work. Brendan’s cool because he’s so different. We hang out and it’s not this, we need to tend to each other type of thing because it’s gotten to the point where we’ve been friends for a really long time.”
Working on a television show makes for quite a busy schedule, not leaving much time for other projects. “It’s hard to audition because you don’t have time to do that,” Delfino admits. “It’s very hard to schedule when they’re only seeing people on two days, but you’re working those two days, all day. Once you do get a job, if you do, you have to go and ask for time off. It is definitely a process, but there is the possibility if they’re not so strict on having you work every day.”
When she does have time to work on other projects (like the upcoming independent feature film Sticks&Stones), the actress says she just looks for a good script. “I just like to play different roles. I don’t want to be stuck in the same role, that’s a little boring for me. The whole point of acting, for me, was to channel the schizophrenia and that wouldn’t be channeling anything if I continue to do the same thing.”
Even with all the success she’s attaining in the acting field, Delfino states that her first love has always been singing and that she used her recent time off before the new season of Roswell started filming to get her first album finished. She plans to release the CD through an Internet website at www.MajandraMusic.com.
“I started [the album] about a year and a half ago,” says Delfino, “but with Roswell, I was only available to go work on the music every Sunday. It’s very much a creative process and to have to schedule creativity is tough, but we managed to do that. Every Sunday is not a lot when you think about it and you realize what a process music is. There was also a point in this year and a half where I was doing [the album] for a label and they said, ‘We don’t like the direction you’re going in. We’d like it a little more poppy,’ and I didn’t know what the hell that meant. They were saying they wanted background dancers and stuff, so I said, ‘Alright, nevermind.’ My contract stated that I could get out of it if they tried to stifle my creativity, so I left. I had already met [my producers] Anthony Rodriguez and Art Martinez and then we just decided to do it on our own through the Internet and came up with a website. It was such a long process. It’s six songs and it’s basically a full CD, and it’s all hand-done by us.”
Given the choice of whether she would prefer to focus on acting or singing, Delfino doesn’t hesitate in her response. “I’d love to focus on music and then, if I have good parts to play, have the ability to play them,” she says. “There are so many moments where I think, ‘What am I doing?’ I find no passion in acting. I mean, it’s a great job – I’m not complaining – but, I rarely see a movie that makes me cry. I can’t really get past the acting thing because I know it’s pretend, but there’s something so real in music where, at least the people that are real musicians and are not singing someone else’s lyrics, aren’t making things up. Acting does something for me, obviously, to the point that I’m doing it, but it doesn’t bring out the passion in me like music does.”
When asked if she’s worried about her singing career being taken seriously since she’s known as an actress, Delfino waves off the question not considering the crossover as a problem. “I don’t think I’m that known as an actress for it to be a hindrance,” she laughs. “I think, right now, all it can do is help because, if I wasn’t on a show, I don’t think anybody would give two sh*ts that I was coming out with a CD, so it does help. It might be a hindrance in the sense that everybody thinks that I’m my character, but hopefully they’ve gotten over that by now.”
With promising careers in both acting and music, Delfino says that the best part about what she does is that it gives her the opportunity to express herself. “It is, essentially, such a creative thing and it’s almost like going through one big self-help journey,” confesses Delfino, “because you have to learn so much about your mentality and your emotions. It also gives me the ability to have money to put into my music, which I’d never be able to have. It also allows me to do the music my way without being desperate.”