Aimee Garcia’s roles have taken quite a leap since her spot as George Lopez’s niece on the the George Lopez show. Garcia has also appeared in shows like Dexter, Trauma, Family Guy, Vegas, and so many others. But her largest role has to be that of Ella Lopez, on Fox Network’s Lucifer, where Garcia is the forensic scientist helping the devil himself solve crimes in Los Angeles.
The depth at which Garcia has created this character is a testament to her skills as an actor as much as her wide background. The character Ella Lopez stands out because as Garcia herself pointed out in the interview, Ella is the only Latina scientist in primetime television.
But the character’s success and admiration has to be attributed to the work that Garcia has put into the role and the influence she draws from her journalism studies, to her roles on other shows, as well as her experiences at fan whether it was through mail or in person at a Dodgers game.
Aimee Garcia spoke about her studies at Northwestern, her Latina identity, singing the national anthem at an L.A. Dodgers game, and picked the brain of her character, Ella Lopez.
The interview was done on April 5th, a week before the season of Lucifer finished shooting, with the final episodes of the season airing in May.
Antonio Villasenor-Baca: Is it true that you studied journalism, and if so, how did you get into that field?
Aimee Garcia: I did. I went to Medill, which is the journalism school [at Northwestern]. I guess I’ve always been curious and I’d always wanted to find out why things are the way they are. I feel like it’s the literary version of being a scientist; I just love asking people their stories, and why people do what they do, and why things are the way they are. And I’ve always wanted been a history buff. And I love to write, so it seemed like the perfect major to fuse all those together, and that’s how I picked journalism.
AVB: How did journalism tie into the arts for you? Since you had been dancing since you were a child.
AG: Yeah, well I started since I was a kid, in ballet. I did my first commercial I think when I was about eight or nine, as a dancer. Then I did the Nutcracker as a kid, one thing led to another, I did Chicago theatre in high school, so when I got to college it was something I had done for so long that it was just natural to keep doing it. I did chorus line at Northwestern, and I did a bunch of Sam Shepard plays, and so it was one of those things where I had been in the arts for so long that I wanted to do something totally different, so that’s when I [got into economics]. I knew whatever I did; I would be a freelancer, which means I would make like no money for six months and then money for a month and I wanted to know how to invest it and make it last so I thought I’d major in economics. And like I said, I love to write so I went into journalism. And I think that as an actor, you get to walk in someone else’s shoes so I do feel like they go hand in hand, in that I interview people all the time because of the role I’m doing. Like for Ella [Lopez, Garcia’s role in Lucifer] specifically, I was onset last week with someone who works in a morgue all day. She was telling me that when she goes into someone’s house and they’re dead, she will always look at their books because she said that a person’s books really tells a lot about who they were. And she said that it’s really eerie when you go into a crime scene and you read someone’s book, and they’re similar to your book. And so I just thought that was such an eerie kind of story and just incorporated into Ella looking around and looking at the shelves and stuff at the crime scene. So I loved those kinds of stories, and in a way I was interviewing this woman, who works at the morgue and is surrounded by dead people, and was able to incorporate it to Ella in an artistic way. So yeah I do feel like I’m a reporter of humans as an actor.
AVB: I know you’ve listed Rita Moreno as one of your huge role models and influences; do you have writers or musicians that have influenced you? Now or all-time?
AG: Well, I love Mark Twain. I think he’s hysterical. I know he’s majorly old-school. To Kill A Mockingbird, still like every time I read it or watch the movie, I bawl my eyes out. I guess I like the Sedaris siblings, I guess I do gravitate to funnier stuff. As far as music, oh, I’m all over the map. I go way back to like Sam Cooke and Ella Fitzgerald when I’m like trickin’ my egg tacos Sunday morning. That’s kind of my jam. But I love like Imagine Dragons, even though I know they’re totally pop-culture. I’m all over the map. I’ll be listening to Barry White and then all of a sudden I’m rocking out to Alissea Cara. And then I’ll go back to Marvin Gaye. Then I’ll be like, ‘I’m going to pop in some Beatles.’ Then I also like, like, old school East Coast rap, like Tribe Called Quest, and Digable Planets, so I’m all over the place. It just depends on my mood. And if you follow my Instagram stories, you know I’m a major goofball. So I do gravitate towards musical numbers, but it just depends on my mood.
AVB: And I saw that you sang the national anthem at a Dodgers game. Are you a big baseball fan?
AG: Well I’m a Cubs fan, because I’m from Chicago. But obviously I’m in L.A., so I’m a Dodgers fan as well. That story was me basically facing my fear. I am not a singer. I am not a professional singer. I do not have a voice teacher. I was asked to sing. So I was doing the show Rush Hour, on CBS, and they were like ‘listen, why don’t you record yourself on your iPhone singing the national anthem because they might want you to do it to promote the show.’ I just did it like on a whim. Next thing I know, they’re like, ‘okay the Dodgers have officially offered you the opportunity to sing the national anthem at such and such game.’ I freaked out! Why, why would they do that? I was kind of joking and I’m not a singer. But that year, I think it was a couple of years ago, I had vowed to my friends, that that whole year was going to be about no fear. I’m going to be fearless for a year and then hopefully for the rest of my life, but that particular year my motto was no fear. And then my friends called me out. ‘Well you know, this scares you and you said no fear. So how can you tell other people to face their fears when you’re running away from yours of singing at the Dodgers game.’ So I had four weeks and I have to be honest, I wasn’t doing American Idol, like pyrotechnics, like Kelly Clarkson style. I thought it’s not about me, it’s about gratitude for being part of this country and it’s attribute and it’s honoring our troops. So I kind of took my ego out of it and I did my best. I didn’t pass out. I sang in a cappella, I didn’t sing with the organ that day, I felt overly confident. And George Lopez flew in on his helicopter to see me sing this one-minute song to support me because he knew I was so nervous. But you know what, now I have in my heart that I song this song without passing out, the national anthem in front of 40,000 people as a non-singer. So I hope whoever reads this, it’s like look, I was terrified. I was so scared. But I did it and I survived and now I have a cool experience. And I hope I did it to inspire other people to, like, face their fears. Like, ‘I’m so scared to write that book.’ Or ‘I’m so scared to take that class.’ Or ‘I’m so scared to move to that country.’ Whatever, but it’s like life’s too short. Don’t be scared. No fear! That’s the story behind that.
AVB: That’s crazy, but super cool! Does that mean we can expect you to be performing at Wrigley Field [for the Cubs] soon then?
AG: Well, it’s funny. The Cubs keep asking. I’m throwing out the first pitch on June 29th, I’m throwing out the first pitch at Wrigley, and maybe leading the seventh inning stretch, which is fun. That I will do again. That was great. I did it once during playoffs and they came back to win so I was very excited because my first pitch was crappy. So I had to make up for it with my seventh inning stretch singing. But maybe. I don’t want to push my luck. But maybe. Why not? I mean it’s my hometown. I will say, after I sang it at the Dodgers game, I was going to get a hotdog. These guys were like, ‘hey!’ And this older lady said the same thing. They said, ‘listen, we loved the way you sang it. You reminded us what the song is about.’ It wasn’t about me showing off my pipes. It was just the best compliment ever. I felt like I succeeded in not making it about me at all. So maybe, maybe I’ll do it. But I would need a few weeks to get things in order, so I don’t get booed off the field. (She laughed as she said this.)
AVB: Does your Latinx identity impact your career or how you perform in any way?
AG: Definitely! It definitely affects the choices I make. I’ve told this story before, but the first time I realized acting was more than just a way to pay for my rent, or when I was doing the George Lopez Show and these four girls came up to me and it was literally like the United Nations. It was a Black girl, an Asian girl, a Latin girl, and a blonde girl, and they’re ‘oh my god, we love Veronica [Garcia’s character on the George Lopez Show], she’s so funny, so bratty and like a fashion-ista, and we think she’s hysterical and we just want you to know that we love her.’ They were so excited that they saw themselves in this character and that was just a life altering moment for me. In realizing it’s not just a job, it’s an opportunity to show our community in various lights. For example on Dexter, I made sure that whenever she was on the phone with Dexter, she would have her textbooks there and would be taking notes and doing homework because I thought even though she’s a Miami girl in a bikini, I want her to be studying because I want to showcase her an educated Latina as a student. You know when I did Trauma, I wanted to Latinas in the military with integrity. And now on Lucifer, I think someone told Ella’s the only Latina scientist on network TV, and that’s very sad to me but also very alarming. I now have this opportunity to represent women in STEM [Science. Technology, Engineering, Mathematics] and women of color, and Latinx scientists. How cool to present Latinos in the science field? Because I would want to inspire the next generation of NASA astronauts and inventors, and tech gurus. It’d be great. I do try to pick roles that represent Latinos in a professional light just because I think that I’m college educated and I’m definitely not the only one so I feel like that’s where I can be of service to the community. So yeah I would definitely say that me being Mexican, and Puerto Rican, Spanish being my first language- I try to filter that into the role. So when Ella is talking to her brother or when Ella is talking to our mom or the way she pronounces “abuelita.” She always gets upset with her brother, she always takes off her chancla or her shoe and is hitting him and swearing at him in Spanish. So little moments like that; and to the writers’ credits they allow me to write it in there. I’m so proud to be Latino. And I’m so proud to be bicultured and proud to be all-american and yet being part of this very culturally rich community. So 100%. I think one of my favorite fan letters that I’ve gotten was the mother, this Latina mother who said, ‘listen. My kid is into physics and I just want to thank you for being such a positive role model who doesn’t lead with her sexuality and who has no love interest and who is just a woman who loves science. And my daughter just sees Ella as a role model because she loves science and you as Ella make science so cool.’ And that just touched because I thought it was so neat that they’re looking at Ella. Or for example at Comic Con, there were girls dressed up as Ella. I was so flattered because usually they dress up as superheroes: Wonder Woman, and Harley Quinn, and Cat Woman; but the fact that these girls from other countries and from this country, these girls were all dressed as Ella. How cool that they are associating a scientist with a superhero and dressing up as a scientist? Which means that it’s really cool to have glasses and a top-knot, and a forensic jacket. I never thought I’d see the day. And girls will tweet me ‘oh my god, your glasses are like my glasses.’ I take that responsibility very seriously. And so far it’s done me well.
AVB: How else do you get to embrace your culture, aside from the writers trying to write Spanish in? Are there any other ways you get to celebrate your heritage on-set of off camera?
AG: I mean I’ll definitely encourage them to bring in more family members. So they brought in one of her brothers and so on the basic level, you’re employing more Latin actors. I guess in the other ways, it’s just me starting to write. Like I joined the National Hispanic Media Coalition, Screenwriters program. It’s an intense writing workshop with eight writers and it’s just an intense eight week program of writing TV pilots and I decided I want to create the change I want to see so I’m not just relying on other writers to tell our stories, but tell our stories in my authentic voice. But definitely I let our show’s writers know, who are very receptive. They are so open when I say Ella is really being celebrated as a Latina scientist. I keep telling them how important it is, especially because she’s the only one. How is there one Latina scientist on TV! There has to be more! It just boggles my mind.
AVB: Okay so last question about this, what’s your favorite Mexican or Puerto Rican food?
AG: My favorite, well tacos. I love barbacoa. I love spicy food. I can literally eat like ten tacos. I’m small but I can throw down. Tacos all the way, and I’m talking with the works. Like tacos al pastor, de barbacoa, con pollo. With like salsa, aguacate, with queso fresco, I do with the freakin’ works. And Puerto Rican, I guess arroz con gandules. I didn’t realize that was our cuisine, I thought just my grandmother did it. And I remember being six years old and going to Puerto Rico and I was like what are all these foods, these are grandma’s foods. My dad was like, ‘sweetheart, arroz con gandules is Puerto Rican it’s not just your grandmother’s.’ And I just lost it, I was so confused. That’s my favorite hands down, Puerto Rican food, which isn’t spicy ironically enough. I don’t know if people know that but that’s more savory than spicy.
AVB: Now getting into Lucifer, I get the vibe that you and Tom Ellis and Lauren German get to play around a lot. Is this the case? Pranking and playing around?
AG: Yeah! Lauren is the queen of pranks. She is constantly up to no good, pulling mischievous acts left and right. Tom is more, he’ll just like go to the piano between takes, or he’ll pick up a guitar and start singing. I always try to lasso him into dancing. So yeah they’re very playful. They’re very fun. They tease me that I only work two days a week so I go in with fresh legs. They’ve been working like 17 hour days for five days straight and I come in all like bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with tons of energy and I just want to dance. So they’re like, ‘aw geez, here’s Garcia. Well-rested Garcia who just came back from Mexico.’ Because I have time to fly down to Mexico. We definitely love each other very much. They’re open to not taking themselves too seriously but still taking the work very seriously. So yeah we have a really good time. Like Lauren and I went down to the Warner Brothers archive museum and we were looking at like Batman’s enlarged, growing, and joking around at the enhancement of Batman. So it’s just fun. And Tom really loves musicals so it’s fun to have a partner in crime who will sing with me and play piano with me, and dance with me. Frankly, I don’t know where he gets the energy because he’s in every scene and headlines our show. Yet he makes time to play with little Garcia. I do have way too much fun on the show.
AVB: Picking the mind of Ella, she’s so innocent and sweet. Do you think she will ever catch on to the fact that Lucifer is who he is and Amenadiel and Pierce and Maze?
AG: I don’t know. I think she’s loving and nonjudgmental and open that I think even if Lucifer told her that he was the devil, she probably would just hug him and be like ‘sometimes I feel like the devil too.’ And empathize with him. But she’s smart. She’s from the hood. She’s sweet and everything but she use to steal cars. And her grandma, her abuelita taught her how to pick a lock. Her brothers are criminals. And she grew up in poverty and so she’s not like, she didn’t grow up in some bubble. She’s probably seen some stuff go down, especially with growing up with four brothers in a lower income neighborhood in Detroit. I think the fact that she chooses to be optimistic and playful and open and accepting, is more a decision and a repercussion of her faith, instead of her just being like naïve. But I don’t know. I think that she definitely thought Charlotte’s character had some sort of light, when she was a goddess in season two. She’s like ‘I know everyone says that you have like dead-shark eyes, but I see a light in you.’ And she was privy enough to see the goddess of light in her. Then in the same token, when Charlotte came back from hell, Ella was just like ‘you just give me the creeps.’ So she definitely has some sort of sixth sense with people’s auras; definitely does not have a sixth sense with celestial beings. Her celestial-dar, is not very good because she has no clue. But she definitely knows Amenadiel is a man of faith. She definitely knows Lucifer has the best intentions and never lies. I think she feels like Maze is misunderstood and was dealt like a shitty hand and isn’t given sometimes the respect she deserves. So I think she sees them she just doesn’t realize that they’re celestial but she sees their core and that’s what makes Ella so special, is that she sees you. That’s what everybody wants as people, is to be seen and not be invisible.
AVB: Are you done filming the season?
AG: We’re close. So tomorrow [April 6th] is actually my last day. I’ll give you a little tidbit. Ella has tattoos and tomorrow’s episode but I go full-on tattoos and big-hoop earrings and bright red lipstick, so that’ll be fun. Then we wrap the season next week. And we’re shooting the last episode with Kevin Alejandro, who’s from Texas, is directing. So he’s, I have a lot of pride. He’s from Texas and he’s Mexican and we’re all excited for him to take the helm. He’s directing the last episode that we’re shooting for our season.
AVB: And do you have any plans or other projects that you have outside of Lucifer until next season?
AG: Well I did just finish a Mexican superhero moved called El Chicano.
AVB: That’s a great name.
AG: Yeah, it’s called El Chicano and I think that’s going to kick into gear and then I’m going to the Frankfurt, Germany Comic Con and I’m going to the Birmingham, England, Comic Con. Then I am suppose to be doing another movie with Diane Guerrero, who I love, with one of the producers of Whiplash. It’s an indie feature that may shoot in L.A. or Argentina. So that’ll be really fun. And then I hope to still do my animation. You know I do Family Guy, and I do some goofy stuff and I just have a blast doing a lot of animated characters. And keep writing, that’s my summer goal. Travel, do a couple of movies, do some animation, write, and like always just have fun. Because tomorrow is not guaranteed.
By Antonio Villasenor-Baca