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Yancey Arias Describes a Slice of Latino Life

Actor stars in "America," a film challenging stereotypes with strong themes of violence, immigration, and politics

By Belinda Quesada
Published on LatinoLA: April 17, 2011


Yancey Arias Describes a Slice of Latino Life


Every now and again, a powerful Indie film artfully acknowledges Latino life and should not be ignored. In theaters now, having made its recent North American world premiere at the Cinequest Film Festival 21 in San Jos?®, California, the film "America" challenges Latino stereotypes with strong themes of violence, immigration, and politics.

Directed by Sonia Fritz and adopted from the book, "America's Dream" by Puerto Rican author Esmeralda Santiago. "America" is a bilingual film with a stellar cast of Hollywood veteran actors; Edward James Olmos, Rachel Ticotin, Lymari Nadal, Tony Plana, and Yancey Arias. Puerto Rican actress Lymari Nadal plays the lead role of 'America Gonzalez' convincingly. Her controlling and abusive boyfriend, 'Correa', is played with dangerous appeal by Yancey Arias.

The looming question is: Will our main character survive and be brave enough to leave everything she loves behind?

Made with a modest three million-dollar budget and shot in 26 days, "America" is simultaneously a story of undocumented workers who live in fear of being deported and exploited by the very people that hire them. For some of the more than forty million undocumented workforce is the US., their freedom is illusive. It is precisely this issue of exploitation that makes this a powerful Indie film.

Ever wonder what goes on inside the mind of an actor when he decides to take an intense role like the abusive 'Correa'? For Yancey Arias, it was an opportunity to do what he loves best ~ educate and inform. An accomplished performer having acted in more than 50 roles on Broadway, television and film, he is no stranger to hard work. Last year, Arias wrote, directed and produced his first short, a comedy/drama, called 'Baby,' featuring his beautiful Brazilian wife, Anna Carolina Alvim.

The following is a candid interview with Yancey Arias who is now in production shooting another film. (Writer's note: Yancey's voice has an uncanny resemblance to actor Christopher Walken):

Belinda Quesada: How did you get started in the business?

Yancey Arias: Well, I've been acting since I was 14, starting in small theater productions, commercials, soap operas, TV shows, like Law & Order and working on Broadway in New York.

BQ: What made you want to relocate to the West Coast?

YA: I was born in New York. It's a great town and I love my New York. And I did pretty much everything that I felt I could do in my career, including six years on Broadway. But, it was a little film called "Traffic" that won lots of awards and it motivated me back in 1999-2000 to come to Los Angeles. I realized then that a lot of really wonderful actors were in the movie, whom I appreciate and respected my whole life. These were actors that I have worked with to some capacity or we've auditioned together. When I learned that this movie was cast with only actors from the West Coast, I knew then that I couldn't miss out on another opportunity like that again. I moved to LA in January of 2001.

BQ: What motivates and inspires you?

YA: What I love about what we do as actors is that we have a chance to give back to the community. In a way that we tell stories as best we can that helps people reflect and be entertained. It's a form of therapy. I find what I do is no different than what a therapist does.

BQ: Do you mean therapy in terms of how audiences can relate to you through a character?

YA: Therapy in the way that the audiences can come to a theater, sit-down for a couple of hours and escape, and maybe learn something. Hopefully they learn something and walk away feeling motivated. This is the same feeling I had as a child watching great movies.

BQ: What was it like working with Hollywood legend, Edward James Olmos?

YA: I've had the honor of working with the Edward James Olmos a few times now. He has been in so many great films and is just magnificent in his approach to acting. My God, I remember as a young guy watching Eddy in the film, "Stand and Deliver". This is the true story of Jaime Escalante, the high school Math teacher, who, against all odds, taught his Latino students Calculus. He loved his students and fought for them to be more. It made a huge impact in my life.

BQ: Exactly what do you mean?

YA: Well, my mom is an educator with a doctorate in business. She graduated from Pace University in New York and is a stickler about education. Watching her flourish as a teacher, businesswoman, and a mother, has taught me a lot. I am very proud that I found a way to give a similar affect to people through my art.

BQ: You must be very proud of your mom?

YA: I am. My mother has always been very supportive of my work. She is a huge part of why I do what I do.

BQ: What's your acting philosophy?

YA: Hollywood is very competitive. My attitude is that you have to have the mentality of a fighter. There are a lot of times in our career as actors where it's feast or famine. You have three to six months where you may not work. Then you jump on a project with all of your heart and creative passion. You take it on with Fighter's gusto. You do all the research; homework and preparation right before you start shooting or get on a stage. You give everything you can to the project and God willing it is a success for everyone involved.

BQ: Let's transition back to being a Latino hero. What does that mean to you and how important is that in Hollywood?

YA: It is important because there are a lot of young people out there that may not have a lot of direction or support at home. Our community is growing with 40 million documented and who knows what number of undocumented Latinos in the United States. We simply have to step-up our game. If you have the opportunity to be a positive influence to others, you must pass it forward. Parents are the first big influence on children; after that, teachers. As a Latino actor, I'm conscious of my role and always let my best work shine through.

BQ: Are there any roles you won't take?

YA: Yes, if the role is one-dimensional whether it is a good guy or a bad guy, I am not interested. There is an old acting philosophy that goes something like this; "If it's not on the page, it's not on the stage." Meaning, if the character wasn't written with the intention of bringing a human being out into the light, with different levels of personality; then, there is really no point in doing it. At the same time, my job as an actor is to bring out nuances of the character. So, I look for the arch of a character and how it affects the entire ensemble. If the producer, the writer, and the director, are not on the same page with character development, well, then we have a problem. It is a process and I've been fortunate enough to have some very good roles.

BQ: Can you give an example?

YA: Yes, the role of Miguel Cadena on the series Kingpin that I did for NBC. David Mills and his writing team did a beautiful job of creating a role with no stereotypes. The Cadena character was multi-dimensional. He was a father, a husband, and a businessman and had to deal with some very lethal people. It was a perfect role for an actor. My character had compassion, intelligence and the cunning needed to be ruthless. It was complex; yet compelling. It was a lead role that led to other great roles. I thank my lucky stars and God. It was a great pleasure to do that role.

BQ: What lead you to this particular role in "America"?

YA: In this particular role, I found nuances in this guy that reflect how troubled, dominant and co-dependent he is. He probably grew up in some harsh environments and probably saw violence as a child. Through research on domestic violence (DV), I've learned that people dealing with anger management issues need professional help. DV is a big problem all over the world. This was an intense role for me and there are many facets of this characters personality that are revealed. It is my hope that if young women are watching this film and they see, or hear, behavior like 'Correa's' coming from a boyfriend or a potential boyfriend that they seek help. These red flags should not be ignored. They should be directed to a medical professional and seek counseling.

BQ: Tell us something surprising about you?

YA: Something surprising, well, I'm a pretty good singer. I have several songs on ITunes in pop and musical theater genres. I practice martial arts and have a Black Belt. In martial arts, I have found a sense of peace. There is clarity I feel which helps me understand the big picture as an artist. I am also fluent in Spanish. My mother was born in Puerto Rico and my father is from Columbia, both parents worked hard to be successful educated professionals. I'm proud of them both.

BQ: I know you are married. Do you have any children?

YA: Yes, I am married to a beautiful and talented Brazilian actress and businesswoman. My wife is Anna Carolina Alvim. No children yet. I am very proud of my wife. She is talented and very hard working. Anna Carolina is the creator and founder of Body Language Sportswear. This was a successful business and she has since sold her company. Now, we are focusing on creating our own projects. We write, produce, and make films. So far, just one, it is a short called "Baby". And it has won some Indie film awards. Our goal is to make films that educate, entertain, and inform.

BQ: What is Hollywood like right now for Latino actors?

YA: For Latino actors it is a challenge. There are only a small group of actors that the 'system' has accepted and are "on the bus".

BQ: On the bus, what does this mean?

YA: "On The Bus" is an industry term we use in Hollywood. This means that you are accepted by the industry. You now have the opportunity to work on a variety of productions that are studio funded.

BQ: Like being on the Hollywood "A" Team?

YA: Well, sort of, the "A" Listers are the popular, talented working actors that are always working. Being 'On The Bus' also comprises top talent and those of us who are lucky enough to constantly work. It is very competitive and you do have to fight for what you can get. However, once you do break out in a great Independent film or Blockbuster film then you are on that bus. So, until that day, keep fighting.

BQ: Final question, how did you get the name Yancey?

YA: Ha, I get that question a lot. When my mom was pregnant with me, she used to watch a popular Western series "Yancy Derringer" that ran from 1958 -1959. She loved the main character, "Yancy" and always remembered that name. Mine is just spelled a bit different. I love my name and I love my life.

More on "America" here.

More on Domestic Abuse and Immigration:

While it is true that domestic abuse is not a new cinematic genre; it is important to remember that not everyone makes it out alive. And this is one of the important messages in the film. If you know someone is being abused, let someone else know. Don't pretend you don't know what's going on. Take all threats and all actions seriously. It's the silence that hurts victims the most.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) defines domestic violence as the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and /or other abusive behavior perpetrated by an intimate partner against another. It is still a nationwide epidemic-affecting individual's in every community, regardless of age, economic status, religion, nationality, or educational background.

Violence against women still exists as a social stigma to many. This film reveals the fear and consequences of domestic abuse. Affecting not only the victims; but also, those who love them. It is a devastating roller coaster ride of emotions. According to the NCADV, women who experience violent relationships often experience emotionally abusive and controlling behavior by their abuser. This is all part of a larger systematic pattern of dominance and control. Sadly, violence is 85% more likely to occur with females in intimate partner relationships while only15% in males.

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