Small town to silver screen
Monday Profiles are published on the first Monday of each month.
Not many people who say "I want to be an astronaut when I grow up" end up spending much time on the moon, but for Elysburg native Minnie Lagrimas - who you may recognize most recently from a Verizon Wireless commercial - childhood aspirations of becoming an actress have materialized into face time on the big and small screen.
She's also hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru next month - another dream turned reality that serves as proof that hard work and determination can get you anywhere, even on adventures outside the coal region.
A star is born
Born to Drs. Fe and Fernando Lagrimas, Minnie's namesake was not that of some famous mouse; rather, she was named after the state of Minnesota in which she was born. You see, doctors had assured the couple they were having a son, so the sudden twist in the plot upon their daughter's arrival found them ill-equipped for a girl's name.
The Lagrimas family left Minnesota for New York City shortly after Minnie's birth, then decided a rural location would be a more peaceful environment to raise a family. That decision brought them to Elysburg, where they put down their roots. Elysburg is where Minnie would call home all the way through to her high school graduation in 1993 at Our Lady of Lourdes. Looking back, she appreciates her upbringing in the small village and its surrounding areas.
"I've spent time in so many places, but I've always been glad to have spent my formative years there," Lagrimas shared through email correspondence.
Being the daughter of two doctors, Lagrimas was often encouraged to follow suit by others, but not by her parents. Her father, in fact, discouraged her from a career in the medical field and, instead, advised all his children to explore everything from music to martial arts in an effort to find their passion in life.
It was a Queen of Peace elementary school presentation of "A Christmas Carol" in which Minnie made her acting debut as Scrooge - a part originally intended for a boy, obviously, but re-imagined so that Minnie and her already-developing acting chops could be cast as the lead.
That's when it hit her.
"I remember standing in the middle of the stage at Lourdes during curtain call and scanning the audience for my family. They were applauding and my mom was waving at me, beaming with pride. At that moment I thought, 'Oh, I might be good at this.'"
Minnie went on to choose performance-based activities in a high school that didn't offer much in the acting department. Cheerleading, forensics and student government gave her an outlet in which to channel her inner performer. After high school, she was off to study film at Penn State, followed by a move back to New York City where she would spend time behind the camera on the set of indie films and, ultimately, make the decision to get into casting.
"I decided casting would be perfect for me. I thought I found my dream job working for Bonnie Timmerman, who has done everything from 'Heat' to 'Armageddon.' During one casting session, they needed someone to read with an actress, so Bonnie asked me to do it. After we finished, she looked at me and said I needed to give acting a shot. She said it was in me and if I didn't try, I'd regret it."
For an actor, the East Coast is ideal if the ultimate goal is a stage career on Broadway. However, those working toward becoming a screen actor can find no better location than the West Coast - somewhere Minnie vacationed with her family at age 13.
"I remember flying into Santa Barbara thinking that everyone and everything was bathed in golden light; it was mesmerizing."
Eight years later, as she was auditioning for a spot at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, she was given the choice of reading for a New York or Los Angeles spot.
"I flashed back to that magic hour in Santa Barbara and blurted out 'Los Angeles.' A few weeks later, I was on a plane to LA with two suitcases and a month-long hotel reservation, ready to start my new life as an actor."
It was there Lagrimas would begin to live her dream.
Proving naysayers wrong along the way, Minnie's career took shape and she landed a variety of roles. One of those was a speaking role in the 2004 film adaptation of the 1970s hit show "Starksy & Hutch" staring Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller.
'I saw you'
But it wasn't a magic series of Hollywood doors opening left and right. Lagrimas faced the same struggles most actors do along the way.
"There were times when I booked a job, but the editors cut me out. That was frustrating and I had to accept the possibility of never doing any work where people could say, 'I saw you!' But I believe everyone gets their turn. Sometimes another actor will get the role, but eventually, your turn will come."
And that it did. Those familiar with Lagrimas have had plenty of opportunity to have those "I saw you" moments as she started booking leads in commercial campaigns advertising everything from Swiffer products to smartphones.
Lagrimas explains the process.
"You start with the audition and maybe a few days later, you get a callback. If they like you, you get put on avail (the final few actors who get presented to the client) and if you're lucky, you get the gig. A couple days later, you're off to your wardrobe fitting and then you're on set to shoot for a day or two. As the 'talent,' you have to establish a relationship with the viewer and help create a connection to the product for them. A lot of it revolves around your personality, so it's important to be yourself and be real."
A recent role finds her standing outside a Verizon Wireless store with audible inner monologue - which was clearly the result of voiceover work, not Minnie's actual speaking voice for those who know her - convincing herself to buy the LG Lucid smartphone. The commercial was picked up from a previous spot featuring the DROID Incredible 2.
The silver screen
Then there are movies.
She recently worked on a film directed by Terrence Malick, a director known for feature films such as The Thin Red Line and The Tree of Life. She describes it as a "tiny role," but tiny goes out the window when you're working opposite Christian Bale in a scene.
"I was so nervous because I kept thinking, 'Oh my gosh, I talking to Batman!' Commercial sets are always fun, but movies are more intense, especially if it's a drama and you're on set with Oscar winners."
But make no mistake, Minnie won't go the way of other Hollywood divas, which is something her sister, Marlo, reinforced while visiting her on the set of "Starsky & Hutch."
"My husband, Sebastian, arranged to have my sister, Marlo, and my brother-in-law, Patrick, fly out and visit me. We broke for lunch and the second assistant director sent a driver to pick us up from my trailer to bring us to catering. I got into the van, just as I had the previous days before, but I noticed that Sebastian, Marlo and Patrick weren't following me. They all laughed and pointed out that the catering truck and tables were right across the street, directly in front of us. It was 30 feet away, but all the other actors were being chauffeured across the street so I went along with it. A lot of people would've followed me into the van and enabled the diva behavior. Marlo shook her finger at me and said, 'Don't be ridiculous. You're going to walk.'"
What matters most
Everything seems to be falling into place for Lagrimas, but she's never lost sight of herself and what matters most to her.
"Eventually, it became about the people I love. When my brother texts me to say that I popped up during the Olympics, when my sister calls me with stories of my nephew and niece cheering when they see me on TV, when my parents run to the living room to catch one of my commercials or when my husband states that he's proud to be my husband, those are the things that keep me driven to be the best version of me I can be."
In a cut-throat industry, it's hard to imagine being unaffected, but it all comes down to the foundation on which you were built.
Minnie believes "it goes back to the good values and the stable upbringing" her parents gave her and her siblings. "Money, fame or success don't change you, they simply amplify who you really are. If you were generous before, you'll be more generous after. If you were a trainwreck before, you'll become an even bigger trainwreck," Minnie shared.
Everyone's a critic
In an age of a seemingly "bully revival," there are also the critics. Internet chatter can get downright ruthless, and that's something Lagrimas says took a little getting used to.
"I didn't really have a problem with critics or Internet chatter until a few commercials of mine got a lot of attention. ... I remember how shocked I was the day I first read some of the negative comments. I couldn't believe they were talking about me. These people had no idea what it took for me to get to this point. They had no idea how many hours I spent reading and rehearsing. They had no idea how many auditions my husband drove me to. They had no idea how hard my agents worked to get me those auditions. I didn't understand why they were trying to ruin everything I had worked so hard for."
It's along the lines of what so many young people struggle with these days during their school years when others disrupt them with negativity as they try to figure out their path. Rest assured, it's not the end of the world, not for anyone, and it is very possible to rise above and overcome it.
"My husband and my mom helped me navigate through the rough waters. My mom reminded me that life's blessings are not distributed evenly and if this was the biggest crisis in my life, then I was tremendously blessed. This business is just like high school. Everyone will have an opinion of you. Sometimes it's positive, sometimes it's negative and sometimes it feels like it's the end of the world. But you have to stay strong and know that after awhile, you'll move on and none of it will matter."
Looking back, ahead
One can measure Minnie's success by the amount of work she books as an actress, but the truly inspiring aspect of her success is the preservation of her spirit. She's managed to remain the same kind and humble person who walked the halls of Our Lady of Lourdes not long ago. She hasn't forgotten where she came from; she holds the people that she loves close to her heart as top priority and she even still has a special place in her heart for Elysburg.
"It's where my parents built our family home and some of my best memories took place there - running around Knoebels with my siblings and my friends, Sundays at Holy Rosary Church listening to Father Slough's sermons, summer barbecues around our pool. I definitely miss coal region cuisine. When I see people talking about Mattucci's, James' Pizza, Masser's fried chicken, Mac's hoagies or pierogies on Facebook, I get hungry."
So, what's next?
"I plan to spend as much time as possible with my family. My sister is about to have her third child and my brother has two kids. I want to make sure they know their Aunt Minnie. I want to see my parents more often and attend the next show that my brother Andy directs. I love to travel with my husband and try new things, so I'm going to continue doing that," Minnie explains.
She's also been tapping into her inner Eleanor Powell.
"Most recently I've been learning how to tap dance. It's something I've always wanted to do. I've had some dance gigs here and there, but I never thought I'd be challenging myself as a dancer at this point in my life. I've only been tapping for six months, but I've been working incredibly hard so that, one day, I could perform in a show. Last night, I accomplished that goal. It feels very similar to when I started acting, so who knows? Maybe I'm on the path to a new career. After all, it's never too late to become who you were meant to be."
Name: Minnie Lagrimas
Hometown: Elysburg Current location: Beverly Hills, Calif.
Family: Husband, Sebastian. Parents, Drs. Fe and Fernando Lagrimas. Siblings, Marlo Lagrimas-Splitt, Andy Lagrimas, Peter Lagrimas Brother-in-law, Patrick Splitt.
Education: Our Lady of Lourdes, Penn State University