Launch of #TKSConversations

Our first of many #TKSConversations : Ana Isabelle on Steven Spielberg, West Side Story, and Returning to Terry Knickerbocker Studio

Ana Isabelle, Photograph by Omar Cruz

Ana Isabelle, an alumna and continuing student at the Terry Knickerbocker Studio, is featured prominently in Steven Spielberg’s recently released film version of West Side Story. In the first of a new interview series called “TKS Conversations,” she spoke with us about what it was like to be directed by Steven Spielberg, how she earned the part of Rosalia, and why she continues to train at a new york premier acting school Terry Knickerbocker Studio (TKS). Future interviews in the series will continue to share conversations with members of the TKS community about experiences that can be instructive for us all.

TKS: What was it like to be directed by Steven Spielberg?

Ana: Working with Steven Spielberg was a dream come true. I had dreamed about it since middle school. But it was surprisingly easy to work with him because he is so specific, and that’s how we are trained at TKS.

He’s very clear in what he wants, and he knows how to get it from his actors. He started rehearsals with experts talking about the time period in which the story is set, so we understood the context. He then talked with us about our characters and their relationships with others, so we understood the social dynamics of our roles.

Steven Spielberg sat down with me and one other actor – Ilda Mason, who plays Luz – just the three of us. He talked about our roles and their relationships with each other, with the leads, and with the boys. 

He built up the rehearsal process in these layers of background information until we made it to set. Then, when we were on set, it was stress free, and we could enjoy being present in our roles.

Throughout the process, he felt like a friend. He had conversations with us. The atmosphere was relaxed.

TKS: What was the audition process like?

Ana: The audition process was seven months long. I had seven auditions. When I started the process, I had already graduated from the TKS Summer Intensive – TKS’s first Summer Intensive ever – and hadn’t yet enrolled as a continuing student, because I had to work to support myself. 

I made it through the early rounds of auditions on my own and then asked Terry Knickerbocker to help me prepare for my last audition. Working with Terry helped me be very specific, which I needed to be with Steven Spielberg. It helped me feel more confident because I wasn’t doubting my choices.

Our whole training at TKS is about dividing the script into smaller pieces, so that we can understand our character and our emotions. How did the character feel at that moment? The Meisner training enabled me to read the script slowly and understand each word. For Steven Spielberg, I needed to be super-specific and grasp those moments that convey the character.

TKS: How did you decide to attend the Terry Knickerbocker Studio initially?

Ana: A friend of mine who is also from Puerto Rico, the actor Ismael Cruz Cordova, had studied with Terry. When I moved to New York six years ago, I decided to study in the summer, and Ismael recommended me to Terry. 

TKS: When did you then decide to enroll in the two-year program at TKS?

Ana: When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down acting opportunities, I decided that was my chance to do the full two-year training. I’m so pleased I did because training at TKS keeps sparking my curiosity about my craft. 

I want to be the best actor I can be, and I know that Terry and the Terry Knickerbocker Studio can help me be that. Now I’m in the second year of TKS training, and I’m obsessed. 

TKS: Being in a Steven Spielberg movie was on your vision board. What are your aspirations now?

Ana: I want to keep expanding my roles. I want better and bigger roles. I want to make it on Broadway and be the lead in a Hollywood film. I want to play interesting characters and immerse myself in their worlds. 

Sometimes people pigeon-hole me, and I like to prove them wrong. Having the amazing experience of working with Steven Spielberg in West Side Story proved that I am capable. Training at the Terry Knickerbocker Studio prepared me. It taught me how to work on a script, how to approach a character, how to be vulnerable.

I always knew that I wanted to go back to school. My parents taught me that it’s all about education – being prepared. Throughout my career I’ll keep training. I’ll keep calling Terry to coach me. My role models in acting keep training, studying, expanding their skills. The more ready you are, the more likely you will be to achieve your dreams.

Want to be more like our Ana?
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