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ICYMI Zuleyka Silver Interview

When words like “tenacity” and “resilient” are used to describe Zuleyka Silver’s never-say-die attitude, she immediately credits her father. “The one thing I learned from my dad was perseverance, which meant you never give up,” explains the actress. “He came here from Mexico when he was 18, worked hard, got his green card, and once he became a U.S. citizen, he brought his entire family here.”

Silver was almost 8 when her clan immigrated to San Diego, CA. “I was so excited to come to the U.S. because when I was little, I would pretend that I knew how to speak English with my Barbies, while listening to the Spice Girls,” Silver shares. “Of course, coming here was a huge change for us because it was a new country with a new language and a new culture. Even my mother couldn’t speak English yet and I would watch American TV shows to try to learn English.”

Silver didn’t let the language barrier stop her from making social connections. “The first friend I made at elementary school didn’t speak Spanish and I didn’t speak English, but we knew we liked being around each other,” she recalls. “So we would sit next to each other for lunch every day in complete silence.”

Soon, the Silver patriarch relocated the family to Los Angeles, where they changed residences frequently. “I don’t remember exactly what led up to this, but at one point, we didn’t have anywhere to live while we were transitioning between places, so we stayed in our family van for a couple of months, which wasn’t easy for a family of five,” she shares. “The burden fell on my dad and I watched him work hard to get us out of that situation.”

Moving around also meant changing schools. “I was actually a quiet child because it became harder to make friends when you’re constantly the new kid, so I focused on my studies,” Silver points out. “I always felt like I had to prove myself, so as a student I would go above and beyond. When I was in fourth grade, I got my first thesaurus, so after I wrote essays, I would look up bigger words to use to show my teacher that I was smart.”

Silver was also home-schooled as she was getting into modeling and TV commercials (“I was switching back and forth from home schooling to regular school, but I always had good grades”), which is why her family was shocked to discover  she would not be graduating high school. “In my senior year, I thought I was done with all of my credits and I was even leaving school at noon to go to classes at a community college because I wanted to get ahead,” Silver explains. “Here I have these college credits but it turned out I was one class short from getting my [high school] diploma because they weren’t giving me credit for one of my home-school classes. I was like, ‘Why were you letting me leave at noon every day?’ I was so mad and put it off for two years, while I went to acting school, but I finally made up that class and got my diploma.”

While attending acting classes, Silver realized she needed to pursue higher education. “Because English is my second language, I would have trouble reading scripts and struggle with certain words,” she admits. “When I did [a guest spot] on HAWAII FIVE-0, my character was in law school and I realized there’s so much I didn’t know, so I enrolled in a community college just to become a better speaker and writer.”

Silver soon discovered that she loved learning. “I was like, ‘Oh, my God, there’s so much I don’t know,’ ” she chuckles. “I really liked the structure, and as much as I enjoyed college, I didn’t have any plans to go to a university. But then a counselor came up with a plan for me to continue my education, and the next thing I knew, I decided to take a break from acting to dedicate four years to getting a degree.”

Silver was accepted at UCLA, which was out of her price range. However, she learned how to pay for tuition without going into debt during community college. “There were a few scholarships that I had applied for, where I was the only one who applied,” she marvels. “So, I started going to these workshops, where I learned that even if it’s $1,000 here or $500 there, that can help you pay for books. I found out that a lot of students don’t realize that larger institutions, although they are more expensive, actually offer more help. There are a lot of resources available and it doesn’t matter what your major is. So I started applying for as many scholarships and grants as I could. And, yeah, it can be tedious, but I had a generic personal statement and would customize it to whichever application I was doing. Between grants and scholarships, I was able to get by, and I also did some work-study [programs] to help with living expenses.”

Initially, Silver’s major was political science but that soon changed. “I took a philosophy class and became obsessed with it,” she smiles. “But after I graduated [with a B.A. cum laude in Philosophy with a minor in Film, Television and Digital Media], I wasn’t sure if acting was my path, because I had been doing it since I was a young age and it was the only thing I knew. I was actually  contemplating law school, because acting can be so unstable and I thought I should consider something with more security, but I decided before committing myself to that one hundred percent, I should give my all to acting for the next two years and see what happens.”

Silver picked a fine time for that career move because the country was in the middle of a pandemic. Up until UCLA, she had been working steadily, with several stints on CBS shows (in addition to HAWAII FIVE-0, there were THE MENTALIST, CODE BLACK, YOUNG SHELDON, CSI: CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION, and a one-day gig on B&B), so it seemed predestined that she would be drawn to the network’s top-rated soap. “I probably wouldn’t even have gone out for the audition if I didn’t like what I saw on the page about this new character,” she says. “When I came in for my chemistry test, it was with Rory [Gibson, Noah] and Sean [Dominic, Nate] and it was the best screen test I’ve ever had. They were just so welcoming, so sweet and so chill. They didn’t have big egos and were so down-to-earth. They really got me excited about becoming a part of Y&R.”

Silver landed the role and signed a contract, which means law school is on hold indefinitely. “I still can’t believe it sometimes,” she enthuses. “I’m so humbled by this whole experience and it’s just been a whirlwind in the sense that everything is still happening so fast. I’m trying to enjoy every minute of it because it’s different than anything else that I’ve done. It’s been really fun and I’m just over-the-moon happy.”

Setting The Stage

Silver reports that working on Y&R is so far, so good. “I really like how they’re developing Audra,” she enthuses. “I’m having a lot of fun bringing her to life and just spending time with her because usually with all of the other things I’ve done, you have this character who you live with for a short while and then you’re done and it’s on to the next one. But because this is a longer job, I have the opportunity to really develop Audra and get to know her.”

Although everyone Silver encounters at Y&R has been friendly and positive, she’s especially appreciative of the co-stars in her storyline. “The day Audra met everybody at Chancellor-Winters, I had all this legal jargon to say, so I was a little nervous,” she concedes. “And then I was on a group text with Christel [Khalil, Lily], Bryton [James, Devon] and Sean, and they were checking on me and asking me how I’m doing, which I thought was really nice of them. It just felt like they were welcoming me in. And during our recent cast photo shoot, I got to know Kelsey [Wang, Allie] and Allison [Lanier, Summer], who are both really sweet women. I love Kelsey, so it’s funny that I have to play this kind of animosity toward her. I’ve told her, ‘I want Allie’s claws to come out and I hope we get to slap each other.’ I’m all for it!”

Just The Facts

Birthday: August 2

Born In: Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico

What’s In A Name? “My mom had a friend, Zuleyka, who was a model, and she always loved the name. At first I hated it because kids would call me Zucchini or Zoo, then make animal noises. In fact, I went by my middle name until high school, then I went back to Zuleyka.”

And Her Middle Name Is …? “Lizette. I was obsessed with LIZZIE MCGUIRE growing up, so I loved my middle name.”

Girl Power: She has two older sisters, Angelica, who goes by Angie, and Claudette. “We’re back-to-back in age, so we all look like we’re the same age. Being the youngest has its perks, but the biggest drawback was that I would get their hand-me-downs. My two sisters are strong and I admire them so much but they will call me out on my b.s. I’m kind of scared of them, but they’re pretty awesome. I love them.”

Pose: During her modeling career, she appeared on the reality show NUESTRA BELLEZA LATINA in 2013. “It’s this hit show on [the American based Spanish-language TV network] Univision that’s like AMERICA’S NEXT TOP MODEL meets AMERICAN IDOL. During the week, there are these challenges, then Sunday’s show would be in front of a live audience. I had fun doing it and grew a lot from it.” She finished as the seventh runner-up.

Cat’s Meow:  “I have a Russian Blue named Hemingway and he’ll be four in December. He’s really cute but a not-so-little kitty because he’s, like, 18 pounds.”

No Running Joke: Silver trained for and completed the L.A. Marathon in 2017.