For someone who's only been acting for five and a half years-scratch that, has only wanted to act for five and a half years-Ryan Guzman has a pretty impressive resume. His first role-a lead, no less-in Step Up Revolution (future Channing Tatum, anyone?) has led to a turn opposite Jennifer Lopez (The Boy Next Door), a role in Richard Linklater's "spiritual sequel" to Dazed and Confused (Everybody Wants Some!!), a starring role in NBC's Heroes Reborn and a recurring role on the mega-successful Pretty Little Liars. Currently, Guzman stars on ABC's Notorious, about the relationship between a TV news producer and an attorney, alongside Piper Perabo and Daniel Sunjata. In his spare time, he writes, produces and directs his own scripts. Not bad for someone who didn't want to act in the first place. Below, Guzman opens up about his work ethic, the industry giants who inspire him and his ultimate dream-becoming an MMA fighter.
HB: Notorious is based on the real-life relationship between a Larry King Live news producer and a criminal defense lawyer. As you worked on the show, did anything surprise you about what goes on behind the scenes of TV news programs?
RG: The manipulation of what's actually portrayed in the media, through the legal system, is pretty shocking, actually. You can see how someone you would never know can make a public figure look like a bad guy or a good guy just from the little information they let you know. My advice, after finding out all this, is to research everything. Don't just hide behind your Facebook posts. Research everything.
HB: What was it like working with Richard Linklater on Everybody Wants Some!!?
RG: A dream come true, and I'm still dreaming about it, actually. I learned so much from that man that I don't think I can ever thank him enough. This was all by watching him and viewing what he does on a daily basis. He's so in tune with his cast, his crew, his story that he's telling and how to make it look so effortless. It's just like watching an artist paint some beautiful painting. To this day, and probably forever in my life, that will be one of the best movies that I was able to be a part of. I'm very, very, thankful for it.
HB: Have you ever thought about going behind the camera and trying out directing or something like that?
RG: It's funny you say that, because I literally just finished the last edit of a script I just wrote. I'm directing it on Sunday and trying to get it done in the next couple months. I'm trying to do my best as far as directing, producing and writing between my job [on Notorious].
HB: Can you give me a hint of what it's about?
RG: I can tell you it's an action/drama thriller. It entails a lot. The whole film stems from a little idea I had a couple years ago-through a friend-about a cheating wife, and it blossomed into this massive idea. I'm really excited to get behind the camera and start filming and let everybody else see it.
HB: What inspired you to start writing? Were you always a writer?
RG: I've always been a writer, actually. Not many people assume that, but I kinda keep quiet about anything that I do until I'm ready to show it. It keeps me humble and also makes me work towards a goal. I probably have a good six or seven scripts between me and my writing partner. We're continuously working on more and learning as much as we can about the industry before we're able to pull that trigger.
We're all trying to be artists making our own unique statements. I think the only real way to do that is through failure.
HB: I read that you initially didn't want to become an actor. What led you to try it?
RG: My dream-and it still is my dream, actually-is to fight in the Octagon as an MMA fighter. Fighting was one of my passions ever since I grew up watching Bruce Lee movies. When I was presented with the opportunity to act after doing commercials, I got enticed by it. I took it and-like everything I do in my life-I gave it my 100 percent. I devoted my nights to looking up script ideas, looking up different monologues, looking up anything that intrigued me about the film industry itself. I dissected it as much as I possibly could as fast as I possibly could, because as soon as I started auditioning, I wanted to hit the ground running. And it worked, because two months after I signed with my manager, I booked the lead for Step Up Revolution. I had to learn how to dance and act at the same time in front of a camera for a major motion picture. That was five and a half years ago. Now I'm on my 12th movie and third television show-all network, too. Things have been looking very, very good for me. I can't thank my mom and my dad and my family enough for instilling that work ethic in me.
HB: Anything in particular that inspired you while you were doing your research? Monologues, scenes, scripts, movies that stick with you?
RG: It's an everyday process, actually. I can find inspiration in the smallest and biggest things. I could watch a movie like The Godfather and then want to write the next Godfather. I just need something small in life, whether it's passing by someone and creating a storyline through that. It's all about creativity. We're all trying to be artists making our own unique statements and I think the only real way to do that is through failure; continuously failing at something. Failure turns into success. It looks like it happens overnight to other people, but it's just one person's determination to get past a certain goal. Everybody thinks it's an overnight success, but it's not. It's something someone has been working very, very hard on, and more than likely, has been too embarrassed to tell anybody. No one really wants to show other people their failures. They want to show their success.
HB: You worked on Heroes Reborn and you worked on Everybody Wants Some!!, which Linklater called the "spiritual sequel" to Dazed and Confused. What is it like to be a newcomer stepping into the worlds of these cult classics?
RG: [I] never go in thinking it's a cult classic or I'm a newcomer. With each new adversity, I bring it on. If it's a big task like Everybody Wants Some!!, and going to Texas and being able to work with a massive director and eight or nine very, very talented actors, [it] only inspires me to get better. It's one of these things where it can either make or break you, but for me, it's always made me. I've always believed that-it's stupid, but I always use this-the pressure makes the diamonds. I really do believe that. The more pressure I'm put under, the more, it seems, I thrive. The more you give me to do and the more you give me to accomplish, the more I can get done for you. That's how I took the approach to doing Heroes or Everybody Wants Some!!. Going from a massive comedy to a cult classic like Heroes, trying to reboot a new series... Even a couple movies I've done before that are reboots-Step Up: Revolution and Step Up: All In to Jem and the Holograms-these are all things that have happened before, but we're trying to get the audience back and enthused about them. So far it seems like most of them worked. Some of them haven't, but most of them worked out.
It looks like it happens overnight to other people, but it's just one person's determination to get past a certain goal.
HB: What was it like working with Jennifer Lopez on The Boy Next Door?
RG: She's another reason why I work so hard. There are people in my life who push me towards what I want a little bit harder. Just watching her put on so many different hats at once and do it effortlessly, and make everybody else in the world think it's easy to do-write a book, write a movie, produce a TV show, judge on another TV show, dance at her own concert-to do all of this at one time, [she makes it look] easy to do. For her to make it seem like it? That's poetry itself. Hopefully one day I can do the exact same thing. I can have many different hats on and make it feel effortless and still give the attention I need to all my loved ones and make it worthwhile. She's inspiration to the core.
HB: Do you still keep in touch?
RG: Oh yeah, of course. She's a sweetheart. She's helped me out, actually, quite a bit, when I had questions about certain things, because I'm new to this whole industry. She's come from humble beginnings, I come from humble beginnings, and I owe her a lot of credit.
HB: Do you have any other mentors in the industry, or people you want to model yourself after?
RG: I think the beauty of the industry is that if another person tries to become another person or act like another person or imitate another person, they don't really get too far. When that person starts to realize who they are and what they can bring to the table, they start to blossom and grow. With that, it's not so much me looking towards my predecessors who have paved the way in the industry-it's more getting inspired. I get little bits and pieces of what I can take from any and everybody. Marlon Brando, obviously, is a huge one for me. I watched that documentary that he had, Listen to Me, over and over and over again. Seeing his process and how he gave everything he possibly could to each character is something you can see he passed on to Christian Bale and Tom Hardy and Daniel Day-Lewis. These actors are trying their very, very best to portray someone they're not. That, to me, is a task that I still have yet to master but look forward to mastering.
HB: As a Latino man working in Hollywood, have you thought about how your work will impact the country in the age of a Trump presidency?
RG: I'm aware of what my effect on the populous could be, and I try to use it in a positive way, whether it be in an Instagram post or a tweet, or promoting whatever new job that I have. I don't figure too much as a Latino man coming up, or a certain ethnic man. I'm very, very proud of being a Mexican-American man, but I would rather people just see me as a man coming up who just happens to be Mexican. I don't want you to look at my skin and think "white" or look at my heritage and think "Mexican." I want you to look at me and see me as a human being, and hopefully, we can get past all of this other stuff. It's asking a lot, of course, but there's only one way you fight extremists on both sides, whether it be racist or not, and that's by looking past me, getting bigger than that, letting them not affect you, drawing from it and sticking together with the like-minded people you have around you.
The beauty of the industry is that if another person tries to become another person or act like another person or imitate another person, they don't really get too far.
HB: I've noticed that your Instagram and Twitter is very inspirational and uplifting, and all about reinforcing one's confidence in oneself. Have you thought about the effect you're going to have on future generations of actors?
RG: Yeah! Hopefully it's not just actors, though. Hopefully it's the next generation of kids, and young men and ladies who want to build a foundation that this world relies on. I want everybody to find meaning in whatever they do. That's the only purpose to life, actually. Let that meaning be so strong that you can't not wake up every day and be like, "Yep, this is what I gotta do, let's keep it moving" and not be disgruntled about it, and start using other people as excuses for why you're not creating a better life for yourself.
I feel like if we stopped pushing people away in trying to get to the top, we could work together. My goal is to start with my family and my friends, progressively get better and create opportunities for them to express themselves and become happy people, then have them affect the people they're around. [I want to] create this growing effect of positivity and [inspired] a willingness to overcome any obstacles that are in front of you, whether it be from our government or from our daily lives. And don't get me wrong-if someone is trying to stop you from enjoying your life by impeding on yours, and telling you that your life is not the right way, then by all means, I'm the first one to say, "Fight for your rights, fight for who you are and for what you believe in." But you better be the stronger person. Just be aware and attentive to everything that's happening in life and know that there are gonna be people that are going to stop you and going to enjoy stopping you from getting to your goals. But just continue to be strong and outwit them.
HB: Do you have a dream role or project you want to be a part of at some point?
RG: I have many dream projects and goals on my list. It would be too much to even tell you and I'm sure I'd bore you if I did. I have a script I've been working on for the past five years, ever since I got interested in acting. After Step Up I got this idea of intertwining previous events in my life into a movie script. It would be all about mixed martial arts, a kind of a Rocky-esque movie but for the MMA world, which I don't think has actually been done or been done well. I grew up like every young kid I know, who wants to be a cop and wants to be a firefighter, so this lifestyle that I've chosen happens to offer that in small doses in front of the camera. I want to take advantage of that. Hopefully I can play many, many different occupations.
HB: How do you decompress?
RG: I'm creating my own oasis in my house. I've got a lot of calming, soothing things around my house. The way it's set up, it's supposed to just be a breath of fresh air. I can find solace in painting and writing. I honestly love what I do, so it's not too much for me. Creating is something I've always been able to do, whether it's making little cartoons or writing a full-length script. It's something I really, really enjoy. I'm trying to make the best of what I've been given. Believe me, I know how much this is a blessing in itself, because coming from $27 and a mini Grand Caravan from Sacramento out to LA, and now looking around and being able to see all this? It's keeping me pushing forward.
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