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ONCE A MARINE…

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KatHeadshotWhen I meet someone in “the biz” here in Hollywood there are many things they know or can guess about me; I am a woman, I am a small woman, I am a small woman who is an actress or something similar.  What most fail to ever see is that I am also a United States Marine.  I’m not active duty anymore, but as any Marine will tell you, “Once a Marine, always a Marine”.

Ah yes, as soon as that surprising tidbit is unleashed, I find myself the center of interest – mostly from men who want to know if I can beat them at the gentlemen’s game of arm wrestling.  Others inquisitively ask what brought me from the Marines to Hollywood, a tale that is not as bizarre or off course as one might imagine.

I remember once as a young lassie when I was watching television, I pointed at the screen and declared that I would be there someday.  A guffaw then escaped my very traditional Mexican grandfather before he said, “Okay, but what are you really going to do?”   Be it a blessing or a curse, even at the tender age of 10, I rebelled against anyone not believing or doubting my ability to accomplish something.   Being in the movie and television world became my goal.

When I was a senior in high school I came to the conclusion that if I ever wanted to realize my dreams, I would have to get out of my Mom’s home in Rockville, MD and find my way to the entertainment capitol of the world: Los Angeles!  Surprisingly, the Marines is how I got there.  I did my bootcamp in Paris Island, South Carolina (like all women), Marine Corps Combat Training (MCT) in Camp Geiger, North Carolina and my MOS (Job) training at Camp Johnson, NC before dropping into my permanent duty station at Camp Pendleton, California.  That was the first step.  Being close to Los Angeles gave me the ability to attend film festivals, take real acting classes with people who have actually worked in film and television, and audition.  I dealt in personnel administration in the Corps, which allowed me the set schedule I needed to pursue a career in entertainment.  I garnered my first agent and even booked my first commercial while I was still in.

Was it awesome being a Marine?  I like to call my military experience “an experience”.  It was good at times, not so good at other times.  But truthfully, it is because of the Marines that I am living in Los Angeles continuing to pursue my dreams.  I owe that to my time in service.  I gained a skill – number one – something I could take into the job market and make a living with.  I learned discipline, which is something I use on a daily basis and many others lack (it separates me).  And I learned that friends could be family.  Not having much of my own family growing up, I had always longed for a place to belong, people to belong to.  In the Marines I had it.

How does this relate to “the biz”?  I always tell people my time in service prepared me for a career in the entertainment industry.  I learned that sometimes you lead and sometimes you follow.  I am a natural born leader, I know this, but learning how to follow and work alongside others as equals to get the job done is imperative to a long lasting career and it’s what makes a good leader. The Marines also taught me patience.  We’d call it the “hurry up and wait” game.  Everywhere you went, you would go in a hurry; you had to be fast.  But once you got there you had to wait twenty minutes for your commanding officer to arrive.  TV and film are exactly the same.  As an actress you get your call time at 7:00am, arrive, get ready, and then your shot doesn’t go off until around 11:00am.  Others might get restless, frustrated, but not I.  I am always early (If you’re early, you’re on time.  If you’re on time, you’re late), I am always patient and when they call my name on to set, I am always ready and eager.

For my writing, it has given me some of the most incredible experiences to act as fodder for my scripts.  I have written at least three scripts (two shorts, one feature) so far having to do with my military service.  As any writer will tell you, you have to live before you can hope to write beautifully organic pieces.  After the military I traveled. I had the confidence to go into other countries by myself and work as a volunteer in an orphanage in Costa Rica, or a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center in Guatemala, an organic farm in Belize.  And I feel it was because the Marines gave me my independence and thus richer experiences that I can write about.

I will say though, that one of things I most enjoy about having been a Marine is the look I get from others when I tell them.  It is a sense of pride.  I am 5’ 2”, 108 lbs, and dress feminine as all hell.  I have learned that my military experience is my calling card.  It’s what gets me remembered.  When I call the people I’ve connected with at an event, they rarely recall my name.  Once I explain that I am the girl who served in the Marines, their memory jogs, “Oh, the Marine girl!”  I have embraced this, just as all of you should embrace those things that make up who you are.  It is a source of strength in a frustrating industry to remember who you are and what you’ve done.  I stand at the audition door, butterflies a twitter, and tell myself I was a mother f’ing Marine. I can handle a small audition room.  So, for all of my fellow Leathernecks, Jarheads, Devil Dogs, WMs, just plain Marines out there, let me close by saying this… Semper Fi!

Kat Castaneda

About Kat Castaneda

After four years of service in the Marine Corps, where she booked her first acting job in a commercial, Kat Castaneda moved to NYC in pursuit of an acting career. She booked a few roles, garnered her first lead in a feature, and obtained her SAG card before moving to Los Angeles. Since in LA, Kat has discovered her true calling in creating content. Her talents as a fiction writer helped her transition into screenwriting, having two works produced in two years. She has just completed her first feature script, which, thus far, garnered her a spot in HBO/Nalip’s Latino Writing Lab earlier this year. A true creative spirit, she also started directing, completing her first film, “Regret”, and writing and directing the Indiegogo video for the web series, “Newlywed and Broke” she is currently creating with her Fiance. Stay tuned for this up and coming Latina powerhouse!