Growing up in El Paso didn’t keep actress Christina Villa from her dreams as she landed a leading role in a feature film titled “Wanted Man.” In fact, her connection with the El Paso/Las Cruces area may have helped her get the part of Rosa in the movie directed by and starring Dolph Lundgren, released in January.
Born and raised in El Paso, Villa attended Bel Air High School and lived in the lower valley. She was familiar with show business, as her mom was a performer in the city and a member of the Viva El Paso crew.
And while her mom would take her on stage sometimes, Villa later became shy and didn’t take an interest in acting until after her high school days. Yet she loved being part of a team and became a cheerleader at Bel Air.
It was at the University of Texas-Austin, after earning her bachelor’s degree in public relations, that the acting bug grabbed her again.
“I guess it was in me at a young age and I missed performing,” she said. “I took my first acting class and fell in love with it. I knew this is what I wanted to do and started taking whatever chances I could find.”
As she put in time as an extra in films like “Spy Kids 3,” she worked at the El Paso Times and was doing theater at the same time. Then, attending the Plaza Classic Film Festival, Villa heard Al Pacino talking about studying at the Actor’s Studio in New York and decided to jump in with both feet and auditioned for the school during an opportunity in Los Angeles.
“The teacher admitted me on the spot,” she said. “In four months, I was living in New York and going to school. Twice a week having teachers telling me, encouraging me, built that confidence that I lacked. Having their support made me feel like I’m in the right place and this is what I should be doing.”
Villa spent seven years in New York City working retail, delivering Uber Eats and whatever else she could find as she auditioned and auditioned for parts.
“Eventually I met my manager, Sana from Steinberg Talent, right around the pandemic,” she said. “I started to get more auditions and I got the audition for ‘Wanted Man.’”
When she saw the movie was to shoot in the Las Cruces area, she included her information about living in El Paso in her audition notes. Weeks went by and Villa didn’t hear anything, so she let it go and went on the next audition and the next. Finally, her agent said the producer had responded.
“It was an awesome experience to get to do my first (leading) role near home,” she said.
The movie was mostly filmed in Las Cruces from April to June 2022. And she has done two more movies since. “Wanted Man” is available on Amazon Prime or Apple TV, for on-demand viewing.
The experience in Las Cruces was amazing, Villa said. The team she worked with was great and filming in the desert itself added an element of reality to the process. She loved working with the local hair and make-up team.
“One of the funnest things to do was sit in that chair with them,” she said. “And the cast was great, the costume designer. It was just all around a really great experience because I got to be around some really great people. There is a lot of talent in New Mexico.”
To get into character, Villa used a lot of the tools she picked up in training, to which she added research and personalization. She portrays Rosa Barranco, a sex worker and eyewitness being escorted by a police officer (Lundgren) through Mexico and across the border. Villa describes Rosa as “a strong woman who doesn’t suffer fools.”
“You find things and experiences you can relate to,” she said. “You try to figure out how the character got to where they are now and trying to put yourself in their shoes. In terms of preparation, you just do your work for the role, let it go and show up.”
Filming in the desert was also a good experience, she said.
“It added a lot – showing the struggles (the characters) are going through,” she said. “We filmed in that 100-degree weather. One day the wind was crazy. It definitely added to the stakes of the characters, and I thought it was really great and I would do it again.”
Working with Lundgren and Kelsey Grammer on the film was a pleasure, she said. Other than booking smaller roles in television, the experience of getting the lead in a film was a dream come true.
“It was exciting, I was nervous, but they were so supportive,” she said. “I will always take with me how they made me feel like I belonged. Kelsey was right there and having someone like him cheer you on – I don’t know what words to use. I am grateful. It was a humbling experience.”
She described Lundgren as open to feedback, collaborative and always advocating for her; someone who knew what he was doing and when to delegate.
Villa’s family is supportive, she said. They have all seen the film multiple times.
“If sales are going up, it’s probably my family,” she said. “My mom is so excited; my dad was thrilled (if a bit taken aback at the idea of me playing a sex worker). They are a really big support system.”
Her small nephews, too, are excited about Villa making it as an actress and one of them is waiting for her to play Wonder Woman one day.