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Breaking Boundaries and Defying Age — The Inspiring Journey of Cuban-American Actress Marlene

Marlene Forte, a Cuban American actress born just outside of Havana, Cuba, and raised in North Jersey. Marlene has shaken the Hollywood stereotypes and broken the glass ceiling many times as a woman, a Latina, a mother and an “older” actress. At sixty-something year old, Forte seems to have defied the rules of aging showing that age is nothing but a number. The mum-of-one proves you can have a hugely successful career, raise a family, and look amazing while doing it!

You've seen her in everything from the Golden Globe Best Picture nominated film, "Knives Out," JJ Abrams' "Star Trek" reboot; "Real Women Have Curves"; "Our Song" opposite Kerry Washington, Marlon Wayans’ “A Haunted House”, and Tyler Perry’s “A Single Mom’s Club” on the big screen, to Netflix’s “Altered Carbon”, TNT “Dallas”, "The Mentalist", "Law & Order", “24”, “Community”, “The Secret Life of The American Teenager”, “The Fosters” and AMC “Fear of The Walking Dead” (among many others) on the little screen. She has experienced motherhood, owned a video store, and lived a full life before moving to Los Angeles and becoming a prolific actress. Her story is truly inspiring.

Listen to the full episode here.

NOTE: This episode was recorded prior to the Writers Guild and Actors Guild Strikes.



[00:00] Introduction

[02:13] Marlene Forte on what she’s most passionate about

[06:44] Marlene Forte on her childhood acting experience

[17:35] Marlene Forte on when she started her professional acting career

[19:22] Marlene Forte on when her mom believe she was an actress

[20:01] Marlene Forte on the moment when she felt like a professional actress

[23:26] Marlene Forte on her transition from Jersey to Los Angeles

[29:33] Marlene Forte on how she got her first agent

[30:41] Marlene Forte on her first gig by her agent

[31:45] Marlene Forte on what’s her preferred acting medium

[34:39] Marlene Forte on what’s her favorite theatre role

[35:05] Marlene Forte on why it’s fun to play villain roles

[37:40] Marlene Forte on what’s her familiar roles to people

[41:27] Marlene Forte on is there more diverse roles now

[46:30] Marlene Forte on what advice she gives her daughter on following her passions

[51:46] Marlene Forte on how the strike is affecting her

[57:46] Marlene Forte on what’s her dream for women


Passionistas: Hi, we're sisters, Amy and Nancy Harrington, the founders of the Passionistas Project Podcast. We've created an inclusive sisterhood where passion driven women come to get support, find their passion, and feel empowered to transform their lives and change the world. On every episode of the podcast, we discuss the unique ways in which each woman is following her passions, talk about how she defines success and explore her path to breaking down the barriers that women too often face.

Today we're talking with Marlene Forte, a Cuban American actress born just outside of Havana, Cuba and raised in North Jersey. Marlene has shaken the Hollywood stereotypes and broken the glass ceiling many times as a woman, a Latina, a mother, and an older actress. At 60 something years old, Forte has defied the rules of aging, showing that age is nothing but a number.

A mom of one proves you can have a hugely successful career, raise a family, and look amazing while doing it. You've seen her in everything from Golden Globe Best Picture nominated film, Knives Out, J. J. Abrams Star Trek reboot, Real Women Have Curves, Our Song opposite Kerry Washington, Marlon Wayans A Haunted House, and Tyler Perry's A Single Mom's Club on the big screen.

Netflix's Altered Carbon, TNT's Dallas, The Mentalists, Law and Order, 24, Community, The Secret Life of the American Teenager, The Fosters, and AMC's Fear the Walking Dead, among many others. She's experienced motherhood, owned a video store, and lived a full life before moving to Los Angeles and becoming a prolific actress.

Her story is truly inspiring. So please welcome Marlene Forte.

Marlene Forte: You guys are making me, I'm like, I'm gonna tear up.

Passionistas: That's a very, very, very impressive resume. We're excited.

Marlene Forte: As you were saying it, I'm like, oh, I'm starting to feel those 60 something.

Passionistas: So, Marlene, what are you most passionate about?

Marlene Forte: I'm passionate about so many things, but I think in general, and, and I think this is what's helped me be a better actress, I am passionate about life. Like, I am curious about life. I'm interested in things that I don't know about. I'm, I mean, I may, I may not like it.

I may not go down that road next time, but I need to. I think that's what we were here to do, right? To live life, to live it as kindly and as empath, uh, uh, you know, uh, sympathetically as possible and just be kind. And that's what I try to do with my daughter, just raise somebody that's human and kind and not...

So angry, you know, because when you open your eyes, you're alive. I just lost my dad. I was very, very, very lucky to have until the age of 85. And my husband lost his dad at 17. So, you know, but he gave me that, like, this is a man who pulled us out of Cuba, nine months in my hand, you know, in hand, and just was curious about everything.

And, and, and I think that he, he, He passed that on to his daughters. He was the original, you know, girl dad. Um, so I think that that's what I'm passionate about. And that I think is what makes me a good actor. I, I've always, I wanted to be an actress when I was 10. I knew like the first time I was on stage at PS number four, you know, West New York, New Jersey.

I looked down and I was like, oh wow, this is awesome. This is what makes me tingle. Um, and it took me all this time. You know, I didn't become, I didn't start acting till my late twenties, you know, through lab and theater company and, and it was a very distinct choice to do that. But up to that point, I did a lot. I lived my life. I wasn't, and my father was fearless in that way, you know, and just to be, I just watched, um, the Cheeto movie and the thing that I took away is that that, that, that was my dad. Like that's every Latino dad that came in here. Right. And just made it work and was made us. Our life better. And, and, um, I think that's, that's what I'm passionate about, and that trickled down to being a good actor.

By the time I became an actor, yes, I wasn't trained as an actor, but I had lived a life. You know, I had gotten married and had a kid and went to college and got divorced and was like, how do I become an actor? Oh, I'll start my own business, video store. Ridiculous. When you start your own business, you can't act on a business, but you know, I was like, well, how, what business can I do closest to what I love, which was video store, timing.

I believe the universe really provides you with what you need as long as we are open to it. And leap forward with faith into it. Um, I think we can do anything. Plus, I gave birth at a very young age. And when you do that and survive it, you know, no, no, no, no, nothing. You know, you go, how? I'm never doing that again and I can do anything now.

I survived that. I didn't die. I thought I was going to die. And then you move on, you know, um, so I think that my passion for life, is there anything that I'm passionate about? And then I really, truly follow my joy, like what makes me happy, which was always the theater and movies. My father took me to the movies to watch The Graduate.

I was what, 10? I mean, so it was things like that, that, um, Bullet. I remember going to the movies with my dad to watch Bullet, you know, so it was just. I was the oldest of all bunch of girls so I, I got, I think I got the best of that. Um, my, my middle baby sister would say, Chica did and then the middle sister would be a middle complainer so that's just about right.

Passionistas: Let's go back to that 10-year-old girl in that first play that you did. Do you, do you remember what the part was and tell us a little bit more about like acting. Did you act more as a kid and into high school and stuff like that?

Marlene Forte: No, I didn't. It took me a very long time. I, I, I, I discovered it because I was, um, I can carry a tune and it was my grammar school, so we weren't putting up a play, but we were reading, um, great expectations or they were, we were putting an adaptation of great expectations.

I was very lucky. I went to public schools that did wonderful things like this. I was one of the girls sitting on the stage, like, that was beating Red 2, so I didn't even have lines or anything. I was just sitting there, like, absorbing it all in. And I remember that moment so clearly, even today. Um, I was like, oh, this is, this is joyful, right?

That was, I knew that were then. And, and then we get to sing in a little bit and did that. And then I didn't, I didn't really do, I played the, my mom and dad put us in piano lessons, you know, Latin people do this a lot to keep you off the streets, you know, now it's soccer and all that stuff, but it's never to go into it as a job.

You're supposed to be a lawyer or a teacher or something, you know, not, not something steady. Talk to people now about that pandemic. Um, but, but that's that's what you're supposed to do. And I kind of follow that path for a little while. I mean, I even got married to my high school sweetheart because I'd already had sex and that's what people do.

We got married and then I got pregnant right away. People thought I was pregnant because I was crazy to do it but yeah. We were going to college, and I went through college throwing up off the churchy turnpike and you know with my morning sickness to Rutgers. You know, I just did all that when acting was not not in my mind I was going to be an English teacher and had already a kid and loved it and always wanted to do it but my husband, who was going to be a doctor, who did become a doctor, but wanted three kids.

He had three kids with his new wife, and one with me. You know, so, um, it was all that kind of stuff. I just did what I was supposed to do. I was an immigrant Catholic; you know. Followed my cousin, who I admired, and got married right out of high school, too. And, you know, but... I did marry another Cuban. We're very ambitious Cubans.

And, um, we both went to college, you know, pregnant, the whole thing. And then he wanted to go off to law to become a doctor. And I think it was a dentist at the time, which is why I ended up graduating from Teaneck, New Jersey. Um, Fairleigh Dickinson, you know, it was a great school, but not for acting or liberal arts.

Um, that's where I graduated from. And, uh, when we graduated high school college, he wanted, you know, he was going to go on and he wanted his wife to have more kids. And at that point I was like, I really want to act, I really want to do this. And I was like, I just did this was in my heart and my soul. I just knew that if I stayed married and I had another kid that just wasn't going to happen in this, in this, with this sliding door.

So, I, you know, talked to my dad and my dad said, do follow your heart. And, uh, and at the time we video stores were just starting out and he loved movies and I love movies is what we had in common. So, he had said, you know, we put in 10, 000 each. I mean, that's nothing right. But that was for like 200 movies at the times pre blockbuster when you had to pay, you guys are too young to remember any of this 60 deposit and all that stuff.

Right and right around the corner from my parents’ house in North Bergen, New Jersey. I'm really a Jersey. I mean, I was nine months old. My Cuban part is because we lived in a very Cuban, Cubans live in a huddle together, like most immigrants do, right? And so, I, my high school was highly, highly Cuban, Cuban Jersey, which is different than Cuban Florida, which is very different than Cuban, Cuban.

So, I had, you know, my own influence is going on. So, we do this right around the corner from my, I find a place where my daughter who was 10 at this point could grow up behind the video store and she did. And my, and I could bring her eat and, you know, back and forth. And the first three years really hard.

And then, uh, and then I blockbuster hit the scene, and I wasn't really doing a lot of acting because when you have a business you have to run your business. It was my film education, because I went, I got into a little distribution because I was such a mom-and-pop store that this way I could get a break on the movie so I'd really just, I I would keep in Quentin Tarantino.

I like to say I learned about everything, even distribution. And then I kind of saw the writing on the wall and I was getting a little older and I had just gotten into this theater company. Um, through a friend that I had met on my first indie movie, and she asked me to come in, Lydia Ramirez asked me to come in and do a female odd couple and we did it and I got in and she didn't.

It took her two more years to get in and I was be damned if she wasn't going to get into this company. Um, and that was my, I like to say my MFA in acting. Um, Because I was really new in that way, you know, the last time I did a couple of college plays with my husband at the time was just being jealous and hadn't really been wanting to show anything but would sit and put up with my you know, my hobby.

And, uh, so, yeah, that, that, that, that, that was the beginning of my theater life was with Labyrinth, and that was in 1998, 96. I've owned this Labyrinth now 30 years. And, uh, I was the first temp. I was, I was brought in, even though I got in, Lydia was brought in directly as an actor. I was like the temp because I didn't have any experience, but I guess I had a lot of passion.

And I just took notes, and we'd meet once a week on Wednesday nights, way on the east side of, uh, On the west side, way on the west side of 48th Street and like 12th and like Rack City. They gave us a little spot there in New York and and we we we played and then we'd go to McHale's I think it was and drink beer and you know every Wednesday night and that was my education too to the theater.

And it was a grand education because I was surrounded by very brilliant people, um, who taught me everything that I know about acting pretty much in the theater. And then I, throughout my career, I, you know, took like a commercial course that got me my commercial agent and, you know, I just kind of.

You know, I did the backstage thing at the beginning because nobody in my family, even though my father named us all after actresses, my dad was the actor, right? He was like this little young Salminio looking guy, you know, running, you know, room service up and down, uh, all the fancy hotels at the time. I call them chico, you know, and I mean, I want to do something.

I'm actually working on something about my life. Um, a half hour, um, single cam, I hate to use the word dramedy because I'd be, but you know, big. You know, "Better days" meets curvier enthusiasm, about a Cuban American woman who decides to bring in her parents to live with her because they get very sick. My dad got very sick last night, uh, about two, three years ago with the pandemic. And my husband's a writer and I said to him, he was, I was flying back and forth, back, and forth to my Florida.

And he was like. And at one point I was like, I can't do this, we're gonna have to bring him in and he was like, bring him in, we'll figure it out, God bless him. And it was November, and in December he said, what do you want for Christmas? And I said, I want you to write me a pilot, a single cam, funny, about a woman who does this.

Let's concentrate on the funny, so we cannot kill each other. And, uh, yeah, and that was three years ago. If it weren't for the strike, we'd be moving it around, but it's good. We'll let it digest a little bit. It only gets better. And there's also no timeline. You know, that's the other thing I've learned about my life, um, and its age.

Age really is, you know, you start to look. Until I turned 60, I will be 62 years old this July coming up. And then till I turned 60, I, I, I thought, oh, I'm not, I'm doing all right. I'm doing all right. And then it was like 60. And I remember thinking, oh, I'm not doing so good. Um, uh, my back's starting to hurt.

My knees are going out. My, you know, and I, I started to do Pilates. I said, I have to, I have to do something for myself, right? I have to commit to some sort of thing. And, um, so I started Pilates. I'm a reformer. It'll be a year this year and it was the best thing outside of going into acting that I've been able to do to myself because this is my instrument outside of, you know, I kept thinking as long as I can remember lines, I'm like, no, as long as I can walk up those stairs, I could always use the teleprompter. I can't.

I gotta be able to walk up those stairs. I gotta be able to move something around. I was like, oh my lord. Oh, my lord. Oh, my lord. Um, yeah. And, and the thing about aging, it was never a thing for me because I had started late. And they had, everybody had told me that I was crazy to do it already. They were like, people are quitting acting.

It was the 90, 902 Melrose time where you, you know, it was just like, none of these people have mothers? Now everybody has mothers on TV, thank God! Grandmothers even are showing up. It's a new world. You've come a long way, ladies. We are being allowed to age now a little bit, aren't we?

Passionistas: When you say you started acting when you were older, how old were you?

Marlene Forte: 28, 29, but that was old already, right? People are like, that's old. And you know, I've met a couple of young, of actors that now are my, my, you know, like I'm auditioning against.

There was one woman I love, her name is Laura, and, and she's, you know, she started much even older than I did. And I remember she's very good. And she was like, everyone keeps saying I'm too old. And you know, she started with probably within the last 10 years. And I was like, honey, as long as you can remember your lines, ...

Passionistas: And take Pilates.

Marlene Forte: Now and take Pilates. Uh, but no, no, well now it's a little different. It has changed where now there are more older women. There are mothers that are coming up. There are more in that way, uh, opportunities. So as long as the opportunities for the younger women in powerful positions continue to show, then they'll be able to show the mother part of it, you know, so I'm hoping and I do see a change, you know.

We're hoping that AI doesn't take it all over. But, um, outside of that, you know, I have seen a trickle change in my last, now I'm 30 years in and I feel like it was a blink of an eye. You know, um, I started almost 30 years into my life, which is, is kind of unheard of, because people are like, you're going to be what?

My mother cried. My mother looked for jobs for me for the first ten years of my career. Sofitel is hiring. Milton is hiring. I'm like, oh my god. It was not a; it was not a bed of roses.

Passionistas: What was the moment in your career when she stopped doing that?

Marlene Forte: When I be, I played the mother of William Levy in the, in the um, in the Tyler Perry movie.

William Levy, she loves William Levy. I'm like, are you kidding me? Are you kidding me? If you blink, you missed me in that movie. And that's the movie. Why don't you do a Spanish soap opera? And William Levy! You're going to be working with William Levy! Oh my God! That's the time. That's the moment when my mother finally...

Passionistas: When was the moment when you felt like you were a real actress?

Marlene Forte: Very different moment. Um, I was still waiting tables back in New York, and I was working on a play, Lisa Loomer play called Bocón! And I had one of the biggest parts that I had was a small, tiny little theater, and, um, I remember Friday nights, and I had done a commercial.

It was my first big commercial, and I knew that I had a residual check coming. Of course, it's going to be, just take it right down to the money, but that was the moment. And I, and I called my manager, and I knew I had a residual check in, but I didn't want to be that actor. Like, how much was it?

You know, I'm fine. I'm, I'm fine. And I call him, and I say, hey, did you mail that check out? And he goes, Oh, yeah, yeah. Do you remember how much it was? And he was like, Oh, yeah, it's like 1,900 and some odd dollar.

I was like, how much? How much was it? 1,900 and it's almost 2,000. She goes, yeah. That's awesome. I'm not working next week. I'm taking the whole week off. I don't need a shift next week. I'm going to be an actor. I am going to go to theater next week. I do not need to come here next week. I'm moving along. I'm moving along. That was the moment. That was the moment. I was like, I think I might be able to make a living at this. Oh, 2,000 a week would be so much better than this shift.

I'm sorry. It's a long time ago. Um, but for me, it was that moment. And, and then every year I take inventory, I'm like, have I, I've never felt, thank God, um, a moment where I'm like, I, I probably should quit. This is, I can't book anything. I'm, nothing's happening. I've always had very realistic views. I've never believed that one, one part is going to make your career.

I think at a certain part, uh, when you get to a certain place, you know, you do shows that bump you up and that happens, but you're only as good as that last bump, right? So, it's, it's fleeting. It's not, none of it is. It's, it's not like, you know, you can't be on a show and then go up to the hills and buy it.

You know, you can't do that till you're like five years into the vacation period. That's the realistic thing of it because, because yeah, you're making 20 grand in a week and then you don't work for a year. How much did you make all year? You know, so it's, it's, it's my. I'm almost glad I didn't start young, that I had all this other kind of thing because I was like, oh, okay, this is great for this week, but I didn't quit my job that day.

I just said I don't need shifts next week. It was a very big difference and that was because I had a kid at a very early age. So, it had to be real. There was something that was like, I like to say she anchored me in a way that, you know, people were like, oh, forget it. You have a kid. That's never going to happen.

It also was a way of anchoring me where I was like, okay, I have to be real clear why I'm doing this, where I'm going, you know, this is where I want to make a living at this, which is why I came to LA eventually because, you know, theater is wonderful, but it's really hard to make a living at it. It's really hard.

There are not that many people, actors, writers, directors, that many people that can say, yes, I make a living only doing theater.

Passionistas: So, when you came to LA, did you, did you come for pilot season? Did you come with a job?

Marlene Forte: No, I came with a job. I'm, I don't, I don't have that much. Gusta. I was always afraid. And I had my theater company there, which was a very, uh, wonderful, uh, safe community, right?

Sort of venture out and then you come back. And then, uh, but I came out with a show called Crossing Jordan, who I got written out of like six shows and six episodes. And I was way over my head. I'd never really been on a set. I totally understand how it happened. Um, and even though it hurt my ego terribly, I was like, okay, this is the moment where you go back to New York and you stay there and you're like, forget it.

I'm not doing TV. It's not in me. Or you keep auditioning. You actually booked it. They didn't get rid of you till six episodes in. So you weren't that bad.

Cause you know, if you're bad, you're out. They just kill you. It's easy. So, I just, I stayed, I had booked a couple, when I finally got released from that, I had just booked something else. So, I always, I always listened to what the universe is kind of telling me. From that point on, it wasn't my first time I had been in LA.

I had gone back several times because I just was like, it's not time, just not time. But this time, even though that was my first. Um, and I was like, Oh, I'm on a show. It's network. This is fantastic. No reason why they don't really need to tell you. Uh, you just stop getting called in. And then I was like, okay, let me look at the work.

Maybe. Okay. Let's learn. Um, so you do all that, you know, and you try to keep your ego in check. We have large egos in this industry. We have to have it because you said that earlier, um, the amount of rejection that somebody in my industry goes through, um, on a weekly basis, if you're lucky, because that means you're auditioning, right, is quite a lot.

And so you needed a strong ego to be like, no, that just wasn't mine, or I just didn't work, you know, I mean, I always take industry, I like to keep, when I was taping stuff, tapes, I keep them and I book, I look at the things I actually book and the ones I don't book and I can see why. Right. So now that now we can learn in a different way, but back then, you know, you wouldn't room.

Well, that one, I blew that one and that was it. There's no retakes. You can't retake that. I'm going to get a better take and send a better take or very different back then. Um, but you, you, you take inventory, right? Like you wouldn't have any job if you were doing anything, you have to kind of learn the ropes.

And this industry is a strange industry, especially for actors because. There's no guarantee that you're going to have a job. You can get an MFA. You can, you know, and there's really no guarantee when you leave there with all this debt that you are going to get a job. You know, maybe you can teach a little bit, but how do you take inventory and find, I used to say back in the day, now, you know, you need to find something to, to, you know, feed yourself right?

How do you do that? How do you do that financially? For me, I had to do it early because I had a kid, but you have to be able to, okay, you need a place to live, you need a car if you're in LA, you need certain things, um, to be able to become an actor. You need to get money to get headshots. You need to invest a little bit in that.

So, you have to realistically find something and just You know, even though I am a person of faith and do believe in the universe, giving back, you need to be proactive to allow that to happen. And, um, you know, sometimes people just, they just want to act or how did you do, how do you get an agent? Well, it took me seven years to get an agent and I'm on stage with, you know, Daphne Rubevega and Phil Hoffman, John Ortiz and Judy Ray and I couldn't get arrested in New York.

I couldn't get an agent. I've got a commercial agent, but my agents came in the weirdest, most ridiculous way. I was dating an actor and I; I was dating an actor and I went to deliver his headshots that I'm dating myself. And uh, and the assistant who, you know, now is the owner of the agency, I think New York.

I know. So, and, and, uh, it was like, oh, thank you. And time, right at that moment. Michael was coming out and he looked at me and he goes, uh, uh, uh, what do you do? And who are you? or whatever. And I was like, I'm dropping, you know, David's headshot and stuff. And he was like, and what do you do? I'm like, Oh, I'm an actor.

And he was like, oh, are you? Uh, do you have a monologue? And I was like, and he was like, well, come inside and do it for me. And I was like, I really have to go to the bathroom. I'll be right back. And I did not have a monologue on, uh, I, I did not. I did not. So, I go to the bathroom and I'm like, oh, can I say, I'm like, oh, oh no, no, no, this is bad.

Okay. No, this is good. I can do this. All I got to do is tell a story for 60 seconds. That's all I got to do. What's a monologue? Tell a story for 60 seconds. And I went in, and I told him about the time the boyfriend before this one left me. And I just told him a little story that I think it would make him laugh.

He stole my vibrator. I told him that. I made him laugh so hard. He said, you are fabulous. Bring me some head shots tomorrow. And that's how I got my first agent.

Passionistas: I have chills from head to toe. That was an incredible story.

Marlene Forte: I was like, what am I going to say? What am I gonna say? I'm not a writer. I don't, I'm not, I'm not that person. I don't have things memorized. I'm not, and I was like, just tell him the story. I told that story to my girlfriends a bunch of times. Just tell him the story.

Passionistas: Can you tell us the story?

Marlene Forte: I do not probably even remember it, but I know that he, he put it in a box, and I watched him. I didn't watch him. I did. He sat there while I, I left, I left, and he hid it. He pulled it out of my box and he's anyways, I don't even remember the story. It was 32 years ago. I was like, that's you, how do you, how do you get an agent? I'm like. Yeah. Do you?

Passionistas: Right. That's the lesson there. Right? And that wouldn't happen nowadays because you, nowadays, you'd go into the bathroom, you'd pull up a monologue on your phone and you'd read through it a few times.

Marlene Forte: Isn't that crazy?

Passionistas: You'd go in and do it.

Marlene Forte: Yeah. And we didn't have that. Right. And we didn't have that back then. Yeah. Or I could have something auditioned for or something. Something. Right. But back then I was like, oh my God, how could I blow this? How do I not blow this? I was like, okay, this. Entertain for 60 seconds, for God's sake. You can do that.

Passionistas: What was the first gig that that agent got you, do you remember?

Marlene Forte: Uh, oh, Michael, Michael, what was it? He came out here to come with me. I want to say it was Judging Amy. Do you remember that show, Judging Amy? I want to say it was Judging Amy. And he came out here, uh, and, um, he's, yeah. And I, we had margaritas together and celebrated.

He's not with us anymore, but he’s, my angel. He was my first. It crazy. We had fun. I, I never got so close to an agent after that. I mean, you know, when you tell your agent a story about your vibrator really no boundaries left.

Passionistas: We're Amy and Nancy Harrington, and you're listening to the Passionistas Project podcast in our interview with Marlene Forte. To learn more about her projects and stay on top of what she's doing. Visit Now here's more of our interview with Marlene. So, you've done stage and film and television. Do you have a medium that you prefer?

Marlene Forte: I don't really, I don't, you know, I get asked this question a lot. I, I, I love them all. They all have their own thing. Um, Film. I love film lies between TV and theater, right? Because you do get a little rehearsal with film, and I love the rehearsal process and really working on stuff like that.

Um, which is why I love theater so much because you get to work on something for weeks, which is ridiculous amount of time but that that's a hell of a lot more than two camera run throughs, before they shoot, which is like the other extreme, right? It's so technical there and you kind of, I've taken and gleaned everything that I've learned about just staying moment and present in the moment to be able to do that on call like that.

So, I can't really disconnect any of them for me. Um, and I love them all because when I'm 12 or 13 hours in on a TV set and exhausted and looking around and tired. I'm like, eh, making a lot of money. And then I'm okay with that. Um, but I, I don't, I can't disconnect them. I, I did for the first time. I just did “Lincoln Lawyer” and it's a great season, but I did work like, a lot of hours on this thing.

And I remember at one point, it was one of those days I was just feeling my age. And I remember looking around going, do I really want to be a number one or number two on a state on a set right now, looking at Manuel working his butt off and he's exhausted. And he's like, 28, you know, 38, whatever. He's a hell of a lot younger than I am.

And I'm like, maybe I just need to be invited to the party. And down to even the thing that I'm working on with my husband. Um, we, I'm like, let me just be a producer on this and be like Hitchcock and just make appearances, you know, it's not a bad idea. It doesn't sound all that bad. I don't need any more tape,

I'm, uh, I see how, you know, people can slow down, but I don't think I'll ever quit. I mean, I make fun of it, but if I did quit the business of film, I would go and do theater because I just, I love it. I like working with actors, uh, you know, and, and, and I love young actors and, and just playwrights and the whole thing.

I just, I miss my theater company in New York. And during pandemic we actually got, I got to connect more with them because we were doing everything on Zoom. And, uh, I feel a little disconnected this last year or so because they're back in and I'm still here.

Passionistas: That's hard. What, what's your favorite theater role that you did?

Marlene Forte: Uh, I played Armida in, um, Mojada at the Getty. Uh, it was an adaptation of Mojada in Los Angeles, uh, by Luis Alfaro. Um, and I, oh, she's so evil, it was just wonderful. I play a lot of nice moms, so when, when I get to play a little, it's fun.

Passionistas: Why, why is that fun?

Marlene Forte: Oh, because you, it's what I love about acting right that I can get to humanize every role that I get and and and you cannot judge. I mean even Dahmer, you cannot judge your roles, you have to find a reason why, a human reason, why people do what they do.

And that's fabulous, you know, like I, a loving mom. I'm always a mom at the age of 19. I'm a loving mom. I just think that's the role I played most in my life. It's play somebody who can eat somebody or somebody who can really, you know, go after someone's husband, and grab their kid.

I mean, that's, you know, and then just to, to humanize that person is, it's fun. It's kind of fun. I'd be a good debater, which is something we don't have anymore. That needs to be brought back, guys. We are allowed to see our differences.

Passionistas: Definitely.

Marlene Forte: Let's see them. Let's see the interesting parts. Um, but yeah. I also have another role that I love, which was, I got, which my husband did, uh, which was called Día de Flores. And before my husband and I were husband, and we were in other places, and he wrote me this amazing role. Um, obviously he was interested, uh, back then about a love between a brother and a sister.

Um, impossible love, right? Um, it wasn't a sick love. It was a true, true love between a brother and a sister. And, um, uh, it was called the Aziflores, which is a song by Silvio Rodriguez, who's a Cuban troubadour. And he, that was his love letter to me. Um, how I was like, oh, maybe this guy's interested in me.

Um, because it's he, I met him through Labyrinth Theatre Company, and we had done workshops and talked, and I talked about my life and my story and stuff like that. He wrote this thing, this amazing piece about a Cuban American family that sends packages home to other South American families, not to Cuba, but they, they package to other people sending dreams and hopes back and forth.

And it was just, I was like, wow, who is this guy? So that was another one that kind of lives in my heart. For obvious reasons.

Passionistas: Yeah, so one of the shows you've done that's probably most familiar to most people is you were in the reboot of Dallas recently, so.

Marlene Forte: Dallas is a big one. Um, people recognize me on "Dallas" and "The Rookie", which is the new thing that I'm on.

"The Rookie" is a really, really popular show with young people, which is something that I'm, I'm like, Oh, wow, cool. Um, but "Dallas" was the first time I was on, you know, in a, in a, in a Macy's with my mother and somebody recognized me, um, from the show. And that was my, by that point I had been legitimized already because, you know, William Levy had been in my life, but, um, um, that, that, from that show, I got recognized a lot.

When I was on the show and, you know, the people, Jesse, and Jordana, I mean, these are people that, you know, are just fan favorites and, and, and, and major Nelson, who was with J.R. To me, was major Nelson, not, not, not J.R. And I got the privilege and honor to work with and, um, and Linda and all of them, actually, it was, it was a delightful, um, delightful job to be on.

And I'd fly back and forth to Dallas and I, you know, I have all these preconceptions about Texas and whatever. And I really liked Dallas when I was there and, you know, it was, it was a nice job. Um, and then "Fear the Walking Dead."

Passionistas: Yeah, we wanted to talk to you about that.

Marlene Forte: Yeah, that was another one that kind of, it's. I think if I had even done a couple more, it would have even one of those ones that boom, boom.

Right. That it doesn't make your career, but there are moments in your career where you go, oh, now, um, I'm getting better roles to audition for, or it's not as hard to get an audition, you know, it's a little easier on my agents. I got really lucky in the last. It's probably 10 years because I think my agents and my it's the last 10 years of my career.

I think for me it felt like the most successful and it's the older I get, which is ironic because people are like, well, there are less parts and your career does slow down. But for me, I'll knock on wood again. It hasn't done that. It has actually, you know. And I understand that too, because at this point, I do have 30 years under my belt, and I do have a resume that I come with, and that does once you get approved by a network and the other networks it gets a little easier. When it's, you know, that, that, that becomes a little easier. But um, yeah.

I don't know how much approval now I want. I mean, I, I'd love to get a contract role before the end of my career at all this time. I've never, ever, ever had a contract. Well, the closest thing came to Tyler. I was working on Tyler with Tyler Perry on "House of Payne", and they were trying to develop, um, The Hernandez's who were going to move in next door and all that kind of stuff and that was the closest that I might have gotten to a contract role, but you know, 30 some odd years and I'm the queen of occurrings.

No contract role but again at this point. I'm like, well, number five or six on the cast list isn't bad for me. I don't need to host the party anymore. I just Want to be invited to it.

Passionistas: Exactly. Pass the hors d'oeuvres.

Marlene Forte: Exactly.

Passionistas: So, do you also think that there are more roles for, for more diverse roles? More opportunity in that way? As you're getting older?

Marlene Forte: Yes. Yes. Like I said earlier, I think the fact that now, um, these People who are the lead. Well, I mean, let's talk about "Dallas", "Dallas". There were in the original "Dallas". There was a there was a house staff that was there, but nobody right now in this read my Jordana is the lead, obviously, and there's and she's a Latina woman in it.

And now we're including her mother in it. And now my character kind of ran, was in charge of the whole house, wasn't the person actually doing all the work. Well, I mean, she cooked and stuff like that, but she wasn't cleaning the toilets, right? So right there, you can see the difference, right? It wasn't my role.

Wasn't just there's somebody at the door. Mr. You know, it was a little more involved and woven into the fabric. And that's what I do see, um, that, that, that our stories, um, speaking as a Latina, but also as a woman, they're, they're, they're woven a little more into the, into the fabric. We're not the wife just hanging on to the lead guy anymore.

We're not, you know, I mean, "One Day at A Time" was huge because it was a single woman with kids on TV and that's, those things don't awe and shock us anymore, right? We're allowed, um, to, to do these things. Um, yeah. Although these days if you're a little scary for women's rights, but yes, um, I think in general, we are portrayed more into woven into the fabric of it instead of just being on the hinge of it or or, you know, as ornaments.

Um, I see it in my roles, even as I get older, you know, there's just more going on there than, um, than just a couple of lines coming in and out. And even if they are just a couple of lines, there's more going on there. You know, it's not just, I'm not a line counter. I think you can win an Academy Award like Judy Dunst did for one scene, so I don't believe in line counting.

I think that's... My best acting is when I'm shut up and quiet. Just put the camera here. Let me think.

Passionistas: Just like when you were 10 years old in your first production.

Marlene Forte: Exactly. Exactly. We had no lines, but I knew. Yeah, I want this. It's crazy that you can, um, and I, I try to think that about my daughter too, like I only had one, but I was like, just find a thing that, that really, that you love to do that gets you out of bed that you don't mind doing for free.

I mean, that's what us theater actors know from the start because most of us act for free the first 10 years of our lives. So, if you're not having any fun at it, what are you doing? Right. So, but if you find that joy and you can find that just a reason to get you out of bed, because the money will come.

You have to, you have to get, you have to have a steady income. You have to find something that will allow you to do your art. Um, and for me, it was waiting tables, which was huge for, I was an immigrant that went to college. First one, you know what I'm saying? I graduated, was going to grad school. And then I was like, yeah, I'm going to go wait tables. At TGI Fridays by the tree. And my parents were like, what? Why? Can't you do this thing on the weekends? Can't you just act on the weekends? Like, no.

Passionistas: Doesn't work that way.

Marlene Forte: You know, they all, they've all come aboard another moment when I took them, they were living still in Florida at the time "Knives Out" had come out and I picked them up and I picked up my nephews who are eight or, you know, and then we're all sat and we tied to them to the theater and I paid them to go see the theater and I sat there with them.

I watched this movie with them. And my little nephew looks at me who was wow. You're like an actor.

And that was a moment for me. That was a real... This was a movie that I was able to see with everybody, right? I've done a lot of movies that I don't necessarily want my mother to see. Or my nephews. But um, including "Fear the Walking Dead". Which is too scary to me, but um, my father, my father, that was a moment for my father.

When I told him I was on Fear the Walking Dead, he fell to the ground because he loves those walking dead things. He just, he loved them. So, he was like, oh my God, Marlene, this is huge. It's four episodes, we'll see.

Passionistas: That's amazing. So, um, you talked about your daughter already, have you given her any specific advice about following her passions? What would you tell her about following her passions?

Marlene Forte: Well, let's tell a story about Giselle. So, Giselle is Getting out of high school. And, um, we, me and her went to see Phil Seymour Hoffman in a play way off down Broadway and we're walking up or whatever. And, uh, and I'm like, you can be an actor. It's fine.

But you got to study something out of the school where she's getting out of high school, and it feels like You can't have a backup. You can't have a backup, man. You gotta, you just gotta make the commitment because if you have a backup, you'll fall in. And I'm like, I'm gonna kill you. I'm gonna kill you.

And he's like, oh, the problem. And he's like, she's like, yes, I just don't think I'm going to college. I think I'm just going to become an actor because, I mean, Abrams was already, you know, she was doing commercials. And I was like, okay, you can be an actor, but you're going to go to school and study acting.

Go and get a, get into an MFA program, get, get, study acting. Because I knew she wasn't an actor. She's been schlepping around with me since she was 10. She is a writer. She's an amazing producer. I knew that that's what she was but acting had fallen onto her lap, right? Because I'd be taking her to rehearsals and somebody, she played God at West Bank because somebody fell out and a friend of mine was directing and they're like, can you go up there and play God?

So, she was like, this is, this is easy, right? She got into the program. All she was doing was acting at Montclair State College. Nine months in, she was like, I think I want to just be like a communication major or something. I'm like, yeah, let's do that. I never told her she couldn't do it because it would have just pushed her more into it, right?

After Phil's like, yeah, I was like, oh, I think it's great. Act, act. But really act. Do nothing but act. Let's see, let's see how long that lasts. And, uh. And now, and then even that, she went, she studied acting, and then after college, she'd studied communications, and then she became an actor for a few years, and her first disappointment.

Which was a commercial she had gotten fired, replaced by, who knows why, they told her it was her hair. She went to the fitting, by the time she got home, she got replaced. Who knows why? This is the type of things that happen. She calls me, I was in Dallas, I think, shooting. And I thought somebody had died.

She was like, mom, mom, mom. I'm like, what, what, what?

She's like, I know it's the commercial. You're shooting tomorrow? She's like, I went to the, I went to my fitting, and I was shooting, shooting the guy with my hair messy. My hair was all curly and, and they thought it was that straight hair. Maybe that, I said, is that what they told you?

That it was your hair? I said, oh, honey, it could have been anything. I was like, you're going to get paid. It was within 24 hours. You're going to get your money. Don't worry about it. And she was like, oh, it was a, I can't do this. And she went back to school. She got into USC at the time. My husband's a USC professor.

And, um, so she got in, she got her MFA in writing and, um, she said it was the best thing that ever happened to her because I never, my only advice, I guess, is a long way of saying is that I never told her not to do. I said, do it then. Do you think this is what you want? You do it a hundred percent because if you do it a hundred percent and you love it, no problem.

If you do it a hundred percent, you're going to know if you love it or not. Right. I never said to her, no, don't do this. I never said, I'm not gonna let you do this. I've never had those like, oh, no, no, you want to act, you going to act at 24 hours a day for four hours, eight hours a day for, you know, whatever it was, you know, 365 days a week.

And when you're one of these programs. That's all you do. Act. Nine months it lasted.

Passionistas: Mama knows best.

Marlene Forte: As long as she was in college those nine months, I was like, go ahead, you have plenty of time to change your major.

And, and, and enjoy. Follow your joy. Just really you know, be curious about things, because especially if you're stuck in a rut, and you're stuck in like, I just, I find no joy around me. I find no joy. There's no joy around me then get out of that go find it. There has to be something out in this humongous world, somewhere on this planet, somewhere down there, somewhere in the park, somewhere that you will find a little bit of glitter of joy.

And then that's, and then you go after that, you chase that, you know, I think that, because all the other stuff will find you, you know. Disappointment, heartbreak, disease, all the other stuff will find you. The joy is a little harder to find. You got to kind of search that out a little bit.

Passionistas: While we're talking to you, we're in the middle of a writer's strike that might also become an actor's strike.

Um, and, and over the course of your career, you've obviously lived through other strikes, but how is this one affecting you? Does it feel different than the others?

Marlene Forte: Well, yes, it does feel different than the others. But I got to tell you, I think we should have struck 10 years ago. I think this pandemic bought the producers of the studios four years because of because we wanted to work because we were scared.

I've been doing this for over 30 years, and I've seen my residual income shrivel away. And that's half of somebody's income. Um, so when you take away a residual, yeah. Income you are taking away again for the bulk of the working community. You're you're taking you're chiseling way at their living wage at their living wage to be able to make this not a hobby like my mother thought it was, but a career, a choice, right.

Um, and that's my biggest problem across the board with even commercially, uh, residuals on shows, even network, but now everybody has a streaming platform, Peacock, and Hulu and all that, and that, that tier of payment is different. So. And, and, and that's the way we're going. They're not getting twisted. It is not going to go back.

We are not. So, we have to find a way, because now we deliver the product in a different way, of getting paid. Right? We're delivering the product in a way different way than we used to, which was a time slot and you had to be much watch TV on Thursday nights and if not, you videotaped it right? All that, now it's accessible 24 hours a day to anybody that subscribes.

Maybe that, maybe it is through subscriptions, but there has to be a new way and I figured it should have been figured out 10 years ago. Like I said, you've had 10 years to figure this out, if not more. You had so much time that the studios have been stockpiling this. They've been waiting for this, which was not another thing that the last one they didn't have the time to stockpile.

They didn't have the time. I know shows of mine that still haven't dropped. Um, and, and it's going to last. It's going to last. I think I'm much more pessimistic than my husband is. I think, I think they don't need to come to the table until January, honestly, when it's going to be scary. But I'm hoping that sooner.

I don't understand. I'm hoping that the directors. I don't know I haven't seen what they negotiated, and I hope that it was enough to throw in the towel as they did because I think they weakened everyone's position. And I'm not sure why we as actors haven't struck yet.

I think there's a big difference. It is not we're not fighting for Now it's not even it's beyond pay. We are fighting to keep this business as a business and in places like California This business isn't a business anymore What happens to the city?

Because it's not just us. It's catering. It's the food trucks. It's laundry. It's so many things’ people don't even think. It's restaurants.

Passionistas: It's real estate.

Marlene Forte: Yeah, all of it. So, this is bigger. The biggest one. I think that I remember. Um, and I think it means the most. And I, you know, conquer, divide, and conquer is the oldest Trick in the book.

And I really hope that we stay united. I really do. I really hope that we stay united. Because I don't, I don't see a way out of it. Um, I don't know what will happen to our industry. As a paying industry. I guess my mother was right. We can do it on the weekend. Or everybody can go back to theater and then we're all broke.

That's it. It's done. Yeah, it's sad, man. It's sad. I'm like, whoa, I'm scared. And I'm scared more for the young people again. I can stay till January and not work. And, you know, I'm gonna my rent is paid. But my assistant's isn't.

So, it's, it's scary times. We gotta vote. We gotta unite. We gotta stay, um, educated. Curious. Yeah. And there's, I think there's solutions out there. There are. Look, I am all about, I am all about, um, how, my father had a saying, and he never said there's a problem. He'd always say there's a situation. So, we have a situation.

Passionistas: Right.

Marlene Forte: You know, we're gonna need a bigger boat. There's a big, big, nasty shark out there. And, uh, it's gonna eat us all up. It's gonna eat us all up. Yeah. Oh, that was a downer. I know.

Passionistas: We're gonna lift it up. We're gonna lift it up with our last question, which is, what is your dream for women?

Marlene Forte: Oh my God, that we're in charge of everything things would be so much better. Down from president to, to, to, to Supreme Court, to, to CEOs, to... Just give us a shot! You guys have been in charge so long! And you've been messing it up for so long! And the little bit of progress that we've made in every, every aspect of this planet has been because of us. Open it up a little bit. Come on. Give us a shot! Oh my god! Isn't it time?

Passionistas: Yes, yes, it is. It is.

Marlene Forte: I want us to be in charge. We need to be in charge! Across the board! I don't care if it's acting, directing, producing, podcasting, cleaning the streets, we'd do a better job. Just everything. Policing, let women be in charge. Let, ugh, just a little common sense.

We have so much more of it. That's why we give birth, you know. The universe gave us that for a reason. It's the only way humanity has been able to stay afloat. It's a very powerful thing. It's why they don't let us get in charge. It's our superpower. Things will be fixed.

Ain't that the truth? Be fearless. Be fearless. Ask for what you need and be fearless. I think our power is so grand. I think once a woman, I think humans in general, but especially women, they put their minds and their, their passion into something, it's kind of unstoppable. It's a force of nature. Again, why we give birth.

Passionistas: Yes. Thank you. That sums it up.

That is a perfect ending to our episode. We are so... Thankful and grateful for you to be here today. We had so much fun talking to you. It's really been fabulous. So, thank you.

Marlene Forte: Thank you. Thank you very much. It's been fun.

Passionistas: Thanks for listening to the Passionistas Project podcast and our interview with Marlene Forte.

To learn more about her projects and stay on top of what she's doing next, visit

And be sure to visit thepassionistasproject. com to sign up for our mailing list. Find all the ways you can follow us on social media and join our worldwide sisterhood of women uniting to get support, find their purpose, and feel empowered to transform their lives and change the world.

We'll be back next week with another Passionista who is defining success on her own terms and breaking down the barriers for herself and women everywhere. Until then, stay well and stay passionate.


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