This story originally appeared in the August 2016 issue of Latina magazine.
If you’re an up-and-coming actor, Netflix is the place to be. The streaming giant made stars of unknowns like Dascha Polanco and Diane Guerrero (Orange is the New Black). And we’re sure hundreds of talented teenagers would’ve killed for the part of Mylene Cruz, a 1970s Bronx wunderkind in Baz Luhrmann’s new disco and hip-hop–influenced drama, The Get Down, which debuts this Friday.
The part required a great voice and that certain X factor that signals the arrival of a new star. Watching Herizen Guardiola operate on-set in Queens, N.Y., it’s clear that the Cuban and Jamaican Miami native has an inner confidence beyond her 19 years.
“I’ve never been starstruck by the lights and the cameras — I just knew that I was born to be a part of it,” she says. Guardiola’s first love is singing. Her dad, Juan Carlos, a reggae artist (stage name: Johnny Dread), and mom, Venice Pink, a yogi and nutritionist, surrounded their daughter with music: a lot of classic rock, reggae, classical, and Latin music—“like, a lot of Celia Cruz.” But the inspiration for her own music comes from another source: Peter Pan.
“I still feel like I have a part of Neverland inside me,” she says. “I still believe in magic.”
And why shouldn’t she? She landed her plum breakout role as Mylene right before her high school prom. But her teen years haven’t been painless. At 15, her parents separated, with her mom taking Guardiola and her two younger sisters to California. The move turned out to be a positive because her bond with her sisters deepened.
“My littlest sister, Swan Moon, is the coolest, smartest person ever,” she says. “She has Down syndrome, but she doesn’t take crap from anybody.”
Guardiola’s on-screen character, Mylene, is just as brash. She’s flirty enough to make a nerd blush and has the bravado to make a hustler lust. “She’s very strong-headed,” she says. “She’s not going to let anyone tell her no.”