Michelle Bonilla is one of the first openly gay Latina actresses in Hollywood and she takes that role very seriously. She won't poke fun at Latina characters and she refuses to sell out her LGBT brothers and sisters for the part of a lifetime.
The Hollywood native has worked in film and television alongside Christopher Reeve, Kim Cattrall, Jason Alexander, Faye Dunaway, Halle Berry, Jeff Daniels, Charlize Theron, Billy Bob Thorton, Hank Azaria, Jimmy Smitts, Richard Dreyfus, Anne Heche, Olympia Dukakis and Haley Joel Osment. With two strikes against her walking in the audition room door (being Latina and lesbian), her dignity, pride and heroism shine through and, ultimately, she ends up walking out the door with the part.
Slip Away is Bonilla's first effort as a writer in the business and, we hope, won't be her last.
WCT: (Windy City Times) Lauren Birriel, Hal Sparks, Thea Gill, Wilson Cruz and April Grace are in the cast of Slip Away. What a great assortment of actors!
MB: (Michelle Bonilla) I really want to give a ton of credit to my entire cast production. They are all amazingly talented. We shot this on a really low budget and all of them took time out of their busy lives to help me create and tell this story about what happens when you're trying to find the perfect love. Presenting the question: How far does one go before they simply Slip Away?
WCT: This was a personal story for you.
MB: I'm really excited because I know that people will be able to relate. Slip Away is really my story. It took me six years to get the courage to write it and it was very therapeutic to me to get the story out. Then it went through all its phases. Then I took some time to put all of the pieces together in pre-production before we began filming. So, I wrote it to kind of release myself from it. I chose to play the character I had to let go of in real life.
WCT: Did you want to stop at any point in the process?
MB: I think so, you know, but I had to keep going and get the story out there. The relationship between me and the other main character in the film was like "grrrr..." and I feel no emotional attachment to the woman in real life now. I wish her only love and success. It felt great to be rid of that, sort of, heavy burden. I persevered so that I could continue telling the story for the others out there who maybe didn't live the same story, but the theme was the same. I like to create from the heart and I don't like to filter myself. I like to be as truthful as possible. I just barged forward even through the ups and downs in the filmmaking process to create this wonderful story.
WCT: Where can viewers catch a screening of Slip Away?
MB: Right now, we are on the festival circuit. We're trying to get into all the different festivals and are going international with it. We're really excited. We hope that the film's message can touch as many people as it can in as many different countries as it can—as well as in the United States of course. I'm really trying to create a positive message for the gay community, the Latina community and women in general. Viewers can also check out the trailer on the website and also on YouTube.
WCT: Thea Gill and Hal Sparks worked together, of course, on Queer As Folk. What was it like on the set with the two firecrackers? Was there a lot of chemistry on the set?
MB: Tons of chemistry! I've known Thea and Hal for years. I purposely wanted to put the two of them together again for Slip Away. It was great. Everyone got along really wonderfully. They all sat together and shared stories about similar instances that were occurring in the film and had occurred in their lives as well.
WCT: How do you feel being the one of the first openly gay Latina actresses?
MB: I thought a lot about coming out before I did it. In this business that I'm in, being able to create regardless of my sexual orientation has never been an issue. I'm feeling very lucky about that. Being the first Latina to come out, you know, I wanted to create opportunities for me, but with the film [Slip Away], I wanted to create my own therapy because it is a true story that happened to me.
Actually, being a Latina playing the one who is the addict in the film, it was important that I give back to my community. I was not the addict in my own personal life, but it was very important to me that I had another Latina actress cast in the role opposite me so that a Latina would make a good decision in the role. In the gay community also, you know, good decisions can be made.
WCT: You have held roles on popular television shows like ER, Star Trek, Dr. Quinn and others. What goes into your decision to accept a gig? Do you feel any pressure to choose wisely since you are an out gay Latina actress?
MB: I really like to be able to tell a story that people can relate to and I'm very fortunate that I can do so without being pigeonholed in Hollywood as just the "gay" or "Latina" actress. I am very blessed to be able to work mainstream.
I've worked with Holly Hunter in Saving Grace and, most recently, in Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior, playing Detective Nina Hernandez. I don't have an accent, but I have a gun and a badge … and a matching Calvin Klein pantsuit! I want to be able to be that role model for young women out there. I know there are young women out there watching and they need someone to look at in a positive light to see a positive reflection of their culture. I've actually had to turn auditions down that had me just speaking with a Latin accent and aren't really saying positive things about either the Latin community or the gay community. I can't support projects that make fun of or belittle Latin women or gay people. I can't do that. To be able to portray roles with substance is my way of doing a service to the communities I am representing.