JUAN FELIPE RESTREPO
Hello Juan, let’s start this interview by telling us a bit more about yourself and your life in LA. What’s your background and why did you decide to become an actor?
I came to LA almost 7 years ago to get my BFA in acting. I am originally from Colombia and was born and raised there most of my life. I always loved the arts. I started drawing and painting at an early age, then I got interested in music. Honestly, I didn’t know I wanted to be an actor until it hit me in my teens.
It came as a surprise since acting was the last field I got into. I realized I’d memorize entire movies after watching them once. I’d recite them when I rewatched them with family and friends and they would look impressed and happy about this “skill.” I started getting into theatre and wanted to explore characters. I saw acting as a way to live life from different perspectives. I didn’t want to grow up to be in just one career for the rest of my life. I had the option to be all of them, and even more interesting, I could grow up to be other people, people who had their own way of seeing the world and their own opinions.
I didn’t want to settle on just being one person. I wanted to “live” in the whole sense of the word, by experiencing different situations and scenarios. Creating and telling stories that meant something, that would give a message to the people and a life lesson to me personally. I always strive for growth and acting is a journey of self-discovery and constant self improvement, so I wanted to do that while being creative and having fun with my own art.
You arrived in LA when you were 17, and you were born and raised in Bogota, Colombia. Tell us about your experiences while acting in both languages.
It’s such a wonderful thing for me to know more than one language because I’ve realized it’s an advantage. I can act in both English and Spanish, sometimes I even use both at the same time, depending on the project. When I first moved to LA, I was worried I wouldn’t get cast because English wasn’t my first language. But when I graduated and I started going out for roles, I found out there are a lot of Latino filmmakers out there. There are Spanish speakers who want to tell Latino stories, increase the amount of representation that we have, and their scripts, producers, directors and cast are mainly Latino.
Before, I would see people on TV and movies butchering my language, and on some occasions I’d even see characters that aren’t Latino playing Latino roles and it hurts because it kills a project. It’s also disrespectful and excluding. So for me to be given opportunities where I can change that and make a difference, while also putting high importance on my race and my culture, is truly an honor.
How would you describe your personality?
I definitely consider myself more of an introvert than an extrovert. If anything, I’d say I’m an introvert with extrovert qualities that I acquired by forcing myself to talk to strangers and open up in unknown environments over the years — that and having good friends drag me out to socialize.
I know I don’t look like it, but I am incredibly shy and keep to myself a lot. I’m also a huge nerd. I love anime, video games, comic books, superheroes, sci-fi and fantasy, but, at the same time I care about my health, fitness, fashion and self care. I’m an outdoorsy person. I love exploring new places, camping, and playing sports, but I do have my days where all I want is to stay home and have a movie marathon or just game with friends. Once I am comfortable with someone, I drop my walls and let my zany side go AWOL with them.
I want to be the best at what I do and I know it’s going to take a lot for me to get there. I love challenges and I always want to be breaking barriers. Finally, I’d say I’m a very loyal and caring friend, having real and solid bonds is very important to me. If someone is my friend, I’ll be there for them whenever. When I care about someone, there’s nothing I wouldn’t do or drop for them.
At such a young age, you’ve been in a lot of movies and TV shows, such as “13 Reasons Why.” Tell us about the process of casting for such a huge production like that.
Well, it is funny because the process is very much the same for any studio or network production. You usually have the first call to audition. Depending on how casting is working, they can either ask you for a self-taped audition or bring you in the room for a read. In my case it was a self tape, I should say, depending on the role they might bring you for a callback and so on until they narrow it down to the actor who books the role.
After your audition is when the “waiting game” starts. I personally have been working on not waiting for the phone to ring, I try to forget about the audition after it’s done and either focus on my hobbies, myself or on the next audition. That way it’s not such a torture the whole day waiting to hear back from casting.
Usually if you book the role they tell you about it — if they don’t reach out, most likely it means you didn’t book it. I luckily received a call from production saying they liked my tape and they wanted to book me right away. It was a very happy moment. I remember keeping it together on the phone while jumping around in my apartment. From there I had a day to go to fittings, try the clothes I was going to use and then get all the paperwork done before the day of filming. That was my first step to becoming part of the SAG-AFTRA union, so it felt like a milestone to me.
What kind of movies inspire you? Which stories touch you emotionally? Which actors inspired you to become an actor?
There are a lot of movies throughout my life that have inspired me, starting from animation. I grew up watching Treasure Planet and Hercules from Disney. I felt instantly identified with these characters because they are in a world where they feel they don’t fit in and are just trying to find their place in the world; they care about their loved ones and they just want to feel like they belong.
From there it kind of moved on to dramas. They always manage to touch me and make me feel a call to action, to persevere for my dreams. Movies like Dead Poets Society, Life is Beautiful, Whiplash, The greatest Showman and La La Land are a few I can name off the top of my head that truly represent inspiration.
Also, maybe this is just the nerd in me, but I love superhero movies. If you watch them with the right eyes they can be so moving, motivational, and touching. Stories about the underdog who wants to prove themselves or fight for the greater good with the odds against them is where it’s at for me. I love a good origin story and a well-developed character arc. It is what I most relate to and aspire to myself. I can relate to those characters and feel identified by them. It shows me that if they can accomplish their goals then I should be able to do the same too.
One of the very first actors who caught my attention while growing up was definitely Johnny Depp. It was jaw-dropping seeing a man completely unattached to his own persona in a way that allowed him to create such unique and distinct characters in every film he was in. I also got very interested in Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Tom Hardy, and Michael Fassbender. I love everything these actors have done. They are the embodiment of professionalism, elegance, hard work, and commitment to the craft. They have the careers I aspire to have at some point. Not to forget that apart from Depp, all of them ended up being part of the Marvel Universe playing comic book roles, so there’s something there for me to hope for too.
You are an actor, but also a model. Which do you prefer? Why?
Without a doubt acting takes the cake. Modeling was just a thing that I started doing because people kept telling me to try it. I personally have never thought I have the looks or the image to be a model, but I did it because it gave me experience in front of the camera and allowed me to use my body more freely, get comfortable with working with photographers and being able to portray emotions for the lens. With time it became more of a hobby and it grew on me. I became friends with a few photographers and we would start talking about different concepts or types of shoots we’d like to do and then go for it. I enjoy lifestyle and editorial the most since I get to go to different locations and kind of just be myself.
Acting is the main thing for me because I’m in love with the purest form of the art, which is theatre. Live acting in front of an audience is a journey from beginning to end. There’s no cut, no take two, it’s just you, the other actors, the stage and the audience. It’s as much as an outer body experience as it is an inner one — you can feel the energy in the environment, the breathing of the audience, their reactions to the story you’re telling, how you are present with your fellow actors at that moment, living the life of your characters and experiencing the emotions they experience.
You get to learn so much as a different person that you have the chance to embody them yourself and bring your life into the mix, and if something goes wrong, then you have to make it work at that time and place. Improvisation makes the journey even more alive, to me it feels like it fires up my soul. It’s a feeling I only get to experience when I act and it tells me deeply, in my core, that this is what I live for, this is my calling in life and there’s nothing that could replace it or get even close to it.
Acting expands every horizon, allows you to travel in time, to experience life from a different pair of shoes, sometimes even with a life-changing condition. It makes us more empathetic, value the beauty of life and learn from others while at the same time showing our colors, our vulnerability, and wearing our hearts wide open. I feel like I can never stop talking about how acting makes me feel and how it’s the joy in my life, but this is just a taste of what I feel when I get asked this.
How has acting changed your life and was it always a dream of yours?
I always thought arts were something that would take a big portion of my life. I grew up drawing, painting, writing, and at some point, I even learned how to play guitar. I was a very active and creative kid growing up — if I wasn’t playing outside or doing some sort of sport, I was always creating something.
I realized acting was the path for me in my early teens because it helped me forget about the outside world and focus on the life of the character I was living. I think acting has helped me be more of myself and allows me to let myself be seen. I’m usually very reserved, shy and socially awkward with strangers. But when I am acting I don’t care about that anymore. I forget my fears and become the character on the page.
Acting has also provided me with people who think alike or have similar passions as I do. Back in Colombia I always felt like the odd man out, like I didn’t belong because my interests were different from those of my classmates or peers. Acting guided me to LA. It brought me to a place where I feel in my bones I can be my most genuine self without having to water anything down of my personality or hide my interests and passions away.
I also realized how I just wanted to be living proof of Latino talent and show the world that equality and representation is important. The old ways have tradition, but we should be open to new ideas, new artists and support each other not by the color of our skin or background, but by the echoes of our work and our proffesionalism.
Do you have any movies or TV shows coming up?
I have a feature film that is going through the festival circuit at the moment. It’s name is “AGUANTA” and tells the story of a Latino teenager who loses his dad because of the deportation raids from ICE in the US. The character is defeated by life situations multiple times throughout the story and he has to come to terms with his faith, caring for his family, and his own life.
I also have a short film that we just wrapped called “Cartas Para Axel,” in which I get to play Axel, one of the leads. There’s also some re-shoots for a movie named “Following Francisco” that got paused because of COVID. Lastly, I have a pilot that we are looking to shoot in July and a possible offer for a Cartoon Network TV animation show and another live action comedy pilot. All of course hoping the virus situation improves and these productions can get back on track.
If you could choose one director to work with, who would it be?
For film, I’d say Damien Chazelle (La La Land, Whiplash). I actually auditioned for one of the lead roles in an upcoming movie of his called Babylon. Just auditioning was a dream come true, but of course, I would have loved to land the role. The way he tells stories in such a cinematic, heart-wrenching kind of way is the kind of dramas I love and aspire to be a part of in my career. His films allow actors to wear their heart out, the complexity of his characters is subtle and at the same time so impactful. I have a lot of respect and admiration for him and I know our paths will cross again sometime in the future.
Now, if you ask about TV, I’d pick Lee Toland Krieger (Deadly Class, You, Riverdale, Shadow & Bone). The guy is a mastermind. Every single pilot he has made has turned into a series, and every series he has participated on has become wildly successful. He also happens to have worked on all the shows I love and genres I would be perfect for.
What are your goals in your acting career?
I want to represent the Latino community and break the stereotypes. Time has shown that we are more than just the gangsters, drug dealers, gardeners, and Latin lovers. We as Latinos can do everything other races can do, our heritage and language is rich, full of passion and emotion. I want to show the world that we can play the same and as many roles as white leads do. I want to inspire other Latinos and break the close-minded idea that we can’t be actors. Arts don’t receive the respect they deserve back home. Even though some things have changed in the past couple years, it is still necessary to have strong, meaningful representation of the Latino community in this industry.
I want people to feel inspired and motivated to pursue their dreams, to not feel discouraged or unrelatable to the stories that they see on screen, to bring joy, tell stories and send messages to everyone who sees my work.
I also want to accomplish great milestones like winning Academy Awards, Emmys, and Tonys. It would be proof of the great goals we can accomplish and leave a mark in history for any Latino looking for inspiration. I want to be able to dwell in great Latino stories and have my own company to tell them. I may sound greedy but I want to succeed in all three forms: Film, TV and Theatre. Acting is my passion and I will do it every single chance I get.