Victor Padilla: Tell us about your Family and where you come from.
Maria Costa: I’m mullatta, my mother is Hungarian and my Father is Cuban. My Hungarian Grandmother helped raised me for most of my life so I speak the language fluently and cook a mean goulash, my ropa vieja is not to bad either from my Cuban side. My grandmother was from the old country and was in denial that I was anything other than Hungarian. I remember one time I came home and said Grandma someone called me the N word today and she was like “what are they bind, you are not Black, you are Hungarain, just Hungarian with a few too many days on the beach in Aruba.” She also nurtured the artists in me because she was an opera singer and ballet dancer in Hungary and with the war had to give that up and flee the country to go to Argentina to help my Grandfather support her children as a nurse until they brought the family to America.
So I think because of that, she put me in, ironically enough Hungarian dance classes when I was little Brown girl with all the blond haired Hungarian girls trying to do the dances but my hips were moving a little too much. It would drive my grandmother crazy she would be like please Marika, no more side, side with your hips honey please.” I think that is where my connection and love for movement and music began as well as my spark for the performing arts. Thank God I found Salsa dancing so I could set my hips free.
My grandmother also instilled strong values in me. She would say “respect yourself and respect others, no running in streets with boys, you have things to do in life, focus on that because that is what God put you here to do.” She was very strict on me growing up and in my teen years but now I can appreciate the lessons she taught me. Mostly she taught me to be truthful to myself and my calling.
Victor Padilla: What Inspired you to become a Comedian/Actress.
Maria Costa: Since I can remember random people tell me about their life, strangers and people I know, some of them profound stories, some of them funny stories, some of the sad. I think everyone has a story and I use my creative voice and platform to tell the stories that I think are interesting and will inspire other in some way. I think that is what I am meant to do and to make people laugh in the process. It’s also part of my own personal growth. I was always writing growing up. I was shy in some ways so when I was performing that helped me come out of my shell, through writing I was able to tell my story an speak my truth.
I’d watch Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Gilda Radnar growing up and was inspired by how expressive and funny they were and would think to myself I want to do that one day. I was amazed at how they were so comfortable in their skin and uninhibited in every way. There was much more to them then just their beauty. I was also inspired by Lucille Ball as a leader in comedy and great business women. I loved that she took a stand for Desi Arnaz to play her husband on the show and together they brought Cuban Culture to mainstream television. I admire that she was a producer on her show and went on to produce other TV series, even own a studio. She made some amazing industry changing moves. Through her I realized how change could be made through comedy.
Victor Padilla: What films/shows you have been in.
Maria Costa: I have done a lot of TV. I played Valerie, the owner of the beauty school on ABC’s Ugly Betty, I was in the Showtime film, Universal Remote and guest starred in a lot of shows like Lifetime’s Strong Medicine and Joan of Arcadia on CBS and was a series regular shows like on Bravo’s The It Factor and Dangerous Minds on ABC. At a certain point in my career I wanted to create original work and write smart, funny leading roles that felt better fit my vision of how and where I say myself. That is how the ‘Macho Men’ project came about.
Victor Padilla: Tell us about “Shades of Machos” and “Viva America.
Maria Costa: “Shades of Machos” is Volume 2 of my last show, “Macho Men and the Women Who Love Them”. I delve more deeply into the idea of being a career driven woman who is also, in some ways, very domestic because of my very traditional upbringing and how I try to I balance the two worlds. In the first ‘Macho’ show I focused only on Latino family dynamics. In volume 2, I definitely explore marriage and dating amongst Latinos as the main topic, however I also examine machismo in the African American culture– and other communities. I also discuss the different “shades” of myself as a mixed-race women and how my Hungarian and Cuban background as well as growing up in a predominately African American city has influenced my views on life, love and everything in between. Through sharing my experiences examine the complexities of women like me. Women who cannot be defined or put into a box – brown, white, black, traditional, strong, independent, nurturing, warrior, seductress… must we be only one thing or only a few. Some of us are all it combined, and we are the only ones who can define for ourselves what that looks like verses letting others define it for us. The concept of Feminism for instance needs to shift into a balanced, self-defined and holistic expression for each individual woman. The kind of women who can be disciplined, determined and powerful in her career but yet be nurturing at home. I also hit on releasing the old ideas of machismo that don’t work in a healthy relationship and family dynamic and how both men and women can work together to understand each other and come to a middle ground.
I am also super excited about the music and dance in ‘Shades’ with Toby Love joining the cast as our feature musical performing, singing Bachata, Reggaetón Merengue live throughout the show. I have always wanted to collaborate with an artist of his caliber. As a top Latin music artist, he was originally with the group Aventura, is a Billboard Music Award Winner and has released a number of successful solo albums/songs, like Tengo Un Amore which won the Best Rap/Hip-Hop Album (Billboard). Toby’s Caribbean, romantic and infectious music that combines traditional and urban styles is a perfect fit for ‘Shades’.
The production also features some extremely talented Latin dancers that we are bringing in from New York who will collaborate with our cast of some of the top Latin dance talent based in Los Angeles. What can I say, ‘Shades’ is like ‘Macho Men’ on steroids. It’s going to be an exciting experience filled with laughter, music, dance and culture. I can’t wait!
‘Viva’ is a one camera variety show in which I explore social issues like immigration and race through comedy and outrageous character portrayals. The project was different experience for me because I explored new characters with conservative points of views of views like Linda, who believes in an “English only America” and a male character from the South who is upset that he lost his factory job to a foreigner. I also have characters with more progressive views, giving the audience various point of reference on the given subject. I am a city girl and was raised in a urban area, I am Latina, a Cubana and Afro-Latina, so have that experience of life or say when I walk into a room that is what I am seen as, but I was also raised by my very republican Uncle, and ultra-traditional Hungarian Grandmother, which is why I believe many people who have seen my work say that it is very universal and speaks to different audiences. ‘Viva’ reflects those concepts and ideas.
Victor Padilla: Tell us about a funny moment while you were filming.
Maria Costa: So I do clumsy things sometimes. I have been like that since I was little. I was filming The It Factor on Bravo, which is a docudrama where they followed 9 talents in our careers and personal lives, LisaRay McCoy and Jeremy Renner were also on the show too. Anyways, I was being followed by three cameras while I was doing a photo shoot and walked in from outside on the deck, well I ran smack into the glass sliding door and I hit the door so hard that I cracked a tooth. It almost knocked me out but I played off as if it didn’t hurt because the cameras were on me but it did hurt, a lot. I still have that moment on camera.
Victor Padilla: What advice can you give up and coming young Latinos comedians and Actors?
Maria Costa: Train, take classes and do the work because at the end of the day that is what matters, the work and doing great work. You have to believe in yourself and what you have to offer the world, especially in those times that things are not going as planned right away or when road blocks come up. Know that if you keep moving forward, focus on bringing your vision to others and take steps everyday towards making progress that at the right time things will fall into place. Don’t’ look outside yourself for validation. I think that is where we as artist go wrong, wanting to be liked. The best and most powerful validation comes from the person in the mirror. If you don’t think you can do it then no matter how much you want it, it won’t happen. At the same time it is important to have a strong support system. Surround yourself with people that are truly there for you and believe in your vision and beware of those people in your circle that don’t have your best interest at heart. Know that you will face rejection and failure but it is just part of the process. The important thing is that you don’t stop in the face of that. Maybe you get knocked off the horse for a minute and you take a minute to recover, get your mind and spirit together but you get back on the horse and keep it moving. Invest in yourself. I reinvest funds from touring into building my business and growing my shows and brand. Sometimes you will have to make sacrifices, but that is what it takes.
Victor Padilla: Do you love Cuban Sandwiches and what is your favorite Latin Food?
Maria Costa: The traditional Cuban Sandwich with Pork, pickles and cheese. I don’t eat much bread but on my cheat days I definitely sneak a Cuban Sandwich in there somewhere.
Victor Padilla: Who has been your greatest inspiration and hero?
Maria Costa: Lucille Ball of coarse she was a warrior and did it her way. She paved the way for many women in comedy that came after her.
Also, my Grandmother. She was strong and tough but at the same time sweet and loving and I think a great example what kind of woman strive to be.