Hemky Madera: Weeds, Luck, Star

"Being a strong Latino has definitely helped my career"

By Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez, Herald de Paris
Published on LatinoLA: December 11, 2013

Hemky Madera: Weeds, Luck, Star

Hemky Madera is a renowned character actor who has preformed in such primetime shows as "The Shield" and "Law and Order: Criminal Intent." He's had a recurring role in HBO's "Luck" with Dustin Hoffman and is remembered as 'Ignacio' on SHOWTIME's "Weeds. Movie roles include performances with actors such as Harvey Kietel, Gael Garcia Bernal and Diana Bracho in the film "Dreaming of Julia" where he portrayed a young human rights crusader in 1950's Cuba. He also worked on "The Lost City" with Andy Garcia, Dustin Hoffman and Bill Murray and the Gore Verbinski film "Rango" with Johnny Depp and Ray Winstone.

Madera was born in Queens, New York to Dominican parents Luis and Gisela Madera. They moved to Santiago, Dominican Republic when Madera was two months old and he later graduated from Santiago Christian School. After a series of different jobs, Hemky decided to give a go to his long standing desire to act. His first move forward came to much acclaim on the widely known television production of "Grandes Series Dominicanas." He then garnered the lead for the mini-series "En La Olla" followed by "Trio en Alta Mar" - both directed by renowned Dominican director and producer Alfonso Rodriguez.

After a short stay in New York City, where he worked on the film production of "Bookies Lament," Hemky returned to the Dominican Republic to star in the mini-series "Asalto en la Lincoln." Immediately after, he became a part of the primetime television series production and cast member of both hit sitcoms "Los Electrolocos"(lead) and "Ciudad Nueva." His first theatrical performance was in "Pantallas" which was produced and staged at Santo Domingo's Great National Theatre. Then back to New York to be in the Inverse Theatre's production of "Icarus and Aria." After workshops and internships at The Actor's Studio and Gene Frankel Theatre, he was cast in "Life is a Dream," "The Mistress of the Inn" (reviewed by The New York Times), "Chronicles of a Death Foretold," "Blood Weddings," "Midnight Brainwash Revival," Feast of the Goat" ( a New York Spanish Repertoire's production), "Burning the Bridges," and "Belisa's Capriciousness."

While in New York City he worked on the production of "The Bookie's Lament" (2000) with Gabriel Macht, but later returned to the Dominican Republic where he starred in the mini-series "Asalto en la Lincoln" as well as in the sitcoms "Ciudad Nueva and Los Electrolocos" in which he took the lead.

After returning to the United States, he has appeared in the feature films "Dreaming of Julia" (2003) with Harvey Keitel and Gael Garc?¡a Bernal, in "The Lost City" (2005) with Andy Garc?¡a, Dustin Hoffman, and Bill Murray, in "The Wrath of Cain" (2010) with Ving Rhames and Robert Patrick as well as doing voice work in "Rango" (2011) alongside Johnny Depp along with many others.

On television he has appeared in single episodes of hit television series "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," "The Shield," "Brothers & Sisters," "My Name Is Earl," and "The Good Guys: as well as 17 episodes of "Weeds" as Mexican drug cartel goon Ignacio - so far his greatest claim to fame.

On stage he first appeared in "Pantallas" at Santo Domingo's Great National Theater. In the United States he has appeared in Inverse Theater's production of "Icarus and Aria" and the New York Spanish Repertoire's production of "Feast of the Goat" as well as assorted other stage productions, i.e. "Life is a Dream," "The Mistress of the Inn," "Chronicles of a Death Foretold," "Blood Weddings," "Midnight Brainwash Revival," "Burning the Bridges," and "Belisa's Capriciousness."

Herald De Paris Deputy Managing Editor had an opportunity to meet Hemky at the ALMA Awards this year thanks to an introduction by HDP friend, actress Patricia Rae.

AC: I am told you were born in Queens, New York then moved to Santiago in the Dominican Republic at the age of two months. For many people it is usually the other way around. Why did your parents leave the US?

HM: Actually my parents were living in the Dominican Republic when I was born. My mother came to New York to visit her sisters when she was seven months pregnant. There were some complications and she had to have me prematurely; two months early.

AC: How was life growing up in Santiago? What kind of family did you come from and how did your community inspire you?

HM: Growing up in Santiago was amazing!!! It was a small town but mentality it seemed a big city. I come from a very supporting, caring, loving, grounded, hardworking family. My community inspired me to be all that I can be! I know it sounds like the Army :-) But what I mean is that I saw people around me with nothing yet striving to have everything.

AC: What was it that attracted you to the arts? What was your very first performance? Who was your greatest supporter? Detractor?

HM: Movies and television attracted me to the arts. I am an only child so when I was a kid I watched television for hours and hours then go to the movies( well I still do;)). I had a very active imagination, so I reenacted scenes for my parents from whatever I watched. You can say that was my first performance. I remember being five years old watching "On the Waterfront" in English with my parents (I didn't speak English at the time). When I saw the famous scene with Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint (Brando try to put her glove on so she couldn't leave) I turn to my parents and said, "When I grow up I'm going to do what he does. I'm going to be an actor." My greatest supporters were my parents. I have never let anybody or anything be a detractor to me. Just the opposite - anybody or anything that tried to detract me just fueled me to go forward.

AC: Did attending Christian school help inform some of the characters you have developed over the years?

HM: HAHAHA oh yes!!! I Attended nine different schools, most of them Catholic, not counting college which was also Catholic. And somewhere in between I went to military school as well. So to answer your question,attending Christian schools help inform some of the characters by observation.

AC: Where did the desire to act come from and who were some of the actors you admired then? Whom do you admire now?

HM: My desire to act comes from wanting to express my self, entertain, tell stories. Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro were my favorites, among others. Now I love Johnny Depp, Robert Downey Jr, Joaquin Phoenix and and of course Daniel Day-Lewis.

AC: I am told you had a series of jobs before you landed your first part. What were some of the jobs and what kind of vocation do you think you would have had if acting didn't work out?

HM: I did, I've worked as a waiter, bartender, office clerk, data entry clerk in a bank, numerous temp jobs, driver, window dresser assistant, and in college I went into a public fossil site to get skulls and bones for anatomy class and get $20 bucks for each. I think I would've being a great lawyer if I wasn't an actor.

AC: Isn't it non-traditional for a macho-looking male to pursue acting? What did your father think of this vocation?

HM: My father loves it!! Look, after I told my parents that I wanted to be an actor at the age of five I never brought it up again until the end of my second year of college. I changed majors for the four times; I went from physical therapy, medicine, business administration and ended up in marketing. By the end of the run I spoke with my father and I told him that I wanted to be at the actor. His response was, "FINALLY!! Finally you tell me something that I always knew." So I asked him why he never said anything. His response was simple: if I would've said something, you would have not done it.

AC: At a certain point you decided to give acting a go. What was the process? Did you experience rejection? How did you cope?

HM: After I told my parents that I want to be an actor I just went for it. A friend of mine, Frank Perozo, came to me saying that he knew about this director by the name of Alfonso Rodriguez who was giving an acting class. We went and auditioned for him. We both got accepted to be part of his class.

I did experience rejection, especially when I went to New York. I would go to audition after audition and get nothing, I just kept going. What else could I do?. This was the life I chose so no excuses.

I always had my eye on the ball - you know, the big prize. I guess that was my way of coping. Now that I have a family, my family gives me strength to keep going.

AC: What drives you to act?

HM: What drives me to act? Love!! I love to act. I love to express myself. I love to bring to life the characters I've played - to entertain.

AC: How long did it take to you to book the role on "Grandes Series Dominicanas" and what was the part? How did it feel to be a pro? Was it what you wanted or did you want more?

HM: My first role, part of Alfonso Rodriguez' six weeks workshop was that he was going to select actors from his class to be part of his next project "En la Olla" (Being Broke). Three weeks into the workshop Frank was told that he got one of the leads in the project. So we go out and celebrate. I don't hear anything about me but I'm like, well we still have three more weeks. Those last three weeks came and went and nothing. So at this point I'm telling myself maybe I'm not good for this; I don't have what it takes to be an actor.

So I went to the beach for the weekend with some of my friends. Back then I had a pager - hardly anybody had a cell phone back then. I remember that I left the pager back at the house and we spent the whole day just enjoying the beach. By the time I got back to the house it was already evening time and I see that I had 18 pages from a number that I didn't know. So I was like wow! This most be important.

When I called the number the first thing I hear is, "Where are you?" And I was like, who is this? "It's Alfonso. We're going into production the day after tomorrow. Where are you?!" I was like WHAT?! What do you mean we're going to production the day after tomorrow? And that's when he told me that he picked me from the audition for his workshop and he thought that the producer told me. The producer thought that Alfonso told me, so they all believe that I knew. But I didn't. I still laugh out loud when I remember that story. The character's name was Luis.

I remember my first scene, the first scene I ever did. We go through the scene and I say all my lines perfectly. I do not forget one single line. I'm feeling good, you know, confident. Alfonso comes up to me and says, "That was great Hemky. Really good. Very pro. Now BREATHE!!!!" After that, I just wanted more and more.

AC: You soon got the lead in a mini series. How was it to be a lead? You were in several successful mini series. Where you affected by the sudden fame?

HM: Being one of the leads on my very first gig was amazing. A lot of work but it was amazing. I was not affected by this sudden fame. I came from a very grounded family.

AC: Tell us about working on two sitcoms. Did you enjoy doing comedic work? Would you like to do more of that sort of thing?

HM: Working in those sitcoms was great! What can I say? I love comedy. I would love to do more!!!

AC: After success in TV, you turned to stage work. Tell us about those experiences. Tell us about the Actors' Studio.

HM: My first stage work was in "Pantallas" (Screens). Wow! Was that a lot of work. I loved it!!! It was the first time that I got the response from the audience immediately. It was a very humbling experience. I did an internship at the Actors' Studio.

AC: Which acting platform do you prefer: stage, feature, or TV? And why?

HM: I prefer all of them. The stage you have the audience right in front of you. Television is art and movies are magical. Let's be honest, I'm an actor. I love to act. I'll get it where ever I can.;)

AC: Why did you return to the states to do English projects? What are some of the features you worked on? What was the US film industry like for Latino males at that time?

HM: I dreamed of Hollywood ever since I was a kid so I had to come back to the states and work in English projects. The industry has opened a lot for Latinos in general. Now we have more Latino lawyers, doctors, etc. - not just gardeners, drug dealers, maids and nannies. In my case, I've been blessed. I work a lot.

AC: Do you view yourself as a character actor or a lead actor? You have worked with some of the biggest names in the industry: Dustin Hoffman, Andy Garcia, Johnny Depp. Any interesting stories about working with icons like that?

HM: I consider myself a leading man who does character work. ;-). What I can say about working with icons like that? They are so giving; they are pros and not selfish. You have to bring it because they will always bring it.

AC: You are probably best known for your work on "Weeds" as a drug associate. Where does the muse from that character come from?

HM: I am. It was a great gig!!!! Ignacio was a huge goofball, a tough guy but he was just a goofball!!! So that was it - it was just fun to play him.

AC: Do you feel that you are reinforcing negative Latino stereotypes? Did you bring a special dignity to the role?

HM: Look, they are Latinos stereotypes. Is just a gig. Would you say the same about a white person playing a trailer trash character? So they don't become a joke, the best thing I could bring to the role is not just dignity, but to be honest when I portrayed the role.

AC: Do you think that writing is true to life? Is there any danger of you becoming the 'drug enforcer go-to guy' character thus limiting your role selection possibilities?

HM: I guess I've done a very good job when people still want me to do this kind of role. Yes, it can be a little bit limiting but I've also played doctors, lawyers, and cops. So you tell me.

AC: What kinds of projects would you like to do?

HM: The kind of projects that move me; projects that I personally would love to watch.

AC: Any aspiration to write, direct, and/or produce? What types of stories should be told that are not being given any screen time now?

HM: Yes I do. There are a lot of stories out there. I want to do the story of "Jack Veneno" - he was a Dominican wrestler.

AC: Has being a strong Latino helped or hindered your career?

HM: Being a strong Latino has definitely helped my career.

AC: What are some of the projects you are working on now?

HM: I am starting work on the script of a pilot that is loosely based on my wife and our families.

AC: How do you feel about "New Media"? Twitter, Facebook . . . do they help keep you in touch with fans?

HM: Ha ha hah! I'm so bad tweeting and posting stuff on Facebook. I don't know what I should or shouldn't tweet or share. But I promise to my fans that I will get better at it.

AC: In the end, when its all said and done, how would you like to be remembered and what would you like your legacy to be?

HM: I want to be remembered as a great man! To know that when people hear my name they just smile.

AC: How can people know more about you?


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