When someone chooses to be an actor, they are faced with the fact that it can be a long and hard road filled with lots of rejection and no guarantee of success. It takes a special kind of person to become an actor in Hollywood today.
California born actor Jessica Camacho is that kind of person. Don’t believe us? In the last five years, she’s made guest star appearances in series such as Stalker, Rizzoli & Isles, Longmire, Bones, Minority Report and Frequency. She’s also had multiple episode appearances in series such as Sleepy Hollow, The Flash, and Taken. She also starred opposite Katee Sackhoff in the Netflix original series Another Life.
Jessica is definitely one of the hardest working actors in Hollywood today. Her latest project, the CBS series All Rise which premiered on September 23rd, has her playing public defender Emily Lopez.
We had the pleasure of talking with Jessica about her new series. What kind of research she did for the role, how much respect she has for public defenders and what she thinks separates All Rise from other similar series.
Pop Culture Principle – This character, Emily Lopez, is unlike any character you’ve played so far in your career. Is that one of the main things that attracted you to this role?
Jessica Camacho – Yes, absolutely. It’s funny because I had kind of put it out in the universe that I was ready to play something more grounded and something that I hadn’t done before. I wanted to be forced to unearth those parts of myself that were more natural and play someone who was in a world completely alien to me. Also, I wanted a character that would allow me to explore what it is to go through the everyday superhero elements of being a human. How you continue to work inside and function inside and fight inside a broken and deeply flawed system. I was very drawn to the challenge of playing somebody grounded in that way and very real.
Pop Culture Principle – Preparing for the role of Emily Lopez, did you get a chance to talk with any public defenders? What other research, if any, did you do?
Jessica Camacho – Gil Garcetti’s dad Eric, who is the Mayor of Los Angeles, was a prosecutor for a long time and he hooked me up with a very successful and experience public defender who gave me her input. I went down to the court and watched public defenders in action and watched them as they went through the motions in terms of the turn and burn of clients. They have so much on their plate. They are overworked, they are underpaid and they are completely burdened with so much work.
The thing that struck me the most was that these aren’t just cases, they are human beings and lives that are in the palms of their hands and they are completely dependent upon these public defenders being their last line of defense. I can’t even imagine the actual pressure and weight of that. It’s one thing to play one and watch documentaries and read articles about public defenders. I have such respect for what they do and for the warriors that they have to be. It is very humbling and I am honored to play one certainly, but in no way does me playing one equal to what it actually takes to be a public defender. They are truly the modern-day superheroes.
Pop Culture Principle – It would seem that public defenders never have enough time in the day. Would you agree with that?
Jessica Camacho – Being a public defender, it seems that you can never catch up. That is one of the things I try to incorporate into my character Emily Lopez. She never has enough time and when she’s somewhere, she’s always in ten other places in her head. She knows what is waiting for her when she gets home and she knows the amount of work that is still yet to be done on any given day. She’s not yet at the place in her career where she’s able to turn and burn and not feel anything.
I think there is a level of emotional investment that propels her to fight as hard as she can and work as hard as she can. I think the level of exhaustion is so layered. It’s not just physically, it’s not just mentally, it’s also spiritually. I love how despite those circumstances, there are people who are called to do that work and it’s their passion. I enjoy representing that passion and telling the story of that passion and the hope that it takes to keep doing that work day after day.
Pop Culture Principle – Can you tell us in what way are you like your character Emily Lopez and one big difference between you and your character?
Jessica Camacho – I think we are both very driven. My drive has enabled me to get to the point where I am now playing someone like this. That is the quickest bridge to her from me because I understand that blind drive when you are so focused and so motivated to a thing. I certainly share that with her.
We are vastly different in that she can function with that kind of pressure, while I would literally crumble. I would stay in bed, lock myself in the darkness of my room because I could not handle it. It would be a mess!
It’s funny because right before I booked this show, it was pilot season and I said to myself I was going to see how things go this pilot season. I had a feeling that I was going to book a show. I had a feeling that I was going to book an amazing part on an important show. I don’t know how I knew, I just felt it. I said to myself, if it’s written in the cards that I don’t, then I will probably just go back to school so that I can eventually get a law degree.
If I can’t be the kind of actress that I want to be and if I can’t make a decent living doing this, then I’ll just go back to school and I’ll fight for a worthy cause. To me, it’s one thing to be a mouthpiece and be a vocal activist, which is beautiful too and I believe that art is activism without a doubt and is so important, but I felt that one of the most powerful ways to be the change that you want to see in the world is through law, through policy change and changing the laws. It’s funny how the universe works. The thing that I end up booking that I had a feeling that I would book ends up being a lawyer who is super passionate about change and it’s just a really beautiful thing.
Pop Culture Principle – Now that you’ve seen both sides in the courtroom, if you had become a lawyer, do you think you’d be a prosecutor or a public defender?
Jessica Camacho – I think part of the reason that I didn’t go into law school back in the day was because I could not decide whether I wanted to be a prosecutor or a public defender. I am telling you; I am not cut out for it man. I can’t make up my mind! I feel too much! They are both relevant and they both fight the good fight, but I just didn’t know. There are certainly noble qualities to both and then there are potentially precarious points about both and that’s law. So, luckily, I have not yet had to make that choice, but who knows what the future holds, but man, I don’t know.
Pop Culture Principle – It seems that there is no real black and white for a public defender compared to a prosecutor. You have to live in that grey area as a public defender, would you agree?
Jessica Camacho – It does make sense, but I think that is how it’s portrayed and I think that’s how you present a case. I certainly don’t think everything is seen in black and white and a lot of life is grey, but what I have learned about the law and playing a lawyer is that even if you see things in the grey, you have to make a case black and white. Your job is to present a logical case. Your job is to decide how you are going to frame something and do it as unshakeable a manner as possible.
Not all defense attorneys are going to believe that their client is innocent and a lot of the times, it’s not even about them being innocent or guilty, it’s about making sure that the prosecution presents a case beyond a reasonable doubt. It’s about the argument and it’s about the proof. It’s about how can you present the case. Therein lies a lot of grey and is it right or wrong. It’s the system that we have and we are lucky to have it.
Even as flawed and imperfect as it is and it is, we are lucky to have this process that we do. The hope is that you find people working within it that actually care and that are competent, hard-working and will work to build a rational, reasonable, just case on behalf of their client. What I do as an actor is not easy, but it pales in comparison to what they do every day.
Pop Culture Principle – Do you see this show as somewhat of a reflection of what is going on in the world today? It seems like this country is going backward and people are afraid. What do you think?
Jessica Camacho – Without a doubt. Of course, it does and I would hope it does. For me, that is the point of being an actor and an artist, to tell stories that are important, to tell stories that serve as a warning or that allow the opportunity to see things in a new light and to gain some perspective and put yourself into someone else’s shoes and allow the opportunity to be enlighted in a way that you weren’t before. I mean, that is the hope and that’s why I do what I do.
So, we are absolutely dealing with relevant issues and timely issues. It is scary and we are living in scary times. There is all this crazy stuff going on right now and it’s just the nature of humanity for whatever reason and I don’t know why. I ask myself all the time. Why do people make it so difficult? Why is there so much division? Why is there so much fear of one another? Why? Especially when we know so much at this point, we have so much ability, we could be operating on such a higher level. Why are we still doing these crazy things and why is there so much ignorance? We will probably never understand the why, but as human beings, I think our job is to continue evolving ourselves and one another and I think these stories help and I think art is a huge part of that. It allows us to see what we are doing to one another.
What I love about our show is that you will sit down and you will be entertained. There is levity, there is light, there is love, there is hope, but also there are warnings to heed and there is a mirror for us to look into and I love that. I love that people can sit down and enjoy themselves and maybe forget about what is going on in their lives for that hour, but also walk away with something in their hearts and something that will serve them and I think that’s what we are doing here.
Pop Culture Principle – Public defenders work so much; it may seem that they don’t have time for a personal life. We see your character possibly starting something with another character on the show. How important is that aspect of their lives to the overall fleshing out of the character?
Jessica Camacho – it is very important. I can use myself as an example. I am an actor. That is what I am on paper and if you ask me to tell you five things about myself, being an actor would certainly be one of the things I tell you because that has been the motivating force in my life for such a long time because I’ve had the single-minded idea of becoming a successful working actor, it’s a huge part of my identity, but it doesn’t completely define me and yet, it’s a huge part. In order to fully understand me, you’d have to know me as the person.
I think what makes us all so beautiful is that we are very complicated and complex with so many layers to us and so many needs that we have. So, success and fulfillment in our jobs is not all of us, so it’s essential to have those other parts be represented and to delve into all of those other parts of the character. I think that’s what makes people care deeper about different characters. The reason we fall in love with characters is because of their flaws and because of their quirks.
I love a slow burn and it allows so much room for possibilities. I am very curious to see where it will go and see how things will develop. It’s certainly fun to play a well-rounded human as opposed to just a suit.
Pop Culture Principle – Playing a character like this who has so much passion and emotion for her work, are you able to wash away the day’s work when you leave set or does it somewhat stay with you when you leave set?
Jessica Camacho – I think I definitely always have that with me in a certain regard. At this point, I’m able to throw myself into a story and a scene and be really present for it, but at the end of the day, let’s go home and let’s try and function and do all the things that I have to do in my own life. I am usually able to leave it at work, but there are always traces of it in me and I still feel the energy of it.
I think it’s because just as I was saying I hope the audience walks away with something, I myself am walking away with those lessons, I myself am walking away with the weight of the reality. We are telling these stories, but there are people that are living these stories and that is not lost on me and that is very important to me and that affects me deeply as a human being.
So, while I have to be able to function because I have trained myself to shut it off and push it to the side, there is still and I think there always will be a part of that lesson and story with me and I am grateful for that. With each passing episode, I have learned something new, I have discovered something new and I think that the more open we are to new experiences, the better we are for it.
Pop Culture Principle – What do you think separates All Rise from shows that are similar?
Jessica Camacho – I get that question a lot and I want to answer it honestly. It’s interesting, we have one of the most amazing crews and some of them have been doing this work for a long time. They recently screened the second episode for the crew and one of the guys who does sound for the series said that he was really moved and emotional and I was so honored by that. He’s a guy who has been around for a while, knows how shows are made and he got what we are doing and was able to take in what we are trying to put into this show.
I think that part of the magic is that there is so much sincerity and that there is so much hope for a better world that is universally shared by everyone involved with the show. There is so much hope at what we are capable of as human beings that is evident to me in this show. It’s palpable and it’s almost like another character on the show. We don’t want to be preachy and we are very cognizant of that as a show. I think our show having a lot of heart separates us and I hope that the audience sees that as well.
A huge thank you to Jessica Camacho for taking time out of her busy schedule to talk with us. It was a very entertaining and enlightening conversation! You can catch brand new episodes of All Rise every Monday night at 9/8c on CBS.
**All Rise photos courtesy of Michael Yarish/Tommy Garcia/2019 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.**
**All other photos courtesy of JSquared Photography**