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A Family Affair: Mother, Daughter trio finds success in New Mexico Film

New Mexico Talent

A Family Affair: Mother, Daughter trio finds success in New Mexico Film

A Family Affair: Mother, Daughter trio finds success in New Mexico Film

“Mia” production stills by Lonnie Lane. Kathleen Swenson headshot by Celeste Lee.


New Mexico is a place well-known for creative exploration. The thriving local film industry adds yet another layer of allure for those who are interested exploring their hidden talents in the “land of enchantment” – some even discover an exciting new career.

Kathleen Swenson is a shining example of one of those people.

Kathleen recently made the decision to pursue a career in New Mexico Film, with surprising results, not only for herself, but also for her two young daughters. Kathleen and her daughters, Elizabeth, 13, and Emma, 15, got their start in local film less than a year ago, and they stay consistently busy with background work, including several featured background and speaking roles in TV shows and independent film – something, Kathleen says, they couldn’t even have imagined a few years ago.

Kathleen’s professional background is not in theater or film, but analytical chemistry. She worked for more than 12 years as an analytical chemist at places like Sandia Laboratory and Los Alamos National Laboratory; but her career was cut short when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Kathleen says she made the decision to stop working in order to focus on healing and her children. As she recovered, she became a stay-at-home mom.

Kathleen’s long-time friend, Ronda Lewis, had been in New Mexico Film for years, and Kathleen says she was always asking questions and was intrigued at the idea of doing it herself. The girls were too young, at the time, to consider pursuing it seriously. She knew that she couldn’t be away for the long hours film work requires.

It was years later that she decided to pursue the idea more seriously for both herself and her daughters, who, by now, had also become interested in the industry. Last November, all three landed background roles on a TV show filming in Albuquerque, with her oldest, Emma, landing the family’s first featured film gig.

While it’s only been a few months since they began, Kathleen, Emma and Elizabeth continue to work steadily in local film. Both girls are currently busy as featured background on an upcoming TV series; and all three have Spanish speaking roles on the independent, 1850 period film “Mia.”

Individually, Kathleen has landed speaking and featured background roles, without aid from an agent, and she’s committed to several local film projects throughout the summer. What little free-time Kathleen has is spent honing her craft in acting classes and groups, with her favorites being By Design-Instinctively Motivated Acting with Alexander Thorne, and Pay-It-Forward Actors Studio with Randi Klein, an acting group that is working alongside OO Productions and its developing projects. This group required an audition in order to be accepted.

Kathleen works hard to keep her children grounded. She says they both love their work in film, even though it can be tough to juggle schoolwork and a career. Emma and Elizabeth sometimes miss classes in order to be on set – only to stay up late and catch-up on homework. Kathleen says that the film industry has had a positive influence on her daughters, teaching them patience, focus, and confidence – but the best part for all of them has really been the people in the industry.

Kathleen shared that it has been wonderful to have the opportunity to bond with fellow New Mexico talent on set. She said that all three of them have greatly benefited from the social aspect of the industry.

Kathleen attributes their success to being patient and staying alert of opportunities, which can be both time consuming and rewarding; and to all of the casting directors that gave her the opportunity to work in film.

Her diligence has certainly been paying off, and it will be exciting to see what’s next for Kathleen and her girls.

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