Eleven-year-old Union City kid Alex Suarez recently dissected a worm and a frog at school. While she thought that was pretty cool, her class’s next victim is a pig.
“I have mixed feelings about it,” she said. “It’s wacky, for sure, but then again, normal is boring.”
Alex is certainly not boring, and her extra curricular activities are indeed a bit wacky. In her spare time, for the past six years, she has been a purple talking backpack. She is the voice behind the bag perched behind Dora, the title character of Nickelodeon’s hit bilingual children’s cartoon, “Dora the Explorer.”
Her mother Marlene took out a plastic version of her cartoon character, pressed a purple button, and out came Alex’s voice.
“Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined, ‘Well, yeah, I’ll just casually be on a Fischer Price toy, it’s nothing big,’” she said in characteristic precocious fashion. Alex does not rest on her laurels, and she displays a humility sometimes lacking in her adult star counterparts. Only her closest friends and a few who found out by default know about her purple alter ego.
“My plan is to keep doing what I’m doing, be successful, be humble, but always remember where I came from.” – Alex Suarez (Backpack)
One day, when she was four, Alex covered the TV with her body, looked Marlene straight in the eyes and said, “Mom, I’m serious.” Marlene could no longer resist and took Alex to her very first audition.
She was booked. And it snowballed from there.
Child star rising
Once Alex started booking jobs, she kept booking jobs, and not just paid ones. When she was five, she landed the role of Molly in a Weehawken community theatre production of “Annie” and was interviewed by Toni Senecal from Channel 5 News.
Her mom signed her up with a casting agency in 2007 and the first audition they sent her on was for the role of ‘Backpack.’
“I’d been watching the show since I was a baby,” she said, though some may still consider a six-year-old a baby. “I was extremely excited.”
After five callbacks over the course of three months, out of a nationwide search, Alex landed the gig. “The person that hired her told me recently that as soon as Alex walked through the door they knew she was going to be ‘Backpack,’” her mother said.
Thus began Alex’s five year running career as a bilingual school satchel.
But her career hasn’t been all gentle, educational children’s programming. The kid’s got chops, as evidenced by her guest role alongside Tom Selleck and Donny Wahlberg on the 2010 pilot episode of “Blue Bloods.” She played a little girl with Type-2 diabetes who was kidnapped and rescued by police. Watching the clip is emotionally gripping, but what about acting in it?
“It was intense,” Alex said. “But it was amazing.”
A kid’s choice
On March 31, Alex flew to Los Angeles to hang with the likes of Will Smith, Justin Beiber, and Michelle Obama (all of whom were slimed Nickelodeon-style) at the 35th Annual Kids’ Choice Awards and walked the orange carpet with her costar and best friend Regan “Boots” Mizrahi and, of course, Dora.
“It was incredible,” Alex said. “I’ve never been as excited as I was for the experience.”
But there is no rest for the mini-weary. Alex will again travel to L.A. on May 6 for the Young Artist Awards where she will run against the likes of Abigail Breslin in the Animated Youth Artist category.
“Even if I don’t win, I feel honored to even just be in a category with Abigail,” Alex said.
A day in the life of ‘Backpack’
An average episode of “Dora the Explorer” has a three-page script, which Alex is required to memorize. She often plays a number of other roles on the show because of her singing ability, like when she played a fairy elf and several forest creatures in the “Dora Saves King Unicornio” episode.
The process of voiceover acting requires impeccable timing and a whole skill set above and beyond acting. Nickelodeon books four-hour studio blocks for Alex to complete her episode, but usually she finishes in an hour.
She even memorized a 32-page script in two days a few months back for an audition.
“It helps her in school,” Marlene said, “because she can retain an incredible amount of information in a short time.”
Alex also happens to be on the high honor roll, was recently named student of the month, acts in school and community plays, writes for her school newspaper, and is launching a fundraising project to raise money for more student field trips.
“Girls my age often get into cliques and try to act like adults,” Alex said. “People say it’s hormones, but it’s not. I’ll stay a kid, please.”
Well, at least an extraordinarily busy and committed one.
“It’s a schedule that requires a lot of coordination,” Alex explained. “My plan is to keep doing what I’m doing, be successful, be humble, but always remember where I came from.”
(And perhaps get a part-time job as a veterinarian, she added.)
Gennarose Pope may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org