Allegra Acosta has known from a young age that she wanted to be an actress, urging her family to relocate from El Paso, Texas to Los Angeles when she was just nine years old. Within just five years, that move has already paid off.
Acosta, now 14, plays Molly Hernandez on Hulu’s RUNAWAYS, based on the Marvel comic book of the same name, and it’s already garnering rave reviews with the release of its first three episodes — and it’s garnered Acosta some attention from an established star she looks up to.
“Gina Rodriguez posted me and my co-star Ariela Barer as #MondayMovements and she posted about how proud she was of us, being Latina superheroes, and that’s all you can ask for,” Acosta told Tracking Board. “It’s such a surreal moment in my life, getting to play this young, strong Latina character who is genuine and…. I’m just beyond excited.”
In a wide-ranging interview, below, Acosta discusses the process of landing the role, how she knew from such a young age that acting was for her, and what her life is like now that Runaways is finally out in the world.
The show has finally been released. What sort of reactions have you been getting from fans?
Just the daily comments on social media, on Twitter, Instagram, of people just saying how they really identify with Molly, how they’re so happy to see not just Molly but all these strong females, all these strong, supportive male characters, the fact that there’s so much love and appreciation towards our work and our craft, it just validates how hard we’ve been working, how hard I’ve been working to get to this place. I just want to say thank you to everyone who love the show. It’s beyond amazing.
Take me back to the beginning, how did you hear about the project, what was the audition process like?
I got the audition at the beginning of the year. When I got it, I had no clue [what it was]. I knew it was attached to Marvel, but I wasn’t too sure and I didn’t want to psych myself out, so I was just telling myself, it’s just an untitled movie project and just also a valid opportunity. So I went in and talked and did my scenes with [the casting director] Patrick Rush and everything felt so smooth, in a way, if that makes sense. Even though I’ve been working hard for all these opportunities, this one felt so… easy? And amazing, like it was meant to be. I had this weird tingle down my back like, something weird is going on, I don’t know what to do! [laughs]
After the audition, I didn’t hear back for two weeks. I practically forgot about it, I just went, oh, they probably didn’t like me or they cast someone else, because it was [casting for] 14-16 year olds and I figured maybe they wanted someone closer to 16, but then out of the blue my manager called me and said I was going straight to testing. I was mind blown, I was jumping up and down, and at that point they told me a little bit more about Marvel and I was immediately excited. I read the script and I was up for Maya/Molly, so I was really interested. And they were slowly revealing hints. I went to the test, I met Brett Morgan [who directed the pilot episode], Josh [Schwartz] and Stephanie [Savage], we bonded, we had a great time, and the casting director Patrick said, “you did really good, you should be proud of yourself.” I went, okay, I went to Texas for my uncle’s wedding and they gave me a call that I booked it!
It was a beyond amazing experience, because this is all I’ve been wanting to do since I was little. I’ve done guest spots and some short films where I was the lead, but having a show that’s on Hulu and Marvel and a character who I really care about… it’s just a dream come true.
How long did you have to keep it a secret?
A long time! [laughs] I told my mom and my family, because they were there, and that’s all we were allowed to say. We had to be tight-lipped until it was on Twitter that the show had been picked up, that’s when I could start saying I was part of this project.
Were you a comic book fan growing up, what did you know about Runaways before the show?
I didn’t read the comic books, I wasn’t really brought up by them, but my family and I were Marvel movie junkies. I grew up on action movies, so every Marvel movie, I would go to the theater with my dad, we would buy popcorn and just call in love with all the characters. The first Marvel movie I ever watched was Spider-Man. I fell in love with how charismatic and how entertaining it was, and then afterwards I watched X-Men and I fell in love with Mystique and how she was the anti-hero.
Then after I found out I found out what role I booked, that’s when I read Runaways and that’s when the comic book realm started opening up for me. I really liked Runaways, I loved the stories and the pictures, the artistry, the words that would make you feel so special and unique about these characters who are really relatabe, so yeah, I fell in love with comics after that.
And now you’re part of the Marvel universe!
Are there any characters you would really like to interact with or see cross over?
Everyone on Twitter keeps telling me, “What if Molly punches out the Punisher? When’s Molly going to have a fight with Wolverine?” If I could fight these two guys, if a 14-year-old could fight these two grown men, that would be amaaaaaziiiiing! [laughs]
You and your family moved to LA when you were nine. How did you know at such a young age that this is what you wanted to do?
I was a very different kind of kid growing up. No one had the same drive as me at my age, at least where I was. I was like the mini Tony Robbins growing up. I would walk around school saying, Believe! Achieve! Succeed! Now I know why kids hated me, because I was that annoying. [laughs] I just really fell in love with the sense of working really hard and getting my dreams done. I loved El Paso, El Paso was a really great city, but I knew that I wasn’t going to stay there for long. So as a young kid, after I watched Annie and Sesame Street, I was like, man, I gotta perform for the rest of my life, and I’m going to make that happen, no matter what.
I didn’t bug my parents, but I kinda did. I was like, mom, we have to move to LA. I went to a convention when I was nine, I got Singer of the Year and a bunch of agencies wanted to sign me. I found my manager there and she said to me and my sister, “When you’re ready to move to LA, give me a call.” So that was no pressure! [laughs] My parents were so amazingly supportive. They sacrificed so much for us to move out here for my sister and I to follow our dreams. It’s been worth it and all that hard work finally paid off and is starting to pay off even more now that we’re here.
How are you finding Hollywood and the industry now that it’s your career, versus what you thought it would be?
When I was young, when an opportunity came along, because I was young and new, I had to take it, otherwise I would never be seen. I really hated, when I was little, that Latina girls were always typecast in a way that wasn’t strong and intelligent. They were always the sassy, fiery girl with a lot of curves, and I didn’t really appreciate that. I thought it was demoralizing to be put in a box because of my race. Not that we aren’t sassy and fiery, but we’re just more than what people used to typecast me as. I had a lot of those auditions, otherwise I wouldn’t even be seen, and that led me to be more intelligent and more aware.
So as my career keeps on going – and I hope it keeps on going no matter what – I’m going to stay more aware. People will try to take advantage of me as I’m growing, but luckily I have the support of my parents and family and friends, who are amazing and will help me out and tell me what’s up. Hollywood is brutal and demanding, but it’s worth it.
You’re finished filming on Season 1 of Runaways. What has this experience taught you, has anyone given you any advice?
Working with Marvel and Hulu, they’ve been so welcoming and they brought in so many great directors. I think a director that really struck for me was Brett Morgan. He directed our pilot and he and I just connected and bonded. He taught me to stick up for my character, because she’s me. Molly is me, and if I don’t protect my character and what I believe, for her, then it’s not going to be as genuine and relatable.
I’m 14 and everyone’s always telling me, “Stay humble,” and I’m humble, I’ll stay humble, I promise, but I also have to protect myself. People will try to take advantage of me because people have preconceived notions, so Brett Morgan really taught me that. And my castmates, Ariela and Ginny [Gardner] and Lyrica [Okano], Gregg [Sulkin] and Rhenzy [Feliz] teach me everyday, more and more about this industry. And also just getting to work with special effects and learning how to push cars and stuff like that, was also amazing, that was also a plus.
How did you and Josh and Stephanie approach the character of Molly and how to bring her to life?
Well the first step, the way they changed her was to make her look like me. They made her Latina, which is amazing. When I first got cast I discussed it with my coach, Lauren Patrice Nadler – I gotta shout her in, she’s amazing, she’s my mentor – We talked through things and collaborated on how Molly and I were very similar. Just walking into new shoes is always difficult but just making a connection with her. When we shot the pilot, Josh and Stephanie and Brett were talking to me about how Molly was going to be young and how we’re really going to see her grow up, more than any of the other kids. You’ll physically see her grow up, since I’m still going through puberty and stuff like that. [laughs] So you’ll see me grow up and my character will grow and evolve mentally, because she’s around all these kids and she’s in all these dilemmas and situations, but I also wanted to keep Molly grounded and relatable, and also very mature and intelligent for her age. She was like that in the comic books too and that’s initially how I recognized her in myself.
Molly’s pretty unique, she’s the youngest of the bunch but she’s also the first to develop her powers. How do you think she fits in and stands out among the rest of the characters?
Well she fits in because she’s a sister to Ariela’s character, Gert, but she also sticks out because she has no real family to fall back on. She’s always searching, she’s always the detective, she’s always trying to find out things for herself, because no one really believes she’s going through all this. She’s the first showpony, she’s the guinea pig, she’s the first to have powers.
This show obviously has a great, diverse cast. What does it mean to you to play a Latina superhero and be part of this great range of representation?
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think there’s been a Latina superhero who’s my age who’s been represented on television before. There have been Latino superheros but I don’t think they’ve been 14. So the fact that I’m representing girls my age, the struggles we all go though daily, the way she changes over the season, it’s just beyond surreal and beyond amazing, I know I’ve been saying that a lot but it’s true, it’s just a dream come true. The fact that I get to play a character who’s strong, who has superpowers.. When I was little, I never had that, so I hope Molly is a role model to those girls watching out there, and see that they can be bad-ass female Latinas out there. And I’m not typecast, that’s what I love. Josh and Stephanie didn’t fall into any stererotypes while doing this project.
What’s next for you? Obviously hopefully a second season but beyond that?
Hopefully I’ll be in some feature films, more seasons, being a gender and race equality advocate, I also want to be a philanthropist, work on music, so there’s a lot of things on my plate! Hopefully I can get them done — very soon. [laughs]
Runaways is currently streaming on Hulu, with new episodes releasing every Tuesday.
Linda Ge | TV Editor