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Lending 'Down for Life' Their L.A. Authenticity

September 15, 2009

Today, when Jessica Romero talks about her future, the Wilmington teenager and star of the new feature film "Down for Life" says she wants to become a marine biologist.

But not so long ago, Romero wasn't sure whether she'd have any future at all. Like the girl-gang leader she plays in "Down for Life," she was embarked on an unpredictable, sometimes violent existence with no clear path leading out.

"I wouldn't think about tomorrow, I would always just think about the moment because tomorrow was never promised to you," Romero said during an interview last week with fellow cast members Andrea Valenzuela and Isamar Guijarro and director Alan Jacobs at Locke High School in South Los Angeles, where some of the film was shot.

The filmmakers said they met thousands of youths at several area schools before finding the handful of Latinas who play the movie's principal gang-member roles. In his casting notes, Jacobs observes that two of his favorite films, "The Bicycle Thief" and "Open City," as well as the Brazilian "City of God," used amateur performers in the lead roles "with great success."

"I figured it would be easier to teach a street kid to act than to teach a teen actor to play street," he writes. Read More