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Mariela Garriga’s American Dream: A Rising Star Succeeds in Hollywood

Through anecdotes and curiosities, the Cuban actress and entrepreneur who first immigrated to Italy and then Los Angeles, talks about her sacrifices

by Gaia Ceccaroli

Mariela Garriga

“I still have connections with Italy since, first of all, I married an Italian [web entrepreneur Stefano Mongardi] so I have a new family there. And second, because Italy is the country that first opened my eyes to the world. I love it there.”

This week’s salute to the American Dream focuses on a double immigrant: actress, writer, producer and entrepreneur Mariela Garriga, who was born in Havana, Cuba, immigrated to Italy in 2009, and then to the United States in 2016, where she currently resides in Los Angeles.

Mariela Garriga

Mariela Garriga is driven, talented, and radiant, with one of the most beautiful smiles in all of La-La Land. Her demeanor is at once calm and effervescent, despite the fact that she rarely sleeps. Friends and colleagues often marvel at her ability to juggle so many tasks, while somehow never resting.

So, Mariela, why don’t you ever sleep?

 “I study and write all the time, and I have online meetings every day for the projects I’m producing, so no time to waste. I have to make every day count, because I am far away from my family. They live in Cuba and because of the political regime’s stance on emigration, they cannot leave.”

Though it is difficult being so removed from family, your passion and hard work have paid off. You began your artistic career at a very young age as a model and dancer, which brought you to Italy. While in Milan, you started to study acting and later continued your theatrical training in NYC at the Terry Schreiber Studio and The Actors Studio. You now divide your time between Italy and the United States, making movies and TV series. What first drew you to the US?

“I decided to come to the United States [from Italy] because my family is in Cuba and we are closer [to them from here], and also because I have more opportunities as an artist here. My family is far away, so I lean on my husband and my friends. They are my ‘chosen’ family.”

Mariela Garriga

 You recently played the role of Pietra Rey on the popular CBS action series “NCIS: Los Angeles” opposite Chris O’Donnell and Daniela Ruah and you achieved critical acclaim for your role in the psychological thriller “Bloodline,” in which you play the female lead ‘Lauren Cole’ opposite Seann William Scott and Dale Dickey. Clearly, you’re chasing your American Dream as an artist and you’ve achieved many goals thus far by working tirelessly. Which acting role would you say required the most study and the least sleep?

 “The role that required the least sleep and most effort was Lauren Cole in ‘Bloodline’ because it was a moment of high stress. I had twelve scenes a day. I was auditioning at the same time, so sometimes I had auditions for other movies in the morning and then I had to go to the set and keep going. So many things were happening in that month that I could not sleep. From the beginning of getting this role, I knew that it was my destiny to not sleep. I got this one audition the night before at 10:00 pm. I had three very long and emotional scenes to prepare for the day after at 10:00am. I was like, ‘What?’

But I always take risks. I did not sleep, I studied all night, I went to the audition and I got the part! Playing the role was very challenging, since I played a mom suffering from postpartum depression with a psycho husband and I haven’t had those two experiences.

I am not a mom, so I had to study. I interviewed many friends and members of my family who have kids in order to understand the process of giving birth and what happens after, which scares me a lot and no one talks about it. Moms are real heroes and I did not want to fall short in any aspect of my portrayal of motherhood, so I had to work really hard to be realistic, starting from the giving birth scene.”

Mariela Garriga

In Italy, your list of film and TV credits is remarkable. You play the female lead role ‘Gina’ opposite Edoardo Leo and Fabio de Luigi in “Gli uomini d’oro”, directed by Vincenzo Alfieri. You play ‘Sally’ in the comedy “Chi m’ha visto”, directed by Alessandro Pondi, opposite Pierfrancesco Favino and Beppe Fiorello. You were also a recurring star on the Sky Italian TV series “I delitti del barlume”, directed by Roan Johnson, and you played ‘Remedios’ in the acclaimed TV series “L’ispettore Coliandro” directed by Manetti Bross for Rai TV. After a long and successful career in Italy, you permanently left the county five years ago; what can you say about the “bel paese”?

“I still have connections with Italy since, first of all, I married an Italian [web entrepreneur Stefano Mongardi] so I have a new family there. And second, because Italy is the country that first opened my eyes to the world. I love it there.”

It would appear that you have three homes. How do you feel about these three unique countries?

“I feel especially fortunate to live in Los Angeles while having second and third homes in Italy and Cuba. I have been able to strengthen my connection to these places in my heart, even when I’m physically distant from the people there. It is my ultimate dream to combine my three cultural identities into one artistic project in the future”.

Outside of acting, what are you most passionate about?

“I’ve been writing and producing too, for the past two years. I’m passionate about telling real life stories, through projects that create a social impact and can somehow open the eyes of society and give them the chance to explore what is happening around the world and how similar we all are, no matter your culture or religion.

I have a strong connection with nature and don’t skip a chance every time I have the opportunity of protecting the environment and animals. In fact, I recently wrote and produced ‘E.L.I.’ with Gabriel Beristain and Tatiana Luter, a feature documentary where nature, animals and humans blend together for a marvelous purpose. Twenty-three actresses from all around the world are involved in the project [including actress Paz Vega]. The documentary is in collaboration with the non-profit foundation Earth League International.”

Mariela Garriga

Why did you decide to feature only women in this documentary?

“Because women represent Earth; we are Mother Earth. As women, we have more sensitivity to what is happening in the world. We have more empathy for what it is happening. We have instincts and we would like to create a better world for our kids. I thought it was better to portray what is happening to the animals through women, because of our sensitivity and sense of protection.”

On the day of my wedding here in LA, you became my own personal multi-tasking savior: you were my hairdresser, my stylist, and you even drove me to the wedding. It’s clear that you are also a multitalented person: you’re an actress, a writer, a producer, and an entrepreneur. You’re the founder of Cuba2Day, a guide that teaches travelers everything they need to know when planning a trip to the island. Tell us more about this venture.

 “In 2014, I was coming to the US to study acting and I found that Americans had a lot of questions about Cuba. There was ‘this idea’ about Cuba also in Italy that can be different in many aspects. I lived there [in Cuba]. I know the truth of what is happening there and what is really important for the people living there. I am not talking about politics, but I’m talking about the culture and how we think.  I had so many questions and, with my husband, we decided to open this account to show the beautiful parts of Cuba. We wanted to guide Americans and Italians to achieve their dream trip to my homeland. We started, for fun, to open a space for people who could ask questions. It went very well. I have two apartments that I rent to tourists, so I give them ideas on how to have better vacations while not losing precious time. I like it and I enjoy it. Now we have people that manage the business for us, but our heart is in this project.”

Mariela Garriga

Moreover, one of your latest projects involves sharing your knowledge and experience in DietroLeQuinte on your YouTube Channel, where you offer insights about acting and how to survive in this business. What inspired you to launch DietroLeQuinte?

 “I wake up every morning and I have so many messages on Instagram. People from Italy, US, UK, Germany and different parts of the world ask me how to get into the acting business. I did not know anybody [in the business] when I started this career; I did not know how to do this job. I just followed my instincts, and it went well, but it can be hard and frustrating. Sometimes you want to give up. There is so much information out there and so much wrong information, that you lose so much time. Since I had so many people asking me about becoming an actor in Hollywood and how to start, I decided to answer everyone by opening a YouTube channel, in Italian first, since the majority of people writing me are Italians and I think they deserve to have their space.

DietroLeQuinte means behind the scenes, so I talk about things that you don’t learn in school. I studied in many schools, but you learn about the craft of acting, not about the path, the journey real actors experience in this business step by step. The goal is to guide people that have this dream, but do not have information. It is a very close network of people. Artists usually do not talk about the process. They talk when they become famous, but not the dirty part of it–like where you really have to go, where you really have to study, what it is really important to do and what to avoid. I’ll guide future artists; we will interview some people that met with a challenge process like me from casting directors, directors, writers, producers and actors. We will also go live and we will answer all the questions live. It is very important to be guided in the first part of your career; otherwise, you will end up wasting a lot of time. I hope to help people to achieve their dreams in this industry.”

Generous, hard-working, and multi-talented, Mariela Garriga has not only achieved many of her own dreams, but she is also committed to building bridges to help others do the same. Her star continues to rise, both in Italy and in Hollywood, following years of sacrifices, and hard work on two continents.



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