We often ponder why aren’t more movies being made for Hispanic audiences? They make up 21% of U.S. moviegoers, compared to 14% for African Americans and Asians, and 56% of them go to movies six times a year or more per actual statistics. Yet, according to USA TODAY, there is no Latino who acts as a greenlight executive on any major English language news show or is the head of a major, English-language radio broadcast company. The picture on showrunners is no less alarming. In the period from 2010 to 2012, Latinos accounted for less than 1 percent of producers of new pilot shows. In 2011, 4.9 percent of all actors were Latino. Yet only 2 out of 352 producers were Latinos, resulting in the stunningly low figure. We sat with one of those strong Latino voices in Hollywood, actor and producer Mauricio Mendoza to know more about who he is and get his take on the issue of diversity.
How did you get started in Hollywood as an actor and producer?
I moved to LA in 1994 after graduating from college. I lived in San Diego where I got my Bachelor in Musical Theater from the United States International University and my master’s from University of San Diego and the Old Globe Professional Actor Training Program. Once I graduated I decided that I wanted to do everything ranging from theater, to commercials, television, film, and voiceovers. Los Angeles had it all.
I have been able to work in all mediums and maintain constant work because I do different types of acting. Somehow I always knew that the more things I learned how to do, the more opportunities for work I would have. Being bilingual also gave me leverage in the business.
In 2007 I became enlightened. I felt that I needed to follow a voice inside my head that said: “You need to produce”. I had been acting on two shows two as a series regular. First, I worked in Angeles for Sony Tristar/Telemundo. Angeles lasted one season. I later worked as a series regular on Showtime’s Resurrection Blvd., which lasted three years and earned best actor nominations. As fantastic as those experiences were, I quickly realized that as a Latino actor, having that opportunity was only temporary. As soon as the shows were done, I would be back to square one since the opportunities for Latinos actors on television are limited. Also, I happened to not fall into the stereotype of the typical dark Latino that is cast for roles. I am what I like to call a White-tino.
I decided to take the initiative to create my own opportunities and became the executive producer and producer of a web series Called Encounters with my buddy Miguel Torres. Encounters went on to win the Imagen Award for Best Web Series. Eight years later I’m still producing; this time alongside my wife Yeniffer Behrens, DeWayne Cox, and our company True Form films. I’m very proud of our company and what we do. I consider that producing our own material will be the only way to change things in Hollywood. To own our own production company allows us to create our own opportunities and lets the industry come to us.
What was the hardest role you’ve ever played and why?
The hardest role I have ever played was Che Guevarra in the play School of the Americas written by Jose Rivera. Rivera is also known for writing the movie TheMotorcycle Diaries (2004). I was on stage for two hours with my hands and legs tied up when I performed. I decided to be a method actor to play this role. Che Guevara had asthma and had not had a good meal in a year. The play’s setting also took place during the last two days of Che Guevara’s life when he was imprisoned in Bolivia. Method acting took a toll on my body as a result of my decision. I ended up in the hospital on opening day diagnosed with anxiety and exhaustion. From then on I decided that there would be no more method acting for me. Preparing for a role and performing this way could be very dangerous as I found out. I managed to finish the run of the show though.
What was the most fun role you’ve ever played and why?
I feel that the most fun I have ever had with a role was when I played Miguel Santiago in the Showtime series Resurrection Blvd. I felt a connection with this character. I felt the role was close to me, and the writers started to develop it around my personality. I also got to play the role of Miguel for three years on this TV series, so I got the opportunity to fall in love with the character. Resurrection Blvd. was the first of its kind and included an all Latino cast.
Define Diversity in Hollywood from your own experience and perspective and offer some solutions to the debate.
The word diversity is inclusion, fairness, and opportunity. Personally, I am tired of the same old circular discussion about the subject, which gets us nowhere. This endless cycle is the reason that I decided to start my work as a producer. I have never understood why the powerful Latinos in the industry such as Jennifer López, Edward James Olmos, Robert Rodríguez, George López, Andy García, Javier Bardem, Antonio Banderas, Marc Anthony, or Penélope Cruz (to name a few) have not joined together to created a Latino union, or have yet to create a studio.
I feel we as a people are too divided, and are selfish as a community. We need to start helping each other out to reach higher place in the industry. If we don’t come together as one Latino group, our success will never happen. If we don’t care, Hollywood is not going to care.
It is possible to make an impact. Look at what Oprah created, and at Tyler Perry’s achievements and success. As a result of their efforts Hollywood now goes to them. Can you even imagine a world were all these powerful Latino people came together so we could have our own studios creating our own content? That would be amazing! It’s not all on white Hollywood.
To be an established actor and or producer, you need to be able to measure your success and build on this. How do you evaluate your success within a role or production?
The definition of success for me does not mean I’ve made it in Hollywood. Success means working within the industry. It means being a great husband, a provider, a father, a son, a brother, an activist, and a visionary. These things are the legacy that we as people leave behind. I strive for all of that every day of my life. For me, to be successful means being a giver instead of a taker, which, unfortunately in this business, there are fewer givers than takers. I want to live a life of excellence and teach by example.
I am a successful actor and producer because I do what I say I’m going to do. I’m a doer not a talker. I got that from my awesome mother Alicia Mendoza. She raised 5 children alone and gave us a fantastic life. She has always been my inspiration to move forward against all odds. That is the reason why I’ve been able to survive in this business.
Name the top 5 items on your bucket list.
The top 5 items on my bucket list are:
1. To take my wife Yeniffer on the most amazing trip. She deserves it.
2. I would love to star in a Broadway show.
3. I want to book another series regular role.
4. It would be fantastic for one of our films to win an Oscar.
5. I want to make lots of money so that I can take care of my entire family.
If you could go back in time, where would you go?
I would go back to when I was 8 years old and living in Cartagena, Colombia. This was it was such a romantic, innocent, and beautiful time in my life. I got to spend it with my mother and four brothers: Juan, Andres, Carlos, and Benjamin.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
My greatest achievement so far is to have been a part of four groundbreaking television shows that were all Latino based and that became the first of their kind. Whatever happens in my career, I will always know that I was part of television history by having roles in Resurrection Blvd., Angeles, La Quinceañera and Hacienda Heights. I am very grateful for having had those opportunities. I am also very grateful for having “True Form Films”, my production company with my life partner Yeniffer Behrens.
If someone were to make your life into a movie…Who would play you?
I would unfortunately have to say that there isn’t a Latino actor who could play me right now. The actor would need to be South American, fully bilingual; he would have to be able to sing, dance, and love the theater. I don’t recall of any Latino in the industry right now that falls into that description. You would need a Latino version of Hugh Jackman to fill the role.
I can say though, that when I was researching Latino actors to look up to, I found Raul Juliá and Esai Morales. If we were to merge them, you would have the perfect combination for someone to play me. I have modeled my career after Raúl’s. He was an incredible theater actor who could sing, dance, act, and perform in movies. To top it all off, he was an incredible Shakespearian actor. This is the reason why I got my Masters in Classical Theater. When I saw Esai in La Bamba I thought: “There is someone who looks like me on the screen.” The fact that there was someone that looked like me on screen, and that he as an actor was so fantastic in the movie inspired me so much. I have been lucky enough to be able to work with Esai. Sadly I will never have that opportunity with Raúl since he unfortunately died before I moved to Los Angeles.
How do you make your creative partnership with actress Yeniffer Behrens work?
Yeniffer and I have a great working partnership because we both raise each other up to be the best. It’s not always easy but it is what it is. I can’t think of anyone I’d want to make movies other than with her. Yeniffer is a forward thinker. We balance each other out. I’m a realist and she’s more of an idealist, which works for the both us. Yeniffer, from the moment I met her, has always been a doer and not a talker. She says what she means. She is a leader. What else would I want for in a partner? She is a fantastic mother, partner, wife, sister, and friend. She is my guardian angel who gave me the most beautiful daughter.