Today we’d like to introduce you to Elena Sahagun.
So, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I am a first-generation American from parents of Mexican and Spanish/Moroccan descent.
My father and mother both came from Mexico but met in Los Angeles. Although very young, they fell in love, married and immediately and had two children. The struggles and pressures of life in a new country, being so young and having children right away put a strain on the marriage and unfortunately they divorced.
Being so young, we did not understand what was happening. My mother went from working in a linen factory to becoming a hairdresser and owning her own successful hair salon. She also remarried and we were reunited and went to live with her and our new stepdad in Glendale, California.
My mom and grandmother who we grew very close to during that time, was an inspiration and a blessing to me as she introduced me to God. Her faith was so strong and she passed that on to me. She provided love, stability and nurturing to my brother and me.
Adjusting to a new life and home with a new stepfather was sometimes difficult. During the rough times, I would daydream a lot and plan out my whole future and what I was going to become. I became very disciplined in my studies as well as excelled in sports and cheerleading. My goal was to get into UCLA for premed, but deep down inside I also enjoyed performing and being in front of the public and making people smile.
I was accepted to UCLA on a partial scholarship where I combined acting and pre-med courses. It was difficult for me because at that time, I didn’t have financial support and I was trying to do it all. Due to the hardship, I had to leave UCLA after a few years but I didn’t give up. I got a job as a secretary and was so glad I had taken that typing course in high school.
I quickly became the right-hand person to a very successful lawyer. However, I kept reminding myself what my mother had taught me, to be a fighter and follow your dreams and don’t let people tell you that you can’t.
During that time, I was dating someone who was a season ticket holder and took me to a Raiders game. When the Raiderette cheerleaders came on to the field, the crowd roared and went crazy! I was mesmerized on how these women made everyone smile. I was curious and wanted to release that energy that they had. My date turned to me and said, “I’d marry you if you were one of them”… lightbulb came on and I said to myself where do I sign up!! By the way, I never married that guy. LOL. I tried out the next season with 3000 other hopefuls for a spot on the Los Angeles Raiders Cheerleading squad and I made it!! Being part of the NFL family gave us young women the extra confidence boost and opened up the door for me to enter the entertainment industry and meet the movers and shakers.
I started taking acting courses at night while working a full-time job and little by little, I began building up my acting resume.
I remember going to the movies with some friends who loved action movies and they took me to see Steven Seagal’s “Above the Law” which made him an instant international star. I looked at this star and I said I’m going to work with him one day. My friends laughed but a few years later there I was auditioning for the role of “Carmen” in Marked For Death movie. I booked the job and had the opportunity to work with Mr. Seagal. Years later, our paths crossed again when I had taken time off from acting and interviewed with him to be his personal assistant. Once again, I got the job and had the opportunity to work for one of the biggest movie stars at the time and learned every aspect of the business. It was a very glamorous job, private planes, hobnobbing with the big wigs in Hollywood, etc. but deep down inside, I still had the acting bug, so after a few years I returned to pursue my acting.
One of my favorite roles was playing the sassy, comedic “Lupe” starring with Harry Hamlin entitled “Shoot Or Be Shot” written and produced by William Shatner. That is when I knew my favorite roles are comedic. I enjoy making people laugh. After that, I appeared in 22 films and several television shows in the past ten years. I also became an “ALMA Award Winner” for “Outstanding Actress in an Ensemble Cast for her portrayal in a PBS special entitled “Fotonovelas” directed by Carlos Avila. I also starred in “Stigmata 44” in which I play a young mother who has a son possessed with the power to shoot “real” bullets out of his bare hand. This critically-acclaimed film deals with moral issues between parents and children and has won 5 awards Worldwide, including Best Film at the Sweden’s Children’s Film Festival. I also appeared in several national magazines one including “People Magazine En Espanol” worldwide. My latest project which I am grateful and excited to be a part of playing the role of “Maria” in this is amazing film based on and inspired by true events entitled “PAZ” directed by talented Andrew Gutierrez.
Elena’s personal experiences as a cheerleader and parent to son Colin served as the inspiration for “Count With Pepita Pom Poms”, her first children’s book. The story centers on young “Pepita”, a junior cheerleader, who teaches counting through adventures with friends “Mighty Max” and “Lola Ladybug”.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Choosing to be an actor is not an easy path, even harder for a woman, and even much harder for a Hispanic woman. The roles are limited and many times are stereotypes. I can’t remember how many hookers I’ve played or maids, LOL nowadays things are a little different and there is more of a variety of roles. Also, what I love about the entertainment industry, is that as you age, you’re going to the next category so there are always roles. You can start as an ingenue, then the mom, then the older mom and then grandma, etc.
We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
Being an actress, creator and producer is allowing me to now work on my latest TV project which I created and wrote Pilot script with Craig Campobasso entitled “Always A Cheerleader”. From my experiences in this lifetime is to never give up, believe in your dreams because as so many life coaches believe that “thoughts become things” but most of all have faith.
Having been in the business for so long, I always thought that it would make me the most happy in life. However, the biggest role of my life and most rewarding is being a mom to my dear son. He is a wonderful, mature young man who excels in academics as well as in outside foundations. He has an amazing entrepreneurial spirit and a mean forehand in tennis.
It runs in the family since he also has lofty goals and is working diligently to achieve them, one being to get into an Ivy League college.
I have also been very blessed and am grateful for my brother’s generous support. I am inspired by him because he also set his goals and accomplished them by becoming very successful in his field among many other interests. He has been a stable presence in my son’s life and a wonderful role model.
Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
As young teenagers, me and my brother were huge Bruce Lee action movie fans!! My mother had to work weekends because she owned her hair salon so on Saturdays, we’d head from Glendale to LA downtown to the old Million Dollar Theater. It took us three RTD buses to get there but we managed to do it. It was so much fun for us because it was an adventure riding the bus and people watching. I remember The Million Dollar Theatre was so beautiful with red-carpeted seats along with velvet curtains. It also had chandeliers in the lobby. They showed Bruce Lee movies every Saturday for $1.00 and me and my brother would watch 3 in a row. We had some good laughs because the movies were all dubbed in English. Then after the movies, we’d walk to the famous Clifton’s Cafeteria and order our fried chicken and mash potatoes for just under $2.00. I still enjoy watching action movies to this day and my favorite is still the late action star Bruce Lee.
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Actor Harry Hamlin, actress Ruby Modine, actor Will Brandt, actress Erika Toraya, Craig Campobasso-Casting Director), my son Colin