You need to have the basics, but experience is going to give you your edge.
Pherlha Aguilar Model and actress
I was in school, I was like 15 years old I think, and my cousin was kind of handsome — he’s on TV right now here in TJ, locally. He got into an agency, he took a course in modelling. When he graduated, I went and the owner of that agency saw me and told me, “You should model, too.” And I was like, “Oh. I just came to see my cousin, but… ok!” So I ended up taking the course, entering the agency. They wanted to send me to Japan when I was like 16 and my mom was like, “Hell no, you need to finish something in school, some career or something.” I kept doing it, more on the side, and I stayed here doing campaigns, catalogues, stuff like that. I finished three careers — I have three bachelor degrees. The first one is in international business from the university here in Baja. Then I moved to Mexico City for contract modelling. I was supposed to be six months in Mexico City and I ended up staying 10 years. Because Mexico City is like the mecca, like New York or L.A. Everything from TV modelling, entertainment, business… everything is there. The contracts are there, the money is there, the exposure is there. You do it in Mexico City and you’ll get exposed to all of Latin America, everything. The novelas are filmed there. It’s the place to be if you’re going to be in it.
So I moved there and when I got there I studied another bachelor degree in arts, but especially dance. I actually learned a lot about Mexico even though I’m Mexican, because I’m from the border. The life here is very different from the south — we’re kind of Mexican-American! So when I went down there, I was like, “Oh my god, this is really weird for me.” I had to get adapted to being Mexican, to learning customs, ways of speaking, dances from the south. I didn’t know that!
I did another bachelor degree in acting and theater. I started branching into acting so I decided if I’m going to do it, I have to learn the basics. You can do soap operas — you have a chip and they’re telling you everything to say, so it’s super easy. It’s called the chícharo, which is the tiny chip like they have in the ear for deaf people, and they’re reading their lines. But still it looks fake, have you seen the novelas? The drama is over the top! When you’re in theater, you have to learn lines and you have to create a character and all that stuff so if you learn the basics, you can do anything. So I have three. I kept modeling in between, I never stopped, and I’m still doing it.
Last weekend I got to give a runway class to a bunch of girls from another school. Now it’s a thing, a commercial thing, people are opening modeling schools. The profiles are really specific for modelling so not everyone can be a model. But people make money off it, so they tell everyone, “You’re a model!” Don’t lie to a person! You can tell them, “You’ll learn how to walk, you’ll learn how to pose, because it gives you self-esteem,” whatever. But don’t tell them, “You’re going to be in magazines!” when you know it’s not true because that person doesn’t fit the profile that they need. So that’s a new thing — now they’re doing a lot of schools for modeling classes. They teach you etiquette, they teach you how to pose, how to market yourself, runway walking, poses for photography, how to manage colors with your skin tone.
When I took modeling school, they taught me how to walk on the runway, how to project, and basically how to find yourself because everyone projects differently. You have to figure out what works for you, what’s your style. Some people have an angry face, some people are really sweet and when they do the angry face they look weird. So you have to learn that. They teach you, “Your face looks happy, so stay in the happy-go-lucky light side,” or “You look like a bitch, take it all the way and act like that and walk like that — that’s your look.” Now, they give you everything; they even give you a beginner’s acting class because you have to act in commercials. You have a lot of competition with actors as a model. You see in all the advertising: the competition just got mixed between models and actors.
I was in an agency in Mexico City but then I find out that it’s not all good to be in an agency because they have you under their hands and you cannot do a lot of stuff if they don’t let you. Like everything, people work depending on who’s your friend, so if you’re a company, and you’re in a fight with the owner of an agency, you’re not going to hire the models from that agency, you’re going to go to the competition. So it’s very important that you as a model have a name because then you’re not tied to anyone. You’re like a freelancer. I do freelance and I still work like that — even in acting, I’m freelance.
So that’s how I find gigs. People call, or you find out on Facebook… you’re always online, sending reels and sending pictures, info, my CV, everything. That’s how I do it. And it works, I’m working a lot. You don’t have a manager doing that for you so you can be sleeping or watching the TV. Every day you have to go and check what’s going on.
I got an opportunity to do the tourism campaign for Puerto Peñasco for two years in a row. It was like a vacation to Sonora, but paid, so I was like, “Yeah, for sure I’ll do it.” They hit me with a drone. That’s why they hired me for the next year, too, because they felt so bad!
They were filming with a drone. We were filming kayaking on the open ocean in the Sea of Cortez and they flew the drone next to me. The day before, they flew the drone next to me and they told me, “It’s going to be really near you, near your face, so do not do sudden movements.” They filmed with the drone, it passed near me, nothing happened. So the day we were on the boat, it was perfect, really sunny, no wind, nothing. Then when the drone was like this close, a wind blew out of the middle of nowhere, pushed the drone into me. The drone hits me and loses control; it hit me seven times … the helicopter thingies, it peeled two layers of my skin. It wasn’t a cut, it was peeled. It hits hard, it was strong, like a punch. I didn’t feel the peeling, I felt the punch. So it hit me and I thought “Ok, this thing could hit my face; the body, I don’t care.” But if that thing pulls my eye out or something… I covered my face and went into a little ball because I’m afraid of the ocean so I couldn’t jump in. When I curled into a ball it kept hitting me in the back, it hit me on the butt, it hit me on the leg.
I couldn’t stop bleeding from the two layers they cut off. They put the alcohol and it didn’t stop the bleeding, it kept going on and on and on, so they’re like, what else… Band-Aids. Nothing happened. So the captain of the boat told me, “The only thing you can do is to jump into the water because the salt from the ocean is going to close the wound.” Even though I hate the water, I jumped into the ocean. And it closed the wound. It was open, but it stopped the bleeding at least. A half an hour later, we keep filming because we had a full day filming. I went zip lining, I went on a jet ski, with this thing open. At that time, you could see it; they had to Photoshop it. It doesn’t show anymore — I have really good skin. It’s almost gone and it’s been two years. But the plus side is, I got hired again the next year because they felt so bad and because I didn’t make a fuss about it. I knew it was an accident.
The next year I got hired and we went to do the same thing and they had a new drone — they obviously didn’t get the drones near any of us actors or models. They put us in a five star hotel, paid for everything; we had a full vacation, we went parasailing, we did a lot of stuff. They took us on the three-floor yacht that had a Jacuzzi and that had a cinema inside the boat. I’m like, “Oh my god, I feel so fancy.” I always say, “Be nice.” I didn’t need to make a scene because it was an accident. The next year, the producer called me and said, “Ok, you got it, you’re going to do it again because I already know you and I know how you work so it’s perfect… and can you get me two other models?” Of course, so I call my friends. You get a lot of jobs like that, too. If I’m not the profile or they’re looking for a blonde girl… ok, I’ll call my friends who I know fit the profile, maybe they can get it. Maybe I didn’t get it, but you got it. It’s still good karma.
I’m happy that I’m here right now in the border and I can work both sides. Thank god Americans right now are between “We don’t love different ethnicities” and “Yes, we do” so grab that because it wasn’t like that before, it wasn’t like “Let’s put Latinos everywhere.” Now the Latin boom is still going on, you’re seeing a lot of Latinos in movies, singing, shows. Even in magazines. So let’s jump into that hype until it goes away. Because it’s going to come a point it goes away. I’ve been doing a bunch of photoshoots; last year I got published in six magazines. I’m like, “Oh my god, half of the year!” Published editorials. Two of them in the U.S. and the rest of them in Europe. Europeans like my profile.
I still like to go on fashion week, I love that. Because even though I’m not that tall, I learned how to walk. When I do the walk, everyone’s like, “But she’s not that tall.” But I walk better than the taller girls because it’s experience doing this for so long, it comes natural to me. I know how to project because I do it on TV, I do it in modelling, I do it in magazines, I know how to do it and how to turn it off and turn it on again.
They did a fashion expo in Tijuana, and everyone comes and they hire models and they get the top of the top, but locally. So I brought a friend from Mexico City because she was like, “I want to do a runway show outside of Mexico City.” She came, we went to the runway and we went to the fittings and we were the shortest ones and the older ones. Everyone was super young. One of the designers, she bought new shoes for everyone. Which, it’s not normal anymore. That happened when I started: when you did a runway show, the designer brings everything, you don’t have to bring anything. You bring yourself, and obviously your underwear, and that’s it. They have to give you everything else because that’s not your job to find shoes to fit the designer. That’s why they ask for shoe sizes, and stuff like that; they need to provide everything. Your work is to model those clothes and try to look good so everyone can want to buy those clothes.
So the new shoes were completely new, and new shoes hurt. They had a little bracelet on the ankle… oh god. That thing rubbed your feet behind your ankle and it rubbed so much that it actually cut you. All the models were complaining because it hurt every time you walked. But you are not going to walk 40 miles. You’re going to do only a runway and back and then you go back stage and you take them off, and the next designer makes you wear your own shoes, so it was only once. You have to fake it. You have to walk like it’s not hurting even though it’s almost cutting you and you’re starting to bleed, but still you have to walk and you have to not let the people know that you’re suffering. Because it’s only one walk, it’s not a lot. The owner of the show was like, “Why is everyone walking like that? It’s so weird.” People noticed it, they didn’t notice the clothes, they noticed that they were walking weird. I told the owner of the show when we finished, “Oh, the shoes really hurt.” And she was like, “But you and your friend didn’t walk like that.” Yeah, because me and my friend are professionals and we know what we’re doing. That’s our job! We’re real models, we know how to deal with that stuff and keep quiet about it. Those other girls, yeah, they’re tall, but… You have to deal. Nobody has to know. You throw the shoes away when you get done! Then you can complain about it backstage.
I’ve been doing this for so long, I know how to do it. Next week I’m going down to Mexico City to do fashion week. I’m still happy that they keep saying, “Oh you want to do it? Come do it!” At least that’s a good thing — you know you did your job well. You took the time to learn it, and you’re still doing it.
They filmed Fear the Walking Dead — second and third season, they filmed here. So all TJ appears in that series. Everyone. All TJ and half of San Diego, too, because of the border. Which was really good for the people here. It’s not The Walking Dead, it’s a spin-off of The Walking Dead. I think it lasted seven seasons. I’ve never seen the series, I never saw it. But I knew it was about zombies, obviously. American production, but in Mexico, which is cheaper. They filmed in Los Studios Fox, where they filmed Titanic and Master and Commander.
If you wanted to be a zombie, that was your chance. You got paid for the day, you were there, you worked, you got the makeup on, you were hanging out, they gave you a class to be a zombie, one hour. There’s no science to being a zombie, I don’t know why the hell you have to take a class for one hour. And they were certified! So you could take your certificate and put it next to your bachelor degree: “I’m a professional zombie.” What? It was really funny, I was like, “That’s so cool, I want to do it.” I didn’t get it the second season. The third season I got called for the part of a zombie, and I was like, “That looks fun! That would be funny.” I got the part but it turns out that the part wasn’t just a normal zombie, it was an acting part. So I actually appeared normal and then some explosion happens and then I got bitten by a zombie and turned into a zombie. But I got paid as an actress. I got my own camerino, I got paid for trying on the clothes the week before, 20 minutes. It was three and a half hours of prosthetics because I was an actual walking skeleton. I wasn’t a normal zombie, I didn’t have any lips, I didn’t have any nose, I was all burned. That experience was so cool. You have to sign a confidential agreement that you couldn’t say anything until the series was already on air.
I did that day as an actress and then the next week I got called to do stand-in for the main actress. Which was even better paid and I didn’t have to do anything. I wouldn’t do anything all day, just stand one minute so they could put the mark where she was standing and that’s it. It was so fun and I loved it. I actually got to do the last scene, because I was doing stand-in for one of the main actresses, and then one of the other ones, she finished her scenes so they cut her and she went back to L.A. and they forgot to film one other shot with her. So they called me like, “Can you double her?” She doesn’t look physically like me! “We’re going to put a wig on you, your face is not going to show. You have to do all her scenes, but try to not show your face.” I had to do all her scenes yet again and when I finished my scene, the director said, “It’s a wrap.” The third season is finally over and everyone was screaming, and the champagne, and I was like, “Oh my god, I was the last person they were directing!” Even though in the actual series, you’re going to see the actors and not me, you only see my back. I have a wig on and everything — I’m supposed to be her. But it was so fun to get to do the last part.
There’s a lot of jobs right now, between San Diego and Tijuana, they’ve been filming a lot. A lot of movies, TV series; it’s really close to L.A. so it’s not that far of a drive, without the traffic, obviously, and it’s cheaper to film here. You get the same quality as in California, you have the same sunsets, the same beaches. There’s a beach near Rosarito that looks exactly like Malibu. I hope they’re going to keep doing movies because it’s work for the locals, for people here, and you get to know people that come from abroad and other places. That’s the way you keep working: making connections, being nice to people, being normal to people so they can relate to another human being. I think it’s getting really expensive to film in L.A. so they’re trying to move as much as they can to film over here.
This profession is really hard and you have to have really thick skin to do it, because it has a downside and it’s awful. You have a lot of competition, people are really mean, like really mean. Beauty standards are all over the place so you never know what the hell they want. There’s ways of saying stuff; like you could say, “That’s not the profile we’re looking for, we’re looking for this…” Be nice, you don’t have to crush the person. I’ve heard people say to other girls “You’re ugly” and stuff. You cannot say that! You can just say, “Sorry, you don’t fit the profile, we’ll call you next time,” or “You don’t fit for this,” but don’t say “You’re ugly, you’re fat,” or stuff like that.
The first time you experience that, it messes with you and it makes you feel bad. But with time you learn it’s not you, it’s them, so you grow a thicker skin. After 10 years in Mexico City, I learned that and I know who’s talking in a good way and who’s trying to get stuff. Even now people still use me. People get to be your friend to see what they can get from you, and I hate that because I never did that to anyone else. It’s really annoying when you’re like, “Oh, I have a new friend!” and you take him or her to every casting, to every commercial, and then out of the blue, that person stops talking to you and then they’re going to your friends asking for jobs behind your back. I took you! What happened? I hate that. That’s the only thing that still bugs me. The other stuff, it doesn’t bother me anymore but it took me ten years to get adjusted! So it’s not an easy thing. It really is a hard job. Because it’s not about the person, it’s about how you look physically, and it’s always your ego getting hit. A lot of people get inside their head and end up sabotaging themselves.
I advise — like, seriously — first of all to learn it. Actually take the time because you need to know the basics. If you have the basics, you can do anything. You need to have the basics, but experience is going to give you your edge. You’re not going to wake up one day and it’s going to be perfect… no, you have to learn how to do it. And you’re going to get a lot of “nos” and you’re going to get put down. Do not get discouraged, don’t feel down, try to not take anything personally. People are really mean, if you let them hurt you, they’re going to keep at it, keep at it. So you put your barrier, if you block them from hurting you, they automatically stop. Learn, try it, and don’t let people hurt you. It’s not for everyone; not everyone wants to be in the spotlight, not everyone wants to keep being hit and hit and hit with negative stuff. I like it. I like the attention, but some people hate it.
I’ve been put in really weird situations because people tend to confuse modelling with escorts or hookers and stuff like that. A lot of people think if you’re a model, they can pay for you and you owe them. If they’re paying for your trip or paying for your stay and you go on vacation with a bunch of friends and they’re paying for everything, they’re going to try to make you pay in another way. But you have to be really really intelligent to not to fall into that and to know how work it without getting yourself stranded in the middle of nowhere with no money, by yourself, because I’ve seen that happen, too. I’ve been lucky enough to travel to places and see the other girls and they have to sleep with the guys or do something. Why am I not in that situation? It’s my way of connecting with people and presenting yourself in a certain way and putting a stop from the start, saying no. There’s a line. I’ve never had that problem. I see the other ones, like, you put yourself in that situation, you made him believe that he owns you and now you’re screwed because he owns you. I said no, I said thank you, it’s no problem. So that’s a lot of your education, I think, to not let people bully you to do stuff that you don’t want to. A lot of people take the easy road, which, yeah, it’s easier, it’s shorter, but you pay more. I don’t know how it works in your psyche, but for sure you end up paying more later on in life. But you still can do it, you can do your stuff as your moral compass tells you to do it. It finds a way.
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