Actress Katherine Castro Discusses Immigrating From the Dominican Republic & Her Admiration for Will Smith (Exclusive Q&A)

If you're unfamiliar with actress Katherine Castro, prepare to be blown away. Not only is Katherine an actress and writer, she is is also trained in dance and martial arts. In all honesty, she is the true definition of a modern Renaissance woman. Having grown up in the Dominican Republic, Katherine immigrated to the United States to pursue her dream and has achieved it through hard work, determination and faith in herself. 

She recently chatted with Her Campus about her experience as a young immigrant, her work with professional coaches and the time Will Smith sent her a thank you note (Eek! I'd die).

Her Campus: You’re the star of the upcoming movie, Someday. Can you tell us about your character and experience with the film in general?

Katherine Castro: Someday is a film that's based on a true story and actually something that happened to me. I had always wanted to make and be in a movie about human connection. You know when you meet someone and sometimes you have that connection? There are sparks right away, but it doesn't necessarily have to be a romantic connection. It could be two friends that just get along. I wanted to make a movie where everyone could relate to having that connection with another human being—someone you may have met at the supermarket or on a flight. The case with Someday is that these two strangers meet on a 14-hour flight. Adam is a world-famous composer, basically a celebrity. Melody has no idea and is completely clueless about who this guy is sitting next to her. They meet and make this beautiful connection in a fleeting moment. You know that it's going to be over once the flight arrives in Los Angeles, in the case of the movie.

Melody is a pediatrician, and even though this movie is inspired by a true story, she's completely different from me in the sense that she doesn't know anything about the entertainment industry. She lives in her own world of medicine, but we're very similar because she loves kids and helping other people. She's shy, and I'm actually shy in my real quiet life. This is where you see two opposites meet, and they really do attract each other. And the experience making the film was pretty surreal because, again, knowing that it's a part of something that happened to me was pretty amazing. Of course, we changed the identity of the real person that I met, but he is a celebrity. The script was also so beautiful because it captured the essence of the story and feels almost like these two human beings are in this whole other realm altogether.

HC: You grew up in the Dominican Republic before moving to California to enter the Hollywood entertainment industry. What was that experience like? Did you have any trouble landing roles or finding work?

KC: When I came from the Dominican Republic, I took a big leap of faith because all of my family is there. I came here not knowing anyone at all. I had never been to LA. Let's just say that I had a good life because I was getting ready to go to Paris to get my Master's degree in international relations after getting my degree in journalism. I also got a degree in public relations. Besides pursuing higher education, I grew up being a dancer and have been performing since I was five years old. Once I was finished at the university and decided I was going to go to Paris, I had a slight change of heart. I loved French cinema and speak French, and thought maybe I could take extra acting classes in Paris and get back into performing. Then I realized that Paris wasn't moving anywhere, and I've always wanted to come to Los Angeles and decided to move here instead.

I have to say that it's not an easy move when you come from another country. Being an immigrant is not easy. There's two sides of the coin, two sides of the story. I've been on both sides now that I'm an American citizen. I'm very happy about that, but I've been on the other side where I was the immigrant. We don't come here trying to take anyone's job. We're here to pursue our dreams. It is the scariest thing in the world to be an immigrant when you don't have any family where you're at and no one that can help you. You have zero clue of how you're going to solve the situation. The positive side about that in my case is I see every obstacle as an opportunity for growth. I am not one to give up. I am not one to say, "This is getting too hard. I don't know how I'm going to do this. I'm going to pack up my bags and go home." I arrived here legally and knew that I wanted to stay here and felt at home here. Of course, I hired an entertainment attorney, but the process is like molasses. It is slow and scary because you don't know what they're going to tell you. Anything that can go wrong, went wrong. There were papers and more papers. It's almost like God has given you a test to see how much you really want this. If I really wanted it that bad, I wasn't going to give up no matter the obstacle.

But it is hard when you're in the process because you never know if there would be a day when a letter from immigration would arrive saying, "We don't want you here. Go back home." Every day you wake up wondering if you'd get a yes or no letter. My heart getting the mail everyday would stop. I also couldn't travel, which was a big obstacle for me because I was born traveling all over the world. I couldn't see my family, but my mom would come to visit. I have a big family and only saw my mom. On occasion, I would visit my dad who worked at the Dominican Embassy in Washington D.C. But there's nothing like being away from home and not being able to go home. That was a grueling time, but at the same time I took the opportunity to grow from it, to learn from it. I enrolled myself in martial arts class and trapeze class, and found my amazing acting coach, Aaron Speiser. While all these bureaucratic things were going on, I took the time to prepare and didn't sit at home when life was hard and go to bed crying. It wasn't easy at all, but I did find a home while I waited.

HC: You’ve worked extensively with well-known acting coaches and dance instructors. What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned from them? Do you believe you’d be in your position now if you hadn’t worked with them?

KC: I think everything happens for a reason. One of the most important lessons I've learned from my acting coach was that I need to go out and just live my life to the fullest because that's what's going to make me a strong actor. You pull from your life experiences. Even though I was in my acting class and in a safe bubble, I learned to live in the moment and that nothing matters but right now. It's not about acting. It's about living and being present, and having experiences that make you fall down and stand back up. These experiences will give me the truth that people connect with when I'm acting. I won't be fake and safe; I will be naked and truthful. Of course, if I play a serial killer one day, I'll just be able to understand human behavior. I've learned so many things from Aaron. He's such an amazing acting coach and understands why people do what they do. He truly is a master. From my martial arts teacher, I've learned to pray every day and not to stop because what's in front of me is a lesson, and something great will come out of it. These things kept me grounded because my instructors were always checking up on me. I felt that even though my family was in the Dominican Republic, these people became my family here. They are my network of support and care. It's a really warm feeling knowing that you have a home.

HC: Would you recommend that a young woman aspiring to be in the entertainment industry seek out help from professionals for training? Why or why not?

KC: Absolutely! It has only made me a better actor and a better human being because training is about becoming better. Of course, there are people who have a natural ability and can just wing it, but being an actor is not easy. It's like a muscle that you need to work out and train. There are other things you need to take into consideration when you're on set like your angle, your frame and your movement. There are certain technical things that you have to know at the same time while being present in the moment and being real and knowing your lines. You don't realize that there are a lot of things that go into acting than just being in front of a camera and saying your lines. So yes, seek out help. Find yourself a community of actors, of people who you look up to. What they're doing and what they've done, how can you relate? How can you take their experiences into your own? What will make you grow? Meeting new people and training will only enrich your life; therefore, you will be a better human being and a better actor.

HC: If you could work with anyone in Hollywood, who would it be and why?

KC: Will Smith is such an inspiration. We have the same acting coach. Will Smith came to our acting studio once, and he was having a talk with us, the students of the master class. I remember I asked him a question, and he was pretty impressed. But I was impressed because you're taking in so much knowledge, and people are able to see it now because now he's on social media. You can see how inspiring this man is, his work ethic. This man works like no one can imagine, and I'm not just talking about working in Hollywood. It's the work that he puts behind that. The fact that he's one of the greatest actors in the world, and he had my acting coach on set working with him, that tells me he cares about growing as a human being and an actor—and that's impressive! To see him talking with us and telling us, "Don't give up. Have the big picture. Visualize it. Put the work into it," was amazing.

After that experience, I sent Will Smith a thank you note to his office. I don't remember what exactly I said in the note, but it was a thank you for sharing his time and taking the time to come to the studio and speak with us. Do you know that Will Smith sent me a thank you note in response to the thank you note that I sent him? Isn't that amazing? It just tells you the level of not only class but his humanity and how he treats other human beings. It's just an example of why he is where he is and why he is who he is. That thank you card was dated March 10, and that's my birthday. The thank you note said something along the lines of "Katherine, Your future's so bright that I need to put my shades on. Never quit on your dream." Whenever I feel like I'm so tired, I just have to go back to that note. Since that day, Will Smith is someone that I not only look up to, but I definitely want to work with because he inspires me.

HC: Do you have any projects or goals you’d like to accomplish in the near future?

KC: I have quite a few projects. I have two feature films and even though I can't disclose them right now, I can say they're very exciting. One of them is a political thriller, and the other is an action thriller. Mamba is one of them and it's a movie where I play a really cool mob boss. That was a lot of fun playing her. Be on the lookout for that one since we've already finished that project. I have a few other projects underway as well. Someday is going to film festivals right now, so I'm excited about that as well, and I can't wait for the movie to come out and share with the world.