Now in its second season, Fox’s “Empire” is still one of the hottest series on television. With the Lyon family split into two factions, Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) and Hakeem (Bryshere Gray) have formed their own record label, Lyon Dynasty, and plan on shaking up the music industry with a Latina version of Destiny’s Child called Mirage a Trois. While the trio has already had to replace its lead member, core singers Carmen (Yani Marin) and Marisol (Raquel Castro) seem to be in it for the long haul. And that makes Castro extremely happy.
“It was very unexpected, for sure,” said the actress and singer about her role on the hit television program during an exclusive interview with Headlines & Global News. “To be part of this crazy show? Um, it’s amazing!”
Twenty-year-old Castro has been in the entertainment business since she was a child, but she still has the wonder and excitement of a newbie. Born in Long Island, N.Y., to a singer-songwriter (her Puerto Rican father) and an acting coach (her Italian mother), she began regularly appearing on “Sesame Street” when she was just 4 years old.
Castro’s career got a major boost in 2004 when she starred in the film “Jersey Girl” as Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez’s characters’ precocious daughter Gertie. She even won a Young Artist Award for Best Performance in a Feature Film — Young Actress Age Ten or Younger for the role.
At age 10, she became the youngest correspondent ever for “Entertainment Tonight” and got to interview many A-list celebrities. Additional roles in movies and TV shows followed, including playing the recurring character South Salamanaca on the Disney Channel series “Liv and Maddie.”
In 2011, Castro was a beloved contestant on the first season of “The Voice.” During her audition, she performed a great version of Leona Lewis’ “Bleeding Love,” and Christina Aguilera picked her for her team. Castro was eliminated in the quarterfinals round, but is glad to have had that experience — especially performing “Lady Marmalade” live with her teammates and coach.
Now with her big role on “Empire” and a brand new hip-pop single out — the catchy “Young & Dumb” — Castro is reintroducing herself to the world. Want to know more about this this talented starlet? Read HNGN’s Q&A with Castro now!
Let’s talk about “Empire” first. How did you land the role?
I sent in a tape to L.A., and auditioned for a different role at first. Then they had me audition for [this] role, and I did a callback. Then they were like, “OK, we’re going to send you some contracts.” That’s how it happened. I was actually working at a hair salon in Long Island, just trying to pay my bills and stuff, and then I got this and was like, “Wow! This is such a blessing!”
Were you already a fan of the show?
Yeah, I was. My mom’s actually like a crazy, crazy superfan of the show. She loves Cookie. So she was really excited about it.
Tell us about your character, Marisol.
She’s still developing right now, but she’s definitely the Sporty Spice of the group with the way they’re dressing her. The group is definitely spicy — no one wants to mess with us.
What are the other two girls like?
Yani Marin, who plays Carmen, has this punk rocker thing to her, which is really cool. And then Jamila Velazquez, who plays Laura, is the more timid girl.
How far in advance do you film?
When we filmed the episode that came out [in mid-October], we were in July, so pretty far in advance. Now it feels like everything’s moving so quickly. Like, they’re still filming and the show is on TV, so it’s crazy how the producers do the editing and all that stuff.
You, obviously, film more footage than what winds up on TV.
Yeah, definitely. Watching the first episode, I was like, “Wait! There’s so much more!” But, you know, there are so many story lines going on in each episode.
Do you get upset when you think that your better take wasn’t used?
Yes, 100 percent. I’m my own worst critic, so I’m always going to think I could have done something better. But when it’s not in your hands, you kind of just have to accept it. Overall, this is a blessing and whatever they choose is what they choose and that’s it. You just have to go with the flow.
Do you enjoy watching yourself on screen?
I do. But I get really nervous no matter what it is. I’m always critiquing myself. Usually, I’ll have my friends over and we’ll watch it, but then I started to realize that I’d rather be in my own zone and watch and experience it [alone]. Then I’ll watch it [again] with my friends.
Do you follow what people say about you on social media?
Yeah, I’m always on Twitter and social media. I love seeing what the fans think, good or bad.
How do you handle the bad?
It depends. If they’re just saying things that don’t even matter to just try and bring me down, then I ignore that. If they’re talking about a dance step that I could have done, I’ll probably be like, “Yeah, you’re totally right. That definitely wasn’t my best take.” But I hate when people just try and bring you down just for the hell of it. That’s when I’m like, “C’mon!”
Has anything ever made you cry on social media?
No, not yet. I don’t cry easily. I think from being in the business from such a young age, I have really tough skin now. So I don’t let people get to me like that. It does definitely affect me in some sort of way, but definitely not tears.
What is it like working with Taraji P. Henson (Cookie Lyon)?
She’s amazing, honestly. I’m definitely a big fan of hers, and working with her made me even more of a fan. There’s a script that we follow for sure, but she always adds her own little flavor, and I think that’s what makes her character so amazing. So I kind of learned that from her... to be in the moment. I don’t want to be scared if I want to change up a line just a little bit to add my own flavor to it. That’s OK because that’s what makes me an actress. She is dope! I love her!
What about Terrence Howard (Lucious Lyon)?
Terrence is really sweet. He’s definitely, like, in the zone when he’s on the set. I feel like he is very deep — like the things that he talks about. But he’s really cool. I like him a lot.
Bryshere “Yazz” Gray (Hakeem Lyon)?
Yazz is adorable! He’s really, really cool. People are like, “Is he like how he is on the actual show?” I’m like, “No!” He has a little bit of a rapper thing to him, but he’s not like that hard, tough guy. He’s really just laid-back and cool.
Jussie Smollet (Jamal Lyon)?
I love Jussie! Jussie is one of my favorites. I don’t have a scene with him.... We kind of had one scene, but it wasn’t like we were interacting. He was just kind of there and I was kind of there.
Have you met “Empire” creator Lee Daniels yet?
No, I haven’t, actually. I think he was at the wrap party, but I left before I got to see him, which I was upset about. I would definitely love to meet him in the future, for sure.
Let’s talk about your current single, “Young & Dumb.”
I wrote the song when I was living in L.A., so I was 18 or 19. I wrote the lyrics and melody. Jon Kilmer produced the song. I feel like everything that happens in my life is very unexpected and that’s what I’m rolling with now. But he started producing one of my other songs, and then he heard “Young & Dumb” and we worked on it. Ray De La Garza, [the president] of Roc Cartel, loved it and that’s how this whole thing came together. And the song is not about being young and dumb, like doing stupid things. I was in a relationship where everybody had an opinion. “How can it feel so right when they all say it’s so wrong” is one of the lyrics. And it’s true. Who cares what everybody thinks? I’m young, I’m experiencing my life and this is what I want right now. I’m going to do whatever I want, and I’m going to learn from it. I’m going to be carefree and enjoy the ride. That’s what the song talks about.
It looks like you had a lot of fun recording the music video.
Thank you! It actually was a lot of fun. I didn’t want to go too far and make something cheesy. I’d rather just be like, “Hey! We’re just running around town and we’re having fun. Come take the ride with us!”
Did you suggest locations to shoot at or was it all the director’s ideas?
I definitely wanted to do Coney Island. I’ve always wanted to do something with rides and lights and fun, cool stuff. Jon, who produced the song, actually produced the video as well, which is amazing. He’s multitalented! The shot of me walking, just singing into the camera, where you see the whole skyline of the city behind me, that was Jon’s idea. I was like, “Yo! That’s so dope!” Then we did one where we were in one of the parks in the city — that was Jon too. We were just going back and forth. I didn’t want to do a typical video of you just following me around, so in the beginning it seems like I’m making the video for my boyfriend — I came up with the idea.
And who is the cute boy?
His name is Jordan Stierle and he’s from Ronkonkoma [N.Y.]. I met him at the gym and we have mutual friends [in common]. We were out one night talking and he told me he wanted to act. So I was like, “Hey! If you need help, let me know.” We actually met up one day in a park and I read lines with him. I saw a lot of potential in him. When I was looking for a guy, I was like, “Honestly, do you want to do this?” I knew he’d be excited about it and would actually put his heart into it. I am super, super proud of him for that. He did a really good job. And everyone thinks he’s so cute too.
You describe your music as hip-pop. What does that mean exactly?
I love hip-hop. I love pop music. I wanted to mix the two. I don’t want to be overly pop. I don’t want to be bubblegum pop ever. I want it to be mainstream pop, but I want it to have some sort of Latin flavor. “Young & Dumb” has a little bit of a Latin drum to it, which kind of makes it different. I don’t want to be like the typical pop star. I want my music to have an edge. So it’s hip-pop! I want my music to put you in a good mood automatically.
Do you have any other music in the can?
I do. Ever since I got off “The Voice,” I started writing so much. I never knew that I could, and now that I started writing, it’s like therapy to me. I have about 10 songs that I’m really happy with. I have to get them produced because I don’t produce yet, but I want to learn. That’s what my next step is going to be. I’m in a contract with “Empire” till June, so we’ll see what happens with that. Until then, wherever the journey takes me is where I’m going to go.
Has Mirage a Trois recorded any music for “Empire”?
We did! The first song we did was “Do It.” That was with Becky G, who ended up leaving [the group] at the end of the episode. I’m actually on the second verse, which I was really excited about. We have two more songs with the actual Mirage a Trois, which you’ll hear in upcoming episodes. They’re definitely cool. They have the pop urban flavor, so it’s not too far from where I want to be, which is nice.
You’ve worked with some major people — on “The Voice” and as a kid in “Jersey Girl” — have you kept in touch with anyone?
I was only 7 when I did “Jersey Girl.” Who is going to keep in touch with a 7-year-old? My mom still keeps in touch with Kevin Smith, the director, and I kept in touch with Liv Tyler for a while. I haven’t really spoken to Ben [Affleck] or Jen [Lopez] or any of them. But “The Voice,” Christina Aguilera just tweeted my video the other day. I wasn’t expecting that. I was really, really excited about it. It meant so much to me. She definitely helped me out, and I got a lot of extra views, so that was cool.
What advice would you give someone who wants to try out for “The Voice”?
Try and just hold on to yourself as much as you can. Don’t let them make you something you’re not. Sometimes you can be portrayed in a different way if you’re not really on top of who you are and really get that point across. I remember, I never really sang in front of an audience before “The Voice.” That was my first big audience, and I was shaking. You just have to, honestly, be in the moment and just breathe — that’s the best advice I can give to get you through that. It’s a crazy experience. It was a blessing because I built a really cool following from it. Now I’m not “Jersey Girl” anymore. I’m the girl from “The Voice.” It’s definitely a great platform, so if there is any artist out there that really wants to be heard, doing something like that is a really great idea.
Which do you prefer most: singing or acting?
I love singing. I just like the whole artist thing. I love writing. I want to be dancing. I mean, I love acting, it’s just a different type of adrenaline rush. I just love being onstage and connecting with people — that’s where my heart’s at. I would love to be on tour. Sometimes you need that extra platform with acting. I feel like I just have to go with the flow and put everything in God’s hands.
Have you ever considered Broadway, which most mixes acting and singing?
I did Broadway when I was 10. I definitely loved it. I was in the original cast of “White Christmas” in San Francisco as Susan Waverly. The only thing I didn’t love back then, I was 10 and had to be tutored. So any time I got a break, I was in school and I hated it. That made me never want to do it again. But now that I am older, I would definitely love to be on Broadway. They’re like classically-trained though, so that’s something I need to prepare myself for, but I would love that. I love being in front of an audience and entertaining — I’ve always loved doing stuff like that.
Do you still live in Long Island?
Yes. I lived in L.A. for two years, I moved there when I was 18, and I’m back in Long Island right now. I loved L.A., but at first I was a little on edge about it. People out there are not like New York people. It’s hard to find genuine, real people out there, but then I ended up finding a really awesome group of friends. Then a bunch of personal things happened and financially it was like, “I don’t know if this is worth it.” So I moved back to New York. But, honestly, I would love to be bicoastal — that would be the ideal situation. I’ve thought about it because I was set on moving back, but now I’m like, “You know what? My nephew was just born, and I need to be here.” I can always go to L.A. and stay there for two weeks if I want to — that’s how I’m looking at it now.
You’re turning 21 Nov. 17.
Yes! I’m excited about that. I don’t know what I’m going to do yet. I was thinking, maybe, just going out with a group of friends in the city. I really do want to hit up Vegas, but I feel like the time needs to be right for that. I was thinking about doing Atlantic City too.