Interview with local Harlem actor and video technician.
My favorite memories from living in the Dominican Republic are the simplicity of the life I had, and the community in which I grew up in. I remember the block where I lived, to my right there was a nice cement house owned by a local bar owner. To the left was an even nicer one, property of a local gas station owner. In the middle was a green two story wooden house in the verge of falling apart, occupied by a schoolteacher and her two kids. I loved that place; for me that house was like a puzzle inside; it was my biggest playground. Across the street from us was “Colegio Enriquillo” which I attended up until I moved to the United States. The principal Doña Camelia Disla was as tough as they come, but the type of discipline she imposed on her students was incomparable, I remember she used to walk inside the classroom, and everyone stood up; whenever she spoke, you could hear a pin drop. On the opposite corner to the school was a local movie theatre “El Cine Dariel” I rarely went in, but I used to stare in awe at the movie posters. My mother worked in a different town, and depending on the day of the week, I would wait for her at different neighbors’ houses; now that I think about it; I was literally raised by a village.
When you were young you moved to New York. Were you scared to move to such a big and hectic city?
I don’t think I understood how big and how much of a hectic city New York was at that time. I had been here on vacation and I totally fell in love with the city, the lights, streets, and buildings. You have to keep in mind; the tallest building I knew was a green two-story house; so you can only imagine how I felt when I saw a five-story building. I couldn’t believe my eyes. My mother was always honest with us, those last couple of months before the move; when she resigned her job of almost 20 years, sold her car and started saying her goodbyes to her long time friends; I knew she was doing it for her kid’s future. I had never been more excited in my entire young life.
How old were you when you first realized you wanted to be an actor?
I recently had this conversation with my mother. It has been so long that even I couldn’t remember. It was at the age of 6, when I started to tell everyone what I wanted to do for a living, and that of course was acting.
My favorites show growing up was “ El Chavo del Ocho” a show about the misadventure of an orphan homeless boy and his friends in the humble neighborhood they lived in; it was a great comedy, and always left you with a positive message, taught me to share and to treat everyone with the same respect. Then there was “Rocky” “Edward Scissorhands” “The Terminator.” all inspired me in one-way or another.
Tell us what it was like growing up in Washington Heights?
I’m beyond glad that we settled in Washington Heights, or as some might call it “Little Dominican Republic.” The Dominican culture is alive here, I think it’s very important to never forget where you came from. And growing up in The Heights definitely helped with that, almost everyone spoke Spanish, and everyone embraced us. The sense of community was there; from the elders looking out their first floor windows, to the guys in the corner making sure no one bullied you.
Were you a good kid or troublemaker when you were in high school?
I went to Washington Irving HS, and compared to everything that was going on around that time, I’d like to think I was a pretty good kid, everyone knew me. But I wasn’t popular for the typical reasons that many kids or “troublemakers” became popular for; I was popular because I was the shortest person in school, I was only 4’11 when I was in the 9th grade, but I carried myself like I was 6 feet tall. And that doesn’t go unnoticed when you’re amongst 2,700 students.
I was big into rollerblading, my stepfather used to take me to Central Park and wait for me on a bench while I did laps around the park; I used to go from 110th street to 59th and back. In my teenage years I watched a capoeira movie called “Only The Strong” it made me fall in love with Brazilian martial arts. So I practiced it for a while, it’s a beautiful art, teaches you about the Brazilian culture, the language, there is a lot singing and performing involved, plus I learned how to do a pretty descent cartwheel.
Are there any regrets you have that you wish you could take back?
This might sound cliché, but I am who I am today because of all that I’ve been through, and I like who I am and the person I am becoming. Therefore, I have no regrets.
What’s the craziest casting call you ever had to go to?
I went in to audition for a “Vision Zero” commercial for the NYC DOT. The audition consisted of me pretending to be out having fun with a group of friends at a bar; all of sudden the producer (Erinnisse Heuer) asked me to pretend I was dancing with a friend; the crazy thing about this was, that my “friend” was really a tripod. It was the first time I had a tripod as a dance partner. I’m not sure if it was because of my dance partner, or me but I got the job.
By that time, I’ve already done all my prep work. But I would go over my lines a few times, if someone is around I would ask them to throw random lines at me, just to make sure I know where I’m at on the script at all times; and I would go over my character’s notes. I always make notes, if you ever found one of my sides, you would think it was a school paper, there are notes everywhere; but, essentially I try to get enough sleep the night before.
Who has been your biggest supporter through out your career?
My biggest supporter, by far, has been my mother. My father is a civil engineer, and when I started to express an interest in acting, he wasn’t too fond of the idea; he wanted me to follow his footsteps. My mother immediately stood up for me, “What good is it for him to get a civil engineering degree, when that’s not his passion. Just so he could hang it on the wall for you to look at? “She knew that it would be extremely hard to become an actor in DR. She left everything behind and came to this country just to see me realize my dreams. I couldn’t ask for a bigger supporter than her.
What has surprised you the most about the movie industry?
What has surprised me the most is the amount of people in and outside the movie industry who think you need to have an agent in order to book roles. I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard “Hey, I saw you in so and so, who is your agent?” Don’t get me wrong, having an agent is great, and I do freelance with some really good ones, and appreciate every audition they send me on. But the projects my peers speak of, when asking that recurring question, I’ve booked all on my own. I think a better question would be, “Hey I saw you in so and so, what do you owe your success to? I think that type of question would make for a better conversation.
I’ve never felt like giving up on my dream, mainly because for me is more personal. I need to prove to my mother that her sacrifice and bravery wasn’t in vein. However, I did take some time off while I was going to college, I got a degree in Corporate and Cable Communications, which I’m glad I did; it helped me understand the business from a different angle.
Is there a special kind of role you would like to be play in the future?
This is probably the toughest question I’ve been asked during this entire interview. One of the things that attracted me to acting is that you can be someone different every time, it is like reincarnating from one project to project. I don’t have a special kind of role I would like to play; I like to be involved in projects that deliver a positive message, regardless of the role I play. I must admit though, playing the villain is a lot of fun.
What is some advice you can give to young individuals who want to persue acting as a career in New York City?
Do what you love, don’t let anyone stir you away from your dreams; and I would leave them with one of my favorite quotes. “There will be haters, there will be doubters, there will be non-believers, and then there will be you proving them wrong.”