By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire August 4, 2011 at 3:40AM
Age: Early 20s.
Why She's On Our Radar: Harmony Santana, a transgender actress, gives a breakout lead performance in Rashaad Ernesto Green's coming-of-age scorcher "Gun Hill Road." Santana plays Michael, a male teenager on track to transition into a woman. When his father returns from a long stint in prison, Michael finds himself facing off against a man unable to understand his son's dilemma. The Bronx-set drama premiered at Sundance to positive notices, snagged a distribution deal with Motion Film Group and went on to open Outfest and close NewFest.
More About Her: This marks Santana's first film. She currently lives at Green Chimneys, a group home in Harlem mainly for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth. She told indieWIRE that she'll soon be moving out to her own apartment somewhere in Manhattan.
What's Next: She appears in "Eating Out: Drama," which just premiered on Logo TV. "I have another film in November, but we're shooting a little bit in August. It's a Spanish drama about a family split in half. I play a female cousin. My little sister is in it. It's exciting."
indieWIRE Asks: How did you come on to the project. You didn't seek it out if I'm not mistaken.
I was working on a parade to promote AIDS Awareness. I was working in the booth and I went out for a little break. Rashaad was going around passing fliers and he saw me and handed me a flier. He explained what he was looking for. I told him I wanted to audition. I went in, auditioned, he called me for a second read and I got the part.
What was your initial reaction when you read the script?
When I first read it, I thought it was amazing. I knew I wanted to do it for my community. It felt a lot of emotions just reading it.
How did the audition go, being that you're a newcomer?
It felt like a breeze.
It was hard, because I had never done it before. I was so nervous just sitting around the other people. But now that I'm looking back at it, it went by so fast.
You spent a month rehearsing prior to shooting right?
Actually, six weeks. It was intense. We did a lot of workshops. Rashaad worked my butt off. We did a lot of exercises to bring back feelings from my own personal experiences, because I don't have a relationship with my dad, either. That was very emotional. I did a lot of crying. It was really, really intense but a lot of fun at the same time.
They did this exercise where I had to write a letter to him and speak it out loud as if I was talking to him. There was this other one, where he made me sing my favorite song to break me out of my shell.
It was "Dreaming of You" by Selena. Rashaad started singing it and got me to go along. Then we started singing it and started twirling around the room. It was too much (laughs). But it opened me up. I'm grateful I went through the classes.
What was it like once you got on set?
I wasn't really nervous, I was more anxious and excited to be on set, just because it's a dream of mine. Everything was comfortable. It wasn't too bad... just the heat. We were in the middle of a heat wave. The other actors made it very comfortable for me. They were like my mentors.
Acting is something you always wanted to do right?
How did you try to make it happen prior to taking this on?
I kind of just did some research while I was young, like around 10. I tried my hand at modeling. My mom took me to some calls, but didn't push me. I kind of let it go and forgot about it. It wasn't until Rashaad approached me, that I went, yeah, what the heck.
Do you now see this as a new career path?
Yeah. Rashaad opened doors for me. I'm going at it for now.
The film comes out this week, but you've been touring to festivals with it. How has the response been from the transgendered community?
It's been great! I just got a message two days ago where a girl was telling me that I inspired her. She said she was hiding for a long time and didn't come out for a long time. She said she's now coming out to her parents after watching the film. She's very inspired to be herself and so happy. It makes me feel, like, I don't know...