The idea that following your dream will lead to a happier and healthier life isn’t just fluff. Research has found that people who pursue their passion experience lower stress levels and are happier overall. That’s good news for Dominican comedian and actress Sasha Merci Medina, who has been living her life based on this principle ever since she decided to take her first stab at comedy.
Medina, 33 who was born and raised in the Bronx, started performing in 2016 at open mics and standup shows. But she really started making a name for herself when she began posting comedy clips to her Instagram account, @sashamerci, after the social media platform added the video feature.
Shortly after building a decent following, Medina started landing everything from standup gigs to bona-fide acting roles, including one in 2016’s «Honorable Mike» and in the 2019 indie film «De Lo Mio.» In «De Lo Mio,» she played the role of Rita alongside her real-life childhood friend, fellow Dominican comedian Darlene Demorizi. The friends ended up hosting their own standup show called «Sancocho,» which eventually led to their Fuse TV part talk show, part comedy skit «Like Share, Dímelo» in 2020. But the actress and comedian recently landed her biggest break yet on the Lionsgate feature film «Righteous Thieves,» which was released in select theaters and On Demand on Mar. 10 and is available to rent or own on iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, Google Play, and major cable providers.
The 91-minute action film — directed by Anthony Nardolillo and produced by Jolene Rodriguez — stars Lisa Vidal as Annabel, the leader of a secret organization whose mission is to recover priceless artwork stolen by Nazis during WWII and currently in the possession of neo-Nazi billionaire oligarch Otto Huizen (played by Brian Cousins).
Annabel recruits a loyal crew, which includes Lucille (played by Jaina Lee Ortiz), Eddie (played by Carlos Miranda, known for his role in STARZ’s «Vida«), Bruno (played by Cam Gigandet), and Nadia, played by Medina.
Alongside a cast that consists of mostly Latinx actors, Medina’s character Nadia is a Dominican girl from LA with a rough upbringing. «They didn’t give me much of a backstory, [so] I had to create the backstory myself. She was an orphan. Her parents are from the Dominican Republic, and they moved to Los Angeles when she was a very young age,» Medina tells POPSUGAR. «But as a foster kid, she had these foster parents that sometimes didn’t treat her right. There was that one foster parent that locked her in a room, and she was able to break herself free.»
That’s the explanation for why Nadia has an obsession with learning to unlock things — and eventually, she learns how to even break into safes. «That’s her power, the fact that no one can hide anything from her because she’s going to find it some way — somehow. And then she ends up meeting the main character who became a mother figure for her — Annabelle,» Medina explains.
The first scene with Nadia is set at her lock store, where Annabelle goes to recruit her for the mission. The film gives off very Latinx «Ocean’s» meets «Robinhood» vibes, seeing as none of the thieves are stealing for greed but more so to fix a wrong and make it right. Medina does an exceptional job of inserting some of her natural wit and humor into Nadia’s character while staying true to her essence.
«I put a lot of myself in Nadia, but I’m more of a wacky person. Nadia is when I am about business — when I’m business-oriented and I got things to do,» Medina says. «But I’m very wacky and goofy, and I think Nadia doesn’t really trust people that much, so she’s very reserved, very calculated, and chill. She doesn’t like to show her emotions, but she likes to be straightforward.»
In many ways, Medina was destined for this role. For starters, she didn’t have to audition for it. Rodriguez tells POPSUGAR that she immediately had Medina in mind for the part.
«I just knew she was talented. She was always in the back of my head. I was like, I want to work with her in some capacity.»
«I just knew she was talented. She was always in the back of my head. I was like, I want to work with her in some capacity,» Rodriguez says. «And it made the most sense in this role specifically because it was an ensemble, so I can build around her.»
Rodriguez had been following Medina’s work for a few years and had developed a friendship with her. She says she always saw the actress as so much more than a comedian or an influencer — she saw her star potential.
«Sasha is a breakout star. She’s a breakout star because, one, she’s talented as f*** and she has that comedic landing,» she says. «She’s super animated where she didn’t necessarily have to talk for you to get what she was doing. So, for me, it was a perfect opportunity to give her.»
Identity might seemingly play a role in the film; between their Spanish last names and subtle lines, you are able to figure out relatively quickly that most of the team — with the exception of Bruno — are Latinx. In one scene, Nadia breaks out in Dominican Spanish. But Rodriguez and Nardolillo were very intentional about not centering the film solely around the characters’ Latinx heritage.
«The fact that it was a heist film and there were certain actors I knew I’d be working with, I thought it was a cool concept to say, ‘Hey, let’s try to make a temple movie that’s made by and with Brown people, but not have to have any specific cultural message,» Nardollio tells POPSUGAR. «Just create something where people can suspend reality and be entertained.»
Nardollio believes that the industry is finally ready to see Latinx actors playing Latinx characters — without the film having to be very specifically about Latinx identity or culture. He wants «Righteous Thieves» to prove that.
«I just feel that right now the industry, because of the lack of representation, I think they feel there is a need to not only cast but to try to oversell or overcompensate cultural messaging, whether it’s cinematic or a television episodic platform,» Nardollio says. «And what I try to do is, as Latinxs, we’re like everybody else. I want people to see the way these characters dress and embody who we are in real life. There’s still that unspoken swag or layering that [lets you] know our characters are Latinx without intentionally trying to push that they take those characteristics to an extreme.»
The scene with Medina speaking in Dominican Spanish, for example, was actually a line she improvised on the spot. Nardollilo and Rodriguez immediately gave her the green light. It followed a theme of Medina feeling supported and empowered by the role.
«It made me feel like I can do anything. I’m so ready to be any character.»
«It made me feel like I can do anything. I’m so ready to be any character,» Medina says. «I’m so ready for Nadia. I’m so ready for her. I want there to be a part two so I could play that character because I loved playing her.»
Nardolillo, for his part, is more than ready for a sequel opportunity. «It just really depends if there’s the appetite from a studio or even a mini-major,» he says, but admits that the film’s ending definitely sets it up for a part two. «That was the whole reason why Bruno did get shot, but we didn’t necessarily see him. So, does he come back? Did he have a bulletproof vest on because he knew better? You never know.»
While we’ll have to wait to see about a sequel, Medina still has a lot going on these days. Last year, she kicked off her famous El Teteo parties, based in Los Angeles. Her vision was to throw an authentically Dominican party that everyone in LA could enjoy, and the first one kicked off in February 2022, with a turnout of 600 people. Medina’s most recent El Teteo party was nearly a year later, on Saturday, Feb. 25. It was sold out despite a rare LA rain storm, and over 900 people showed up, including Hollywood executives, according to Medina.
«In the midst of the storm, people came out. Nobody canceled their tickets. People bought their tickets but didn’t cancel them because that’s how important it is,» Medina says. «I felt building a community off-set or off Hollywood is just as important as building it in Hollywood.»
While Medina is more than ready for her next movie, she’s also letting this really sink in: she’s in a feature film playing in select theaters across the country. It’s a dream she’s had since she was a little girl.
«It feels crazy. It just feels insane. It feels surreal. When I watched the trailer and I saw Lionsgate in front of it, I started to get emotional because a lot of films I’ve seen start with the Lionsgate [opener] in the beginning,» she says. «That was a significant moment for me where I’m just like ‘Oh my god. What’s happening?’ Things are growing. Things are changing. So, that was a big deal for me.»
Indeed, Medina is literally just getting started — and proving that following your dreams really can have a happy ending.
Image Source: Todd Rosenberg and illustration by Aly Lim