Hollywood and Latinos, Past and Present: Cubano Actor Oscar Torre Talks the Hollywood Hustle [VIDEO]
Linked to two thieves looking to scam another thief, the nervous, sweat-soaked thespian Miguelito uses his skill set to rouse picketers, pose as a waiter, and aid in securing a fortune large enough to undermine the efforts of the thieving, ruthless TV infomercial guru who grew his wealth from peddling worthless health products to poor Latino immigrants.
The actor playing the nerve-wrecked Miguelito in Ladrón que roba a ladrón is Oscar Torre; the Cuban actor who is best known for his breakout role on CBS' Cane, where he portrayed Santo, alongside an all-star cast that included Jimmy Smits, Rita Moreno, Nestor Carbonell, and Hector Elizondo.
Torre was born in Miami, Florida to Cuban-born immigrant parents, who came to the US as teenagers. At home, with his parents, Torre spoke Spanish, but when he was outside, in the world, he spoke English --able to access the best of both worlds, and walk between cultures like many acculturated Latinos who possess the knowledge and understanding of their parent's home nations and the customs of their American surroundings.
In his youth, Torre wanted to be a baseball star. He played often, invested time and energy into the sport, but lacked the skill and speed to make that dream a reality. Yet, becoming an actor was accidental for the motivated and eager film and screen star.
"I fell into acting by chance," Torre stated with honesty during his interview with Latin Post. "I had one more credit left in college... an elective. And, my girlfriend at the time, I asked her to sign me up for a class. And, as a joke, she decided to sign me up for acting class ... though, I was quite shy."
"When I was in the acting class, I pretty much sat the whole semester without going up or doing anything on stage. The teacher pretty much left me alone, but then at the end of the semester, my teacher... Maria Rojas told me that I needed to go on stage and say something, otherwise I wouldn't pass. So, at that point it was about passing, and not hurting my grade point average. I didn't want to take the class again, or another class."
Forced from his seat, Torre took to the stage while receiving directions from the heartening teacher.
"She said, 'bring something from your personal life onto the stage.' So I did the moment that my grandmother passed away, which was a couple of years before," Torre said, then paused briefly. "I did that moment in the hospital where I was waiting to see her, before she was going to pass ... so that I could say my goodbye. So, I went up on stage with that idea ... I knew what I planned to do, I knew what planned to say. So, I went up on the bare stage ... where there was nothing ...and there was no one there," Torre recalled, entranced by the memory of his first true acting experience. "I walked toward where my grandmother was supposed to be on the stage ... and suddenly the place transformed. It was magical; it was just me and my grandmother. I wasn't on stage, and I wasn't in front of an audience. There was no one around; there was just me and her. Everything I planned to say, acting-wise; everything that I actually said to her when I was saying goodbye ... nothing came out. I began to shake, and I hugged my grandmother who wasn't there. And, when the activity was over, I felt like I was standing nude on stage, and everyone could see through me. But, it was also a high."
When the applause ended and the class was over, Professor Rojas approached Torre, telling him that he should take acting more seriously. She stated, "Perhaps there's something there." She then invited the then 22-year-old to acting classes that she hosted in the evening, where more seasoned actors attended.
Just a few years later, in 2000, Torre won the lead role in the political drama Libertad: The Dark Untold Story of Castro's Cuba (directed by Norton Rodriguez), after making smaller screen appearances in television series such as Miami Shakedown, Marielena, Morelia and Lawless. In Libertad, Torre portrayed Fidel Jimenez Moralez, an artist who was born and raised in Cuba, longing to use his creative talents to sustain him; he is then told by Cuban authorities that his work does not fit their political agenda, and they forbid him from painting. When Moralez flees from Cuba on a homemade raft, he's captured, accused of being a C.I.A. operative, and he is sentenced to 15 years in one of the island's most notorious prisons.
"Libertad had a small theater release in Florida and in L.A. And, at that point, I knew that acting was something that I wanted to do for a living. It was my passion. So, I moved to L.A.," Torre said. "But, moving to L.A., it was like starting all over again. In Miami, there were very few casting directors, but in L.A., there are hundreds, if not thousands, of casting directors. And, I had to do all kinds of jobs when I got there. My first job was telemarketing, which I was horrible at. Nothing against telemarketers ... but, I hate it when they call my house. Imagine: there's someone who's calling your house, and at the beginning of the call, they're already apologizing for calling your house," Torre said with a laugh. "I'd get bored, so I'd do different voices, different characters, and pretended to be from different places, but I didn't do that job for too long."
"Then, I did catering," Torre said, musing. "I didn't like catering; you're not supposed to eat the food that you're serving. There's no story there, but I did that for a while. For a very little while, I did construction. It was hard work. And, I worked as an interrupter at the children's hospital in L.A. And, I did that for some time."
Entirely committed to the Hollywood hustle, Torre did not shy away from small jobs and odd opportunities, and while being Latino loomed as potential threat to his oncoming success in Hollywood, Torre could look to celebrities such as Anthony Quinn, Rita Moreno, and Edward James Olmos, who opened doors in tinsel town and made respectable Latino roles more accessible for himself and for future generations.
"Things are a lot different for Latinos now. When I moved to L.A. things weren't that bad compared to what others went through long before I came along. So, I can't even compare. I can't even imagine what it was like for Latinos out here when there weren't that many Latinos, and directors didn't really know what to do with them..." Torres said. "All of these people made it a lot easier for my generation, for our success. And, the younger ones coming in now are finding that things are a lot easier now than they were for me. And, I've only been here in L.A. for 15 years. Now, there are a number of shows staring Latinos...not as many as there should be, I think ... but there's a few. There are Latino characters in films. And, the fact that there are more Latino writers helps a lot. Before, writers would think 'Latino' but they didn't know what they wanted. When I moved out here, directors wanted you to be Latino...but from where? They didn't know if they wanted you to be Mexican, or something else.
"If you think about Mexicans and Puerto Ricans, you know that they speak differently; you know that they have different experiences in life. And, Puerto Ricans are different from Argentinians and Spanish... they really didn't know, and that still goes on."
Torre recalled times when he's gone into auditions, which requested "Latino Male," but didn't specify what type of Latino. When he entered auditions, casting directors would sometimes state, "Oh, we were looking for someone Mexican-looking," though they hadn't previously made that clear. Also, sometimes a Mexican person would come in, but they're looking for a Cuban, and so on.
Nonetheless, Torre maintained that conditions for Latino actors are much better than when he first moved to L.A.
"Latinos' representation in film has gotten much better, also; we're no longer just playing criminals. Before, if you were Latino, you'd either have to play a criminal or you'd have to play a waiter. That's pretty much all it was. Now, they're more open to Latinos in other roles, such as lawyers...in fact, Rick Gomez plays an Assistant U.S. Attorney on Justified; Benito Martinez is on House of Cards and plays a senator; and Jimmy Smit played the first Latino president on The West Wing. So, there are much better roles," Torres stated.
Torre then proceeded to say that more Latinos and Asians need to be represented, however, asserting that if you go to a hospital, you'll see that a great deal of employees working there are Asian and Latino. But, if you were to see any of the shows about hospitals on television, you'll see perhaps one Asian person or one Latino; which doesn't reflect what this country looks like, Torre asserted, hospitals and other institutions have a large Latino presence in reality.