We had the pleasure of catching up with Zulay Henao, a lovely actress who stars in Tyler Perry’s latest installment “The Single Moms Club.” She graciously opened up her home to us where we spent the entire afternoon.
Instead of going straight to college after high school, you served in the U.S. Army for three years. What prompted you to choose that route? During that time in high school, I was going through a lot with my family. My parents were getting a divorce and I wasn’t really tied in academically with something really strong that I wanted to pursue. It was a beautiful experience. I don’t regret it. It was three of the best years of my life because I grew so much and I learned exactly what I didn’t want to do, which was not do something I didn’t love.
What then inspired you to study acting at the New York Conservatory For Dramatic Arts? It wasn’t like I got inspired one day. I think I was always a performer. Since I was a kid, I’ve been dancing. I did tap, ballet, and jazz. I love people. I’m a very empathetic, sympathetic person and I think that’s why I gravitated towards the art of storytelling. I love exploring the human condition. During the Army I think that belief was really solidified. During that time I said this was definitely something I wanted to do and once I leave here I’m going to pursue it with intensity and intention.
What would you say was your big break then? I did a movie called “Fighting” with Terrance Howard and Channing Tatum and that movie propelled me to move to Los Angeles and pursue acting on a much bigger scale. I don’t like to think in terms of ‘big breaks’ anymore, that was kind of my young mind. I really just want to do good work and continue working with actors that are exponentially better than me, because I like being in that space where I can grow and I’m inspired and I can see other people’s approach to their work, humanity, and the human spirit. I want to live in the life of my characters and really explore it to the fullest.
Recently you’ve been cast in Tyler Perry’s upcoming film “The Single Moms Club” as Esperanza. What can you tell us about her character? Esperanza’s journey in the movie is a little different than the others. We’re all battling through our own demons. My journey in the movie was I had to take her from being a woman completely dependent on her ex-husband, both financially and emotionally. She’s someone who needs to find her passion, and her joy, and her zest for life again because she’s kind of lost it. She’s just living in a place where everything is dictated by someone else and she’s not really living her life.
Is there any part of your character that you can relate with? Well yeah. I’m not a single mother but I certainly can be empathetic to the idea of raising a single child alone. My mother was someone who really fought tooth and nail for her kids. She worked three jobs. When I was a kid I remember thinking my Mom was a super hero. So, I tried to be in a state where I always had those things in mind, the things my mother did and the sacrifices she made for me. Esperanza isn’t exactly making those sacrifices in the film but she’s going through the same emotional struggles.
Wow three jobs, that’s remarkable. What was it like working with Tyler Perry? Working with Tyler’s excellent. He’s a really aware and present person and I think that’s actually not doing him any justice. He’s very intuitive, so he knows a lot about you just from talking with you. He’s a very spiritual and positive person so I think he and I really connected on that level. I really appreciated him for that.
When you’re not acting how do you fill your free time? I’m kind of a homebody. I don’t do a lot of clubbin’ and stuff like that. But I do like to drink wine and have dinner with my friends and go to the movies. I love to read. I hike and I started boxing with my brother. I fill my life up with a lot of activity. I like to cook. I’m actually a really good cook.
That’s great. What would you say one of you favorite dishes to cook would be? I don’t have a favorite dish to cook. I’m a creator. I’ll go in the refrigerator and I’ll say ‘Oh let’s throw this together.’ I’ve been trying to change the way I eat in the last couple of months, so it’s been really fun getting creative with a lot of vegetables and coming up with healthy, but really delicious options.
What type of books and authors do you love? I read a lot of spiritual books. I love Deepak Chopra and Paulo Coelho. Right now I’m reading The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth by John C. Maxwell. I’ve taken my time reading this book because it’s a lot to digest and live in. One of the things it says is how important self-image is, not only for women or in terms of aesthetics. I’m talking about how you really see yourself in the world and what value you add to the world. Unless you sit in that for a while and really think about it you’re just going to read through it and it won’t be a lot of value to you. It doesn’t make any sense if you don’t live it.
Since you’ve been busy filming have you been able to spend any quality time with your family and loved ones? Yes. My brother lives with me now and my mother comes and goes. Family’s really at the core of me and my being. I really need them, and not just for advice. We really help each other spiritually and emotionally. Whatever it is we’re just a really tight-knit family and I Face Time my Mom and my sister every day. I’m very blessed that I’m not here alone in LA like a lot of other actors where they come here and they have to create these families. I love my family.
Are there any projects you’re working on now or in the coming future? It’s pilot season so I’m very excited about that. I’m in class! I have a great team of people that are working with me so I’m very excited for this. I’m excited to see what doors and possibilities are out there. I’m confident about “Single Moms Club” and that whole aspect in general. Also, I’m in the process of developing one of my dream projects, to create or co-create a lingerie line. It’s in the beginning stages but I’m happy to say that I’ve talked with the designer. I have a lot of visuals in my head that I’m excited about. My intention for this year is to do really amazing work and start this lingerie adventure in a strong way.
Interview by Samantha Tomilowitz Photographed by Isaac Sterling Styling by Sarah Chorley Hair and makeup by Jeanne San Diego