Never a Villain or a Hero, Always a Human, Oscar Torre

All we leave behind is how we've touched other people's lives

By Al Carlos Hernandez - Contributing Editor
Published on LatinoLA: August 16, 2010

Never a Villain or a Hero, Always a Human, Oscar Torre

Oscar Torre is a Miami born actor who is best known for his breakout work on the CBS TV series Cane, where he played the role of "Santo" alongside Jimmy Smits, Rita Moreno and Hector Elizando. He received major reviews for his comedic performance in Ladron Que A Roba Ladron and has been a major player in several theatrical projects. He has appeared in Dollhouse, NCIS, Cold Case, and Larceny. His first major big screen role was in Suicide Blonde, then the film Versace Murder. Oscar is known for playing bad guys. He learned the way of the streets as a former drug counselor at a mental hospital and says it's the best acting school ever.

Oscar was introduced to me by my friend, actor Lidia Pires. http://latinola.com/story.php?story=7752

Lidia advised me that Oscar Torre is going to be the next big talent in Hollywood. Lidia is usually right. Torre is a very invested in his work is in demand by major directors. It is only a matter of time before he becomes a household name.

LatinoLA.com Contributing Editor Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez talked to Oscar Torres about his journey to the bright lights:

AC: You did a masterful scene in Cane when you told a young boy about your trip from Cuba and being lost at sea. Are you from Cuba? Did you always want to be an actor?

OT: I was born and raised in Miami, Florida of Cuban parents. Growing up I never thought about being an actor. I wanted to be a baseball player and that's what I pursued for years. But my talent came up a little short. I remember as a kid always loving going to the movies with my younger brother, Josy. After each film we would re-enact our favorite scenes in the film. This always gave my mother nightmares because we liked action films and would end up physically fighting. Looking back, our re-enactments was my first venture into acting.

AC: Who were some of your mentors and role models?

OT: While I was growing up, many people influenced me in a positive way. My maternal grandmother taught me about faith, trusting in God and that things somehow turn out okay. My parents, who always made sure we had something to eat even though financially we were very tight, taught me good manners and values.

I had a baseball coach, Jorge Taylor, who taught me to work hard, stay out of trouble and avoid the temptations that affected many of the kids I had played baseball with. To this day, I still go about my work the same way I did when I was an athlete. I have him to thank for that.

Later, when I started taking acting classes, my first teacher, Teresa Maria Rojas, saw something in me that I didn't. She always taught me to have respect for my craft and that with hard work I could be a good actor. Later, while living in LA, Sal Romeo, an acting teacher, let me attend classes for free when I was broke and needed a place where I could act and be creative. In that class I also met my present wife, Chuti Tiu. I was starting to lose faith and then my manager, Eileen O'Farrell, took a chance on me when no one wanted to represent me.

AC: What did you sacrifice and what did you have to overcome to pursue your art?

OT: Once I started acting one of the most difficult things for me to do was to move to Los Angeles to pursue a film/TV career. I'm very close to my family and was married at the time. My wife at that time didn't want to move to LA and I wasn't moving back to Miami.

This move ended my marriage and tested my faith in myself because everything around me was telling me I was crazy in pursuing this career. To her benefit, she never asked me to quit or go back to Miami and she was supportive of my talent. She just envisioned her life differently and I couldn't blame her for that. It was tough at first, being in a city where I knew few people, and I felt very lonely. It took about four or five years before I saw my career moving forward. In the meantime I had many odd jobs to pay the bills: catering, construction, telemarketing and Spanish interpreter at the Children's Hospital in LA. While working at the Children's Hospital I witnessed life and death every day. I also witnessed true love and courage in the face of death. It really taught me to count my blessings.

AC: When was the moment you knew that you wanted to be an actor?

OT: The first moment I knew I wanted to be an actor was while doing a scene in a college class that I had taken as an elective course - not because I was interested in acting. I was on stage doing an exercise for the class and I forgot I was on stage and everything felt very real to me. It was a very moving scene and I started to cry. I had not planned on any of this, it just happened. It was magical. After the class, the teacher, Teresa Maria Rojas, told me that maybe I should take acting more seriously. That's all I needed to hear because I was already hooked.

AC: I'm told you used to be a drug counselor?

OT: Growing up in Miami I had many classmates and friends who developed problems with drugs and alcohol. My best friend and baseball teammate, who was an amazing baseball player, became addicted to drugs around the age of 16. Luckily he's clean and sober now, but only after many years of battling with this.

I was never attracted to using drugs and never cared much for alcohol, but always wondered what made certain people go down this road. After high school, while I wasn't sure what to study, I received a pamphlet in the mail from the University of Miami about a new program that they were offering to become Chemical Dependency Counselors. I enrolled in the program and later graduated. I worked as a counselor for seven years until I decided to go for it and become a full time actor. I worked at a rehab facility my first two years as a counselor. Then later I found that working at a mental hospital was the best acting school I ever attended. Working there I was witnessing real drama, realizing that life for people is not always black and white. I saw that good people sometimes do bad things and that some bad people sometimes do good things. As an actor the experience helped me to make every character I play human, with flaws and strengths, even when I'm playing a villain. But I never label my characters as villains or heroes.

AC: What was your first professional job?

OT: My first audition was for a Spanish soap called "Marielena" and, although I thought I did terrible in the audition, I ended booking the role and doing about twelve episodes in the soap. Ironically this experience also led me to pursue a career in acting because I figured if I could get work despite being a terrible actor at the time, then with hard work I could possibly have a career.

AC: You often play the bad guy. What charactor types do you prefer?

OT: I think I've been blessed to play a variety of roles, not only bad guys. Although those roles are always fun, I try to always make them human and never all bad. Looking back at the roles I've played, I've had a nice variety of roles: An imprisoned artist in the film Libertad, Gianni Versace's boyfriend in the film The Versace Murder and actor (comedic role) in the film Ladron Que Roba A Ladron.

I don't think I've been type-cast but it's always something that I'm conscious about just based on how I look and sound. If I'm not careful that could happen. The one thing many of my roles have in common is that they are conflicted and not all good or bad. Sometimes you get known for one role and it gives the impression of being type-cast. This is both a problem and a blessing because it shows that enough people have taken notice of your work.

The one role I have played many times is of a Cuban rafter. It all started with my first lead role in the film Libertad. I played a political prisoner who escapes from Cuba on a raft. While preparing for that role I interviewed many people who had left Cuba on rafts. Then in the film Ladron Que Roba A Ladron it's mentioned that I'm a rafter. Later in the CBS series Cane I played a rafter and again in a Cold Case episode that I starred in.

AC: How do you feel about people who emigrate that way from Cuba?

OT: I have incredible respect for anyone who decides to leave Cuba on a raft and prefers to die in the middle of the ocean rather than to live in a country without freedom. Although my parents did not leave Cuba on a raft, they also had to make the same difficult and painful decision. They left as teenagers, leaving their parents and country behind.

AC: Cane was a big network production. How was that experience?

OT: Cane was a true blessing for me and it was the one role that really got me noticed. Playing a role that was edgy, dangerous but also was loyal and had a good heart, was a lot of fun to play. I even liked the name of the character, Santo. From the very first episode, my character was protective of the Vega family (Mr. Vega played by Jimmy Smits).

In the first episode, I killed a man who had killed Vega's baby sister many years ago and was now threatening his family. In another episode, I warn a man about not blackmailing the family; when he does, I make him disappear. In another episode, I warn Mr. Vega about getting too close to some bad people and in one of the last episodes, I save his son in the middle of a hurricane.
The audience really gravitated to my character and it soon became one of the favorites of the show. But I loved how they couldn't figure me out. They didn't know if I was bad or good. It was really a pleasure to be part of such an amazing cast and to work so closely with Jimmy Smits, who is not only a great actor but also a great person.

We shot 13 episodes and then the writer's strike came and that really killed the series. It would have been challenging for the audience to tune in a year later and still follow the story.

AC: What do you consider your biggest success?

OT: Personally, my greatest success was marrying my wife Chuti Tiu, who I met in an acting class in LA when I first moved here. We were friends for a long time before deciding to go out. Professionally it has to be Cane and the film Ladron Que Roba A Ladron. I was lucky to play two totally different roles and the audience responded to both in a positive way. They were also a lot of fun to play.

AC: What about producing, directing, and writing?

OT: I was one of the producers of the film Libertad and, although it was a lot of work and stressful, I did enjoy it. I just finished co-writing a script with my wife Chuti that hopefully we'll shoot next year. It was actually a script that I initially wrote with my friend Robert Iglesias about ten years ago. Chuti and I re-visited the script about a year ago and did major re-writes. One day soon I would like to direct a film. I did direct a play years ago that I was acting in.

AC: Which media platform do you prefer?

OT: I enjoy doing film, TV, and stage but I prefer film. I think it is better suited to the way I like to work. I like to take my time with a role and be able to get underneath the skin of the character. I love to know how the character thinks, feels and behaves. Film feels more intimate to me. In doing TV often times you get a job and you're shooting that same week - therefore you need to work much faster. I do enjoy the stage and enjoy the rehearsal process and having the audience in front of you and not being edited, but still doesn't feel as intimate as film.

AC: What are some of the challenges a Latino actor encounters?

OT: I think the challenge of being a Latino actor is not to be seen as a Latino actor but just an actor who happens to be Latino. That also makes it easier to have a long career; this is always something I strive for. Many times I've been able to book a role that is not Latino and after I book the role they change the name and make it Latino - but the role wasn't Latino to begin with. I try to look at the positive. It's much easier to be a Latino actor now than it was many years ago, Thanks to people like Anthony Quinn, Andy Garcia, Hector Elizondo and Jimmy Smits to name a few, they made it much easier for a studio to look at us as just actors and not necessarily label us.

AC: How has the New and Social Media affected and/or enhanced your career?

OT: New Media has helped a great deal because you can now showcase your talent by posting videos, articles and reach out to people who might have never seen your work before. I landed a starring role in a film last year thanks to Facebook. I had just starred in an episode of Cold Case and I posted a video of my scenes on Facebook. Someone saw my video, liked my work and knew that a casting director was having a hard time casting a role in a film. This person grabbed my link and sent it to the casting director who saw my work, liked it and sent me a message on Facebook. She brought me in for a meeting with the director and I ended up shooting the film Legacy last October. I am now attached to shoot another film in the beginning of next year with the same director of Legacy, Stephen Savage, and it was all thanks to Facebook.

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

OT: At the moment I'm attached to a few films that are in different stages of development and I am in conversations to work on a few other films but it's premature for me to name them.
A film that I can mention is Lunar Ticking (I co-wrote with my wife) and if everything goes on schedule we'll shoot next year. I just finished shooting an episode of the new J.J. Abrams series on NBC, Undercovers. I play a Spaniard who is a spy in Germany.

I also have a few films that are going to be released next year. Magic City Memoirs was co-produced by Andy Garcia and the thriller Legacy is a film where I play a sheriff in the hunt for a serial killer. I recently finished shooting a short film The Visitation that is currently in post production and will be making the festival rounds next year. In this film I play the lead role, a man who embezzled seven million dollars and is now trying to hire a hit man to kill him so his family can collect the insurance money. Once again it was one of those roles that are very human and difficult to label. The film takes the audience on a nice ride. It was written and directed by Cameron Young.

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

OT: I like to work on films that are entertaining but at the same time make you think. I believe film is a powerful medium that has the power to affect people's lives. I would love to be involved with projects that do that. I also enjoy playing roles that have an arc, are not predictable and are challenging to pull off.

AC: I ask everyone this question: what would you like your legacy to be?

OT: I would like to be thought of as a good son, husband and friend. Having worked in a hospital and seeing people die in front of me, I realize that at the moment of departure many of the attachments we have during our lives are not really all that important. All we leave behind is how we've touched other people's lives. I hope that in the end I've been able to do that, both in my personal life and through my work.


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