Mornings with Lela Loren
In the series ‘Mornings With’ we begin a new day with inspiring talent in film and television, in an equally inspiring place. ROSE & IVY founding editor, Alison Engstrom sits down and chats about morning routines, exciting projects, New York and what inspires them and drives them to be their very best.
We spent a morning at the MADE Hotel in New York with Power star Lela Loren. ROSE & IVY chatted with her about how she begins her day, how she landed the role as Angela Valdes on the hit series and the importance of stopping to take it all in.
Star of Starz Power
Would you say you are a morning person?
Partially, but I’m also kind of a night owl. I do feel better when I wake up early in the morning. But with work, there are a lot of Friday nights where we’ll be acting until three o’clock in the morning and on Monday morning you get picked up at 4:30am, so you have to constantly be flexible. With Power, we filmed five days a week—you might not be filming all five days, but if you’re filming on Mondays, you’re getting picked up early. If you’re working on a Friday, you’re wrapping at least 2am—sometimes 4am or 6am. We called it Fraturday.
Do you drink coffee or tea?
How do you prepare it?
I like to have coffee with nothing in it. I drink Nespresso because with my schedule, the last thing I want to do is make coffee, so I just put in a little pod and it’s ready.
Do you have a motivating morning mantra that helps to frame your day?
Yes, it’s to accept wherever I am. So, if I wake up and I’m feeling blue, that’s okay. I feel like so much of our culture is spent chasing happiness instead of allowing yourself to authentically be where you’re at and trusting that feelings will shift and move. I also meditate.
What was your childhood like?
From California, we would go back to my mom’s village in Mexico and spend the summers there, so three months out of the year it was a totally different world. There was no electricity, running water or bathrooms; it was dirt floors and adobe huts. Today things have shifted a little—there’s still no running water or air conditioning, but there is electricity. I had a gang of cousins—we’d run in the hills, ride donkeys, horses and get eaten up by mosquitoes. It’s a totally different culture. They’re farmers, very salt-of-the-earth, wonderfully soulful and simple people. It really taught me that your character is your character, regardless of your circumstances.
But even within that place of not having, there was so much generosity there . You know, you might not have any money but you bring over a watermelon or you bring over a chicken. This idea of sharing is a constant. There is a saying in Spanish that translates to: it doesn’t cost a nickel to behave with compassion. My mom was always really clear with me, she used to tell me when I was a kid that the United States might have more opportunities, they might be more efficient, have a higher standard of living and it might be safer, but it’s not better. What she meant was that here in the States there’s a lot of isolation and a lot of loneliness in a way that you don’t have in a country like Mexico. Your family’s all in your business—there might be conflict, but there’s this community and connection.
You stumbled into acting. Before you wanted to be a biologist. What was it about the field that lured you in?
I think in some ways, what really fascinated me about biology were the really large, overarching questions: what is this life, what does this mean, what is this existence? Acting is about the human condition and asks all of those same questions but just from a different angle. I remember, once we were examining a human heart and there were all of the different chambers, the ventricles were cut open and I was sitting there just staring at it. I thought, no matter how much I study this, I’m never going to understand the extent of the human will, shame or all these things that run us and are empirical. I think my interest in biology was that I would unlock these big questions but I found that in acting, by getting to step into other characters and perspectives, it also helped me understand myself.
Have you read any books that have helped you with those bigger questions you initially asked?
I had a complex childhood and I had all these things that I didn’t know how to navigate or unpack. I really love Clarissa Pinkola Estés, she wrote Women who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype, she’s an archetypal psychologist and also an oral storyteller who takes old myths and breaks them down. She’s really wonderful. Her storytelling is beautiful and from an old tradition that not very many people do anymore.
Tara Brach is also fantastic, she wrote the book, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart, she merges Buddhist thinking with psychology. She’s the first one who helped me understand meditation in a really useful way and this idea that even shame needs to be loved. We keep trying to root it out of us instead of accepting that it is part of the human condition; you can’t control it. You just have to hold it, regard it kindly and give it space. We all have flaws. It’s also about embracing the piece of you that’s judgemental, petty, controlling and manipulative and all these things that we don’t want to admit that we are, but are all very human.
Your story is an inspiring one. Before you landed the role on Power, you had $86 dollars in your checking account. How did you push through and convince yourself that your big break would come?
I don’t think I did push through. I think I surrendered to the fact that I was going to have to move in with my parents and that the jig was up, but then at the last minute my fate changed. But the piece I have to look at, again, is that I don’t know if I can use that as a sign that I was on the right path, because had it not worked out, I still would like to think that I’d be proud of what I’ve done. I didn’t want the outcome to control my internal view of myself.
I think early on, because I struggled for so long—it took me three years to get an agent— having a bleak view was helpful because I never expected it to work out, I just knew that I loved it. I had agreed with myself, as long as you get to pay your bills and take care of yourself, you can spend the rest of your time acting. And, so I didn’t expect my acting to take care of me, I had to take care of it. I remember thinking that I needed to divorce myself from society’s notion of success. All of my friends had 401k’s, car payments and mortgages. I remember thinking of Van Gough, who was considered kind of a peculiar in his lifetime, but would you ever look back and say that he did the wrong thing with his life. The process of me doing what I loved was enough, now that’s really easy to do when you’re in your twenties and fantasizing but it got really scary in my late twenties when I’m still struggling and in it pretty deep. I had to see it through one way or another. I eventually ended up getting a recurring role in the short-lived show on FOX called Gang Related. Then I got the role on Power and I had five days to move to New York. It happened quickly. I also think that if Courtney (Kemp Agboh) hadn’t written the series and STARZ didn’t pick it up—it was really a convergence of working hard and luck.
Are you surprised with how well the show has done?
Totally! I have a little bit of chicken-little syndrome where I always think the sky is falling. There were people who were like, no, this is special. And I’m like, really? That’s probably a self-protective thing. I think that was so much of my experience was rejection that I had no idea what to do with it working out.
How did you prepare for the part as Angela Valdes?
I had gone through, at the same time, a really excruciating breakup. It leveled me to a place where I understood Angela in a way that I had never understood her before. In some ways, that painful piece of what I went through gave me a roadmap that I was able to overlay. I had to prepare for Angela in the sense that kind of, I grew up in Northern California with granola and The Grateful Dead—I didn’t know Queens, Puerto Rican culture or anything like that. So I had to study the dialect. I had an instinct that she would switch accents from her work persona, because she had gone to an Ivy League school but then when you’re with your family you don’t dare put that on because it would be snotty.
I read that you once said you can’t really feel the success of the show—it’s like it’s almost unreal, I know that feeling very well. Have you ever been confronted with imposter syndrome?
I remember the first time I saw a billboard that I was on, I didn’t know how to take it because success and fame are a man-made emotion. It was a really surreal emotion, but intellectually it’s awesome, but the reality is like, is that me? I wouldn’t say imposter syndrome, but it was sort of a blank feeling. I thought, I’m supposed to be really excited, but this just feels surreal, that’s the best way I can describe it.
Have you had any pinch me moments over the past few years?
I’ve definitely learned to slow down and take it in. There are some incredible moments when you’re like, take a beat girl, take this in. I remember when we were on the steps of the Public Library in New York doing a scene—you’re just like, this is something you’ve longed to do for a long time and now you’re doing it.
What can you say about your character on the sixth and final season of the show?
At the end of season five, Angela sees Tommy pointing a gun at Ghost and pushes him out of the way and takes a bullet. For season six, her life hangs in the balance, so you’re going to see how that plays out and the ramifications. The nice thing about Power is that it picks up immediately. I guess what I will tease is there’s an unexpected structure that they do that I like. It’s brave storytelling.
There are going to be a number of spin-offs, can you say if you will be part of them?
You’ll have to wait and see. (laughs)
If you look out on the horizon at your career, what types of opportunities would you like to explore?
I think anything as long as it’s well-written and character driven. I would like to play a character who has maybe a little more levity. You know, Power was a lot about strategy, tactics and manipulation. I would like to have something that is slightly more innocent and light-hearted. It was fun to be in but it’s also heavy. Today, there are so many exciting things being created.
I heard that you have outside passions like gardening and cooking—a woman after my own heart! Is this how you recharge after a long day?
New York is hard for gardening! I’ve grown poppies and peonies and this was the first year that the squirrels didn’t eat them. Before I had some rodents eat the peony buds, just the buds! I had this beautiful Japanese eggplant that I grow every year and something killed it. Something ate the roots and the whole thing just died. I find New York challenging and I’m used to California growing season. Here if you don’t get something in the ground at the right time, you’ve missed the window. I also do really like to cook, my brother is a chef so that’s slightly intimidating. I think my favorite thing to do is have a house full of people and share a meal that we’ve cooked together. I really like a good rack of lamb, I love grilled artichokes and baked salmon.
Do you have any go to restaurants in New York?
Yes, I love Via Carota. I also love The Meatball Shop, my brother is the head chef over. I also really adore a restaurant called Noodle Pudding in Brooklyn Heights—it’s a very neighborhood restaurant, like cash-only, old-school, really fun. On Atlantic Avenue, there’s Colonie, I love their dinner, I really have to hand it to the chef, he’s very inventive. Long Island Bar also has fantastic food, their fried cheese curds are delicious. I also love the River Deli, I never get sick of Italian food.
Where can we catch you next?
Stay tuned! It’s really exciting but I’m not allowed to say anything about it just yet.