Mexican American actress Carmen Corral has been hustling her way through Hollywood ever since graduating from UCLA with a theater degree in 2004. The Chicago native’s first big break came shortly after graduation when she landed a role in HBO’s Chicano rights film Walkout, which depicted the 1968 East L.A. student uprising. She’s since played opposite Academy Award-nominated Mexican actress Adriana Barraza in Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna’s Cannes Film Festival shorts Revolución. After several stints on TV (Crossing Jordan, The Shield), she’s starring as Officer Ben Sherman’s (Ben McKenzie) love interest in TNT’s hit LAPD drama series Southland. We caught up with Corral, who spilled the beans about her onscreen romance and offscreen banda obsession.
How did you land such a big role in Southland?
The description said ‘artsy, bohemian Latina’ and I said, ‘I know this girl. I can really play her.’ I’ve never seen that description for a Latina. It’s usually ‘She’s lived a hard life, living on the streets.’ This was just a regular girl. It was so refreshing to see and I got super excited. I worked really hard on the audition and they brought me in for a work session with Regina King. They offered me the role. My character Elena is an artist. She paints, she’s Mexican, speaks her mind, and doesn’t take shit from anybody. She has a run-in with Ben when he’s arresting someone in front of her house and they connect. They have a love affair. He currently has a girlfriend, who’s white, middle-class. The fact that he’s coming into my world is a surprise.
Any hot love scenes to look forward to?
Yeah, definitely. I’m his love interest and he’s not a particularly shy guy, so you can expect to see some sexy things between us. [Ben’s] super nice. He’s been on the show for a while, so he always asks me if I’m alright, if I need anything. He’s super easy on the eyes, so that helps get into character. [Laughs]
Do you think the industry’s getting better at casting more diverse roles for Latinas?
That’s a really tough question. It depends on who’s answering it. Some people feel connected to cholas and immigrants, but then you have first or second generations that don’t really connect with those storylines. They’re more Americanized. I’ve seen a surplus of chola characters, immigrant characters. I’ve auditioned for them since I started. I did get to a point where I was like I wish they would write something that was [different]. The networks are responding to the fact that we do make up a large part of the population and they’re starting to mold programming to reflect our stories. I think Southland hit it on the head with this character.