LA BREA’S VERONICA ST. CLAIR IS READY FOR WHAT’S NEXT
It seems hard to believe that the radiant, articulate Veronica St. Clair ’16 (BA) could ever suffer a moment’s self-doubt, but to hear her tell it, she did not initially envision her future life’s path as an actor.
Which is sort of surprising, when she relates that she grew up on the stage as a singer and dancer.
“I was part of the show choir in high school in Burbank,” she says. “It’s really a big program there, and is considered essentially a varsity sport.” She’s not kidding. The premiere mixed show choir, Powerhouse, at John Burroughs High School actually inspired the megahit TV show, Glee.
“We practiced from 7 a.m. until 9 a.m. every day,” St. Clair recalls. “On Wednesdays, we’d stand in a line, two by two, and run around the school singing our songs. It was a very competitive, weird underground world.” In fact, Ryan Murphy, who created the TV show, actually filmed the show’s pilot in her high school’s choir room. “When the show was picked up, they emulated almost exactly the choir room that you see in the show.”
And the popularity of Glee led to some amazing moments. “We basically started gigging after school,” she says. “We were on Oprah, Dancing With the Stars, Cupcake Wars. I was on Ellen dancing behind Harry Connick Jr.’s daughter. Isn’t that funny?”
Since St. Clair grew up visiting USD with her dad, Rey Sanchez, Jr. (BA) ’88, she says it was a “no-brainer” to choose the University of San Diego when it came time to apply for college. Apparently that sentiment runs in the family; her younger brother, Trey, is a first-year on campus. “We’re a legacy family,” she says with some pride.
“Halfway through my first semester, I declared myself a theatre major, which is funny because I actually had never properly done theatre or acting training. But I used to walk by the theatre department in Camino Hall on the way to a jazz class that I was taking. It always felt like everybody in there was so full of joy; they seemed so liberated. One day, I just stopped dead in my tracks, then walked in and said, ‘I’m here to declare as a theatre major.’”
She didn’t tell her parents about that decision for a month.
That’s partly because St. Clair had always assumed that she’d join the family business, Chulada Spices, Inc., since that’s where both of her parents worked. “The company sells wholesale spices, herbs and snacks along the coasts throughout Southern California to smaller, mostly, Mexican markets,” she explains.
“I grew up in that warehouse. It just seemed an obvious choice to follow their footsteps.” She pauses for a moment, thinking. “Actually, that was something that they had never articulated to me. In many ways, I think
I projected it onto them. Also, maybe I had my own little judgments about how finicky the industry is and how maybe impossible it felt to be an actor.”
She admits that she was “really nervous” that they weren’t going to be supportive. “But I knew that I just had to rip the band-aid off. I sent them a group text: ‘Hey, I’m a theatre major now.’ A few minutes later, I hesitantly checked my phone. And they’d texted back, ‘Great, be a good one.’”
She took that advice to heart. “I told myself, ‘If this is what you want, throw yourself in. If you’re going to be here, be here 100%. Train, learn the craft.’ That was my whole mission statement as a student at USD: ‘I will not have a plan B.’”
By any definition, St. Clair has proven that she made the right decision. She landed the principal role of Riley Velez on NBC’s new series, La Brea, a very literal big break. The premise of the show — which debuted as the fall’s top-rated new series — is that a massive sinkhole opens in the middle of Los Angeles, with dozens of people pulled into it. The survivors wind up in a mysterious land filled with many plot twists and turns.
Although she had auditioned for a smaller role, she got a callback for Riley, a much more prominent part of the story. “I read for Riley one time, and was offered the role about a week later, which is not the conventional audition experience at all,” she recalls. As it turns out, St. Clair had become well-versed in the art of bouncing back.
“I actually kept a tally of how many auditions I was going on, because I always looked at the industry like a numbers game. I had 183 auditions before I booked La Brea. I wanted to know how many auditions it was going to be before I got a big yes. Of course, I had many smaller victories before that, but this was obviously a big one.”
It was a pop the champagne and call everyone you know moment. “It felt too good to be true, to be honest,” St. Clair says, with a rueful laugh. “When the pandemic hit, I had my bags packed, ready to fly to Vancouver, where we were shooting the pilot. Then I got a call saying that we were pushing back production two weeks.” Of course, those weeks turned into months as the global pandemic’s seriousness became apparent.
The good news for St. Clair was that in June of 2020, NBC extended the option for the actors, a positive indication that the production might be moving forward. “There was so much uncertainty in the industry and in the world that I wasn’t holding my breath at all,” she says. “I was mostly just grateful that NBC was giving me any money so I could buy groceries and pay rent.”
In January of 2021, the network green-lit the show for a 10-episode first season, based on six scripts that had been written by then. “I got a call from my manager saying that they were not only picking me up, but it was filming in Australia, and that I would be moving in two months to Australia for six months to film it. Again, a very surreal moment.”
In some ways, her La Brea character’s story arc paralleled that of St. Clair and the rest of the cast. “The whole premise of the show is that a group of people have to bond together to survive extraordinary circumstances. Isn’t that really what we all have been doing?” She’s come to feel that her fellow actors have become family.
“There I was, with a group of strangers. I didn’t have any support system there outside of them. In many ways, they’re the people that I’m closest to now.”
What’s next? Well, a second season of La Brea was green-lit in mid-November, which is exciting.
Of perhaps equal importance is the news that St. Clair adopted a kitten named Carmen, news that she’s so delighted to talk about that she whips out her phone to share a photo.
“She’s so cute! And she plays fetch. You’d think a cat that would do that would be boisterous, but she’s very well-behaved.”
St. Clair, who’s been doing quite a bit of press since the show began airing, smiles her million-dollar smile. “I’m very glad we’re talking about Carmen right now. This is great for me.” — Julene Snyder