One of the best aspects of filmmaking is the friendships you make as a result of each film prject. Irene Santiage is one of those friendships. I was very familiar with her prior to Providence and was honored to have her submit. I originally had her auditioning for a smaller role, but on a whim, asked her to audition for Edith as well. Irene nailed the audition and blew us all away with her incredible performance. Not only that, but she turned out to be an incredibly sweet woman and I thouroughly enjoyed the time we had not just filming, but hanging out the week she was on set.
What is your acting background?
I’ve been acting for about twenty five years and have always been an entertainer. I started my acting career in Utah, working in local, regional and international productions for television, films, modeling, voice over, theater and industrials.
I auditioned for a guest artist spot for the Sundance Institute Film Lab & Musical Lab. They invited me back for a few years. I’m thinking this is crazy, eating and working with the Who’s Who of the film world! I was mentored by Oscar and Emmy winners. The best part, they treated me as one of their colleagues. Sundance taught me so much! I realized talent is not the only thing you need in this business. I am forever grateful for that blessed experience.
I now live on the East coast with my husband and kids in a new chapter of acting in meatier roles. I’ve even played the President of Earth. (That’s not too shabby). I was able to co-produce an indie feature, Adrenaline, with my husband and direct some theater productions.
What was your first film or TV role?
My first TV role was a local, immunization commercial. I always had the goal to be in something that my mother could see me on TV and be proud of me. She was pretty surprised and I was so proud.
My first film was a feature called, Just in Time. I played the office cleaning woman named Maria. It was a nice scene. I had three callbacks. They wanted a woman in her 50’s I was in my 30’s, and I got the part! My first real break!
The night of the screening I invited some close friends. We’re watching the film and here comes my part, the most HORRIBLE thing, it was CUT! No one informs you ahead of time. It was so embarrassing and hurtful! To add insult to injury the producers asked all the cast and crew to stand up. I wanted to just crawl under my seat! My friends tell me to, “Stand up!” I felt like it was such a mercy stand. I was on top of the world two hours earlier just to be sucker punched two hours later. I still had my name in the credits and I still got residuals. One day I was on a plane and the featured movie was…yeah you guessed it, Just in Time.. It still stung but I was able to laugh a little bit more…and I had a few more dollars in the bank.
Tell us about your role in High School Musical.
High School Musical was one of the kindest cast and crews I have ever worked with. This probably is the most well-known movie I have ever been known for. People all over the world know this film. The merchandise is everywhere!
I play the Chem Teacher. In this particular scene, I am teaching chemistry and the super intelligent, lovely new kid, Gabriella Montez, corrects my formula.
When I was initially called to audition I was asked to read for the character, Mrs. Montez, (Vanessa Hudgens character’s mother), but I was on another film set, and couldn’t make it work. Casting wanted to still see me so they brought me in on the callback for a different role. The director and producers were so complimentary. They wanted to offer me something more but all the larger roles I fit were cast. I was so grateful for the work! I was flying home from that audition it felt so good.
OK…Yes! I was pregnant! Everyone always asks me that and if that was in the character’s description breakdown. No, it was not. I have been asked if they used a pregnancy suit. Nope, it was all me. When I auditioned I wasn’t very noticeable. By the time the table read happened, it was pretty obvious. The producers were so great with everything. They had an EMT follow me around set. When I was shooting my scene I kept missing my mark. The director felt sorry for me because he thought I needed glasses, then someone from the camera department told him I could not see my feet because my tummy was in the way! We all had a little giggle about it.
Nobody could have predicted the show’s success. I had no idea until one morning when I was watching the Today Show; Matt Lauer does this story about how successful this Disney movie had become. I almost choked on my coffee! I felt and still feel incredibly blessed to be a part of this project. To this day I get fans of the show around the world contacting me! God is good!
What faith-based films have you been a part of?
I have been in six feature faith based films and two faith based television shows.
TV – Touched by an Angel, (CBS) and What Would You Do For Love? (UP Network)
Features: – Forever Strong (Sean Astin, Gary Cole, and Neal McDonough), Adrenaline (John Schneider, John Schlitt, Greg Alan Williams), Badge of Faith, (Andy Laurer), Providence, and Charley.
What has been your favorite role so far?
My favorite role so far is the character, Edith from the movie Providence. The character has an age progression of forty years. Edith is the mother to Rachel (played by 3 talented separate actresses – Emily Knapp, Staci Bradshaw, and Juli Tapken). Edith is a savvy, independent, and strong willed, business woman who is a very domineering mother who suffers a stroke in her later years and has to depend on her daughter who is now an adult.
The reason why I love this role is because the character Edith was an appealing challenge. I have wanted to play a character like this for a very long time. This is a strong, female role and has so many facets to her personality; Two characters in one, two different lives.
When I play Edith in her younger years, I need to show her independence, success and strength. When I become older Edith, the physical acting needs to show a totally different dynamic. Because it is a silent film, Edith makes a statement without saying a word. This is why I enjoyed playing this character. I can’t thank you enough for trusting and believing in me to play this role, Sharon Wilharm. I love it when directors give the actor the trust to create and make strong choices. Thank you!
What do you find most challenging as a Christian film actress?
My struggle is to find the right balance to promote and market myself as a business in a humble way without being too over or too under. If I do not promote me who will? In turn, casting, producers and directors will forget about me. I also don’t want to be a pest. I want to be remembered for the right reasons; being a professional, doing good work and being a Believer. For a very long time I had not done any kind of marketing and just left it up to my agent because I was afraid of being pushy or a pest. That was not helpful to my career. I have also gone overboard and have sadly realized I was spamming people. That wasn’t right either. This is a different time. Social media is everywhere. It’s a new set of rules.
I am also realizing I am cultivating relationships. It can be done with class. I have to give it up to God to guide me through promoting and marketing on the internet. Who would have thought that would be one of my prayers today?
What do you find most satisfying as an actress?
This is a good question! Because I have changed over the years and with experience I have evolved. Years ago I would have said, “Just getting a gig!… Any gig! ” Today, it is the satisfaction of knowing when I am able to CREATE emotion from my character and whoever the person or persons are watching me is moved by my performance. Not because of my doing, but it is because I feel the Holy Spirit encompass me to be that character and play it with conviction. The audience could be a CD with a cameraman in an audition room to maybe a full theater. I want to do my best because God has lent this talent to me. I want to please Him. It fills my heart with joy to do good work and to see others appreciate it.
Which do you prefer playing – hero or villain?
VILLAN! (Heroes last longer though. They usually get sequels. Wink!)
Speaking only from my experience, you have to have more than a deep passion for the business. Some things I have learned are patience, gratitude, help, hard work and prayer. I have seen a lot of changes within me over the years. I would have never have had these experiences unless I had a strong support from key family members, my loving husband, Del, our sweet kids, Sterling and Ariana, awesome mentors, agents and dear friends, but most of all God. He had my back even when I didn’t know it. I have a little motto. I like to say I know my ABCs: I ACT BECAUSE OF CHRIST.
It has been my pleasure! Thank you!