A Latino Actor on Making Your Mark

Joseph Nieves is a working actor in Hollywood, a harder feat than one can imagine. He has popped up in film, television shows and commercials from Volkswagen to Verizon, Law and Order to Southland.  He is of Puerto Rican descent and a native New Yorker. He talked to Latinitas about getting and staying in one of the most competitive businesses, which is still casting mostly Whites and others for Latino parts.

Where are you from and how does that play into your acting abilities and style?

I was born and raised in Brooklyn, NYC. Being from a big city like that is a huge plus for anyone in my field, because you are exposed to a lot of cultures and you are also exposed to a lot of life experiences (for better or worse). All of this gives you many things to draw upon and relate to when playing different characters. I think for this reason, I’ve always been drawn to actors from New York. Artists like John Turturro, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, John Leguizamo and Bobby Cannavale have been guys that I look up to.

Why were you interested in acting and what was the first thing you did to start building towards that goal?

As a young man I always wanted to be a professional athlete. Football player to be more specific. Once I was in college, playing division 3 ball for a team with a 2 and 7 record, I realized that that probably wasn’t going to happen. I remembered that when I was in High School I had done some of the school plays (To meet girls of course). And I recall getting this great rush when I was on stage, and how that feeling was the same feeling I got on the football field. So when I got out of school I decided to see where that could lead me. I began picking up copies of Backstage (A weekly paper dedicated to actors) and I started auditioning for student films and different projects like that. Eventually, when I knew this was something I could be serious about I moved to Los Angeles, began studying, got some head shots taken and started on my way.

What has been your favorite professional acting experience?

My favorite professional experience has to be my first real gig on Prime time network television. I did an episode of NYPD Blue. I happened to be a big fan of the show, so this was very exciting for me. My scenes were going to be with Dennis Franz and Rick Schroeder, two guys I grew up watching. The whole thing was very surreal. These two actors turned out to be incredibly supportive and welcoming to me. I will always remember their generosity as actors and human beings, for that matter. Having lead actors on a show that are such gentlemen is incredibly important, because their attitude carries on to the rest of the cast and crew and creates a great work environment.

What’s the most difficult part of the job?

The most difficult part of the job is the constant rejection when trying to get the jobs. Once you have a job, the rest is fun. But the auditioning process is the tough part. You really have to have some thick skin and learn not to take the ‘no’s’ personally.

How does community factor into being an actor?

As an actor, or any kind of artist, I think you either already have or develop a nurturing and caring spirit. Because of this, I think most artists really try to take care of other people. We have to immerse ourselves in our characters, and sometimes those characters are not necessarily people we would like or relate to. Once we do our research, we tend to be less judgmental of these folks and learn to sympathize and understand them better.

How does being Latino impact your career?

Being Latino is a huge part of my career. It has both helped and hindered me. It helps because Hollywood is making a concerted effort to involve more actors of color into projects, and also trying to create characters that can be better role models for the younger generation. So where I was probably playing more criminals 15 years ago, now I get the opportunity to play more professional characters. It hinders me because I think this industry still has a hard time seeing Latino’s for ‘not Latino specific’ roles. For example- a show about lawyers may have 5 lawyer roles open. The casting may call for 1 African American, 1 Latino, and three Caucasian lawyers. Instead of just looking for five not ethnic specific actors, they break it down like that.

What is your dream role?

As corny as it sounds, my dream role is whatever role I am doing at the moment. Right now I have been working on a show called Southland. I have been loving it. So right now Officer Fisher (Non Latino specific!) is my dream role. In classic theatre I would love to play Stanley Kowalski in “Streetcar Named Desire” or The Priest in “Doubt”.

What would you advise “Latinitas” – girls ages 8-18 to do to prepare themselves for a job in theater/acting/film?

I would recommend first- not wanting to act ‘to be famous’. You should want to do it because you love doing it. If in fact you do love doing it I would recommend going to a performing arts school. I didn’t get to do this and it’s something I think I would have enjoyed immensely as well as benefited greatly from. After that, just always take good care of your spirit. Take care of your mind and body as well. Being healthy is one of the most underrated things in the world. You would be surprised at how much more open to creativity your mind, body and spirit can be when properly taken care of.

What’s dream job #2?  (What would you be doing if you weren’t pursuing acting)

My dream job #2 would be some kind of engineer (I know that is very broad, but there are so many interesting jobs in engineering). I am presently going to school in my free time to study engineering. I think it’s very important to do things like this. I love challenging myself. It keeps things interesting. Who knows? In 10 years I may actually get my engineering degree!

Who is your favorite actor and actress and favorite thing to do in L.A.?

My favorite actor is Daniel Day Lewis. He is a master. I am also a huge fan of Meryl Streep. I think they are the two best around. I love food and exercise. So, I enjoy distance running in Los Angeles. There re a lot of cool places to run and see here. I also love going to interesting restaurants and trying different food. So me and my wife put on the calories and then run them off!

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