Germany-born stunt performer and actress Elena Sanchez caught up with The Untitled Magazine to discuss how she secured her roles in some of the most iconic films to date, including The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, American Heist, Avengers: Endgame, Vengeance: A Love Story and more. Sanchez recently celebrated her newly promoted role as associate producer on a film called Where All Light Tends To Go starring Billy Bob Thornton and Robin Wright. Her new role as a producer allows her to branch out and explore the beauty of film through a new lens. Before securing her successful position as an actress and producer, she was widely known for her unhinged stunts such as “hanging off of a helicopter with Spider-Man.” Read on for our exclusive interview, and don’t miss checking her out in the new Gravitas Ventures film, Demigod.
You have been acting steadily in a number of celebrated projects since your debut in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – can you tell us how you got into acting?
After college I moved to New York City and started working as an extra on all of the TV shows that were filming there at the time, like Law & Order and Gossip Girl. I knew I needed to get more training so I enrolled at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute. Meanwhile I tried to get myself auditions from whatever acting websites I could find, did student and short films, and eventually got my first agent. It sounds straightforward, but it was a long process. From the day I decided to become an actress while I was in college, until I booked my first speaking role in a paid feature film, it took five years!
I understand you used to be a former competitive gymnast? How did you end up transitioning from that to acting?
Looking back I guess it makes sense that I was drawn from one type of performing to another. However, I was studying Hotel Management at Cornell University and was planning on following that career path. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) I was miserable. I took an acting class as an elective and fell in love with it. It was my favorite class to go to that semester. I thought to myself, “Imagine being that excited to go to work every day?! How can I make that happen?”
How has your background as a gymnast played a part in your film roles?
Being used to performing in front of crowds of people made me comfortable doing the same thing in front of a film crew. And being athletic and having heightened body awareness helped me book roles that involved action and required those skills. It’s hard breaking into this business, so any skill you have becomes a tool to use to your advantage.
I understand you are also a seasoned stunt performer – what is the craziest stunt you have had to perform?
The craziest stunt I’ve ever done is hanging off of a helicopter with Spider-Man and flying around downtown Atlanta! That’s definitely a story I’ll be telling my grandchildren about one day.
You are starring in Gravitas Ventures film “Demigod” – can you tell us about your role in the film?
Demigod is a folk horror movie about a woman named Robin (played by the lovely Rachel Nichols!) who travels back to Germany to stay at her late grandfather’s cabin in the woods. I play Latara, a witch in the Black Forest, who makes Robin regret ever coming back to visit!
How did you prepare for your role in the film?
I only had about three days from when I found out I booked the part until I had to be on set in Mississippi. The first thing I worked on was memorizing the dialogue. Next I made a decision about what motivates Latara and what her objectives are, and layered that into building her character. Because I had so little prep time, I also continued to do that throughout the shoot and in the evenings when we wrapped before I went to bed.
I understand you are originally from Germany? How did that play a part in the film – which is also centered around the characters going to Germany’s Black Forest?
The fact that I’m German was the reason I booked the role – about 30% of the entire film is in German. As Latara I spoke German but also English with a German accent. It was really fun to get to play a German character for the first time. Additionally, on days that I was not Latara, I was on set dialect coaching the other actors to help them with their German.
What brought you from Frankfurt, Germany to live in the United States?
The first time I left Europe I was three years old, when my father’s job transferred him to New York. When I was 12 we moved back to Europe, and I lived in Switzerland during middle and high school. When it was time to decide what to do after I graduated, I realized that I wanted the American college experience and also to be able to continue doing gymnastics throughout those years. Collegiate sports isn’t really a thing in Europe, and I knew I wasn’t done with gymnastics yet, so it made sense for me to go back to the United States. I’ve been here ever since!
You have been featured in a number of films including American Heist alongside Hayden Christensen and Adrian Brody, Mr. Right with Anna Kendrick and Sam Rockwell, and Vengeance: A Love Story with Nicolas Cage – looking back which film role has resonated with you the most that you played and why?
That is an interesting question because I’ve played roles like an assassin and a drug addict and a witch and characters like that can be hard to relate to. But playing Latara, even though she is a witch, definitely resonated with me. It’s easy to see things black and white, as good vs. evil, but life and reality isn’t really like that. Besides just being an evil witch, Latara was a very complex character, and she deals with a lot of different themes throughout the film, along with going through a type of rebirth. This made her arc more human and relatable.
Do you have any words of wisdom that you live by to stay inspired when faced with challenges?
One of my favorite quotes is by Will Smith: “There is no reason to have a Plan B because it distracts from plan A.” If you have a backup plan, you might be tempted to take that path when things get hard and you are faced with challenges. However, if there is no way to go but forward, those challenges become obstacles that you learn from as you overcome them.
What can we look forward to from you coming up next?
Right now I’m working as an associate producer on a film called Where All Light Tends To Go. We have a fantastic script and an amazing cast, including Billy Bob Thornton and Robin Wright. I have a couple other projects that I’m in that are in post-production that I can’t talk about yet. I’m super excited about them – I’ll post about them on my social media once I’m allowed to!