'Gentefied' actor Julissa Calderon says Yessika was re-written for her after she refused to do East-LA accent
‘Gentefied’, the Netflix dramedy series created by Marvin Lemus and Linda Yvette Chávez, has won over its audience with its forays into Latinx identity, intersectionality, queerness, class-struggles, and, of course, gentrification. Among the many exceptionally well-written characters on the show, one that stands out, in particular, is Yessika. Played by Julissa Calderon, Yessika is Ana Morales’ (Karrie Martin) girlfriend and an active face in the Boyle Heights resistance.
Calderon recently spoke to MEA WorldWide (MEAWW), and in a casual conversation, discussed how the ‘Gentefied’ showrunners turned her down twice for the role, before changing the role to fit her. She also spoke about how she had never been to Boyle Heights before, and the show’s theme -- gentrification.
“I went out originally for the role which was Yessika. The role required an East-LA girl, who was Mexican -- what Los Angeles people consider like a Blaxican right, like a black and Mexican girl. And I went out for the role originally, and they passed on me. Then I went out again for it; for whatever reason, they called me back. And they passed on me again,” said Calderon.
“So, they passed on me twice. The third time they called again, ‘We just want to see her again,’ and they ended up wanting me to neutralize my accent a little bit. Make her more East-LA versus East Coast,” she said. “And two hours before the audition, I kinda was like screw it. I’m not gonna do the accent, I don’t want my acting to suffer. And I went in. I was my authentic self. I talked to them about it after and told them why I made that choice. And I got a call that same night. And they said they rewrote it, and I booked it!”
For Calderon, this was “beyond anything” she could have ever imagined -- a role that was rewritten just for her. The former video producer for BuzzFeed's Latinx vertical, Pero Like, said that after the audition, she called her mother, crying, because that is how happy she was.
Talking about the show, Calderon said ‘Gentefied’ was more than “just a Latinx story”. And while she agreed that the show majorly portrayed Mexicans (except her), she said that anyone could relate to the show. “The storyline is about humans. It’s about their real lives and what we go through, whether it’s relationships, with love with our partners, or relationships with our family, and conflicts with our family, this is not just a show for Latinx and that’s why it’s being received so well. Because anyone can relate to it.”
But she also said that the show also provided a strong story arc for the Latinx characters. “We are not just maids and gardeners. You get to see the real arc and real people behind what we say are Latinos.”
Speaking about representation, she said that while there has been Dominican representation on television before, especially in ‘Orange Is the New Black’, these characters were seen behind a cell and in its story, the show could not explore their “real walk of life”. Calderon added that with ‘Gentefied’, one gets to see someone that’s not “just Mexican”.
“Hollywood has portrayed us to just be one kind of person as a Latino and just one kind of look, which is like the Sofía Vergara look,” she said laughing. “That’s not what we represent at all. There’s so many different colors. So many different hair textures… So I think this is great that it’s showing something different.”
‘Gentefied’ is available for streaming on Netflix.