Any reasonable soul might want to be in a Hollywood epic, one with big scenes, fancy costumes and, maybe, Tom Cruise or Meryl Streep.
“I wanted to be on a big set, doing these huge stories,” Otmara Marrero recalled.
Then came NBC’s “Connecting” (8 p.m. Thursdays), the exact opposite. It’s a comedy-drama about friends communicating via Zoom during the pandemic; each actor works alone, at home.
Marrero agreed to audition, secure in the belief that she would never get the job. “My hair was pink (shown here); I’d dyed it on a whim, because I needed some excitement in my life.” Surprises followed: She liked the scripts … the producers liked her … and they even liked the pink.
That seems to fit her character, Annie. “She’s very quirky, imaginative, very Type-A and loving,” Marrero said. Except for romance, where she falters. She can never quite suggest the obvious to her friend Ben: Instead of being alone during the pandemic, they should be alone together.
As she struggles with that, Annie remains the heart of the friendship group and of “Connecting.” She organizes the Zoom sessions … a skill the actress admires.
Back in 2016, Marrero stared in the “Startup” series, playing a young Cuban beauty, a tech whiz who linked with gangsters. She fit some parts of that (young, Cuban, beauty), but not the whiz part. “I’m extremely tech illiterate,” she said then.
And four years later? “I’m semi-literate now.”
Early in the pandemic, Marrero and her friends often played the Mafia game on Zoom. When she was cast as Annie, she suddenly had to do everything. In her apartment, she was in charge of lights, camera, maybe even “craft services,” which involves supplying the snacks that actors munch.
(“I’m actually a really good cook,” she said. “It’s just the craft snacks I’m no good at.”)
Fortunately, she was sent top equipment, including an iPhone 11. It was big difference from her early days as a carefree dancer.
Marrero grew up in middle-class comfort in Miami, surrounded by diversity.(“The only (ethnic group) I didn’t see growing up was white people.” She was a budding ballerina at 3 and stuck with it.
“Miami has a great dance scene,” Marrero said – a fact proven in the 2009 “So You Think You Can Dance”: Miami dancers finished first (Jeanine Mason) and second (Brandon Bryant); Marrero’s friend, Janette Manrara, was in the top eight.
Marrero’s own career went to a different place – the top of the dugout of the then-Florida Marlins.
“I loved it,” she said of being a dancing Marlins Mermaid. “I definitely got into some trouble, but it was the best way to spend the first two years out of high school.”
Her dance coach nudged her to expand into commercials and such. Like Mason (now the “Roswell, New Mexico” star), Marrero went from dance to acting.
After tiny roles, “Startup” came; “I had a lot of ‘imposter syndrome,’” suddenly being a star.
Some indie-films (and film-festival awarde) followed … until COVID hit. That left her in Los Angeles, in a sort of friend-bubble with two others. “We didn’t live together, but we’d work out together in the park and stay safe.”
It was a time “to re-charge, re-energize” … and, during a trip home to Miami, to go pink. That’s the look that suddenly shows up on TV, defining a quirky and loving Annie.