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She's a Star... And So Is He!

Featured Photo from She's a Star... And So Is He!

Local actress – and her pup – team up to support rescue pets

Like many other film stars, Eddie Figueroa has the occasional diva moment. On the set, he expects to be hand-fed bites of Boar’s Head turkey as motivation to nail a scene. At photoshoots, he makes his grand entrance riding in a stroller, with attentive handlers pushing him along. And when adoring costars and fans heap praise on him, Eddie laps it up... literally.

His behavior isn’t really that outrageous, though, because Eddie is a canine actor, not a person. The nearly 14-year-old pooch recently played the titular role in Guard Dog, a comedic short film that costars his owner, Aléa Figueroa – a local actress and producer.

Aléa adopted Eddie in the fall of 2007 from Pet Rescue By Judy (PRBJ), a nonprofit, no-kill animal shelter in Sanford. The adorable cairn terrier/Scottish terrier mix, who came to PRBJ as a malnourished stray, has been Aléa’s fiercely loyal companion ever since.

“Adopting Eddie was one of the best decisions – if not the best decision – I’ve ever made,” says Aléa, a proud dog mom and graduate of Lake Howell High School. “He is my doggie soulmate and is such a special little pup. I’m a huge advocate of rescuing, period.”

With a degree in theater arts from Rollins College, Aléa has worked steadily as a professional actress for about 15 years. That is, until COVID-19 temporarily shut down the TV and film industry in March. She also works part-time as a production manager for And You Films, which created Guard Dog.

“As an actor, you know there are going to be ups and downs, but you never expect the industry to just not be operating,” says Aléa. “Coping with that was challenging at first. Making Guard Dog was a way to have a creative outlet during an uncertain time, all while in quarantine.”

Aléa and Eddie shot the sweetly amusing video over six days at the home she shares with her boyfriend, Brendan Jackson Rogers. Brendan, a cofounder of And You Films, came up with the idea for Guard Dog and directed the video.
“One of Eddie’s favorite things has always been to look out the window and bark at anything and everything,” Aléa says. “It doesn’t bother me at all; I’m just used to it.”

During the pandemic lockdown, she and Brendan were joking about what the 14-pound Eddie must think he sees outside (ax murderers and zombies) versus what is really there (joggers and mail carriers). From the pooch’s point of view, Eddie is simply doing his job by barking out urgent warnings about all those scary sights and sounds.

“In his mind, Eddie’s the guard dog, and he’s really protecting us,” Aléa says. “He even does perimeter checks of our backyard four times a day.”

And You Films and Aléa shared the feel-good, three-minute movie on YouTube and with Pet Rescue By Judy in hopes that the organization can use the video as a tool to encourage people to adopt shelter animals. Judy Sarullo, founder of PRBJ, gives Guard Dog and its message a glowing review.

“That was the cutest thing – I just loved it,” Judy says. “The more we can educate people to understand shelter animals – and animals in general – the better. They have feelings and emotions.”

In addition to Eddie, Aléa has two other rescue pups: Ripley, a one-year-old Irish terrier mix, and Daisie, a nine-year-old border terrier mix.

For Aléa, Guard Dog was her way of paying tribute to the strong bond she has with Eddie and a way to do something positive and productive during the pandemic.

“I don’t know if we would have ever had the time to make this if we weren’t forced to stay home,” Aléa says. “And I’m so happy    that we did. Acting and dogs are my two favorite things in the whole world.”

Next, Aléa plans to submit Guard Dog to area film festivals, which means Eddie might get to strut his stuff on the red carpet if the film is screened locally. And although there’s no sequel currently in the works, Aléa has a never-say-never attitude about putting her pooch in front of the camera again. If that ever happens, Aléa knows she’ll need to have one important grocery item on hand.

“Eddie really enjoyed filming and did such a great job, but the Boar’s Head turkey might have been the reason why he loved it so much,” Aléa says with a laugh. “Eddie likes the good stuff. He’s a finer-things-in-life kind of pup.”

To watch the film, visit the And You Films Channel on YouTube.

A HomeGrown Talent

Aléa Figueroa’s recently-made short film, Guard Dog, isn’t the first time she has shared an acting scene with a member of the animal kingdom. In the charming Guard Dog, the Central Florida actress costars with her real-life rescue pup, Eddie. But back when Aléa was a budding thespian at Lake Howell High School, one of her most dramatic stage moments was with a decidedly less cuddly creature.

Aléa had been cast as Cleopatra in William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, a role the teen jumped into with abandon. At the end of the play, Cleopatra commits suicide by allowing a poisonous snake to bite her. In Lake Howell’s production of the tragedy, a real snake was used in the death scene.

“I am terrified of snakes, and I remember having a slight panic attack on stage,” Aléa recalls. “But I was able to overcome it because the craft is always more important.”

She went on to major in theater arts at Rollins College and to intern at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater. Aléa has since toured the United States, Canada, Cuba, and Bahrain as a performer with the Missoula Children’s Theatre and taught middle-school drama classes in Texas. These days, Aléa is again focused on acting, primarily in television and film. Her recent projects include a guest role in the pilot episode of The Right Stuff, a new Disney+ series filmed in Florida. Aléa also plays the title character’s mom in The Kid Who Only Hit Homers, a to-be-released feature film shot in the Sanford/Lake Mary area.

Aléa is also the production manager for And You Films, a Central Florida-based production studio founded by creative partners Brendan Jackson Rogers and Will Phillips. And You Films, which made the comedic Guard Dog, recently produced another short film starring Aléa – a musical parody titled The Unemployed Mermaid. The Little Mermaid spoof is based on Aléa’s struggles to obtain unemployment benefits during the pandemic, when the TV and film industry was shuttered for months.

To watch the funny video, visit the And You Films Channel on You Tube.

James Brendlinger, who was Lake Howell High’s theater director for 21 years, says Aléa is one of his most memorable students.

“She was a leader in everything she did,” says James, now the owner of Penguin Point Productions at Oviedo Mall. “Aléa is tenacious, positive, smart, funny, and incredibly talented. I’m so proud of the way she has continued to pursue her dreams.”

Aléa credits her former teacher with giving her the confidence to pursue acting as a career.

“I loved theater, and it was my outlet,” Aléa says. “Mr. Brendlinger created this environment that felt like a family and made high school not just bearable but something that I looked forward to. Now I’m living the exact life that I want to live – as a full-time actor and a dog mom of three. What else could I want?”

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