Featured image of Elizabeth Grullón by Ashley Nguyen
From her graduation from the celebrated Guthrie Theater to the Dark Times of the Galactic Empire, Elizabeth Grullón’s career thus far has been fascinating and she’s not slowing down. Geek Girl Authority recently got a chance to talk with Elizabeth about her huge role in last year’s award-winning action-adventure role-playing game (RPG) Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order!
We chatted with Elizabeth about what it was like to play Trilla Suduri (aka “The Second Sister”) and how it felt to see the reactions from fans. She shares how she cultivated mindfulness and how it has helped her understand the characters she portrays. She also shares the upcoming sci-fi film she is about to shoot, and how she would love to play an astronaut someday. Most important, we learned how she felt facing her own character when playing Fallen Order herself for the first time!
Tyler Boyce: What was your first exposure into acting?
Elizabeth Grullón: Hmm…first exposure is a tough question because it would have to be the first movie I watched which I can’t say I remember exactly. Some of the first movies that really made an impact on me were Forrest Gump, The Matrix, The Empire Strikes Back, Jurassic Park… My first experience acting would have to be when I auditioned for the performing arts high school I ended up going to – Dr. Phillips High in Orlando, Florida. I learned a monologue from the Elizabeth Taylor film The Taming of the Shrew and performed it in front of the program director, ha!
TB: When did you realize, “I really like doing this?”
EG: I think I enjoyed it right away. Something about it felt natural to me. When I was a kid I had this unbelievable amount of confidence about things too, which helped. It was just like “I’m going to do this!”
TB: You obtained your B.F.A. at the exceptional Guthrie Theater in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, where you studied with the late Kenneth Washington. What drew you to the University of Minnesota rather than trying to get started close to home in New York City? How did your family react to the move?
EG: I was accepted into many different schools, some of which were in NYC, but the main reason I went to The Guthrie was Ken Washington. He really fought for me, believed in me. He would routinely call my home and speak with my parents, reassuring them. He helped to secure scholarship money for me to attend the program. He was a truly incredible man. A saint. I owe a lot to Ken. My family has always been supportive but it was definitely foreign to us. We are a bunch of immigrants who came through NYC – none of us could even point to Minnesota on a map, ha!
TB: What was it like transitioning from acting student to working actor?
EG: It was really difficult. I graduated from school with a lot of theater training and no TV or film training even though I want to be a film actor so I had to re-calibrate and learn a lot, have a lot of experiences. I had a lot of false confidence and I had to mature into having real confidence. It was a long slow process.
TB: What brought you to Los Angeles? What were some of your earliest disappointments and your earliest victories?
EG: I moved to LA because I wanted to pursue a career in film and TV. That was the only reason. I had never spent much time here and didn’t know anyone. It was a total leap of faith. There were a lot of disappointments early on because I was learning what auditioning in LA is like; it’s totally different from the theater and moves a lot faster. My first victory was signing with a great manager and commercial agent. I booked a national commercial in the first month or two and that felt like a win.
TB: You’re no stranger to landing roles on critically-acclaimed television. You’ve appeared on shows like Criminal Minds and Mayans MC. Most recently, you had a guest appearance last month on Grey’s Anatomy as Abigail Hayes: the deceased wife of recurring character Dr. Cormac Hayes (Richard Flood). How did you pack so much emotion into just a few minutes?
EG: I simply imagined what it would be like if this was really the end. We may have been pretending but millions of people across America have actually lived that scene, or will have to, so I think about them and it becomes less like pretending. It’s about honoring those people.
TB: Did you feel any pressure for coming onto such a long-running hit TV series?
EG: No, not pressure, just excitement and pride.
TB: In another recent project, you played Theresa “Sully” Sullivan, a Dominican activist for immigrant rights, on the Freeform reboot of Party of Five. What is it like having a recurring role on a show with a predominantly Latinx cast?
EG: It was a dream come true! I am so grateful to be part of a show that brings Latinx stories to the forefront. The cast is stellar – so warm and welcoming. It was a joy to work on the show.
TB: How did your own experience as the child of Dominican immigrants influence your portrayal of Sully?
EG: Completely and in innumerable ways. My experience growing up with parents from the Dominican Republic has made me who I am in every way from the food to the music to the character to the spirituality to the deep sense of loyalty to the family… All of that influences Sully.
TB: Full disclosure: I am a gamer and a huge, *HUGE* Star Wars fan. I loved playing Star Wars video games like Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, and I am so excited to have the opportunity to ask you questions about your work as the villainous Second Sister (Trilla Suduri) in Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order!
TB: Before you got the job, were you a Star Wars fan, or even a science fiction/fantasy fan, in any way?
EG: Yes, I was! I grew up loving Star Wars and sci-fi. My brother, my dad and I were obsessed with movies. I guess I would say our favorite genre was action/thriller but we definitely watched all that we could.
TB: How did the audition come about for Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order? How much did you know about Trilla when you read for the part?
EG: It came about like any other voice-over audition but for this one they wanted to see me in person, rather than just sending a recording from home. I knew absolutely nothing about the character or the project except for what I could glean from the sides. I was basically going in blind. It was so much fun!
TB: How did you feel when you learned you had been cast in such a big project and it being a Star Wars project, no less!?!
EG: It was like an out of body experience. I was completely shocked, down to my toes. And I had this profound moment of clarity like, “Oh, I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.” That’s the best feeling ever.
TB: How did doing performance-capture for Trilla compare to your previous work as an on-camera actor?
EG: It’s completely different because you’re wearing a spandex suit and a head mounted camera so you’re working a lot more with your imagination. In traditional on camera acting you have a costume, a set, props etc. which you infuse with meaning and that also requires imagination but in a different way.
TB: Trilla Suduri is one of many Inquisitors employed by the Galactic Empire to hunt Jedi fugitives. Did you watch other portrayals of Inquisitors, such as the Grand Inquisitor (Jason Isaacs) and the Seventh Sister (Sarah Michelle Gellar) on the TV show Star Wars: Rebels, in preparation for portraying Trilla?
EG: No I actually didn’t. I worked completely from my own organic, personal impulses and exploring Trilla’s inner world as well as my own.
TB: In Fallen Order, Trilla becomes an Inquisitor after her Jedi Master betrays Trilla and gives Trilla’s location to the Empire. As an actor, how did you interpret Trilla abandoning the Jedi and joining the very Empire that had hunted her down? Was it hard to balance that menacing “Vader-esque” intimidation with such emotional pain?
EG: Hurt people hurt people. That’s how it works. So, with ample investigation of Trilla’s incredible pain, the shock of betrayal, the anger that grows and hardens to protect that innocent vulnerability underneath, the feeling of hopelessness, I can start to understand how she could make the switch. As an actor, my job is to understand. I didn’t find those aspects hard to balance, in a way they are one and the same.
TB: What was your favorite scene to play as Trilla?
EG: Probably the final scene. Although it’s hard to choose because if you look at the writing and what’s happening in the story in each scene, they are all thrilling. The final scene was just so rich with emotional events – it was so fun to explore that with Deb Wilson who plays Cere.
TB: What are some of your favorite memories from being on the set of Fallen Order?
EG: We would do these group warm ups together before every day of work and I cherish those moments, just bonding and approaching the work together. I also really loved the fight training – learning how to wield a lightsaber??? I mean, c’mon!
TB: I need to know! Did you play Fallen Order after the release? If so, what was it like to experience your character again, but this time through the eyes of the game’s protagonist: Cal Kestis (Cameron Monaghan)?
EG: I’ve played a tiny bit but I’m not a gamer so it takes me 30 minutes to like walking up a hill, ha! I have watched as friends play and seeing Trilla through Cal’s eyes is so scary! She’s terrifying! Incredibly intimidating. She really sends a chill down your spine.
TB: How did you feel about the fan reaction when gamers started commenting on Trilla and your performance?
EG: I am elated and really taken aback by the response. I hoped people would respond to it but never in a million years imagined I’d get so many comments and messages from all over the world. It’s particularly exciting to hear people say Trilla is now their favorite villain in Star Wars and are demanding she appear in live action. I’m honored and grateful.
TB: How does it feel to be not just one of the favorite video game characters of 2019, but also a permanent addition to Star Wars canon? I mean, you are an *action figure* now!
EG: It feels like a huge accomplishment. I feel like I did something worth noting and that makes me really proud. I’ve worked for a long time in this industry and done some things here and there but this feels really special.
TB: You are pretty open about practicing meditation, veganism, and silent retreats on social media. How does meditation and mindfulness assist you in your life and career?
EG: Earlier I mentioned that as an actor my job is to understand and that’s what mindfulness is about too. Deep understanding, being able to look at something with curiosity instead of judgement. That’s an unbelievably useful skill to cultivate because it improves how you can relate to yourself and others. Suffice it to say, mindfulness has completely changed my experience of life and career; it’s made me a more effective and loving person.
TB: Myself, I just started getting into meditation and Koru Mindfulness with The Mindful Twenty-Something by Holly B. Rogers, M.D. What was your first exposure to meditation and mindfulness? What advice do you have for people looking to explore such approaches?
EG: I stumbled into a meditation studio in LA and caught the mindfulness bug. I would say if you’re interested in checking it out, start small, maybe 5-10 minutes a day just breathing and sensing the body. Check out the free app Insight Timer for great guided meditations. I also teach on Zoom every Saturday at 4pm PST at themindry.com if you’d like to sit guided by me.
TB: Do you have any favorite meditation techniques?
EG: I like to keep it simple. Sit, watch the breath, feel the body, unhook from the mind over and over again. I usually end with placing the awareness on the heart and sending some kindness to myself like, “May I be well in body and in mind. May I be free from harm. May I know deep peace and true joy.” It’s so simple but it’s absolutely revolutionary because it undoes so much negative conditioning.
TB: Are there any projects coming up that you are excited about? Or at least any dream roles you hope to someday get cast in?
EG: I’m looking forward to shooting an upcoming sci-fi feature called Saturn. I’d love to play an astronaut one day soon. I’m obsessed with space.
Thank you so much for taking the time for this interview, Elizabeth! Star Wars has been such a huge part of my life and the lives of so many others. I genuinely admire the creativity and talent of the people who help bring to life each film, TV show, and video game in that galaxy far, far away. To quote Senator Palpatine: “We will watch your career with great interest!” All of us at Geek Girl Authority wish you all the best with your future endeavors, and may the Force be with you, always.
This interview was originally published 4/27/20
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