How Jenny Lorenzo Let Go of Fear to Create Her Insanely Popular "Abuela" Character
Cuban-American actor and comedian Jenny Lorenzo owes much of her career to her grandparents. “My grandfather was an artist in Cuba and he had to put his dreams behind him to come to the United States for a better life. I’ve always felt that I owe it to him to fulfill my dreams. It’s what drives me every day. I have my grandparent’s picture as my phone background.”
Lorenzo became a viral sensation with her beloved Abuela character that has garnered millions of views online along with her relatable content of Latino culture. MBG spoke with Lorenzo about her professional journey and why letting go of a toxic relationship allowed her to finally grow.
Has acting always been in your passion or did you grow up with other aspirations?
Acting was what I prepared for my entire life. Growing up, I was in theater and the captain of the drama club. I was extremely lucky because my family was very supportive of me and all of my choices. I grew up with a lot of friends in Miami whose parents didn’t support creative endeavors such as acting or writing. I realize how lucky I was for my family’s support.
Where did you study after high school?
I went to Miami-Dade College after high school and majored in graphic design.
Why the switch in career goals?
I’ve been a computer nerd since I was in middle school. I made Power Point presentations and designed websites on my free time for fun. Chea. You best believe I had the most killer AOL profile and let’s not get started with MySpace. So majoring in something like graphic design wasn’t too far fetched for me. But there were some additional reasons why I switched from my acting trajectory to this. One being that I was in a toxic relationship with a very jealous boyfriend who didn’t want me to be an actor, and two, I just didn’t believe that I could really succeed as an actor. A lot of people don’t fully realize their goals or stay true to themselves because of toxic relationships that hold them back. And, well, sometimes we hold ourselves back, too. It’s good to recognize this and step away. I always go by the quote, “Do something that your future self will thank you for.”
What was the catalyst that made you recognize you needed to move away from the situation you were in?
I just loved the stage so damn much. Word went around that there was an incredible Theatre Appreciation course taught at MDC by Deborah Mello. So I took the elective and my life changed for the better from that point on. Mrs. Mello convinced me to audition for a play. It was a Greek tragedy called Medea and I was part of the chorus. Yeah. Greek tragedies weren’t my forte as an actor but I still enjoyed the drama of it all (literally). Soon after, I wound up taking on the lead role in a few more productions that eventually landed me the opportunity to join professional theatre company, Ground Up & Rising. And, as you can probably guess, that toxic relationship ended. I fell in love with my now fiancé (who I also met in an MDC production) and went onto study film and television at the University of Miami. I was finally at a place in my life where I knew I belonged and there was no turning back.
Let’s talk about Abuela. Why do you think so many people love her and relate to her?
Abuela is based on my maternal grandmother who passed away three years ago and I think there’s a true authenticity to her. I make sure to be extremely detailed and specific with all of my characters because specificity makes people relate to you the most. All people, not just Latinos, can relate to grandmothers like her. It transcends culture and it’s nostalgic. We hold onto nostalgia and our childhood upbringing quite often because it brings us so much happiness. Abuela makes people happy, sad, and reminiscent all at once.
Yes she does! You were previously at Buzzfeed and a video producer at We Are Mitú. This past year you decided to break out on your own. What propelled your decision?
Giant media platforms like BuzzFeed and Mitu were massively helpful in providing a space where millions of people could view my work. A place where my voice could be heard. But eventually, there came a point where I started to hit a wall from a creative standpoint. Digital media companies are still evolving and their structure changes in the blink of an eye. There’s especially a lot of talk about how these companies should start to unionize. So the growing pains are there. It’s exciting and frightening. A new frontier! I have my manager (who I also consider to be my mentor) to thank for encouraging me to go out on my own. He believed in me when I honestly did not. It’s scary as hell to go off on your own with no safety net ready to catch you. It feels quite nice to put all your hard work into your own channel and not someone else’s.
Where would you like to see your career evolve to?
I would love to have my own show on television someday. Especially a sketch comedy show like Portlandia or Key and Peele. You still don’t see many Latinos in the sketch comedy space, y’know? And lately, industry folks have been taking interest in my writing. Which is interesting as I’ve never considered myself to be a true writer. The kind that sits at a coffee shop for hours on end clickity-clacking away at the keys. I’ve always loved to do it as a supplement to my acting, but writing for me came about because I didn’t see roles for women like myself, so I created them. So without planning on it, I became a writer. Which is a title that I am now learning to own because, hell, I write content every day of my life! Currently, I’m trying to figure out how to balance writing longer-form content such as pilots and spec scripts as well as series formats while still managing to churn out weekly, short-form content.
We’ve asked our readers if they had any questions they’d like to ask you. Here are the most popular:
Who were your acting/comedy role models growing up?
Definitely Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, and Vickie Lawerence. I grew up watching them a lot and I took mental notes from these women. They taught me that it’s okay to be absurd with your facial expressions, physicality, and overall appearance. In order to be funny, you must free yourself of insecurities that tend to hinder women when it comes to looks. Screw that. Go HAM!
As I got older I became inspired by Tina Fey, Carrie Brownstein, Amy Poehler, Fred Armisen, and Mindy Kaling. I look up to actors who also happened to create paths for themselves as writers and producers.
What is your favorite feel good comedy?
I love Juno! I’m a big fan of Ellen Page. I’m also a sucker for a good indie coming-of age-comedy. I also love anything that Zach Braff touches. And definitely can’t leave out the works of Jared and Jerusha Hess with Nacho Libre and Napoleon Dynamite. Seems that I lean more towards films that have a strong character POV. And are a tad, well, quirky.
What is your favorite drama?
One of my favorite dramas is Life is Beautiful. Aside from the incredibly moving story, the soundtrack really ties it all in for me.
You’re so funny in all of your videos and you make us laugh every week. Do you have any insecurities? And if so, how do you deal with them?
Oh, I most definitely have insecurities. Firstly, I have an anxiety disorder which I classify as high-functioning. So I get sh*t done while having a stream of worries floating in the background. Almost like a double-edged sword. And the anxiety leads to the ever-relatable imposter syndrome. Everyone you know is facing their own battles. What helps me get by is refusing to let fear get in my way. I was in massive debt before moving to Los Angeles. I had credit card debt and student loan debt. I had a lot of odd jobs, but while all of that was happening in the background, I was making videos on YouTube, which landed me an internship at Buzzfeed, which eventually landed me other opportunities. And my life is unfolding the way it should.
Watch Jenny Lorenzo’s best characters and moments in the trailer below, and make sure to subscribe to her YouTube channel. Let us know if you see similarities between Jenny’s “Abuela” and your own!
Images Courtesy of: Huebner Headshots & Creative Commons