First published in the Oct. 9 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
As a young girl, in the bedroom of her parent’s home in the Magnolia Park section of Burbank, Veronica St. Clair would lay on her bed and dream of becoming an actress.
That dream became stronger as each year passed, and during her time at Roosevelt Elementary School, Jordan Middle School (now Huerta Middle School) and John Burroughs High School, she began honing her dramatic skills in variety shows, talent shows and show choir.
Following her matriculation at the University of San Diego, St. Clair returned to Burbank with a fierce dedication to find success as an actress. After appearing in small roles in several television series and independent films, the break she had been dreaming of came last year when she was cast as Riley Velez in the new NBC drama “La Brea.”
The show, which debuted on Sept. 28, chronicles a family who becomes separated between two worlds after a massive sinkhole opens in Los Angeles. While the mother and son have fallen into an unexplainable primeval land, the daughter and father, who is dealing with medical issues that cause hallucinations, are desperately doing all they can to reunite the family.
“I got the audition for ‘La Brea’ in March of 2020,” St. Clair recalled as she lounged on a couch in the home she grew up in shortly after returning from Australia where the series was shot.
“I actually went in to read for another role that I thought I would be perfect for,” she added. “Soon after, they called and said they were considering me for a bigger role, the role of Riley. They then called back and said I got the part without even having to test for it.”
After being cast as Riley, as the word “COVID” came into everyone’s vocabulary, St. Clair was told they were putting production of the show on hold for two weeks, just until things settled down.
“Two weeks became two months, and then we all know what happened,” St. Clair said. “I was getting to the point that I wasn’t sure it would happen, although I also knew NBC really believed in this show and would do all they could to push forward with it.”
Ultimately, due to the pandemic, the network greenlit the show without even doing a pilot.
“After we did our first read-through at NBC/Universal, we all closed out scripts, applauded and just had a feeling it could be huge,” St. Clair said. “So we were off to Australia to begin production, and without tasting or doing a pilot, that was the first time I was before a camera as Riley.”
When it comes to her character, St. Clair said she was able to slip into the role easily.
“Riley Velez is not too different than me, although she is way cooler,” St. Clair said with a laugh. “I have been her in some ways. She wears a lot of rings and when she is nervous she plays with them. That was something I started doing that helped me find the character. It’s a subtle gesture that allows her to deal with her apprehension and nervousness — something others would not notice so she can look like she is in control.”
The special effects-heavy production incorporates a tremendous amount of computer generated imagery, which calls for the actors do many scenes in front of a green screen.
“Working with CGI is something I haven’t done before, so playing against nothing was a lesson of its own for me,” St. Clair said. “I found it to be fun. It was joyful to tap into the imagination I had as a little girl, when I would dream of being an actor.”
As for the determination St. Clair possesses, it led her to getting the role of Riley. She credits her parents Rey and Gema Sanchez.
“I don’t have the words to express how grateful I am to my parents for the unfailing support they have given me,” she said. “There are millions of people who hope to pursue a career as an actor. I’m nothing special that sets me apart from those millions, but I do have special parents who have supported me in every way. They have guided me and been my sounding board like teachers and business partners. My dad would run lines with me before every audition. That always calmed my nerves.”
Saying she was relentless in her pursuit of auditions, St. Clair said she gets that drive from her hardworking parents.
“I auditioned for so many things and never got picked,” she said. “I got flat out ‘noes’ and many ‘maybes’ that turned into ‘noes.’ But I never gave up.”
St. Clair jumped up from the couch. “I have to show you something!” she said as she headed down the hall to the room that has been her bedroom since she was a baby and pointed to two cards on a bulletin board.
“Every time I got an audition I would make a tally mark,” she explained. “I looked at it as a numbers game, that the more I auditioned the better chances I would have of getting a ‘yes.’ Each one of those marks represents the privilege it was just to get an audition, even if they said ‘no.’ That is all a part of the actor’s journey.”
Along with her parents, St. Clair is also quick to credit many of her fellow Burbankers for her success.
“Burbank is so special to me,” she said. “I was raised by the people of this city. Through my parents I have gotten to know so many people of every age from so many walks of life. My parents have taken my brother and me to community events since we were very young, and because of that I owe a lot to so many people and all my teachers in the Burbank school district. They have all played a role in my success.”
Asked to whom she feels “La Brea” will appeal to, St. Clair said it is not really a disaster show.
“The disaster takes place in the first few moments and then it’s like: disaster over,” she explained. “What this show is really about is a family that, after a disaster, is doing everything they can to get back to one another — back to normal — which I feel parallels what we have all been going through over the past two years.
“We are all dependent on our families, our friends, and our communities, and the pandemic was like a giant sinkhole that ripped that away from us. Now we’re all trying to find our way back to one another, and life as we once knew it. So it’s not just for people who love disaster shows. It’s far more about love and resilience, how we come back out of a disaster and find our footing again.”
DAVID LAURELL may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or (818) 563-1007.