Actor Jaime Gomez, a Man of Many Talents...
...and some serious friends
Al Carlos Hernandez - Contributing Editor
Jaime Gomez' big break as an actor came when he guest starred in an episode of the television series 21 Jump Street alongside Johnny Depp.
Published on LatinoLA: January 3, 2011
He was born and raised in the Southern California sunshine spending much of his formative years bouncing around in a VW bus as a surfer. He originally wanted to be an architect.
While in college, he enrolled in an acting class and his professor asked him to be an extra in a production of A Streetcar Named Desire. This experience changed his career direction and he has been pursuing acting ever since. He has been in the entertainment industry for close to 20 years.
Jaime paid his dues by doing small parts in hit TV shows such as "21 Jump Street," "Picket Fences," and "Jag." While his talent was evident, the jobs were still not enough to really make ends meet. That is, until Jaime got called to audition for Don Johnson's new show "Nash Bridges." Jaime recalls that he barely had enough money for the bus to get to the audition. Fortunately, he nailed the audition and got cast as Evan Cortez, a part he played for five years. He said, "Doing the show with Don and Cheech [Marin] was an absolute blast, but now it was time for me to move on to features."
Gomez has worked with major stars the likes of Denzel Washington, whom he worked with twice, (Training Day and Crimson Tide) to Harrison Ford (Clear and Present Danger) to Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe.
Recently completed feature film projects include "16 to Life" winner of the Audience Award for Best Film at the Method Fest International Film Festival (March 2009). Jaime starred in and produced the spiritual black comedy "The Apocalypse‘«™According to Doris" (2010 release), and starred in the thriller "I Am Bad" (2009 release). Jaime is also set to star in the feature films "Shark Biscuit" (preproduction), and "Sleeping with the Lion" (pre-production).
Highlights of Jaime's recent television roles include the first two season premiere episodes of the hit Fox drama "24" starring Keifer Sutherland (2010), an episode the hit CBS drama "Cold Case" (2010), as well as the hit CBS drama "CSI Miami" (2010).
A man of many talents, Jaime directed and wrote the feature film "In the Blink of an Eye" and the music documentary "It's All in the Song" featuring Quincy Coleman. He directed the short "Live with It." Slated for 2011 are two of Jaime's feature film screenplays "Calexico Dreams" an action thriller, and "Empty Hands" the story of the second coming of Christ as told in modern day LA.
www.LatinoLA.com Contributing Editor Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez talked to Jamie and his wife Debbie about his life and times‘«™
AC: You spent some of your youth traveling around in a VW van surfing and wanting to be an architect. What changed all of that? Any regrets?
JG: What changed was the idea that I didn't want to be working construction jobs my entire life. Make a little money, quit, travel, and surf, it got old. My love for the ocean hasn't changed; I just felt it would be a good idea to get on with my life in a more productive manner. The idea of living as a Dharma surf bum was very appealing and was amazing while it lasted, but I wanted more out of life. My desire for a degree in architecture wasn't viable because of my lack of math background. Mathematics has always been my most difficult subject, so it was destined not to work out. My true love has always been words, literature. As far as regrets go, absolutely none.
AC: What kind of childhood did you have that would inspired you to go into the creative arts? Was cultural awareness part of the quotient? Is it still a part of what you do?
JG: I grew up in a household with two working parents who split when I was 12. I had an ex-Marine dad who connected with me by taking me to the movies. My earliest memories are of James Bond movies, Clint Eastwood, and Great War films such as "A Bridge Too Far" and "Midway". That's where my love of movies was born. Culturally, where I grew up in East LA, we were with kids of all colors, creeds and religions so there was no real cultural distinction. We were all Americans. When my dad came to California from Texas, I think he wanted to start with a cultural clean slate. Maybe it was something he learned in the Marines with their racial diversity, but he wanted his kids to be Americanized.
He refused to speak Spanish to us kids and raised us like any other American kid with baseball and apple pie, with tamales thrown in at Christmas. This comes from the intense racism he experienced as a kid in Texas. He told me of signs at restaurants that said "We don't serve dogs or Mexicans". Now as an adult, cultural identity is something I'm still searching for to this day. I'm someone who falls in between the typical stereotypes. I grew up surfing in Orange County, listening to the Beach Boys and Reggae, while being asked to audition for roles that had to do with low-riders and gangs.
It's never really made sense to me. Because of my namesake it's something I've been fighting my entire career. For many Latino producers, I'm not Mexican enough and for major networks/studios, they won't see me for some roles because of my name sounding to Latino. As a Mexican American actor, why can't I read for any and all doctor, lawyer and/or cop roles? Why am I still to this day, only allowed to read for characters whose last name ends with a Z, et al Marquez, Dominguez, Sanchez? I have no problem with that, but I think it limits my opportunities. And not only my opportunities, but the opportunities of all Latino actors.
AC: Your Dad, a Tejano, didn't want you to speak Spanish in order to shield you from racism. Was he right and did it work? How did he feel about acting?
JG: As far as not teaching me Spanish, I don't think he was right because the more languages you speak the better. Did racism end because he didn't teach me to speak Spanish? Of course not. I think he did everything he could to give myself and my siblings the best opportunity we could possibly have.
My father really took no interest in my acting in the beginning. Then he saw a play I did at Plaza de la Raza in East LA and I asked him, "Please Dad, and sit anywhere, just not in the first row" and sure enough, there he was, center stage, front row and I heard him say "that's my son". (He was one of those guys that talked during the movie.) And then he became my biggest fan. It's something that brought us together as I grew older and, before his untimely passing in 2002, really changed our relationship to the point where I really called him my friend.
I was doing a movie for American Playhouse called "La Carpa". It's the story of a traveling theater troupe who tells the stories of the towns they visit to the migrant farm workers in 1938 Florencia, California. While shooting in the fields of Ontario, California at a little ramshackle house with corn stalks growing in the backyard, a vicious little dog on a three foot chain and dirt floors that were perfectly swept; my dad told me for the first time in my life that this was an exact replica of the home he grew up in. His family was migrant farm workers that picked cotton and carrots throughout Texas. Moments like that were so precious.
AC: Where did you go to college? Tell us about your philosophy teacher and how he impacted you? Was he the same professor that got you to become an extra in the college production of "Streetcar Named Desire?"
JG: I went to Rio Hondo Junior College; we called it "Harvard on the Hill". The real beginning starts when I was in high school and stole an English final. I was caught, kicked out of that class and put into a Shakespeare class where we read all of Shakespeare's plays and each student was assigned a part. Being an avid reader, I fell in love with the language. Cut to Rio Hondo, architecture class.
Staring out the window, realizing I didn't have chance to do the math, there sat a course outline book. They had a Principles of Acting class that as the final they were going to do a scene from Shakespeare. To match the credits of the architecture class, I took the Philosophy class as well. That was the moment that changed my life.
The influence of my Philosophy teacher, Mr. Carillo, is and was immeasurable. He taught me to think out of the box and exposed me to the greatest thinkers of our time‘«™Socrates, Plato, Niche. The Principles of Acting class was my introduction to the theater. Professor Jean Korf introduced me to the theater.
They were doing a production of "A Streetcar Named Desire" and one of the sailors in the opening scene fell sick and she asked me to step in. Being backstage, hearing the audience filling the theater, sneaking a peak through the giant red curtain, branded my heart, letting me know full well this was want I wanted to do with my life. I was 18. Not to mention the girls changing in our dressing room!
AC: What was that first acting experience like? What was it about the experience that caused you to change direction in life?
JG: Being backstage, something clicked. Something changed inside of me and I felt as a young man that I had a home, that I could do this. For the first time in my life I felt at home.
AC: How did "21 Jump Street" come about? Did you work with Johnny Depp? Do you think you would have had more opportunity in the beginning if it wasn't for your ethnicity?
JC: 21 Jump Street was a show I read for and I actually read for the good guy. It was a story about the Guardian Angels and for some reason, low and behold, I got the job of the drug dealing accused murderer. Yeah, I worked with Johnny. He was great and really welcoming. That was the first thing I heard in the make up trailer, him introducing himself, and that's something I always tried to do while working on "Nash Bridges". I remember throwing eggs off the 21st floor balcony of our hotel, trying to hit his buddy's van in the parking lot below. We had a blast.
Would I have had more opportunity? I had opportunities but who knows what might have been. A lot of times I felt like a fish out of water reading for a character who had an accent or was a drug dealer or the guy from the wrong side of the tracks; never the doctor, the lawyer, the good guy.
AC: After Jump Street you did some theater. Which performing platform do you prefer: TV, stage, film, writing, directing, producing and why?
JG: I love the theater; it's always been my first love. It's unfortunate that it's not as viable and vibrant, in a monetary way, the way it is in New York. My plan is to get back to the theater, maybe New York or London, if an opportunity arises. As far as which platform I prefer, I think each one has its own challenges.
I love all aspects of making movies. I've had opportunities to work with great directors, great writers, and great actors. When you are just the actor, you're the last part of the production hired. When you're producing, you're there with every hire along the way. It's all different and it's all the same. It's about being the best you can be and working with the best possible people.
AC: How did you get the role in the TV show Nash Bridges which lasted five years? What was the good and bad about that life experience?
JG: Well, that's a great story. They actually hired another actor to play the part of the character Evan Reidel and in the last minute he changed his mind. My first meeting with Don Johnson was in Burbank.
Earlier that day the second of my two cars broke down. I parked it next to my other broken down car and walked to the bus stop that would take me five miles away to Burbank and take two hours and three buses to get there.
Our four minute meeting went great and I remember sitting at the bus stop across the street from Warner Brothers, at the Taco Bell bus stop not having seventy nine cents in my pocket for the two taco deal, I looked at the Christmas lights of the studio and said a prayer. That was Wednesday. On Saturday morning, I got a call from my agent that I had a screen test at CBS at noon.
I walked to the bus stop on Santa Monica, took the bus to Fairfax, got on the bus and the guy behind me pulled a knife on the bus driver. There was screaming, there was yelling and I thought "great, hostage situation, I'm gunna be late".
The bus driver, while putting his hands up, opened the front and back doors and screamed "get out, get out!"
I went out the back door and ran all the way down Fairfax to Beverly, got to CBS, took the elevator to the basement of basements, met Cary Tagawa and Carlton Cuse, and noticed that no one else was there to read for the part. I walked on to the dark stage, couldn't see the audience because of the lights, and they said "do that monolog we gave you five minutes ago, the one about shooting the cat".
They said, "Ok, thank you very much", I left and laid on the grass out in front of the studio and prayed even harder. Then I walked home. Sunday morning Carlton called me, telling me I got that job and that afternoon I was on a plane.
Monday morning I was doing a scene with Don Johnson at the Fairmont Hotel. I ended up being in San Francisco for six years. Don told me that I needed to figure out what every single person does on set, I'd have the time. So I learned what the electricians did, I learned what the gaffers did, I learned how to load film, I learned what lenses we were shooting on‘«™in reality I went to film school for five years and got paid for it. It was an amazing experience.
AC: Tell us a little about your theatrical experience in legendary films such as "Clear and Present Danger," "Crimson Tide," and "Training Day." How was it working with Denzel and Harrison Ford?
JG: It really started with "Crimson Tide" where I was hired to be there seven days and I ended up being there for seven weeks. Two days into the shoot I asked Tony Scott if I could sit in at dailies. He hemmed and hawed and finally said "dailies are at 5 am, sit in the first row and don't open your mouth. If you're late, don't bother coming back".
I was on time and silent every day for seven weeks. This allowed me to hang out with the DP and camera crew and really get a feel of what they were shooting, why they were shooting it, color schemes and thematically how they designed the shots, colors and movements to create tension. I remember standing on the bridge with Gene Hackman thinking "that's Popeye Doyle!", remembering when my dad took me to see Frankenheimer's "French Connection".
Denzel at that point was all business, all military, all navy, and all the time. His professionalism and preparation was really inspiring. I learned from him that you show up ready to shoot from the first minute in the morning to the last minute of the day.
Working on "Clear and Present Danger" was unlike anything I had ever done before. We did sniper spotter training at Camp Pendleton. We arrived in Mexico, Jalapa, two weeks before the production. Running 24 hour training missions in triple canopy jungle, day after day after day; running raids on mock clandestine drug labs, and working insert and extract operations.
We flew on helicopters, we blew up ordinance and at one point I remember the sun setting on the misty jungle and me thinking "I haven't done enough research, are there poisonous snakes here? Are there jaguars? No bueno." and I was on point‘«™terrified. Having the opportunity to sit with Academy Award nominees and winners Donald Stewart, Steven Zaillian, Phillip Noyce, and Mace Neufeld, drinking red wine, talking about Hemingway, was another life altering experience.
Spent time talking to Harrison Ford about the shooting of "Indiana Jones", talking to Willem Dafoe about his first experiences in Los Angeles all made me realize that no matter what, actors are actors. They are human beings searching for experience and honesty and truth in everything they do.
I remember shooting the climax of the movie and Harrison decided he'd run across the roof top of a building built in the early 1900s. It was cinematically and literally correct that his character would do that but it was very dangerous and without hesitation he said, "I'll do it". Even though they told him it wasn't safe, he ran across the roof, gun fire everywhere, leaped onto the skid of the helicopter, and as we took off and rose to fifty feet in the air, I'll never forget him holding on with this huge "I told you so" grin on his face. Amazing sequence. It's all about commitment.
"Training Day" came about because of my SFPD liaison from "Nash Bridges". He recommended me to Antoine Fuqua. Denzel again was a no nonsense kind of actor. There was no smoking and joking, it was all about business. It was another instance of doing a big movie with big ideas and working with the top of the line talent.
AC: A few years back you started working on independent projects. Tell us about "16 to Life," "The Apocalypse...According to Doris," and "I am Bad."
JG: The reason I started doing independent projects is because the roles I was looking for, I wasn't being offered. The training I'd had from the past in filmmaking made me realize that no one is going to do it for me except myself. Now I'd been offered plenty of jobs, but it was nothing that I really wanted to do.
The idea of doing things independently, the idea of gorilla filmmaking, really harkened back to the days of when I started. When we'd go out and shoot things with no support, no permits, just an idea and a fully supportive crew. Everyone working toward the same goal.
"The Apocalypse According to Doris" was an opportunity to work with Victor Goss, who was a DP from "Nash Bridges". A guy who I think is a terrific writer who is not afraid to get down and dirty and do it without trailers and four star hotels. You have to work lean and mean and be competent in what we're doing and be able to work fast. Being prepared, committed and a no holds barred style of filmmaking is the future. We're still looking for that studio deal, but in the meantime we're making movies.
We made a sweet little love story called "Gabriella" for less than $100,000 that grossed $2.5 million. I had an opportunity to be part of a film called "16 to Life" where the director, Becky Smith, hired me sight unseen and gave me a really unique experience. I got a chance to work with Teresa Russell. I played a guy in a wheelchair in a very sweet, sweet love story that will be out in 2011. This is a film that has to be seen.
"I Am Bad" is a film I did where I have no clue where it's at.
AC: You wrote and directed the feature, "In the Blink of an Eye", and the music documentary "It's All in the Song." What did you learn from those experiences?
JG: Writing, directing, acting and producing the film "In the Blink of an Eye" was the grand experiment. Everybody, including my mother, told me it can't be done and it made me realize that this was what I was born to do. To be able to be a part of a production, to be able to tell my story, to hear my words brought to life by other actors including myself, to be able to decide where the camera goes, to be able to talk to the DP about thematically light wise what are we trying to do made me realize that all my experiences led me to this point.
I didn't know how to put together traditional financing for it, I couldn't find a director, I couldn't find a star, I couldn't find an editor, so I just did it. There were things that were great, there were things that were OK, and there were things that weren't very good, but everywhere we've screened it, from New York to Texas to Los Angeles to San Francisco, the audience response has been great. It's a story about hope, redemption and the decisions we make in our lives.
Documentary filmmaking has always been a big love of mine. What I tried to do is tell an honest and true story about a struggling artist, which I think is everybody's story no matter what you do. A woman and her guitar, a man and his abacus, or a painter with his paintbrush. I met my wife on that project, best project ever!
AC: For 2011, two of your feature screenplays, "Calexico Dreams" and "Empty Hands" a story about the second coming of Christ as told by (in) modern day LA, are scheduled for production. What are these projects about? What is your highest expectation?
JG: "Empty Hands" is the story of the second coming of Christ as an unemployed Mexican American construction worker who throws a wrench in the traditional ideas of world wide religions and their relationships with each other.
"Calexico Dreams" is the story of love, loss and redemption as told in a small border town between California and Mexico. Everything good and bad passes through there and yet love conquers all.
My highest expectation is that we are embraced by the Latino community. People of my age, my generation and younger, are not the tele novella audience.
We are judges, we are lawyers, and we are businessmen and women who grew up with Brad Pitt, Clint Eastwood, and Paul Newman. We love movies. American movies. And my ultimate goal is to make movies that everyone can love‘«™white, black, brown, red, yellow, whatever.
At the end of the day it's about truth, about real emotion in imaginary circumstances. That's what story telling is about.
AC: Lately, you have gone back to TV doing 24, Cold Case, CSI Miami. Do you miss doing a TV series?
JG: It's very simple; I've been offered the opportunity to work in television on some really amazing shows. The show "24" had a lot of friends of mine from my "Nash Bridges" days. The show "Cold Case" had a great Latino lead in Danny Pino who I wanted to work with. "CSI Miami", come on‘«™Miami, baby! Everyone wants to be in Miami and I think that David Caruso is a tour de force. I love the immediacy of television. You shoot it and you move on to the next scene and your mom sees it on television the next Friday. Yes, I miss doing a series and I'm looking forward to the next one.
AC: What is your ultimate career goal? Whom do you want to model your career after?
JG: My ultimate career goal is an Academy Award, Tony, Pulitzer Prize, Emmy, Congressional Medal of Honor and a Grammy, if I could actually learn to play and sing. I shoot for the stars and if I land on the moon I think I'm doing all right. I've always believed you have to dream big and have the courage to fail big because life is short. Who'd have thought a guy living on the beach searching for the perfect wave would have had the chances to do the things I've done. The person I most admire as an actor and director is Clint Eastwood.
AC: Tell us about Debbie and your Family?
JG: Debbie is my Executive Producer of more than just our films. She was instrumental in the producing of our first documentary and is now overseeing our future projects. She's the all business side of our show business family. We have two lovely daughters and our lives are about school books, Sippy cups and film financing. I'm truly blessed. I've finally come to a point in my life of being centered and balanced, and feel that the best is yet to come.
AC: How would you like the world to remember you and what would you like your legacy to be?
JG: I would like my legacy to be that I inspired some young kid to follow his/her dreams. Get out of the nowhere, no town, no place that he/she grew up in and go for that unattainable dream because my advice to every young actor is to quit. If you can take that and still know in your heart that you want to do it, then God Bless you and good luck because it can be done. And as far as being remembered, I'm not sure how I feel about that because when the time comes, I'll be gone.
Al Carlos Hernandez - Contributing Editor:
Edited by Susan Aceves
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