We recently did a post on the new film The Adjustment Bureau. One of “barriers” we were talking about is Joel de la Fuente who is the first we were able to contact for an interview. Joel is based in New York, so we are hoping this will be part one of a interview and part two will be on camera when he is in L.A. again where we can talk about what’s happening in 2011!
#1. You are an Asian/Pacific Islander who was born in the U.S.A. Were your parents also born here? What is your ethic background? And do you feel that being an American born Asian/Pacific Islander gives you a different perspective/thoughts/cultural differences from Asian/Pacific Islanders who are immigrants to the USA?
My parents were both born and raised in the Philippines. Like many Filipinos, my heritage is a bit of a mix — Filipino, Chinese, Malaysian, Portuguese, Spanish. America is called the melting-pot, but in many other parts of the world, like the Philippines which has been a crossing point for so many cultures over the centuries, there is just as much diversity there as anywhere.
#2. Is your interest in acting something that you had growing up? How did you get started into acting?
I grew up loving the movies and loved going on occasional trips to the theatre. It was magical. But I never considered that acting would be an option for me. I almost never saw anyone that looked like me onscreen or onstage, and when I did, more often than not, I was embarrassed by it. Seeing Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffanys or Charlie Chan movies on TV on Saturday afternoons made me ashamed. Pat Morita and George Takei were God-sends, because they looked like me AND they sounded and acted like me in a community of peers that I recognized. But those were exceptions.
I started in the theatre working backstage — as a grip, as a stage manager. In high school, my teachers encouraged me to try acting to make my experience in the theatre well-rounded. I acted in a student directed one-act play — and I was hooked. I spent the rest of my time in high school acting.
It wasn’t until I was in college, though, that I started beginning to feel like this was something that felt necessary for me to do. Part of it was being in a bigger community of people who were really talented and inspirational. Part of it was coming to terms for the first time with my Asian heritage and beginning to incorporate that into my identity. The more I expanded my idea of self, the more I was able to become a more capable actor. I began to believe that I could at least try to pursue it.
#3. You have been acting long enough that you can compare being Asian/Pacific Islander in the 90’s to today where over the last few years it seems that more and more roles are opening up for Asian/Pacific Islander actors/actresses. What are the changes you have seen?
I think there are more and more Asian Americans who are pursuing acting as a profession. The generation that is younger than me has grown up more entitled to their place in the popular culture and less stigmatized by the notion of race. I think they see more opportunity as they grow up — more avenues to pursue their dreams. This gives them, collectively, an entitlement that is not only appropriate — but a strength that encourages bold and effective work.
#4. Your acting career has been incredibily diverse with roles in TV, film and stage. What are the differences of working in each area as an actor? You have been very involved with stage productions, is it true that all actors relish the stage most because of the audience connection?
I think all actors are different, so it is hard to generalize, but speaking from my own experience, there is nothing like working on stage. On film and television, the primary storytelling component is the camera. You have the all-important story written by the writer, of course, but the story is conveyed via the camera. In the theatre, actors are the primary storytelling component. It is our job to serve the play, to tell the story, and we must do so every night with our entire instrument: body, voice, spirit. And you tell the story directly to other living, present people in the audience. It’s immediate. This is uniquely terrifying and can also be profoundly rewarding.
Working on film can be amazing, because you are afforded a kind of privacy in your work, an intimacy that can be explored that will be shared by the camera to others.
And nothing reaches more people than television. In the middle of the night, on the most obscure-seeming channel, a television re-run can be seen by literally millions of people. Never underestimate the benefit of having a huge audience!
#5. Law & Order: SVU has introduced you to a regular character, Ruben Morales. This is also not the first time you have had a reoccurring character on a TV show. Is this a role that will continue and how demanding is it for an actor playing a regular role in a TV series?
Earlier this year I appeared on my fiftieth episode of SVU. I was surprised at how much this meant to me. I have appeared on this show, a few times per year, for the past ten seasons, and it has been the baseline for the rest of my career. It has allowed me so many freedoms: the ability to do other film and television work in between appearances; the financial freedom to do plays I love that don’t pay a living wage; and the gift to return again and again to a place where I get to be around people I love and work on the basic skills of being in front of a camera on a regular basis. This, I would say, is the amazing part of being a “recurring” character on a long-running show like SVU.
Being a “series regular” poses other challenges and offers different advantages. Being a series regular means working between 12-15 hours per day on a show you appear in every (or almost every) episode. It means having the opportunity to play one character over an extended period of time, sometimes years. It offers what is so often lacking in an actor’s life: consistency: a consistent job, a consistent salary, a consistent expectation of what’s expected of you. All of these are blessings and all potential challenges.
I was a series regular on the FOX drama, “Space: Above & Beyond” for one season, but between the shooting of the pilot in Australia and its eventual cancellation after 22 episodes, it spanned more than two years. It was some of the hardest work I’ve ever done, some of the most frustrating, and some of the most rewarding. I was depressed for several months over the “death” of my character.