Actress and model Blanca Blanco (’03 Psych.) recently released Breaking the Mold, a memoir she wrote during the pandemic lockdown.
And, at the end of April, Blanco was the keynote speaker at La Alianza de WSU Alumni Weekend and Gala in Pullman.
Here, she talks about growing up in Chelan, breaking into the TV and movie industry, escaping the 2018 Woolsey Fire, and more…
You were born in California, moved to Mexico at a young age, then returned to the US, arriving in Washington state at age 9. What are some of your earliest memories of growing up in Chelan? It was the first time that I saw snow. We lived in a garage, my family of six, eventually seven, and we didn’t have any hot water. We had no heating. In the winter, I could see my breath in the garage. We didn’t have food at home. We would eat at school Monday through Friday. The weekends we didn’t like because then we had to struggle. We went to the Salvation Army, the food banks. We didn’t have a shower or a tub hookup. I would brush my teeth at school. I didn’t like going back to school after Christmas because the teachers would say, “OK, we’re going to go around the room and everyone is going to tell us what you got for Christmas.” And I would just make up stuff because I would get something like a puzzle with missing pieces. I knew that the only way I was going to get out of poverty was to attend college. And that’s what I focused on my entire childhood.
Your dad basically told you not to go to college. Why did you decide to pursue it without his blessing? So my father was very old school, very traditional, machista. Something that he really believed was women belong in the kitchen only. He didn’t believe women should get an education or that I should be playing sports. So I had to fight for my freedom and independence and voice. I couldn’t understand why my brother was allowed to do sports and I couldn’t. I decided I was going to make my own path because I wanted to have a different lifestyle. And so I applied for schools and got scholarships. And that’s how I was able to go to school. When I went to school, my father didn’t talk to me for a year because I was rebellious by going to college. I was spending most of my time in the library, studying, and I got, like, three jobs the first quarter, because I needed to, because I would also help my family. I was determined. Even though with all the struggles, I just thought, “Well, I just have to work harder.”
Talk about your time at WSU. It was my dream school. It’s a small community. I had great teachers. I just felt that it was a good match for me. I spent a lot of time in the library there, too. I would spend like eight hours each day on the weekends. I would reserve a study room at the library and friends would bring me Doritos or Subway because I was there working all day. I learned so much. I was just very proud to be there, like it was going to change my life.
Why study psychology? I enjoy human interactions and behaviors and am interested in what drives a human mind. Psychology is understanding what drives people. I still apply everything that I learned there to my life here. It really influenced my life and the career I’m in now, especially as an actress. You really have to dig within yourself to bring out emotions. You also need to understand that dynamics in the scene.
After graduate school at Eastern Washington University, you moved to Portland for an internship then LA. What was it like breaking into Hollywood? How did you make connections and start landing work? I started doing commercials and taking acting workshops in Portland. As a child, I would act scenes in the garage and I would tell people, “I’m going to be an actress in Hollywood.” They would just, you know, look at me like I’m a weirdo. Like, sure, you are. So I just learned not to say anything about that dream. I thought, “OK, well, actions speak louder than words.” Once I was ready, once I finished my degrees, I moved to Los Angeles and started working as an actress and most of classmates had no clue. Coming from up there (in Washington state), it’s a bit of a culture shock. It’s a different world. At first, I could not adjust to the environment here (in Hollywood). It takes a while to find the right people. I had a hard time. I was like, “Oh, God, how can I handle this?” But I just thought, “I had a worse childhood than this. I have a house. I have my car. This is like a piece of cake.” I had to learn to adapt to a new system here. The industry is very inconsistent. There are no guarantees that you’re going to book anything. Out of 10 auditions, you maybe get one call back. I had to learn to just let go and move on after each audition and not take it personal. Otherwise it really hits your self-esteem. During that time, I worked in hospice care for four years and I was also doing auditions and taking trainings, classes, and workshops. I was working 40 hours a week, then doing everything else on the side. Eventually, I joined the union. That’s when I decided to quit my job. I got an agent. I got a manager.
What actresses do you admire? I love Meryl Streep, Rita Moreno, Angelina Jolie, Charlize Theron. There are so many great actresses that I respect.
What directors would you like to work with? There’s a lot of directors that I want to work with. Guillermo del Toro is one of my favorite directors. And he’s such a sweet person, too. I met him a few times. I just love his creativity when it comes to directing, and his movies are masterpieces. Same thing with Robert Rodriguez. He’s another director that I have a lot of respect for because he was one of the first directors that worked with Salma Hayek.
What was it like writing your book? Everything was shut down during the pandemic. The industry was on lockdown. That’s when I decided to write my book. I just thought, “Well, I cannot watch Netflix all day. I’ve got to do something.” It was an emotional process for me. I have a public life. And then I have a private life. And I like to keep both separate. I like to have strong boundaries. Writing this book was really personal. It was exposing my private life. I wanted to be transparent and really share my feelings. So that gave me a lot of stress. But I had to finish. I had to follow through. That’s my personality. If I start something I need to finish it. I would be driving in LA, and I would see so much homelessness, poverty, violence. And I thought, “It’s time for me to share my dark moments in life.” I was influenced by people who shared their experiences. If my story helps even one person that’s good. That’s why I wanted to write this book. We need more stories of hope.
Perhaps the most gripping story in the memoir is your escape from the Woolsey Fire that swept through Malibu in 2018. Talk a little about fleeing your home. I’m a morning person. I got up super early. And that’s why I’m alive still because it happened so fast. I had 10 minutes to escape. It felt like Armageddon. Malibu’s a small town. There’s basically only one way to exit. People became crazy. It was very traumatic. It got pitch black, and it was eight or nine in the morning. I could feel the heat through the windows of my car. I had an anxiety attack while that was happening. I share in my book how I was able to use tools that helped me to get through it. Two weeks later, I was working in Marrakech. And I remember I woke up and the sky was a little bit reddish and I panicked thinking it was a fire. I couldn’t sleep for many days after the fire. I started over in a different neighborhood. I didn’t have anything with me, just the clothes I was wearing and the few things that I took. Now I live in Beverly Hills, and I’ve been building my life back slowly.
You also share your red carpet routine in the book. Talk a bit about that. When I do a red carpet event or award show, I have to be prepared. It’s a massive media event. And a picture is a bridge, a connection, to your fans. Your fans want to know what you’re up to. A few of my dresses have gone viral. So it’s important to take my red carpet routine seriously. It’s a business for me. It’s not just, “Oh, I’m going to the Oscars to have fun.” I have fun. Don’t get me wrong. But, also, I’m a businesswoman. I’m there for business. There’s a lot of work physically and mentally and emotionally that goes into it—figuring out what to wear, hair and make-up, what kind of vibe you want to project.
What’s next for you? I’m going to be working on season two of the show Tale of Tails. I also just finished Eye for Eye, which is a Western movie that takes place in the 1800s. We shot in Montana. There was no (cell phone) reception at all. So, it really felt like the 1800s.
What is your message for young girls, especially young girls growing up today in poverty, perhaps also children of immigrants and farm workers? When I was in school I didn’t see a lot of Latinos who went to college. It was expected that you were just going to graduate high school and get married. So I didn’t have a lot of role models. I would tell my Latino friends, “I’m going to go to college.” And they were like, “Oh, that’s only for White people.” I respect other people’s ideas, but I knew that didn’t work for me. Challenges make us stronger, not weaker. And, yes, that means we just have to work harder. If you have a dream, if you have a passion for something, do it. Don’t allow anyone to dictate your future. You’re the decision maker, not anyone else. Sometimes, you have to break traditions in order to become who you want to become. But we can’t blame other people for our decisions. We’re the ones making the choices. So make sure that you’re doing something that you want to do. Because, at the end of the day, it’s your life that you’re shaping. And even if you’re living in poverty, remember that it doesn’t define you. You’re more than poverty. There are other layers that define you.
Read a review of Blanco’s memoir, Breaking the Mold.
Blanco talks about her book, her childhood, time at WSU, and her career on Viewscapes, the Washington State Magazine podcast.