Friday February 22, 2013 5:45 p.m.
I love movies.
I love the 'escape from the real world' feeling I get when I watch a great movie, especially when that movie connects with me like the must-see film Counterpunch did.
Counterpunch is the story of Emilio, a young boxer struggling to overcome some personal issues with the help of some good folks which include his uncle Frank.
Recently, I had the honor of interviewing one of my favorite actors, Oscar Torre, one of the film's stars, who plays Emilio's uncle.
Not only is Torre, who is a Cuban-American like myself, a great actor, but most important, he's a great person.
Humble, and down to earth, Oscar Torre took time out of his busy schedule to talk to me about Latinos in Hollywood, his craft and even offers aspiring actors and actresses, some great advice.
Oscar, what do you think of Latinos in Hollywood today?
There's been huge progress. In the past, way before my time, Latinos would play maids and criminals. And it wasn't even the lead criminals, it was the little criminals. The type of roles we get now are much bigger. I think what's helped is very solid actors who have been able to play all sorts of roles. Anthony Quinn, Rita Moreno, going way back, then, more recently, actors such as Jimmy Smitz, Edward James Olmos and Andy Garcia who have played roles not written for Latinos. They have made it much easier for someone like me who has come more recent, to be able to audition and have opportunities that they didn't have initially.
So, I think it goes a long way, and it will keep getting better as we get more writers. We need Latino writers. The more Latino writers we get, the better written roles for Latinos are gonna be because then you have people who understand the differences in our cultures, even among ourselves, there's differences. For example, a Cuban from Miami and a Cuban from New York or a Cuban from LA. will speak in a different dialect. So, imagine all the nationalities, once we get more writers to understand the differences in the different Latino cultures, that will be a plus. And we are the number one minority right now, so that in itself is money power, and it goes a long way, because at the end of the day, it's a business, and if you can show that your business makes money, then Hollywood is interested in doing business with you.
Many readers will remember you as 'Santo' from the CBS show 'Cane', however, one of my favorite characters you've played is 'Uncle Frank' in the film Counterpunch, where your nephew Emilio, a boxer, played by Alvaro Orlando, struggles with mental illness. I really like how the film was not afraid to confront an illness often overlooked and shunned in today's society.
The script for Counterpunch was written by Alvaro, who plays Emilio and the movie is loosely based on his life. it was co-written by director Kenneth Castillo. The awareness of mental illness has come a long way but I still think that we're far from where we need to be. There's still a stigma of suffering from depression or any form of mental illness. Many people don't want to take medication because they feel that they can fight it on their own and it becomes a sad story, and it doesn't have to be that struggle if you find the right medication. I think there needs to be more awareness, more education on a mainstream level but people are afraid to be labeled and to have that stigma.
Oscar tell the readers a little about what goes into preparing for a role, for example, Uncle Frank.
I see a role and I try to find what I know about this person, what are the similarities that I have with this character and I try to find that. I can tell you like in Santo's case, Santo is a totally different character than myself, but I did know people like that, who had just come from Cuba. So you look for things that you can identify with and then you find triggers, things you can emotionally connect with in the character. In Santo's case his mother was a big thing. Just like in Counterpunch, the mother was a big part. I'm very close to my mother.
I'll give you an example, in that scene in Counterpunch where I walk in the hospital and I see my mother and I break down, I had gone through that exact same thing five months before with my mom when she had surgery and I walked in the room, except that I didn't break down with my real mom, I cried afterwards. But when I was shooting that scene and I walked in and saw the character of my mom laying in bed, the moment I kissed her, something happened, it was my mom I connected with, and that's what you look for as an actor, to connect with the material.
When a film is released, people see the finished, polished product. Can you give the readers a personal account of what it's like for you behind the scenes?
I met the director of Counterpunch, Kenneth Castillo at a party, Mauricio Mendoza introduced me to him. They had a table read and we read the script and I wasn't reading the character I played, I read the character that Steven Bauer (Scarface) played, they didn't see me as the character I played. They didn't think I was right for that character because they had seen me in Cane so they saw me more like the Steven Bauer character and I thought no, no, I'm the uncle, I know this character, I just felt an emotional connection. Some characters just hit you and you know you can play them, so after the read was over I sent the director and Alvaro an email telling them I'd really like to play the uncle if they made the movie, and I got a reply which said that they saw me more as the Steven Bauer character.
And that's the thing, it's hard sometimes to break that idea of how someone sees you. They had seen me in Cane and they didn't see me as the uncle, you know a good guy. So I sent them a letter explaining why they should consider me for the uncle and why I should play the part and how if that part wasn't played right the character wouldn't be likeable, but the letter didn't do it. So a year later, after they secured financing for the movie, they had me read for the uncle and for the character of the boxing promoter in the movie. So, I worked really hard preparing for the uncle. I knew I had to do the uncle better. I had the first audition then I got a call back and they said to me to come read for the uncle and I got the role, and all that's just to get the role. So it's alot that goes on, alot of preparations.
What's one thing that helps get you 'in the zone' when 'learning' about a character?
When I'm driving to an audition I try to listen to music that my character would listen to. When I was doing Cane I listened to alot of Cuban music obviously you're not the person you're playing but you try to have as many thoughts and try to get as close as possible to this person while maintaining your sanity and understanding what this person's lifestyle is like.
What's a day in the life of Oscar Torre like?
I wake up late if I'm not auditioning or shooting, I go have lunch, mostly at the same place, then I go to the gym. Afterwards I'll read a script, book or attend meetings for projects that I'm working on or developing with other filmmakers. I try to have different projects going on at the same time because you never know which one is going to happen first. I like the idea that I have some control over my career and I'm not sitting waiting for that perfect role to be given to me. Later at night I'll watch a film. Many times I choose the film based on what I'm working on. I'm always looking for inspiration, ideas. Then late at night, after midnight, is when I work on my characters. I tend to feel more creative when it's quiet and everyone is sleeping. I really love having a routine but I honestly have to say that no two days look alike in my business.
Oscar, I saw your Facebook page 'Oscar Torre', I like how you use social media to network, tell me about that.
I use Facebook and Twitter to post videos, trailers, info., etc. That's part of marketing and that's a valuable asset that actors, or any artists nowadays have that they didn't have in the past, the Internet. A few years back I starred in an episode of 'Cold Case' where I played a baseball star from Cuba who came to the U.S. on a raft and I posted the scenes from that episode on Facebook and YouTube. Somebody saw that, there was a film that was being cast called Legacy, and they were looking for someone specific for the one of the lead roles in the film. Someone saw my scenes that I had posted and sent them to the director and I ended up getting the role. But, that would have never happened if I hadn't put the video on Facebook.
Oscar, tell the readers about Eenie Meenie Miney Moe.
This is a film premiering March 7th at the Miami International Film Festival. I play Jimmy, a powerful South Beach club owner, who is very much into the party scene. It was a challenging role for me to play because on paper he is very unlikeable and I'm nothing like him. It was my job to find the similarities and the humanity in the character. Hopefully I accomplished that.
Tell me about your directorial debut.
Yes, I'm really excited about the feature film I directed that my wife Chuti Tiu wrote and stars in. The film is Pretty Rosebud. It's the story of a woman in an unhappy marriage who is struggling to find herself, and her freedom, while battling family, religious and cultural pressures. We just started submitting it to film festivals and I'm anxious to see the film with an audience. It was my first directing job but it definitely won't be my last. Although, I've never worked harder in my life, I really enjoyed the experience.
You're also starring in a television comedy pilot?
Yes, it's called 'Wassup en LA?' and it's about a young man from Miami who wants to act so he moves to LA, and his family follows. It's shooting at the end of March.
And you're in a feature film set to hit theaters in a couple of months right?
Hangover 3, I'm not allowed to say much, except it was a fun role to play and to work with the main cast. They were really great to go toe to toe with. It was also a pleasure to work with Todd Phillips, who is an excellent director and fun to work with. They really have a great bunch of people working in front and behind the cameras. Being on the set, around them, I'm not surprised at how successful these films have been. Hangover 3 is being released in theaters May 24th.
Oscar, thank you for giving me the opportunity to kick it with you.
I appreciate you taking the time out to reach out to me and that you enjoy my work. Without you I'd be performing in my house by myself. Whoever forgets the power of the audience is crazy, is really living in a different world. That's part of why we do what we do. You want your work to be seen, to be appreciated, and that's why you pour your heart out in the projects and try to do your best.
Lastly, what advice can you give to someone interested in acting?
The first advice I would give is don't let your dreams die. Nobody knows. People can tell you 'Oh you're too old to start now' or 'It's too difficult', they can give you all the negatives, and it doesn't mean that it's not true, that it's not difficult, the older you get, the harder it is to break into anything. But there are also cases of people who break into acting in their 40's or older. When I was first starting out, I was in Miami and people were like 'Oh you know that's very difficult' and I wasn't a very good actor when I first started, because it takes time to get good.
Nowadays you have cameras that are inexpensive, that can shoot great videos. You can shoot mini movies, you can post them on youtube, you can work on your craft and put yourself on tape. There's no excuse if that's your dream, why you shouldn't be participating.
Whatever you want to be, if you don't do something to walk towards your dreams, your dreams are not coming to you. If you want to be a writer, and you don't write, those letters are not getting on paper by themselves. Al Pacino said something I read early on, he said when he realized that he would always be able to act, his life changed. Maybe you won't be in a movie, but you can act in the middle of the street, you can act in the living room with your friends, you can do a monologue, you can act in the community theater, if that's what you want to do.
Perseverance is the number one thing I would say that you need to succeed, to reach your dreams. You need to persevere. You need to stay with it, and sometimes you need to make adjustments along the way. Sometimes things don't go the way you expect, and sometimes you have success, and success also leaves. Sometimes you don't have success, sometimes you have failures, but you have to stick with it and keep believing in your dreams, regardless of your age, and work at it. Your dreams are never going to happen if you don't step towards them.
Click Play to watch Counterpunch film official trailer
For more info. on Oscar Torre visit the following links:
Oscar Torre Facebook fan page
Oscar Torre on Twitter
Oscar Torre IMDb
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