Jessica Uberuaga Talks Incarnation, Haunted Houses, and Happiness

Getting her start with bit parts on TV series’ Secretos and the Melrose Place reboot, but probably most notable for her role as the “Mermaid” of Pat Monahan’s affections in Train’s music video of the same name. Jessica Uberuaga now finds herself starring alongside Taye Diggs and Michael Madsen in the supernatural horror feature Incarnation, about a struggling couple trying to survive crippling debt, open a new business, and start a family. As they feel the weight of their American dream ready to crush them, they find a journal containing an alluring summoning spell that could help them prosper. Think of a (somehow) darker version of The Brass Teapot that includes the presence of a demon named Mammon. Though her name is probably unfamiliar to you at the moment, after our brief conversation and seeing her latest film, it’s easy to see that the actress is going places.

You can watch our complete interview below or read excerpts from our conversation if you choose.  

Jessica Uberuaga’s filmography is full of action-movie and television credits. Later this year, the actress will star alongside Casper Van Dien and Armand Assante for the action sci-fi series Salvage Marines, but with her current transition into horror, I was curious to know what she thought of the genre shift.  

“It was a really interesting experience, actually, and it was something I had wanted to do for a really long time because I love horror films and I always feel like horror is such a great path for female actresses to kind of help launch them into the world. So, I was super thrilled when Isaac Walsh, the director, approached me with this project. I read it, I was terrified, and the thing about horror is that I feel like the stakes are so high all the time because it’s fear. It’s your life might be on the line. So, I think, for me, a big difference in the action versus horror is that the emotional energy you have to bring to every single scene is so much stronger and, you know, it’s exhausting in a way, but it was so much fun.” 

I don’t need like a Lamborghini or some crap. I just wanna be happy. 

Mentioning Isaac Walsh led me to an opportunity to inquire about the director. Walsh is a relative newcomer, only having shorts credited to him up until this point. Incarnation is Walsh’s feature debut, so, of course, I was interested in how his style compared to some of the other directors Uberuaga had worked with. 

Jess covers her mouth in horror in Incarnation

“Isaac is definitely a true artist and, you know, he’s an actor’s director. I will say that through and through. He is very supportive when you’re working with him […] In a scene, and it was a very emotional scene, he looks to me and he grabs my hand. And he says, ‘Jess, do you feel safe?’ And it was just like this moment because it’s one of the most pivotal scenes in the film, and it actually was so emotional that people had to leave the room after filming, ’cause people got, like, teared up. And you know, people had been through things that really, they related to it. So, it was those moments that you were just. I was so appreciative of his just support.” Jessica added, “it was really amazing working with him. he doesn’t feel first time, I’ll say that. He has a big career ahead of him.” 

Previously mentioning her love of horror movies, I decided to ask what we were all really dying to know: What’s Jessica Uberuaga’s favorite scary movie? Though, looking back, I probably should have asked it in my best Ghostface voice. Not missing a beat, Uberuaga answered, “I love A Quiet Place.” Though she acknowledged it as “recent horror,” perhaps expecting an eye roll, I found her pick to be a great choice. She continued, “I just feel like Emily Blunt’s performance is just unbelievable. And that movie has me the entire time […] it’s interesting because it has basically no dialogue. You know what I mean? So, you’re kind of just experiencing this quiet film, but it is absolutely terrifying.” She also added that Jurassic Park is her favorite film of all time. 

Since Uberuaga spoke so graciously about Walsh as a director, I thought I’d see how she felt about her fellow actors. In Incarnation, Uberuaga shares the screen with two guys who know how to command the camera’s attention, Taye Diggs (House on Haunted Hill) and Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs).  

Michael Madsen, Taye Diggs, and Jessica Uberuaga talk on a deck in Incarnation

“Taye is such a team player. First of all, as a fellow actor, he’s very much like ‘whatever you need, you just let me know.’ So not only is he super freaking talented, he’s also super funny and he’s incredibly nice and easygoing. So, it was an incredible experience getting to work with him. I was so grateful when he came on board. So yeah, and his performance in the movie is fire. And then, Michael Madsen, I mean he’s just a legend […] Man, I mean he’s just he’s an icon and every single thing he does is so on point and amazing and truthful. I mean, there’s some stuff that isn’t even in the film—some lines he’d throw out here and there—that I was just like, ‘oh, that was so good!’ You know? And he was super complimentary of my acting as well and, you know he was like, ‘You have a great career ahead of you,’ and I appreciated it so much.” 

I would love another shot at some horror films. So, you know, maybe one that’s a little more gory.

In this area, I’m in complete agreement with Mr. Madsen. Uberuaga’s performance in Incarnation feeds off the energy and excitement of the scenes provided by her fellow actors. It’s easy to see that she won’t stay in the indie vein for much longer. She’s also extremely charming, funny, and charismatic as well. If you opted not to watch the video interview, I implore you to see for yourself.  

My next question caught Uberuaga a little off-guard. We are a horror outlet, and Incarnation being a demonic haunted house movie, I asked if Jessica had any haunted house stories she wanted to share. Her initial response was, “Like, in real life?” We both laughed about it, I guess it’s not your typical interview question, but it didn’t take her very long before she had one.  

Jessica Uberuaga and Sean Parker discuss Incarnation
Jessica muses about Ouija with friends, making me laugh.

“I have one story I can think of in particular. A really good friend of mine moved into this very strange apartment here in East Hollywood a couple of years ago. And I went over for the first time, and it was this, like, chopped up floorplan that was very odd. Old building. And her brother, and myself, and her were there at the house, and her and I were sitting there talking in her room. And all of a sudden, all of the cabinets and doors started slamming shut. And the weirdest thing was, her brother was in the kitchen, I don’t know what he was doing, but he came at that moment ’cause he heard everything to check on us and he had his and he had his phone in his hand and he was like what happened and he snapped a photo. And these were cabinets in her room, so this wasn’t like him playing a trick. He snapped a photo of our faces. So, we, like, have the memory of how we were terrified, and to this day she would say that things would just like open and shut. So, we weren’t sure if it was some sort of weird draft that was in this house or it was like haunt…It looked haunted. It looked like something, over the many years that it’s been there, maybe has gone down in that apartment.” 

Continuing with that line of questioning, I then asked if she’d ever engaged in those high-school games of Ouija boards or The Craft’s “light as a feather, stiff as a board.” “I think about like 8th grade. I had this friend whose mom owned a very strange bed and breakfast, in Idaho. And she was kind of, you know, she was, like, into this kind of stuff. And so, we did some Ouija board stuff. And, yeah. I mean, I never knew if somebody was, you know, moving the letters around just like so hard to tell. But yeah, definitely. I did that as a teenager, didn’t we all? […] Now I’d be like, ‘get that away from me! There’s no way I’m doing that! I don’t trust it!’” 

I moved back to the movie momentarily, asking Uberuaga about the film’s thematic setup, the publicity describing the movie as “a cautionary tale about the price we pay for greed,” I wanted to get her take on it. “I mean, it’s so hard because obviously life is so tough and we all exist trying to make money so we can live. I used to live in Spain and they would say, “You guys live to work, we just work to live.” Like the American mentality, right, of just like the see how much we can acquire. So, there’s a lot of pressure. So, this couple Jess and Brad, they kind of fall into that because they are up to their necks in debt. And you know, Brad has this dream that he really wants to see come through and we all have dreams like that, you know, and where you’d almost do anything to make your dreams come true. So it’s a very slippery slope, greed. So, we fall into that trap. But the demon actually, like, summons Brad and summons Jess into that realm by showing them what they can have. That’s why I like the scene where I hold the coins and it’s a flash of me with a baby which is just as stream, right? It dangles that carrot and it pushes you into that greed and then you pay the ultimate price.”

Jessica Uberuaga looking sinister in Incarnation

Reminding me of the first time she’s summoned in Incarnation, Jess tells Brad she’s going to cook the most wonderful meals early on in the film. She then proceeds to burn French toast with disastrous implications (Uberuaga correcting my poor memory of the scene, I thought it was a grilled cheese sandwich). I wanted to give the actress and her character a bit of a reprieve. I asked if any version of Jess’ meal-making abilities were true-to-life. “Yeah, I don’t know if Jess is exactly the most amazing cook, now that I’m thinking about it. I mean, I think the meal would have been good. […] I think I’m a really good cook. And you know, over the pandemic I was cooking for my household, my boyfriend, his brother, our dog, their dog, and their parents sometimes and stuff like that. And my cooking skills became a lot more on point because I think we were all cooking so much over the pandemic, right? So, I was making…My salmon is fire. Dijon chicken, artichokes, bell Peppers like you know, potatoes au gratin or whatever—lots of yummy stuff. Yeah, I can make a good meal!” 

[Director Isaac Walsh] looks to me and he grabs my hand. And he says, ‘Jess, do you feel safe?’ And it was just like this moment because it’s one of the most pivotal scenes in the film, and it actually was so emotional that people had to leave the room after filming.

As we wrapped our interview, my penultimate question regarded what Jessica Uberuaga would wish for if she had the opportunity Incarnation’s Jess and Brad have in the movie. Her answer was very sweet. “Oh my gosh, that’s a tough question. Do I get one wish? […] Then, I think, this sounds so cheesy. But I think like what we all should wish for, because it’ll end up satisfying all of the dreams, is just happiness. Because if we wish for happiness, let’s say, and let’s say we had a genie that would do that. Like what does happiness look like? […] I’m not a baby, baby. I just feel like happiness is everything. Peace and happiness is like [Uberuaga sighs in relief], to be in that mindset. I don’t need, like, a Lamborghini or some crap. I just wanna be happy.” 

My last question to Jessica Uberuaga was whether or not she’d be back for more horror projects. Her face lit up. You could tell she had a lot of fun working on Incarnation and confirmed as much in her answer.I definitely, really loved shooting a horror, first of all. There’s an aspect now, and so it’s emotionally draining a lot of the time. However, it’s a lot of fun, and especially in any scenes with jumpscares or demons or anything like that, it can actually fall on the side of like very fun and funny to be on set in those moments, you know what I mean? So, I really, I certainly hope so. I would love another shot at some horror films. So, you know, maybe one that’s a little more gory. I don’t know. Actually, I wrote a horror. I kind of put that on the back burner but I co-wrote a horror with a friend of mine and it’s a very, like, cool interesting concept so maybe I’ll star in that one.  

A couple performing an occult ritual

“Can you tell us anything about it?” I asked curiously.  

“It’s about a girl in Los Angeles? Who works in a nightclub who basically gets in the wrong Uber and gets kind of, like, taken into this world. She’s kidnapped into a very dangerous underground society. That you know, kind of preys upon people in a way.” I praised Uberuaga’s concept, if it were a pitch I would have been sold. Having watched Incarnation the night prior to this interview, it was obvious how talented she is and after talking to her for nearly half an hour, her magnetic personality made this one of the most enjoyable interviews. She continued to say, “I was writing a pre-pandemic, and then when the pandemic hit we all were like, ‘whoa.’ You know? It’s finished, and then I worked a lot. It was interesting. I got like two TV shows and two films in the pandemic. So, I got just distracted with that. Now I’m ready to get back to seeing what I can do with that.” 

We ended our chat with Jessica Uberuaga asking about the posters behind me in the video. My office, having needed a bit of flair, is adorned with horror posters and vinyl soundtracks. Jessica said she’d hope she’d have a poster on that wall soon. I think that’s absolutely a possibility, and it would be my great pleasure to hang it.

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Written by Sean Parker

Living just outside of Boston, Sean has always been facinated by what horror can tell us about contemporary society. He started writing music reviews for a local newspaper in his twenties and found a love for the art of thematic and symbolic analysis. Sean joined Horror Obsessive at it's inception, and is currently the site's Creative Director. He produces and edits the weekly Horror Obsessive podcast for the site as well as his interviews with guests. He has recently started his foray into feature film production as well, his credits include Alice Maio Mackay's Bad Girl Boogey, Michelle Iannantuono's Livescreamers, and Ricky Glore's upcoming Troma picture, Sweet Meats.

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