Once upon a time, Miami native Aimee Carrero was preparing to go to law school. She had graduated from university in just two years—she was 17 when she enrolled—with a degree in international relations. “I didn’t think acting was something I could ever make a living off of or contribute to society,” she explains. “But acting just kept calling to me so I decided to give it a shot.” Instead of law school, Carrero went back to the unglamorous world of Miami community theater. “It teaches you to work in a team, which I think is important for actors,” she notes. “If you want your prop to be there the next night, you’ve got to put it there.” Soon after, Carrero moved to L.A. and graduated from guest spots on shows like The Mentalist and Hannah Montana to animated features like Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel.
Now 25, Carrero is ready for adulthood. She recently moved into her first individual apartment, and has two new shows to promote: The Americans, on which she has an arc as a sexy Communist spy, and the upcoming ABC family sitcom Young & Hungry.
HOMETOWN: Miami, Florida
EARLY AMBITIONS: When I was younger I wanted to be a singer, but I’m not good enough to be a professional singer. Then I always did theater, just because I enjoyed it, but I never thought it was a proper job.
[There are] no actors in my family; we have a few musicians on my dad’s side of the family. My uncle plays a trombone in a salsa band, it’s very cool and fancy, but more as a passion. No one’s ever made it a career, either, with the exception of my cousin on my mom’s side—he’s a professional ballroom dancer. He was the first. Our family, I’m second generation, but you still have that immigrant mentality: “Let’s do something practical, let’s become accountants.” To break through that and say, “I think I’m going to dance for a living”—that’s hard. I’m glad he broke down those barriers. When I said I wanted to be an actress, it was just like, “Oh, here’s another one.”
FIRST PAID JOB…: Was this Indonesian candy commercial. [laughs] Essentially they were just M&Ms. Here’s the thing that they don’t tell you about food commercials: [the food is] sprayed with hairspray and weird chemicals to stay vibrant and fresh throughout the day. So when you’re eating these candies, it’s like, “These kind of taste like plastic! What are you feeding people?”
THE AMERICANS: I play a spy—a revolutionary during the Nicaraguan Revolution—sent to Washington, D.C. She’s really ambitious, too ambitious for her own good, and super emotional, so she makes a lot of mistakes. She has a youthful exuberance that she hasn’t learned to contain.
I studied international relations in college—I wasn’t a theater major—but it’s funny how sometimes life prepares you for things that will happen later on. I actually studied and went to Nicaragua; I did a case study, and I met and interviewed so many people and women who would have been the same age as the character I play on The Americans. I had this in the back of my head, and so when I auditioned for the show I was strangely prepared for it.
THE AUDITION: I was in L.A., it was right after my birthday, and I had just come into this new space of, “I’m not going to worry about it. My jobs will come to me. If they’re meant to be, it’ll be.” I was packing to go to Palm Springs the next morning. I got an email from my agent, it must’ve been eight p.m., and she was like, “You have to put yourself on tape. It’s 12 pages, it needs to be in New York by six a.m.” I begged my friend who went to Yale who’s amazing to put me on tape. By the time I had sent it and done everything, it was four in the morning. I forgot about it and went to Palm Springs and the minute I arrived, my manager called and said that I had to be back in L.A. to do a callback.
I walked into the office [for the callback] and there were all these Oscars. I was like, “Who are these people?” Then I realized it was Amblin Entertainment, which Steven Spielberg owns, so it was all his Oscars. That put on the pressure really nice and thick. I had a brief phone call with the creators of the show and, unlike any other show I’ve worked on, they’re very committed to making it as realistic and as truthful to what actually happened as possible. So I did kind of try to work in that I actually know a lot about this. I studied this. I went to the country.
THOSE CRAZY COLLEGE DAYS: I did one year of Model UN in college, and it was one of the most fun things I ever did. You have to act like the country you’re from, so these kids are all actors. We were the Czech Republic, and then Cameroon. Cameroon is in the AU, and if you’re from the AU, everyone ignores you; no one wants to talk to you. Later, at the hotel bar, you’re buddy-buddy, but then [you remember], “Ugh, this guy’s from the United States, he didn’t even listen to my idea because I’m from Africa.” I think that’s what opened my eyes—a lot of these countries, they might have great ideas but they’re not listened to. Maybe they don’t have the best PR; maybe they don’t have a great track record, so it’s difficult. And then we did Czech Republic, and obviously that’s a part of the United Nations and that made it easier to get our resolutions through and our ideas through. I have a friend who’s a lobbyist, who was in Model UN with me, and he will deal the low blows. I was partnered up with this guy, and he would make speeches that would insult half the room and then no one would talk to us. People take it really seriously…
BEWIGGED AND BEWILDERED: My hair was made for the ’80s. So, I actually didn’t wear a wig for The Americans. I didn’t have to do much, which is kind of upsetting because you’d think, “Oh, I need tons of time to make me look ’80s ridiculous.” But no, they just did hot rollers and set my hair and it was big and fabulous. But it’s great; I like not looking like myself, too, because I think it makes my acting a little better.
MENTORSHIP: Keri Russell is the nicest, most open, and giving actress I think I’ve ever worked with. I had to do this sex scene that I was kind of uncomfortable with, and she pulled me aside and said, “I know what you’re going through, I was on Disney, I was on the Mickey Mouse Club, so I totally understand, but just know that we’re all behind you and we support you.” And she didn’t have to do that—she was just very lovely.
INTO THE RED: I grew up in Miami, which is sort of famously this Republican, Cuban, conservative place. And I’m not Cuban, but I grew up in Miami, so I do feel very Cuban. Obviously the people who moved from Cuba to Miami are very anti-Communism, so to play a Communist was really interesting. I got to see the other side of the story.
ADULTHOOD: I just got my first one-bedroom apartment—this is the first time that I’ve been able to pick the color of my walls, buy a couch. It’s much easier on a Pinterest board. Where I live in L.A. they have a lot of preserved buildings from the ’30s, the golden age of Hollywood. I just sit there sometimes and wonder, “Who has died in this unit… I hope it was a good death?” There are some parts of being an adult that are wonderful, and then some parts where you’re like, “This is ridiculous.” What color are my walls? They’re white. They were painted this horrible khaki color, and then I ended up with a white color. Which is not so black and white! Pun intended.
IF I WASN’T AN ACTRESS: I’ve had moments, because I’m very Type A and impatient, where I get impatient and sick of it, but I don’t think I could ever walk away for good. If I wasn’t doing it in this capacity, I would be that crazy woman with 17 cats that volunteers at the local theater. I would be doing it in some way or another.
THE NEXT EPISODE OF THE AMERICANS WILL AIR TONIGHT, APRIL 2.