Acting Chose Him
by Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: September 23, 2007.
During the past year, Kevin Alejandro’s career has blown wide open. After years of toiling in the television trenches, he finally has picked up the white-hot interest that has casting directors looking his way as a go-to guy for street-smart sensitivity.
First, Alejandro took on the recurring role of Santos, the gang-banging ex of Betty’s sister on the ABC buzz series Ugly Betty. With that series of appearances putting him on people’s radar, he landed a starring role in the heavily-hyped FOX action series Drive. Of course, if Hollywood teaches you anything, it is to expect the unexpected. So despite getting much critical love Drive barely made it out of the gates – with the network using an itchy trigger finger to pull it long before it had a chance to catch on. Not only that, hisUgly Betty character was shot in the season finale of that series.
However all things happen for a reason and the premature cancellation of Drive and the apparent demise of his Ugly Betty character opened him up for his most challenging role yet (on his third network in less than a year) in the sophomore season of the popular CBS law drama Shark with James Woods.
The new character is Danny Reyes – a tough-but-honest prosecutor with a past who storms into the life of Sebastian Stark and his lawyers and starts a war of wills over the fine points of the law and ethics.
Alejandro took the time to give us a call – after grabbing breakfast at an extremely crowded Venice Beach joint – to fill us in on his career and what it’s like being the new guy onShark.
I just watched your first episode of Shark last night… You were really good in that. I was supposed to interview you last year when you were on Drive but unfortunately that happened right…
… Right as we were getting canceled?
How were you able to see the first episode?
They sent me a rough-cut screener…
Oh, that’s really cool. I’d like to see the first episode.
You were really good in it.
Thanks, man. It’s a challenge. A pretty different kind of character than I’m used to playing.
I interviewed George Lopez just a couple of weeks ago and he was saying that most roles for Mexican-Americans were criminals and guys with no shirts.
(He laughs heartily.)
What’s it like to get to play a smart and principled prosecutor?
You know, it’s amazing. Like I said, it’s the first time I got to play something like this outside the theater. It’s like going back to school. I have to research. I have to understand exactly what I’m saying. Obviously, I’m not used to some of the legal jargon that has to be spoken. It’s such a fine stance. It’s like going back to school.
I read that you sold everything you owned to move from Texas to Hollywood to pursue acting. How did you originally get involved with acting and how did you know that you would be able to make it?
Yeah. Well, originally what got me interested was high school theater. I was fortunate enough to go to this high school that was a very successful in the theater department. My high school teacher was named Jerry Worsham. There was a thing called UIL, University Interscholastic League, and we’d compete against other schools in sports and arts and math and sciences. I’m not sure if they have it out here, but I know it’s a Texas thing. I just happened to be with this guy who was the winningest state director. He was there for like 36 years or something like that. Through state appearances and fifteen state wins and all the other times were second place. I played sports and I needed an arts class. I went in and he took me under his wings for some reason. I started doing plays, got into one-acts, competed all through high school. Ended up receiving the best actor at state award my senior year – for the role of Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. That got me a scholarship to the University of Texas. So, it just sort of planned its way out for me. It kind of chose me, you know?
Now that you are doing mostly television, would you like to get back to theater at some point? How are they sort of different as art forms?
Absolutely. I would love to get back to the theater. They are just two different worlds. I love the theater because of the instant reaction. Whatever kind of audience you have at that moment is what affects your show. You always have a different show, according to your audience, and I love that live interaction. Film and television – I like it as well, but you just never know. You shoot something and then you wait for several months to see a product. Whether or not you watch it with people, you don’t know how it is received. I just like the rawness of the theater.
Speaking of your teacher, you began the Jerry P. Worsham Scholarship Fund to aid underprivileged theater students in college. How did this come about?
Well, because the guy was such a successful man and such a mentor to many, many other people in our neighborhood. Where we come from, it’s a small town. It’s West Texas, northern Texas. Not a lot going on there except oil and football. He chose to stay in this small town and help people. Just give us the arts in this whole town. He was offered to be the head of acting for the University of Texas – turned it down. Just to stay in this small town. God, he just loved young people and liked to be that influence at that stage of their life. Like I tell you, if it were not for this guy, college didn’t even cross my mind. He helped point me – and a lot of others – in a good direction. So, my best friend and I, Steven Taylor, he and I started this fund together.
Not too long after you moved to California to become an actor, you were guesting on some of the biggest shows on TV, like 24, Alias, Nip/Tuck, Medium and CSI: Miami. Were you surprised when it took off like that?
Oh, man, yeah. You say shortly after – it didn’t feel like shortly after. (laughs) I got here and did extra work for almost a year. I was like, oh, man, what’s going on? I don’t understand how to get into this business. It’s a whole new thing. You asked earlier what’s the difference between film and theater; to come into this industry I had to learn to be more of a businessman. For a while you think what the hell is going on? At last I landed a national tour with the national theater of New York. I toured all over the United States – we toured like 42 states. When I came back here I had a whole different state of mind. I ended up landing a manager. That landed me my first role, which landed me an agent. And work just started downfalling on me. I was like, thank you! Thank you! Thank you! (laughs)
You also had a recurring role on The Young and the Restless. They say that soaps are like a boot camp for actors – everything is faster and done on the fly. How did the experience help you as an actor?
You know what, that was the best job that could have happened to me at that time. At that time I was missing theater too – a lot. Unfortunately I had to put my theater on hold for a little while in order to make ends meet here. So when I got that job, it was like being in a play, almost, because we had monologues and monologues of stuff – and it’s different every day. I loved it. It was the best acting coach for me for getting experience to prepare me for other jobs.
Your first regular series role was on Showtime’s controversial series Sleeper Cell. What attracted you to that show?
Well, what attracted me to that show was the first season. I was given the audition for the second season and I hadn’t watched the show. But I knew that I’d received a bunch of screeners – when they’re trying to decide who is nominated, they’d give you the free DVDs. So I was, I think I have that. So I watched it. I was planning to watch the first episodes to understand the pace of it. I couldn’t stop, man. I watched the entire thing back to back. Every episode – like a movie. You know, just the complexity and how far they go – how they put you inside the mind of the terrorists and sort of humanize them – as opposed to dehumanizing them. That’s what really attracted me to that. You can actually go on this journey and sometimes feel yourself being like, ooh, I understand.
You then got a recurring role on one of the biggest hits of last season, Ugly Betty. The show, while it certainly has some very serious parts, is in general much lighter than most of the work you’ve done before. Did you enjoy doing a role that gave a chance to be more comedic?
Absolutely. (laughs) Comedy has been my struggle for a while, since I got out here. Mostly it was half-hour comedy, because I didn’t understand the pace of it, the rhythms that they have. For a long time, I was like, man, I know there’s some humor in me. I know I’m funny somehow. And when this came along… what’s helpful is working with the cast of such funny people. They really just brought it out. That was a really groundbreaking feeling for me – you know, like finally!
I live in Philadelphia, and Ana (Ortiz) – who you play against mostly – is from here. Her father was a politician here in the city…
Oh, wow, I didn’t know that.
Yeah, he was in City Council here for many years.
That’s great. I didn’t know that. She never told me that.
Your character in Ugly Betty was shot in the final episode of last season, but they did not say whether you survived. Obviously working on Shark you can’t go back full time, but will Santos be back at all for the new season?
Umm, you know, I’m not sure what I can tell you. I mean, they’re definitely going to resolve the cliffhangers of last season. Definitely tune in and see what happens. (laughs)
I really enjoyed Drive. I thought it was a shame that FOX didn’t give it more of a chance to attract an audience – it was pulled after only four episodes. Were you surprised it didn’t get more of a shot?
I had so much fun doing that. Playing with cool cars and working with such a huge ensemble cast. (Series creator) Tim Minear is one of the greatest guys I’ve met out here. We still keep in touch. It was just a really good experience. Unfortunately, I personally don’t think it was given a chance to develop whatever audience it deserved. But I know it was well on its way getting some sort of [following.] Anyway, it’s one of those shows where you have to give it time to boil. It just wasn’t given the time, unfortunately. That sucks, but… I don’t regret it at all because I had such a fantastic time working with everybody.
How did you get involved with Shark?
Shark, man, Shark came right at the perfect time in my life. I was just offered a role in Prison Break. I would have had to have moved to Texas to shoot it. After I find out that I’m up for the role in Prison Break, I find out my wife is pregnant.
Thank you. So do we move to Texas? Then, a day after that I’m having all these mixed emotions. Great, I’m going to have a job, but I have to go to Texas. Hey, you’ve got an audition for Shark. Shoots here, la la la. Okay. Shark – I didn’t think I’d get it at first. It’s was a lawyer, I’m like everyone’s having a hard time seeing me as anything but – you know, as what you’ve already seen me as. But luckily I’d already started growing out my hair a little bit. I think that really helped – as far as my appearance goes. I auditioned for it, ended up testing for it and going to the network. I was the only one who tested for it. I got a series regular, as opposed to a strong recurring – which is what Prison Break was offering me. So I got that and my wife’s baby is doing fine and I get to stay here. It was a crazy process. I tested with one guy at the studio and then the network it was just me.
One of my co-writers on the site just interviewed your co-star Sophina Brown…
Yeah, I love Sophina.
She said that her character was not going to be butting heads with Shark this season – there would be a new character to be a thorn in his side. I’ve only seen the season premiere, but it looks like that character will be you… although Kevin Pollak was in his face as well. Is that the case, and how will they play Reyes off of Shark?
Yeah, they’ve done a really good job with the dynamic between our two characters. We butt heads – he is who he is and I’m just sort of a young, snappy version of him. But we like each other. We have a weird sort of: I love to hate you. Oh great, you’re right? Well I was just less right this time. (laughs) Yeah, they’ve done a really good job. I think Kevin Pollak also is there to butt heads, but most of my stuff is with Jimmy, so…
Obviously, James Woods is considered to be one of the great actors working. What is it like doing scenes with him?
He’s exactly what you just said. He is one of the greatest actors out there, man. He’s so… I don’t want to sound like a cliché by saying his work is organic. He’s a master at improv and ad lib. He knows that script forwards and backwards. He knows every moment that happened before, every moment that happened afterwards. He’s always keeping you on your toes. He’s a great guy to work with. I wish every actor would get a chance to work with James Woods, because then you definitely know what it’s like to be on top of your game.
Is it a little hard coming into a show with a cast that has already had a year to gel together?
Everyone has been really inviting. It’s been a pretty easy transition, you know? First I was a little nervous because it’s a much more mature show than I’ve ever been a part of. As far as the cast and the crew, everyone is just sort of more mature. Jeri (Ryan) is fantastic; she was the first person to talk to me. It’s an easy question to answer, not just a lengthy answer. Everyone is great.
Without giving away too many secrets, what are some other things we can expect from Reyes over the season?
One thing to look out for is you get to figure out who this guy is. He has a bit of a past and that’s going to unfold. So I think that’s one of the most interesting things you can look out for. He’s an edgy lawyer. There’s a reason why.
Do you have any sort of fantasy storyline you’d like to see Reyes involved with?
You know, right now I’m just sort of going with it. Rolling with it on how it’s going and enjoying whatever journey they are giving me. I’m new at it, too, still new to the cast, so I’m like, thank you for giving me the opportunity or playing with all you.
In the end, how would you like people to see your career?
I would like people to say, “That guy, he was in everything.” Not necessarily remember my name, just remember that…. I like to be the chameleon actor. I really like that.
Are there any misconceptions you’d like to clear up?
No. (laughs) Not that I’ve heard of yet.
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Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: September 23, 2007.