Q&A: JACKIE CRUZ AND “MIDNIGHT IN THE SWITCHGRASS”

Actress, singer and activist Jackie Cruz gives us the details on her newest film, which follows the true story of law enforcement’s pursuit of a brutal serial killer
Jackie Cruz is in the new thriller, “Midnight in the Switchgrass”, out now. Photo Credit: Andrei Duman

Arturo Hilario
El Observador

Editor’s Note: At a few points during the interview there is a splash of Spanglish, for flavor. That’s just the way bilingual minds work sometimes!

You may remember Jackie Cruz from her iconic portrayal of Marisol “Flaca” Gonzales on Netflix’s prison drama, “Orange Is the New Black”, or her recurring role in the series “Good Girls”. You may also recognize her from her singing career, or past modeling career; Cruz is a multifaceted entertainer but beyond the cameras and microphones she is an active “freedom fighter”, her activism was on full display last year with support for her fellow Latinx communities amid the pandemic and support during the Black Lives Matter protests, which included speaking engagements at rallies.

Recently the dynamic Dominican–American actress chatted about her newest project, “Midnight in the Switchgrass”, which takes its premise from the very true horror of the “Truck Stop Killer”, a serial killer truck driver who terrorized Texas for 15 years until he was apprehended in 1990. “Midnight in the Switchgrass” moves things to Florida but involves the FBI’s pursuit of the elusive serial killer before he takes more lives.

With a cast including Megan Fox, Bruce Willis, Emile Hirsch, Lukas Haas, Cruz breaks down what attracted her to the project, what it was like working with one actor who she went to high school with, and how the film ties into the ongoing problem of human trafficking.

Hi Jackie, thank you so much for taking time to talk about “Midnight in the Switchgrass”.

Yes, I’m so excited it’s finally coming out!

To start off, I wanted to ask, what attracted you to the script or the story?

Well, you know, these are things we don’t really talk about very much. These are temas que son muy difíciles de hablar, they’re just topics that are difficult to talk about. So, when I read it, I was excited to work on a project that would be known internationally because I grew up in the Dominican Republic and I know about sex trafficking and I know about these young girls that have to go through this, and that’s their life, and it’s not easy.

And what I loved about it is Megan Fox’s character and my character, it’s seen through like a woman and kind of like strong women, not just like these docile women know it’s a woman fighting for girls’ lives. I just think it’s time to talk about this. I think it’s time to talk about these difficult subjects and especially in such a big way with Bruce Willis, Megan Fox, Lukas Haas, Emile Hirsch.

And it was kind of awesome that I got to work with Emile Hirsch because I went to high school with him, and it’s been a dream of mine since I was 15 to work with him. We don’t know each other in high school, but we had mutual friends and also mutual teachers.

And so, the first 15 minutes of me meeting Emile we talked about that, and he couldn’t believe it because we went to performing arts school at Hamilton Academy and after that, we had this vulnerable scene together and it was very easy for me because we connected very, very quickly. But yeah, that’s what really attracted me to it, that I finally brought this subject forward internationally and in a big way.

So, what was it like working with such an ensemble cast and like you talked about already, but what was it like working with the others?

Since we’re working during a pandemic, the people there are the people that have to be there, like my scene partner, the director, the people behind the scenes, the people making it happen. So, I can only really touch upon my experience with Emile, which was incredible, I respect his talent, he respected my talent, and we just did a beautiful, vulnerable scene together and he took away my shyness because he’s very, very method, he’s very focused and he wants to do good work all the time. He did great!

I was really blessed to work with an actor that’s professional and talented and on point and it was it was beautiful to work with Randall Emmett, it’s his first directorial debut. And he brought a lot of heart to it, and he knew exactly what he wanted from me and got it from me. So, it was it was wonderful, it was a great experience. And I can’t wait to work with Emile again one of these days. And hopefully Megan Fox and Bruce Willis, like some one-on-one scenes, you know.

I think for me, one of the things that attracted me to the film is the true crime aspect of it. I was wondering if that at all was also another aspect that piqued your interest besides what you had originally mentioned, which was the unfortunate reality of trafficking?

Yeah, I mean, this this is the truth. I’m used to telling the truth when I’m acting, when I get to tell someone else’s truth and I’ve been lucky enough to play roles like Flaca (“Orange Is the New Black”) where I’m telling her truth and I get to play roles telling someone else’s truth. So right now, this movie, it intrigued me that it was a true story. It’s not something new for me. I grew up in Latin America, the Dominican Republic. It’s something that I’ve known my whole life. And I’ve been lucky enough not to be a part of and know that there’s a lot of that going on.

So, yeah, definitely the part of it being a true story definitely intrigued me and the way of it being told in a big way starring Bruce Willis, Megan Fox and getting the story known internationally and worldwide was very, very intriguing as well.

Can you talk a little bit about your character, Suzanna?

Yes, Suzanna is a strong, dedicated mother and wife, and she keeps her husband on the ground, kind of like, “Okay, you work in this violent world, but remember that you have a house with a family, you have a daughter, you have a wife that you need to come home to. You have that world, and you have a big heart. And you were put in that situation because of your heart. And no one is like you. But don’t forget about us. Don’t forget that you need to come home to your family.”

So, my character is a very smart woman, and he respects her, he listens to her and she’s a dedicated mother. And regardless of what he’s doing, maybe he talks about these little girls being prostitutes and she makes sure that he understands that these little girls, that wasn’t their dream as a child. This was a position that they were placed in that they didn’t want to be in, so I have to make sure that he doesn’t judge these little girls, that he stays focused, that he remembers that it’s not their fault. So, I have to keep him grounded.

So that’s what I love about my character, that she has a big heart, but she keeps him grounded and steady and making sure that no matter what he’s doing, that he has to come home to us, he has this family that he needs to take care of.

Y la última pregunta, muchas gracias de nuevo Jackie, why would you recommend audiences check out “Midnight in the Switchgrass”?

Recomendó que todo el mundo vea “Midnight in the Switchgrass” porque es una historia verdadera, es una historia de un tema que no se habla mucho, es una historia de un tema que debemos de hablar mucho, porque está pasando en el mundo completo. En Latino América, en la Republica Dominicana, en todos los sitios.

La película tiene personajes increíbles como Megan Fox que es independiente, que pelea por esas niñas, y que pone su cuerpo y su mente, su ser enfrente de esta gente mala para atraparlos. Y no se ve mucho, esos personajes de mujeres fuertes en películas de historias como estas. Entonces deben de ver esta película, sale julio 23 en Apple TV y en algunos teatros seleccionados, y en DVD el julio 27!

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