In their attempts to land roles, actors often say they were born to play a part, but when Santina Muha read the description of “Debbie” in the script for the John Callahan biopic Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, her reaction was even more visceral.
There is a lot more to Santina Muha than just a performer who will make you laugh. Muha grew up as part of a large extended Italian family in New Jersey. Among her earliest memories are watching The Golden Girls with her Italian grandmother. Muha’s grandmother could barely speak English, but they both cracked up in response to Bea Arthur’s expressions.
Paralyzed in a car accident at the age of 6, Muha quickly discovered that, like Arthur, she could use humor to lighten the mood. “Whenever I made a joke, said something funny or did something funny, it broke the tension,” she recalls. “It added levity. And then it wasn’t sad anymore. That’s something that got ingrained in me from childhood—that if I could make people laugh, I could make the situation less sad. I want to make people happy. And I want to make people laugh.”
Muha soon found opportunities to do just that, and after feeling uncertain following her first visit, on her second visit, she put down roots. “I came out here on a Friday, I signed up for classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade theater and I started class on a Monday,” she says. “Once I started those classes, that was it. I never lived back home again. Never.”
Muha loved UCB and was getting connected and making friends when a medical emergency landed her in the hospital for three months. Her worries about how she’d cope thousands of miles from her family disappeared when she was inundated with visitors from UCB and her new Southern California friend group.
“It blew my mind,” she says. “It made me feel loved, which I think is really important whether you have a disability or not, whether you’re trying to be an actor or not, but especially in this field. To feel loved is so important because it’s the foundation. It was after that hospital stay that my career really started to pick up, and I think it has to do with the energy that I was able to harness from everybody.”
Image credit: Photo by Author