Hey folks! Barbarella here. Y’all, I’ve been experiencing some irritating technical difficulties as of late, but there’s nothing quite like a nice chat with a cool person to make those frustrations melt away. Luckily, I’ve had the opportunity to chat with plenty of cool people over the past couple weeks, and one of the coolest was Jon Huertas, who co-produces and stars in INITIATION, a super fun horror/thriller that just released in theaters and on VOD and digital.
Directed by John Berardo (THE LABYRINTH) and co-written with Brian Frager (A PERSISTENT ILLUSION) and Lindsay LaVanchy (“Scream: The TV Series”), the story takes place during a university’s pledge week. An untoward event disrupts the care-free party atmosphere and unleashes mayhem on campus while police race to uncover the truth. Adding to his growing list of credits, which include Espera in HBO’s miniseries “Generation Kill,” Esposito in “Castle,” and Miguel in “This Is Us,” Jon Huertas tackles the role of Officer Rico Martinez, the man determined to solve the mystery. Keep reading to see what he has to say.
What was the deciding factor for taking the role of Officer Martinez?
“It's much different than the character I play on television right now, Miguel. First of all, I'm much younger. To me, he's this man who is all about justice, and there's a key moment in the movie where he promises our lead that he would stop at nothing to find her brother's killer. That's something that shows what this man is made of and that justice is so important to him. That's what really attracted me to him.
“To be able to play a character like that, especially as a Latinx actor, it's attractive. I'm not playing the narco-kingpin or the bad guy or the gardener. I love films, and this film really services a Latinx audience because three of the film’s leads are Latinx: me, Isabella Gomez, and Froy Gutierrez. And to me, it was like a happy accident where nobody set out to say, "Hey, we're going to make this a diverse movie or a Latinx film.” John Berardo, Brian Frager and Lindsay [LaVanchy], the other producers with me and the film’s writers, were just like, "Let's just cast the best people for these roles and let everything just happen naturally and very organically." One of the things that really attracted me to the movie was being able to work with the creatives behind the movie. They were an impressive group of young, energetic, talented people. You don't want to pass up on an opportunity like that.”
What made you want to take on the role of producing in addition to acting?
“I think that being young filmmakers, and this being John Berardo's first feature film, we all felt that my experience could help. I'm not saying that I'm like this... I'm not a guru by any means, but [I have] just a certain level of experience with storytelling and also some of the logistical and technical stuff. I think they really appreciated a lot of the notes and a lot of the things that I was giving when I first read the script, and they asked me to just join their team and be a part of it, and I really wanted to be. And so, to me, it really helped shape the type of character that I wanted my character to be.
“And also, I wanted a really authentic gritty realism to how this killer in our movie was killing people and why is he killing people. I think that we were able to work that out together as a team. If I wouldn't have come on as a producer, we wouldn't have been able to get as clear a story point as we needed to.”
The movie was a lot of fun. I enjoyed it.
“I'm glad you did. It was a really fun movie. They did such an incredible job with tying social media into the device of storytelling in this movie. We all are on our phones and on social media so much. Likes and views, people talk about that as if it has all this value in our lives. To integrate that into the storytelling in this movie was, I think, just brilliant, very smart, because it allows the movie to speak to a new generation of audience: people, kids who have known nothing but technology and social media.
“When I grew up, there was no social media. There was no smartphone. It’s a whole different world now. I think these guys were very tactical and made a very intelligent decision to say, “Let's speak to the audience that we come from." And to me, one of the coolest things about the movie is how they integrate social media into it.”
And that is a great segue into my next question. How do you think your life would have been different if social media were around during your youth?
“That's hard to contemplate. I think my life would have been really different. Right now, I fancy myself as a Renaissance man, if you will, where I like to do so many different things. I'm an urban beekeeper – I have beehives. I built my house that I live in here in Venice. Right now, I'm actually building, from the ground up, a Sprinter camper van. I like to fix things and do things. The only way I know how to do these things is because when I was little, I would find tools and play with them. I would build things out of Legos. If there were woods nearby, I'd get into the woods. Whatever I could do to explore and find new things, I would do all of that.
“And I think, if I had social media back then, I would have spent most of my time on social media because it can be interesting. I find myself on social media now when I have a break because I can watch funny videos or great music videos or great dances or just veg out on whatever it is. If I would have been vegging out like that when I was a kid, I don't think I'd have some of the skills that I have today with regards to how I can use my hands. I hope that with social media and with technology, kids are developing skills that I don't have. For instance, I served in the Air Force for eight years, and I know that a big part of Air Force recruiting now is that they look for people who are really good at video games to work in cyber divisions and drone pilot programs and things like that, because the tactility you may have with regards to what you're seeing on a screen and how you can operate controls and feeling it kind of live in a 2D or 3D virtual world.
“I feel like I could never fly an aircraft. I have a drone; I'm trying to fly it all the time, and I'm not great at it. Maybe kids that grew up on video games and technologies are better at that stuff. I think that everything has its time, and social media is today. It might benefit people coming up today, but for me, I think, if I would have had social media, I wouldn't have the skills that I have now, and so the way I grew up benefited me, and I'm very happy with who I am and what I can do now.”
How do you think your experience in the Air Force impacted your acting career? Or did it?
“I would say this, the Air Force, and I think most branches of the military, what they do is instill a sense of initiative and discipline, and a lot of people really take that to heart. Some people don't. I did, and when I moved to LA, I didn't know one actor. I didn't know anybody in the business, and I didn't know how to get started, so I had to have a certain level of initiative to even get started.
“And then when I would face something that I didn't know, didn't understand, or if someone said I wasn't right for this job, which could go to your head and make you think you're not good or good enough, I would have enough discipline to not quit and to make myself better at what I do, meaning training, not only physically, but being in acting classes, training in the group with the Groundlings and improv, whatever kind of training I could give myself to get better. Bringing the initiative and discipline with me to California, taking that away from the military, from the Air Force, is definitely why I have the career I have today.”
We tend to learn from our experiences. What did you learn from working on this film?
“Interesting. That's a question I didn't expect. I guess I learned... Especially in college, people are so young and experimenting with alcohol and other things and drugs and stuff, so we have to really, really teach our kids to be responsible, to be safe, and to always look out for one another because parents can't always be there.”
That seems like as good a place as any to wrap things up. Jon Huertas stars alongside Lindsay LaVanchy, Froy Gutierrez ("Teen Wolf"), and Lochlyn Munro ("Riverdale") in INITIATION. Check back later for my interview with Lochyn Munro.