The Week Of actress Allison Strong discusses growing up Colombian in New Jersey and playing Adam Sandler’s daughter
New Jersey actress Allison Strong is on the precipice of something amazing. While she’s already appeared on television shows like The Blacklist and released her amazing dual actress album March Towards The Sun, this Colombian born dynamo is now co-starring with Adam Sandler and Chris Rock in the Netflix film The Week Of. I caught up with Allison to chat about playing the daughter of a legendary comedian like Adam Sandler, both her New Jersey and Colombian roots, and why performing in a movie musical would be her ultimate dream.
Michael Cook: Right off the bat, you are a Jersey girl correct?
Allison Strong: I certainly am! I actually recorded my first album at Lakehouse right in Asbury Park! I love it there. It is a fantastic place and it’s really up and coming. I am friends with a lot of Cuban musicians, and I went to Cubacan in Asbury Park last year and I improvised with a bunch of musicians there. That place had a great vibe and I just loved it there. Asbury Park also had a great boutique there also, called Bettie’s Bombshells. I got some great heart shaped sunglasses there. And I think I wanted to get some Esther Williams shoes there. I am a huge fan of the old MGM films, and they have a lot of vintage inspired things there.
What is Netflix’s The Week Of about?
Speaking of the old MGM films, The Week Of is the new Netflix film you are in and it definitely has a vibe just like the old MGM films.
AS: It definitely does have a lot of craziness going on with family and being together in the film. Another Jersey resident, Robert Smigel, actually directed and co wrote the film with Adam Sandler and it is really hysterical. You don’t really come down from the excitement until the end of the film. Everyone is wondering how it is going to end because it is just so crazy! My character herself is actually wondering the same thing; “how is the wedding going to turn out”?
You are working with people Adam Sandler and Chris Rock who have helped redefine the comedic landscape. Is it intimidating at all or once the cameras go up, are you able to put that to the side?
AS: You know it’s really interesting when I first auditioned for this part. I already knew that I was auditioning to play Adam Sandler’s daughter. I had no problem envisioning myself playing his daughter. After all, I grew up on his movies. I don’t think it’s hard for anyone my age or even a little older to imagine him as a member of the family. He has been in our homes for so long.
When I showed up to set on the first day, it did feel like walking into a dream of sorts. I remember walking onto the set of the Lustig family home. I was waiting for him to arrive. He showed up in basketball shorts and just tapped me on the shoulder and said, “hey how’s it going?” That definitely set the tone for the summer. I think I had a harder time believing that it was happening, before it happened, than when I was there. Happy Madison also creates such a fantastic environment to act. It was just great.
Allison Strong has her birth roots in Columbia
You are from the South American country of Colombia — direct from the city of Cali. How does that impact your career choices and path?
AS: I am! You are right, I am from the city of Cali. I visited the city of Bogota for a documentary that I was working on with Diego Luna and I absolutely loved it. It is like a very clean Manhattan. They have so many great museums and the food is really fantastic. The documentary is called Back Home. Michael Pena and Alexis Bledel are both in it.
I love Colombia. Since I was a kid I have gone back almost every summer. I will be going back this summer also.
There was a renaissance in the early 2000s with people like Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony became a huge part of our pop culture and it was dubbed the “Latin Explosion.” With movies like Coco and the reboot of One Day at a Time being so successful, do you see another potential renaissance coming?
AS: You know, I grew up in Hudson County, New Jersey. We are so Latino-centric. My family actually immigrated here from Colombia. First we went to Houston, Texas. Then they landed in Weehawken New Jersey. My family had to deal with a lot of racism in the late sixties, there were not that many Latinos around. By the time I was growing up though, it was rare to see someone who was not Hispanic in my community.
Seeing all of the diversity that I grew up with as a kid finally being represented on screen and in music, it really feels like home. I have friends and young performers that I have grown up with and one of them is Luis Figueroa and he is being produced by Marc Anthony right now. Another friend of mine is Shakira Barrera and she is on GLOW. You are seeing people who are coming up and who have always been here. It must be refreshing for performers from other generations, for both Hispanic and other minorities to see that now is our time. And it is terribly exciting.
Coco was one of the most impactful movies to be released in recent memory and was able to appeal to a true cross section of the country; the themes were universal wouldn’t you say?
AS: I agree completely. My grandmother was Colombian Indian. When I saw Coco, I saw my mamita. I went with my cousin and her daughter to see the film. We both were sobbing through the movie (laughs). Hearing the music… Mexican bolero music is so popular all over Colombia. We grew up with my grandmother singing Mexican bolero as well as Colombian folk music. So it all just felt so homey and so familiar.
I also think what is so wonderful about both Coco and the entertainment that is coming out from minorities, is that everyone is realizing that we really are not that different. We really have a common thread. Everyone has a family member that may not be approving of their goal in life, like the little boy in Coco. And everyone can see an elderly family member in Grandma Coco. Everyone has lost someone, misses them, or wants to be remembered be someone also.
Allison Strong says her creative mentors, partners Joe and John, are a part of her family
You have not one, but two people that I have heard are extremely important to you. Would you like to tell me about them?
AS: My uncles Joe and John are partners, and I met them when I was almost seven years old. I was introduced to them as cousins. But they were not cousins, they were partners.
As my first grade teacher, Joe Conklin, started me on this path to theater when I was really young and recognized this in me. He got me involved in community theater. I have basically spent too much of my childhood on stage with him and his partner. They have basically become family. I made his partner my godfather. I love them so much and they have stayed in my life since I was in first grade. Uncle Joe started me in Community Theater and we have done so many productions together. They live nearby, and we go out to dinner.
When they came out to me, it was so sweet. They told me and I was just like “oh that’s why you wear each other’s names on your rings.” (Laughs). It was an “aha” moment, they waited to tell me until I was twelve. It didn’t matter though. I love them so much. The fact that they recognized an artistic spirit in me, and got me involved in theater is special. I have no doubt that is what set me on my path. And I have looked up to them since I was a kid. I always looked up to them as these grand figures in my life.
In a very short period of time, you have done so much in the entertainment industry, from movies to recording music to theater. If you had to choose one aspect of your career that you are most passionate about, what do you think it would be?
AS: I have been a singer my entire life. My mom knew I was a shy kid so she put me in musical theater classes as a kid. She thought it would cure me, but it just ended up giving me the acting bug, and the musical theater bug. If I could find a way to do a movie musical, I do not know what I would do. I grew up with all musical theater; if I could find a way to match that with my love of film, I would be beside myself.
You grow up watching all of those MGM movie musicals and they are all coming back. I can single handedly thank musical theater for taking me out of my shell as a kid. I was definitely the little kid waiting for everyone to leave the playground so I could play. My whole life I have been a bit of a hummingbird. I would kind of go with the flow to whatever is piquing my interest and wherever life is taking me at that moment. If I could do a move musical that would be fantastic. But that is sort of like choosing… everything I do.
I think this sudden influx of movie musicals is really only going to revive the Broadway scene too. For so many years, people would say that they thought Broadway was on its way out. I completely disagree. Theater fans are so young and so active on social media that it is having a revival. With these movie musicals coming out, it is going to help revive the Broadway scene completely. People are watching musicals at home now the way we would watch Netflix.
Allison Strong discusses were inspiration comes from
Inspiration comes from different places for different people. What inspires you the most?
AS: My family came here from Colombia, and my grandma came here alone. I Know that she came with a dream not just for herself but for all of us. She did not speak any English. Every time I get down about an audition, I think of her. My grandma would sweep floors and would keep smiling. She was completely educated in her country and came here on a scholarship. Later, she was able to be a nurse to a certain extent. But she did not have the English to be able to get as far as she wanted. Her enthusiasm through all of that and getting all of us started that inspires me to keep going every day. If I have a bad audition, it is nothing like she had to go through bringing everyone here.
My family inspires me every day and keeps me really grounded. I have a family of educators, my mom works in the school system, my aunts, my cousins too. I hope in some sort of way that what I am doing is a service to people also, making people happy. They inspire me to keep going, but keep me grounded also.
The Week Of is streaming now on Netflix