It’s not often that an actor comes along like Richard Cabral. In the last few years he’s gone from playing a manic gang member in End Of Watch to a leading role in John Ridley’s American Crime.
In our last article, Richard talked about his tough upbringing on the streets of East Los Angeles. At the age of 12 he was jumped into a gang, by 14 he was addicted to crystal meth and even did time before evolving into the soon-to-be leading man he is today.
With the ever growing cartel movement spreading from Latin America into the USA, Hollywood has started developing television series and films to document the traumatic events taking place. Whether it be Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) or Demián Bichir’s terrifying Esteban Reyes in Jenji Kohan’s masterpiece Weeds, the role of Latin Americans in Hollywood are expanding fast.
In this interview, Richard talks about his take on Hollywood, stereotypes, his charity work with Urban Kings and how his upbringing has influenced his character in American Crime.
Last time we spoke, we talked a lot about your adolescence which was spent dealing drugs in a street gang in Los Angeles – now you’re playing an occasional drug dealer in ABC’s American Crime. How does it feel playing someone so close to your own upbringing?
‘As an actor, I draw from myself. There is never and invention of another human being, it is always me that relates to the character. Of course, there are always moments where the imagination runs wild, but I feel my life has love and hate and everything in between and that is what I most rely on.
I feel it’s a bless to be able to bring this world to life because I know the reality of these character’s emotions. To show the world the reality of this life, the three dimensional side, that this is more to the ‘street’ than what the eyes perceive.’
It sounds like your upbringing has helped you out a lot for this role.
‘There are many things in common with my life and my character in American Crime. My up-bringing has definitely helped me out in this role.’
The internet is keeping very quiet about your character, Hector Tonz. Is there anything you can tell us that we don’t know about yet?
‘Hector Tonz will be someone they can all remember. There isn’t much I can say about my character because I feel this ensemble piece is what keeps the story potent. What I can say is that this story is told powerfully through everybody’s eyes. From week to week it will be a different character in the front line. This story revolve around a murder and is perfectly told because it shows how it affects all parties.’
Sounds pretty exciting! Have you been stopped on the street by fans yet?
‘Yes, there are times that I do get stopped. It’s been happening for quite some time. It’s not like everywhere I go someone has seen my work, but it happens. I must say that is it always awkward to me. I never became an actor for people to want to take pictures with me or wanting my autograph. I feel I am nothing more special than the next living soul, but I understand that I work in entertainment and this attraction comes with the territory.’
In terms of racial stereotypes, Hollywood has been accused of latching onto a specific subculture – African American (The Wire) Italian American (The Sopranos) Middle Eastern (Homeland) – do you think that Latin Americans are the new ‘go-to’ bad guy for a lot of blockbuster shows and movies?
‘Hollywood is a commercial business that uses storytellers to capitalise. There are dozens of cultures they can latch on to because there are millions of dollars in every culture. I believe Latinos are due to have their hey-day in Hollywood projects. I do not believe they are there yet, but more than likely it will happen.
‘Audiences are more drawn in to what they can relate to, so it would be stupid not to have great Latino films for the Latino audience.
‘Filmmakers have tried to bring the true drama of Latino culture but they have not succeeded yet. Few films have done justice but there has not been a wave of greatness, the future will determine that.’
Do you think that the almost civil war-like turmoil in Mexico has influenced this sudden wealth of Latin American roles? (eg: Breaking Bad, Weeds, Orange is the New Black)
‘What’s happening in Mexico has affected the world and yes, I believe it has affected the Hollywood industry. What better drama than true drama? But it is a field of things that has affected the wealth Latin American roles.
‘A leading man and a leading woman need to bring epic performances. They need to be able to open their heart and let the audience in. To be able to relate and heal the audience is true story telling in my eyes. There are not many artists than can truly do that.
‘Latino artists are slowly coming but none the less they are coming. It is sad to say that the majority of television and films these days are shallow. There is no depth to what we are seeing but what is even more upsetting is that the audience does not object. They take whatever is given.’
Have you ever considered going into writing or directing?
‘Partaking in writing and directing is definitely in my future but at this time, I feel I have my hands full with giving these characters lives. There is something special happening right now and the ball is rolling. I want people to see the reality of the streets and to see there is a reason why we become what we become.
‘As long as there are writers like John Ridley that let me give these characters the blood they deserve, I will continue to perform with all of my soul.’
You worked with Urban Kings in their Out The Box series and their charity Give Back. What else can we expect from you and the xSetForLifex team in 2015?
‘The collaboration with Jaime Diaz of Urban Kings was a blessing! I came back from American Crime feeling so blessed, I felt that it was my responsibility to share God’s blessing with others. I work in this Hollywood world but my ties are also to the Los Angeles streets I came from.
‘The streets are still suffering. They are still lost. I sometimes wish I could let people see through my eyes, to see the beauty of the world, to see that they don’t have to suffer no more. So through charity work and breaking bread with my brothas and sisters is how I feel I can share.
‘The toy drive was something we have no experience with, we had no idea what we were getting into. But with great intention and love as our back bone, we knew we would succeed and succeed is what we did! I will continue to Give Back and not just on holidays, because people are in need in this world every day.’
A few weeks before this interview takes place, Jaime Diaz and I have a long Skype chat about Urban Kings, Richard and the charity drive. We were talking for hours until the time distance caught up and we said goodbye. Following this, I went upstairs to chat to my housemate and found him watching the hit sketch comedy duo Key & Peele, and who should be in their sketch but none other than Richard himself. Spooky, right?
‘Key & Peele was amazing and they are such great people to work with but my niche is drama. Drama is what I’ve lived throughout my whole life and that is what I’m committed myself to years ago. If given the opportunity to work on something I will, but I’m not going to chase it [a career in comedy] that’s for sure.’
This article was originally published by Kay Smythe for The Huffington Post