J.W. Cortes was just another struggling actor living in New York, working part time as an MTA police officer at Grand Central Station, when he received the phone call last year that he would be playing a detective on FOX’s new show “Gotham.”
In the ongoing hit, a crime series set on the fictional home of Batman, the real-life cop gets to be Detective Alvarez – a character he barely knew existed before being cast.
Now it has become popular enough that people on the streets stop him for a photo with “Detective Alvarez,” not just with a police officer in New York as he was used to. It sure helped that he was featured on the photo-blog “Humans of New York.”
“I knew nothing [of Alvarez],” he told Fox News Latino of the character that in the “Batman” comic world is known as the detective who chases Catwoman. “I googled him – I found out that I look like him. That’s pretty cool.”
Eventually, Cortes realized that he is the first human to ever play Detective Alvarez on TV or film.
“My kids think it’s pretty cool,” said the 39-year-old Puerto Rican.
Cortes, who is also an Iraq veteran, said he really enjoys being able to bring in his experiences as a police officer into his character.
“Whenever you can parlay any real world experiences into a character, obviously you are in much better place than having to imagine it or going out there and research something that is completely foreign to you. I find that it’s an advantage,” he said.
“I know what it’s like to put on a uniform. I know what it’s like to be in an environment where people don’t always like you and are set out to hurt you and the citizens you are vowed to protect,” he continued, saying putting these experiences allow him to stay “truthful” to his character.
“I don’t have a Penguin running around New York City, the Joker is not around here, but we do have real threats and I just parlay that into my acting. We do have ISIS, guys considered lone wolves out there, so the threat is real,” he said.
Cortes revealed what excites him the most about playing Detective Alvarez in FOX’s “Batman” origin story is that he is a speaking Latino in prime-time TV – something, he said, that does not happen all the time.
“I think the statistic is 4 percent, that’s it,” he said. “It would be great to see someone like Alvarez increase and motivate the studios to offer more of these kinds of roles to Latinos. It doesn’t always happen that a Latino, a Boricua like me, is playing a Latino character – we’d love to see that more.”
“Gotham” is one of the few shows this season with several leading Latinos characters and actors tearing up prime time. Along with Cortes, the show boasts Victoria Cartagena, Zabryna Guevara and David Zayas.
FNL got to speak with Cartagena recently, who plays lesbian Det. Renee Montoya, who said that the lack Latino characters on TV is something that has gotten better in time.
“I’m just grateful of shows like ‘Gotham’ and shows like Shonda Rhimes’ ‘Scandal’ and ‘How to Get Away with Murder’ because they tap into the talent that they have and go in colorblind. It’s progress,” she said.
Cartagena said her character, who has a sort of love triangle going with Ben McKenzie and Erin Richards’ characters, has also allowed her to connect with another fan base that is very much under-represented in TV.
“It’s fantastic. The ‘gaytham’ fan base – it’s a really special one,” she said of the show’s growing LGBT fans. “On Twitter, they talk to me and allow me to be a part of it. We get to have fun and bond over it.”
She said there have been a lot of lesbian Latina fans who have reached out to her, saying they are excited to have someone representing them on prime-time TV.
“It’s very moving. It makes my job so much more meaningful,” Cartagena said.
There are only five episodes left in the first season, and both Cartagena and Cortes were hesitant to give up any spoilers. Although both are very excited for season two in the fall – especially that in the comic books both detectives are around during Batman’s heyday.
“It’s going to build up,” was all Cartagena would say.
“Gotham” airs on Monday nights on FOX.