Before Sofía Vergara steamed up “Modern Family” as “Gloria” and Jimmy Smits sizzled on television as Victor Cifuentes in L.A. Law, there was Puerto Rican actor Héctor Elizondo who for decades has starred in a wide range of roles on Broadway and Hollywood alike.
These days, Elizondo shares the big screen with actors like as Jessica Alba, and Ashton Kutcher, in films such as romantic comedy "Valentine’s Day" and its sequel "New Year’s Eve" expected in theaters Dec. 9, 2011.
The Golden Globe winner, born and raised in the Upper West side in New York City, thanks other fellow Latino actors for helping to open doors for him.
“There were also big stars who changed their names because they had to --like Rita Heyworth, Dick Haynes, and Martin Sheen.”
Although anglicizing one’s name may not be necessary for aspiring Latino actors today, getting properly trained is. From Elizondo’s experience, “doing theater” will give today’s generation of Latino actors an edge.
“Do theater, so that you are not intimidated and learn about the business. Please learn about the business,” urged Elizondo.
“Get a good manager, a good agent, or some mentor that teaches you that it’s a business, and how to navigate the waters.”
Elizondo has not been exempt from the stereotypes that afflict Latino actors. To break free of type-casting and broaden the roles he could play, he worked with a speech coach.
“I started getting lots of roles that supposedly were for a Latin actor. No one calls another actor and Italian actor or German actor, why put Latin in front of ‘actor’ for us?” asks Elizondo.
“I realized I couldn’t play [different] roles. So, I took classes to lose my accent, you know [learn] how to walk and talk.”
Elizondo’s mantra for success has been staying true to himself, working hard and never either “feeling like a victim or entitled.”
The 74-year-old stresses how lucky he is to be a working actor in an industry where many are “standing in line” to do what he does.
“I am as Latino as you can get --more than the ones who call themselves Latinos and can’t even speak Spanish,” Elizondo says.
“I didn’t get anything free. I did by working and getting a reputation. Next time they were about to hire a Latino, they would say ‘that last kid, what was his name? Héctor Babaganzo? Oh yea Héctor Elizondo, he was pretty good. He made a difference.’”
Nowadays, Latino actors are in high demand but Elizondo thinks that this is no coincidence.
“We are a commodity and a money maker,” says Elizondo.
“People love the Latino culture, the music, the food, the style, and the ladies aren’t bad…” he nods charmingly at this reporter, “Right?”