With her breakthrough role on the Fox sitcom, character actress Carla Jimenez brings depth to what could have been a boring stereotype.
Photos courtesy of Fox
Mexican-American actress Carla Jimenez has played six nurses, at least one maid, and three characters named Rosa. This month, she makes her series regular debut on Fox's sitcom The Mick, playing a housekeeper—in this case, for three rich kids who are being raised by their drug-addicted Aunt Mickey. But while most television maids exit in and out of scenes, her character, Alba, subverts the stereotypes: She drops molly, smashes a glass over a cop's head, and gets stuck on a raft while wearing a maid's outfit. While playing the role, Jimenez has become the show's breakout star—a physical comedian on par with Ethel Merman and Lucille Ball.
All Jimenez was waiting for was a great role. "I like that Alba's actually seen," she says. "She has a voice."
In person, Jimenez comes across as more laid-back than her lead character. She wears a black cardigan over a purple shirt and sips chamomile tea with a sprinkle of lemon. A YMCA gym card dangles from her keychain. She's eating at the SweetSalt Bakery, down the road from the Warner Bros. and Universal Studios, in Toluca Lake, a suburb where some budding actors work as baristas at coffee chains. (Jimenez, coincidentally, met her boyfriend, who works as a celebrity driver, at a Coffee Bean.)
"[The Mick] was the craziest audition," she says in between sips of coffee. Producers wanted to see her range, so they gave her a scene where Alba takes molly for the first time. What the hell is this? Jimenez thought when she read the script. She thought about how to perform the scene for several minutes. "You kind of just [go] balls out," she recalls telling herself. "You just unapologetically go for it."
Jimenez relished the opportunity to perform physical comedy, a style she perfected as a theater performer early in her career. "I love theater. I did a lot of physical comedy," she explains. "You don't get much of a chance [to do physical comedy in film and television]—at least they don't give me as much of a chance."
She fell in love with theater when a friend's mother took Jimenez to a tent revival production of Man of La Mancha in middle school. "I didn't want it to be a career," she says. "I just wanted to [act]." She performed in musicals in high school; her family encouraged her interest in their working class household in Simi Valley.
Jimenez grew up with three older sisters, two of whom were born on the same day a year a part ("Mexican twins," Jimenez jokes.) She was primarily raised by her father because her mom suffered a stroke when Jimenez was six or seven. He spent his weeks working at a computer factory, a job that Jimenez describes as "very old school." On the weekends, he would quiz her about old Hollywood, and at night, Jimenez and her sisters would run through Blockbuster aisles, looking for 1970s horror movies to watch.
"He raised us like guys," Jimenez says. "We weren't so sensitive."
At the end of high school, Jimenez forwent acting classes. She began performing at a community theatre called Moorpark Melodrama, where she studied other actors. In public, she people-watched, picking up traits she could use for characters at the local playhouse. She earned $10 per show. "You make a little scratch," she says. To pay bills, she worked at a call center—a job she despised.
When she was in her 20s in the late 1990s, Jimenez's friend recommended she start performing in theaters in Glendale, a few miles down the highway. She followed the advice and scored the role of Bloody Mary, the elderly supporting character in Rogers and Hammerstein's South Pacific. "When you're overweight you always play the older [character] in theatre," Jimenez explains. "You're always the old maid—that's why I love The Mick so much. It has nothing to do with age or weight. It's just comedy, just old fashioned physical comedy."
An agent attended the performance because one of his clients wanted him to see a woman Jimenez describes as an "ingénue." He left the performance instead wanting to sign Jimenez.
Her father told her to quit her detested call center gig. "I can't quit," she told him. "It's money." But her dad—the old-fashioned, hard-working father who raised four girls—encouraged her, so she left the job. In three weeks, she landed a national commercial. The shoot was at the end of her block. "That's a sign," Jimenez thought.
Jimenez began working steadily, but struggled to find well-written Latina characters. The toughness her father imbued in her became an important tool for surviving Hollywood. Over time, she learned to transform bit gigs into larger parts. While playing a one-line scientist in a television episode, she performed the line with all her gusto. She impressed the writers, and they turned her walk-on bit part into a recurring role.
She has rejected scripts that abuse overweight characters. "If you're throwing food at someone and they're eating it off the ground, how is that funny?" Jimenez says. "I always stayed away from anything that's internationally mean. I'm a character actor."
The Mick appealed to her because the writers made sure every character, from the maid to the young kids, appears three-dimensional. "I love about this show that each person gets a storyline," she says. "They're giving these kids an ability to show they're much more than walking in a room [and] saying a sassy line." Still, Jimenez has continued trucking along, fighting for roles worthy of her talent. I ask her why she never gave up. She answers without needing to think.
"I don't see giving up," Jimenez says. "I just see opportunity."