I actually have put a lot of thought into this. I grew up always challenging the norm. People called me the black sheep of the family, and for some reason I loved it. I knew what was expected of me, but for the life of me, I couldn’t bring myself to do it! I left for the military at 17 and made it, even though most said I couldn’t. I modeled while I was in the military, even though I got made fun of for it. I lived out of a car to pursue my acting dream, and everyone thought I was crazy.
My movement would encourage people to be exactly who they want to be, regardless of societal opinion. I want people to chase their dreams like their lives depended on it — because they do!
As a part of our series about Inspirational Women In Hollywood, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Cheyenne Rae Hernandez.
Cheyenne Hernandez was born in El Paso, Texas. She was 16 when she enlisted into the U.S. Army, and she left for Basic Training upon turning 17. Her brother was set to leave for training soon too, as he planned on getting stationed with her. They would serve their country together and then go on to become actors in Hollywood — that was until Cheyenne got the call that not just one, but both of her brothers were killed by a drunk driver on Christmas Eve.
After placing her hand on her brothers casket and promising that she would live out their dreams for the 3 of them, she went into a downward spiral. She made two suicide attempts and The Army put her on meds to keep her “sane.” She was in a horrible military a training accident, which resulted in a traumatic brain injury and loss of feeling in her left hand. This led to more meds that kept her brain in a constant fog. She fought to keep the haze at bay ,and finally realized that if her brothers were looking down on her, they would be so disappointed. She quit taking any meds that were given to her, “cold turkey,” and was booked a role on Hawaii 5–0 while she was still serving in the Army.
The Army soon discharged her as she was now a “broken machine.” Within a year after being discharged, she was homeless and living out of a car in Hollywood. She interned for an acting camp, where she knew she could learn about the industry, and there she met her acting coach. Her first Audition in Hollywood landed her the role of one of the two main Villains in Shia LaBeouf’s hit movie “The Tax Collector.”
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in El Paso, Texas, with two amazing cousins who I called my brothers. They were around my age, and we were raised together by the same group of strong Latina women. We were absolutely nuts together. We’d jump off of the roof into the pool. We lit the side of the house on fire. We had no adult supervision whatsoever, and it was glorious. All three of us were born with the art bug, and we would recreate movies and put on shows for our family regularly. I am hispanic and we have a huge family, so we were pretty much always surrounded by a group of very different people. I quickly learned who would let me get away with what, and who would throw a chancla at my head when I left food on the dinner plate. I considered it a healthy balance.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I can tell you the exact moment I decided I wanted to be an actress. My brothers and I always used to put on shows for my family and recreate our favorite movies. We even had magic shows where my brother would pretend to saw me in half! One day, our older brother took us to watch The Pirates of the Caribbean in theaters. I’ve always been obsessed with pirates, and I walked out of the theater saying “WOW.. actors get to be PIRATES! They get to be whatever they want! I want to be an actress!” My younger brother agreed, as he wanted to be a football playing magician in the MBL. He realized that actors can be those things as well! We went home and created an Ice cream commercial to convince my grandma to buy us some. When she cracked and brought home ice cream, we were convinced that we would one day win an Oscar.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
The most interesting and mind-blowing thing that has happened to me is how I got the role of Gata. I actually never Auditioned for The Tax Collector. I auditioned for a different show that David Ayer was working on. It was my first audition in Hollywood, and I expected It to be more of a learning experience. To my astonishment, I wound up getting a callback and then ANOTHER callback. I couldn’t believe it! Then I got a call letting me know that the show wasn’t moving forward. I was devastated, but now I knew that I had a chance in Hollywood, so I was more determined than ever. I then got a text from David himself saying that I had something, and he wanted me to be at this place at this time. I scrambled to collect myself, and when I showed up, there sat Bobby Soto, Cinthya Carmona and Conejo. We had no idea what was going on. David walks in and sits down in front of us. He gave us the outline of the movie and told us which characters we were going to play. We all left in complete disbelief!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Let me tell you, I have embarrassed myself in this industry more times than I can count. I can’t help it. I’m the biggest dork you’ll ever meet. One time I was at an audition and my heel broke right in the middle. I tried to play it off, but wound up falling and ramming my head into the wall. I stood up, yanked off my heels, and tossed them away only to find four chuckling casting directors and a very confused assistant. I don’t think I’ve ever been so red in my life! The lesson I learned that day was definitely to audition in shoes that you already know how to walk in!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Honestly, I’ve been blessed with so many people that have just been amazing throughout this journey. I went from being homeless to having one of the lead roles in a David Ayer film. My mentor Joey Jenson has been my confidant since the day she met me, helping me prep for auditions and offering sound advice every single time I needed. David Ayer personally helped me move out of my toxic living situation and into a safer apartment. He has protected me like family and helped me face fears I never even knew were fears. I wouldn’t be who I am today without him. My sensei Alexander Richard Mesquita, who trained the cast for The Tax Collector, believed in me when I couldn’t even believe in myself. Somehow, every single time I enter that dojo, he knows exactly what to say. During filming, I met one of my most cherished friends, Lana Parilla. We had an instant connection and somehow we had known each other our whole lives. She taught me how to walk properly in heels, as I was more accustomed to combat boots. She took me under her wing and has been struggling to teach me etiquette ever since! Each person has said that they saw something special in me, and though I will never understand what it was, I am just immensely grateful that they did.
You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
Be yourself! I’ve had so many people try to change me along this path, and I wasted so much time listening to them. All it gave me was anxiety that I wasn’t being true to myself. What’s gotten me further than anything is my authenticity and my candor. You just can’t give up. You’re going to hear all of the reasons why you won’t make it and as long as you hold onto that ONE reason that you WILL, you have a chance. If this is really what you want to do, then the words ‘no’ and ‘can’t’ are just mosquitoes in your ear. They’re kind of annoying, but they carry no real weight.
What drives you to get up everyday and work in TV and Film? What change do you want to see in the industry going forward?
It’s in my blood. I love what I do and it’s what makes me happy. I love learning and acquiring new abilities onset, and I’m hungry to learn so much more. I want to absorb as much knowledge as I can, and it’s that hunger to be better and do better that gets me up and going.
The change I most want to see in the industry is to encourage people to be themselves. Nobody is perfect, and I’d love for imperfections to be celebrated more. I’m seeing so many changes already and it’s so encouraging.
You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?
COVID has had a massive impact on booking roles in the industry right now and that has definitely affected me, but I’m looking at a couple of interesting projects. Nothing is locked in for the moment, and I’m just excited to see what this adventure brings next! I am constantly meeting with as many people as possible and taking all of the zoom meetings I can get!
We are very interested in looking at diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture and our youth growing up today?
The first is that we have to remember that little girls and little boys are sitting at home watching us on tv. It is so important for a little Latina girl or a little African American boy to be able to watch someone on tv that they can associate with and look up to. I know that I fell in love with Salma Hayek because not only was she amazing, but I felt like we had our culture in common. Her skin was like mine! Because she was on the screen, my dream of one day being on there too was now a possibility! Diversity on screen gives kids like myself the power to write their own destiny and follow their dreams because they now know that they aren’t impossible. It is also an important way to help teach different cultures about each other. Many people only know what a quinceanera is because they’ve seen it on tv, and so they are able to respect its significance and understand someone of the Latin culture better.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. I wish someone had told me when I first started to just be myself. I constantly had people telling me all of the things I needed to change about myself in order to make it, and for awhile, I listened. I became someone who I didn’t even know, and I was the unhappiest that I have ever been. As soon as the cameras were turned away, I was alone. Things changed only when I decided that I was enough.
2. At first, I only auditioned for movies, TV and commercials. I wish someone had told me to Audition for everything — indies, student films, plays! Everything counts as experience, and sometimes I wonder what I missed out on because I wasn’t looking at the bigger picture.
3. I learned this lesson exactly as I was meant to.. but I wonder if things would have been different had I learned it before The Tax Collector. To be emotionless is not strength. You need to let yourself feel your emotions, even if it kills you. Its okay to be sad that you didn’t get the part. It’s okay to be nervous for an audition! Don’t stifle your emotions because those are your tools! David Ayer helped me break down my walls in front of the whole cast and only when my soul was bared before them, could I finally be the me I was always meant to be.
4. Someone needs to say it. Nobody actually looks the way they do in magazines! I tore myself apart trying to become what I thought was the “ideal body.” I starved myself. I changed so much and still didn’t get anywhere! Things actually started to turn up for me when I finally said, “This is me! This is my body and I love it!” People can pick apart your looks all they want but the only way they can hurt your confidence is if you allow them to. That confidence will get you so much further than you realize.
5. I wish somebody had told me to trust myself a little bit. I doubted myself at every corner and it showed. I still fall into old habits from time to time, but I’m happy to say that I’ve learned how to value myself and what I can bring to the table. I know I have such a long way to go, but I’ve gotten to the point where I am confident going there!
Can you share with our readers any self care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Please share a story for each one if you can.
I have insanely high anxiety. I used to shut down for days at a time and just not eat or sleep until my body just gave out. I hated saying that I “suffered” from anxiety and depression, so I changed it to “I’m battling anxiety.” I decided to see it as a fight and not a condition. I had to learn MMA for The Tax Collector, and it helped my anxiety so much that I never left the dojo. It’s just as much a home to me as my actual home. I have a haven where I go kick my demons bump, and then I am motivated for the rest of the day to keep the good decisions going! I wish I could say I’m great at drinking water, but that’s a habit I am currently working on improving! I jump from beauty trend to beauty trend, but still haven’t found the ONE for me. I’ll let you know when I do! Lastly, I try to eat healthy on a day to day basis and juice as often as I can. That doesn’t stop me from pigging out on pizza, pasta and bread whenever I get the chance, though!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite life lesson quote is one my grandpa always used to tell me as a kid.
“This above all, to thine own self be true.” -William Shakespeare
The only happiness you are responsible for is your own. The only way to be happy is to be honest with yourself. Are you happy? Really? Are you okay with what is going on around you? If not how can you change it? I love to help people and make them smile. I always have. However, eventually I realized that I was drawing this energy from myself to give to others, when I didn’t even have energy to give to myself. This inevitably led to me being a husk of what I once was. I was unable to make others or even myself happy. I needed to make sure that I was okay before I looked at who else I can take care of. I stopped putting on a fake smile when I wasn’t okay. I stopped putting every person in the world above my own feelings. I stopped allowing people say and believe things about me that weren’t authentic. It was hard because I had become such a people pleaser that I didn’t even know who I really was. I know now, and I’m never going back. I found what it is to be truly happy and I found it inside myself.
You are a person of huge influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I actually have put a lot of thought into this. I grew up always challenging the norm. People called me the black sheep of the family, and for some reason I loved it. I knew what was expected of me, but for the life of me, I couldn’t bring myself to do it! I left for the military at 17 and made it, even though most said I couldn’t. I modeled while I was in the military, even though I got made fun of for it. I lived out of a car to pursue my acting dream, and everyone thought I was crazy. I probably should have cared a lot more than I did about what people thought, but instead, I wrote black sheep on my car window with an expo marker, and I looked at it every single day with pride. I decided to own what was intended to be an insult. My movement would encourage people to be exactly who they want to be, regardless of societal opinion. I want people to chase their dreams like their lives depended on it — because they do!
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
I would definitely love to sit down with Quentin Tarantino because I am a huge fan of his work. Action movies are my thing, and he sure knows how to make them! I’m starving to be in more action films. I’m an adrenaline-junkie and filming The Tax Collector was the beginning of an addiction for me. I just want to be that girl that kicks bump on camera and does most, if not all of her own stunts. I train in Brazilian Jujitsu, American Kenpo, and Russian Boxing and am more comfortable with weapons than I probably should be! I really feel like he’d get a kick out of my craziness, and I want to see if I can weird him out like I’ve done with everyone else I’ve worked with.
Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?
I am on Instagram as cheyennerae_hernandez and Twitter
This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!