Allie Gonino knows how Hollywood works. Since moving to L.A. from Texas when she was just barely old enough to drive, she's been to countless auditions and landed a handful of one-shot roles—some failed, some forgettable. Not quite finding success on screen, Gonino tried her hand at joining a girl group, The Stunners. The group released one self-titled EP in 2009, and has since been dismantled.
Soon after, she booked a regular role on ABC Family's The Lying Game, which, under the shadow of the network's established phenomenon, Pretty Little Liars, got the axe after 30 episodes. Lost in la la land, Gonino entertained thoughts of leaving showbiz entirely. That is, until a twist of fate landed her a role on The Red Road (which premieres tomorrow at 9 p.m.), Sundance Channel's promising new drama about a small town's clash with the neighboring Ramapough Mountain Indian Tribe.
Surrounded by a stellar cast that includes Julianne Nicholson, Jason Momoa, and Martin Henderson, Gonino plays Rachel Jensen, the town sheriff's (Henderson) rebellious teenager daughter who begins a forbidden romance with a boy in the tribe.
Complex got a chance to speak to Gonino about her role in the series, just how closely she relates to her character, and her dreams of musical stardom.
Interview by Tara Aquino (@t_akino)
How did you land the role?
I went in for a typical audition, and then I was brought in for the director's session with James Gray. That went well, so I thought I was going to get it. But then I got a call saying I didn't, so I brushed it off and moved on. In this business, you have to. Then a weekend passed and I got a call saying, “Wait wait wait we still want Allie!”
Did you ever ask them why they wanted you back?
I think the producers and the writers were really fighting for me, which I am forever grateful for.
How would you describe your character Rachel in three words?
Sensitive. Rebellious. Brave.
Do you relate to her at all?
Honestly, I went through a similar situation when I was 17 with my mother. It was, like, my second year living in L.A. My mother and I were still sharing a bedroom, and she found out some things about my relationship then forbid me to see the guy that I was seeing. But I kept seeing him. But my character Rachel is not as career driven as I am. Her head is in the clouds and love is the only thing that matters to her. That's not really true with me. I love being in a relationship, but my career is my number one priority, at least at this point in my life.
Did you and your mom come to a compromise?
She eventually found out that I was still seeing him and threatened to move me back to Texas. I cried and was so distraught. My parents basically gave me like 60 days to book a job of some sort. Shortly after that, I booked The Stunners, which was a girl group that I was in for 3 years. That was my saving grace.
Speaking of The Stunners, what was it like being a part of a girl group?
I never ever in a million years thought that I would be in a singing group, much less an all-girl group. When I moved out to L.A., I had dreams of being a solo artist, but I'd been out there for a year and a half and was struggling to work with reliable people. Our producer, Vitamin C, I'd known from her pop stardom days, and Hayley Kiyoko, whom I worked with on Unfabulous, was already a member of the group. So I knew that if Hayley was in it and that it would give me the experience in the business that I needed, joining the group was a safe choice to make. I learned so much from being in that group and those girls are still my friends.
Did you grow up listening to The Spice Girls?
Oh yeah, I was always Baby Spice.
On the Red Road, Julianne Nicholson plays your mom. Have you seen August: Osage County?
I did and I sent her a text afterwards and I was like, “I love you and I already knew you were amazing working with you!”
Did her storyline in the movie make you feel awkward at all?
Yes![Laughs.] I mean, that completely came out of left field. It was so weird, but she played it great. She did a great job of playing up that reveal.
You also share the screen with Jason Momoa. Is he as intimidating in person as he seems on screen?
That would be your first thought, right? [Laughs.] Because all I knew of him was his role on Game of Thrones, I was expecting him to be very standoffish and serious. But he's like a giant kid and his energy is just big. He's so nurturing, too. He really cares about his friends and connecting with people.
Did you have to do any research before you started filming the show?
I looked up what idea of the "red road" meant to Native American culture, and it means "the right path in life," which I took as a very serious sign for my own personal life. Before the show, I gave myself an ultimatum. If I didn’t book something soon—I was really fed up with the entertainment industry and feeling really lost at the time—I'd give up acting. But then I got the show.
I looked up what idea of the 'red road' meant to Native American culture, and it means 'the right path in life,' which I took as a very serious sign for my own personal life.
Then I watched this HBO documentary called Mann v. Ford, which I highly recommend to anybody who's going to watch The Red Road. It'll educate you on the fight between the Ramapough Mountain Indians and the Ford Motor Company, and the disaster and mess of toxic waste that it created for the tribe in the 1960s. On The Red Road, you'll see people stepping in this blue sludge. We're gradually revealing that history and the effects of that on the show.
What has the transition been like from a teen friendly audience on ABC Family to more adult fare like The Red Road on Sundance?
In a lot of ways it was amazing because I'm getting to work with great material and these really accomplished actors, but it was also really intimidating. I sort of had a mental anxiety attack during the first couple weeks of filming because I felt like I didn’t deserve to be there. I felt really insecure in my portrayal of the role because I didn’t know where it was leading. I put a lot of pressure on myself to do the role justice and to be a good supporting actor for my fellow castmates. Any new challenge is great, ultimately, so it's all good now, but it was scary in the beginning.
Off set, you're in a new band now right?
Yeah, The Good Mad is an alternative folk trio. I write and sing and play violin sometimes. I've always looked up to The Beatles, The Dixie Chicks, and The Eagles, and with them being some of my favorite bands that are very heavy harmony driven, we do a lot of three-part harmonies. Each one of us has a very unique and beautiful voice, so we try to make sure everyone gets to sing lead and showcase our instrument playing, as well.
Is music something you'd like to pursue seriously?
Yeah, and I am also in the process of starting a solo music venture. But I would love for the band to get more recognition, as well put out my own project, my own vision.
What genre would you classify your personal music?
Pop music, but maybe alternative-pop because it's not really the same as what you would hear on Top 40 today.
Do you have any other passions?
I do. It's called The Thirst Project. It's a non-profit organization that builds wells in developing countries. I've been involved here and there in little ways but I'm really excited to do some school tours in March and April because I'll get to interact with the youth and educate them on the world water crisis. The Thirst Project is a youth-based organization and it's mostly students who do a lot of our fundraising, which is so admirable and very cool.