Callie Hernandez on Her Most Challenging Musical Numbers in Netflix’s ‘Soundtrack’

     December 26, 2019

From show creator Joshua Safran (Smash, Gossip Girl), the Netflix original series Soundtrack is a romantic musical drama that looks at the love stories of a diverse group of people in Los Angeles, as they navigate relationships and explore how the music in our hearts connects us. The series stars Paul James, Callie Hernandez, Jenna Dewan, Madeleine Stowe, Campbell Scott and Marianne Jean-Baptiste.

During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actress Callie Hernandez talked about how she came to be a part of Soundtrack, the roller coaster she went on with the series getting picked up by a different network and then the male lead being recast, sharing this experience with co-star Paul James, the challenges that came with lip-syncing for big production numbers, her favorite and most challenging songs to do, and how she chooses projects based on a gut feeling.

Image via Netflix

Collider: How did you come to be a part of this, and was the audition process a little bit different than normal, just because this is a bit different type of project?

CALLIE HERNANDEZ: The audition process was actually really quick, in a strange way. Understanding the show is like learning a new language, for the viewer, and it was like that, as an actor. I was going through real life events that mirrored what was going on and it was a bit close, so I didn’t know if it was something that I wanted to do, or if it was the right thing to do, at that time. And so, Josh Safran, the creator of the show, and I had a conversation on the phone, and he explained it to me. Once he explained what his vision for it was, I understood it a little bit better. That being said, after I got the job, I realized that I didn’t fully understand. I thought we were singing, and then I realized that we were lip-synching. But once understood it a little bit better, I took the viewpoint of it being like music videos that always correspond to what is happening in the scene. Once I got that, it was easier for me to wrap my head around. My whole thing was understanding that I was playing a version of Josh ‘cause it’s very centered around a lot of real-life things for Josh. Not all of it, but a lot of it. Once I met him in person, the character became clear. When the character become clear, the whole tone of the show made sense to me. But the audition process was quick. I talked to Josh, went in and read with him, and then got the role. The show then went through ups and downs. It was initially supposed to be on a different network, and then it ended up at Netflix. I’m very grateful and happy that that’s how it worked out.

What was that experience like? Were you first told that Fox hadn’t had decided not to go ahead with it and did you think the show was then cancelled and done, or did you know that it would be moving to Netflix, at that time?

HERNANDEZ: There was a long period of time, a few months, where we weren’t sure what was gonna happen with it. We knew that Fox decided not to pick up the show. I’m a bit of a freak. If I don’t have control over something, I just let it go ‘cause, what can you do? Maybe I’m jaded, but I’ve learned to let things go, if they’re not happening. But Annapurna were so incredible and really believed in the show, and I just let them and Josh do their thing, which worked out for the best. So, yeah, I thought the show was just going to be done. I was really pleased when Netflix came back and said that they wanted to do the show.

Image via Netflix

At the same time, the show also went through a bit of a recasting process and the male lead was recast. Was it an adjustment to figure out how to find that love story again?

HERNANDEZ: That’s a good question. The initial actor, Raúl [Castillo], who was playing Sam, had a very different energy than Paul James], who ended up playing Sam. I had a different dynamic. The dynamic with Nellie was different, but it wasn’t difficult to find because the character was so defined, in my mind. It wasn’t actually a difficult process. Paul is so great, and the script and the tone was so clear. So, it took a little bit of adjusting, just in terms of energy and the dynamic between the two of us, but it didn’t take so long to figure it out because the writing was so clear. I tried to be sensitive about the fact that this was a main role, having to be recast. All of us worked together really closely on the pilot and we got along really well, so I wanted to be really sensitive to this new person coming on board, and making sure he felt comfortable and understood the tone of the show. I always find it really important to make sure that people feel like it’s okay to fuck up. I do that by fucking up myself, and trying to just find the honesty in everything, if that makes any sense. Paul and I got together a few times and tried to get to know each other to go from there. It worked out really well.

How was it to share this experience with Paul James, throughout this journey?

HERNANDEZ: What’s really funny is that, even though we have scenes together, most of our storylines are very separate, so we worked opposite days, most of the time. On this project, in particular, because there are so many different intersecting storylines and separate storylines for me to be really aware of how, there were two worlds, and I wanted to be really aware of the tone and what was happening, on the other end, when I wasn’t there. So, I tried to really be present for that, check in with that, and connect with people on that level. I tried to be aware everything that was going on because there were so many moving parts.

Image via Netflix

Were there challenges that came with lip-syncing songs, in a way that makes it feel like you’re singing them live, especially with the emotion of it, while also doing these big production sequences, and then getting all of that to match up?

HERNANDEZ: I’m probably the worst person to ask about that. We all took different approaches to the lip-syncing, and my approach was probably the least risky approach. Once I understood that it was something that I’d been doing since I was five, in the mirror at home, singing to myself in my own music videos, since I was a child, that was my approach to it. The hardest part of it was not being self-conscious ‘cause you feel very silly, at first. It feels very counter-intuitive because you’re not singing, so it feels a little strange and uncomfortable, at first. But once I understood that, I took a bit of a child like approach to it. I just listened. I practiced by listening to the songs, over and over and over, until I felt that I knew all the insides of the songs. The dancing was probably more challenging for me. We had some time, but sometimes it would just be one rehearsal. I can dance, but I’m not a trained dancer, so that part was sometimes more challenging for me, personally. My favorite thing to do is to dance, even though I’m not a trained professional. It was experiential. I figured it out, as I went along, and trusted my instincts, practiced and rehearsed.

Was there a production number that was your favorite, and was there one that you found most challenging to do?

Image via Netflix

HERNANDEZ: Working with James Alsop, our choreographer. Her whole approach to everything is so welcoming, and she’s so supportive and so positive and really trusts that something will click. I’m an emotionally-driven person. Once it’s in my body I like to do what I call “fuck its.” fuck it. I always ask for a “fuck it” take, which is usually where you just see what happens, and she was really encouraging with that. She made the whole process fun, and it gave you the confidence that you needed to just do it and say, “Fuck it.” She was a big part of every performance being really inclusive and supportive. So, the most challenging number to do was probably the number that involved some animation. That was my most challenging one because it wasn’t actually dancing. It was more choreographed movement and trying to get across my story, even though we didn’t have it in front of us, and that was about using a lot of imagination and not knowing how it was gonna look with a green screen. That was my most challenging moment of the whole show. And then, my favorite number is the first number that I got to do in the pilot. It’s a Sia song that was really dance heavy, very choreographed, and emotionally-driven. I really liked that song a lot, and it felt great to do. And there was a more classic ballet style number, in the vein of a classic musical, and I remember, even reading it on the page, I was so thrilled and so excited to do it. That was a Chet Baker song, and I loved Chet Baker. That was a real dream come true. I was really, really thrilled to be able to do something like that because, growing up, I watched a lot of musicals, like Meet Me in St. Louis and anything with Judy Garland, and I just couldn’t believe that I was gonna get to do that. It was a real honor and really fun.

After doing a project like this, that is so unique and different, how do you approach figuring out what you want to do next?

Image via Netflix

HERNANDEZ: I’m half-freak, half-punk and an actor, so I don’t know how this is gonna come off but I’m gonna say it anyways, but it always depends on a feeling I get, when I read something. If I feel connected to a character, or if I have to work at it more, it’s all just based on a feeling. It’s about who’s creating it. My thoughts will always remain the same, in that regard. I go on a feeling with projects, and that was especially true for [Soundtrack] because I haven’t done very much television. I’ve never owned a television, in my life. I watch some television, but I feel more at home in the film world and I watch a lot more film. And so, even deciding to do this show was a bit out of my norm, but the people that were working on it, I can’t say enough about. Josh Safran is very dear to me now, and I hope we did his vision proud. Meeting him, there was instant chemistry. It wasn’t individual. It was a whole world that was just there. At one point, I just really wanted to be a part of it, and I’m so glad that I was. But in terms of whether it’ll affect how I take other jobs, I don’t think it will. I’m really grateful, and what this job taught me is that, if you’re working with a large group of people – the producers, creators, the writers’ room and the actors – and you’re working on a project where the world is so clear and everyone is willing, and you’re making something somewhat different, that whole group of individuals will come together, be willing to try different things, being flexible, and believing in it. That created an environment that was really beautiful to work and to be a part of, which I know sounds really cheesy and almost like I’m lying, but I’m not. It sounds like I’m making this shit up, but I’m not. I felt the most able to try things, in an environment like that, and that was one of the big takeaways that I learned. If you have the support and you have a positive, try anything, devil may care attitude, as a whole, it really allows the space to try to come up with something totally new and fresh and creative, and that was a real joy.

Soundtrack is available to stream at Netflix.

Television