Recently, I had the pleasure to photograph and do a quick interview with actor Jerry Soto. You might know him from WWE and his other stage performances in NYC. Jerry is also a great musician and has quite the collection of instruments.
E.D.: Tell me about how you got into acting?
J.S.: I grew up in Puerto Rico, in a small town called Yauco. There is a Shopping Mall in Yauco that, still today, closes at 7pm. There’s not much else to do. I had a great time bicycle riding, playing outside with the occasional video game kind of childhood. I have always enjoyed telling jokes and performing the characters in them. When I was in 8th grade I did a dramatization of a poem, a story told by an old “jíbaro” (a person from the countryside). I got some sort of a mustache and some grey hair make up. I felt amazing doing it. My teachers saw something in me that maybe I didn’t even know was there, so I was used as MC for a couple of school activities and got to feel comfortable onstage. When I was in my senior year of high school, out of nowhere, I decided to learn to play the guitar and that I wanted to be an actor. I got to act in a simple short original play that year but theatre was something I knew nothing about, before going to college I had only seen one play. There is a theatre next to my school now. I hope to one day get to perform in it.
E.D.: What projects are you currently working on?
J.S.: At the moment I’m acting on the multiple award winning play “In the name of Salomé” at Spanish Repertory Theatre, for which I got the ACE award for Best Supporting Actor. I’m also doing a beautiful play called “Seis” by Federico Roca. This Uruguayan writer has created an homage to six trans women who where killed in Uruguay in 2012. As an actor sometimes my mind tends to wonder away while onstage, mainly because it has to… Am I on the right spot? Is the light hitting me? Do I have my props? Did I send the rent check? Etc. In “Seis”, the process is very different. I am constantly reminding myself that these women who were killed deserve all my attention, all my gratitude, my absolute concentration for them, their memory, their lives, their stories. Nothing else matters except their lives and what we can do together to change the future.
E.D.: Besides being an extremely talented actor, you are also an amazing musician. When did you start playing and do you ever get to incorporate your music into your performances?
J.S.: I’ve always loved music. I grew up listening mainly to salsa, Latin music and Pop Music in Spanish that came my way mostly through my sister. She’s 5 years older than me and the best sister one can wish for, through her I got intoduced to and listened to Pandora (it’s a Female Trio from the 80’s), Ricardo Montaner, Ricardo Arjona, Franco De Vita, Chayane, Ricky Martin, etc. You can Google these people, nowadays I might have mixed feelings about some of them but they were great to listen to while growing up and they all have their own strengths. I don’t remember when exactly I started to develop my own taste in music but from Bob Marley to Mozart to Café Tacuba (still today, one of the best bands I can think of) I devoured very different styles and genres, specially when it came down to guitar players. Paco De Lucía, Al DiMeola and Pat Metheny were some of the first I ever listened to, and still some of my favorites. I started playing guitar after one guitar lesson with one of my uncle who’s a musician. He lived far away, so just one lesson it was, but in no time I was playing more and more chords till the guitar and myself became quite inseparable. To this day, I cannot imagine my life without a guitar near me at all times. “Seis” is one of those plays where I get to play guitar, sing and act and I’ve had my guitar in hand on stage in Perú, Ecuador, and the US.
E.D.: Tell me a little bit about your work at WWE. How does that work compare to your stage work.
J.S.: WWE is fascinating. There is so much to say about it. There I get to be myself, but there’s a camera or a microphone in front of me all the time. WWE reaches out to all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds and I get to say my piece about everything that happens. When acting, you enter a space and react to the environment around you. WWE is not different. And honestly, what I enjoy the most about my work with WWE is translating. I LOVE WORDS and I get to delve into the complex world of translation. Is it even possible to get the exact meaning of something in a different language? I try to answer that question on a weekly basis.
E.D.: What is your dream character to play?
J.S.: I would absolutely adore to play Doctor Thomas Stockmann on Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People. When I started acting I always wanted to play any character on Ibsen plays, I LOVE Ibsen, I also love Chekhov, but my acting career has taken me to so many unexpected places and mostly away from late 1800’s realism. I’ve done new work by writers like Nilo Cruz, Marco Antonio Rodríguez and Carlos Murillo and Classics from Federico García Lorca and Lope De Vega. I mostly act in Spanish and between live readings of plays and theatre productions I perform in one way or another about 4 to 7 different plays a year.
Still, I know one day I’ll get to play an Ibsen and a Chekhov.
E.D.: How do you prepare for a character?
J.S.: I read everything I can find related to the person I’m about to become. I try to study anything available that will get me closer to the feelings, ideas and mental state of this new me. I’ve done plays based on novels, like “In the name of Salomé” were I play Francisco Henríquez y Carvajal, who was president of the Dominican Republic for a month. A lot of research went into that one. Starting with the novel the play is based on. Research about my characters is one of my favorite things in the world and I learn my lines as soon as I can. I don’t like a script in my hands. Mostly I am lucky enough to squeeze time out of my wife’s hands so she can help me. She’s the best person you can run lines with. She’s got great input and tolerance. (Her name is Zahydé and most likely you wont read her name right or be able to pronounce it, but that’s fine. She’s used to it.) For me, if you reduce acting to one thing, that thing is nuance. So I work on many different nuances, colors or moods for every sentence and even every word I say until I discover and hopefully find the best way my character would communicate. I am a character actor. Which means I tend to have a different voice, accent and body language to every character a play.
E.D.: What movie do you wish you had been cast in?
J.S.: Honestly, it’s weird for me to think about a character in a movie already done. I mostly think about directors I would like to work with but I guess “Dante” in a 1997 film called Martin (Hache) by Adolfo Aristarain would’ve been great to perform (I could not have played it in 1997 though). That character has so many levels. But then what I mostly think about are directors. From Alejandro G. Iñárritu to Wes Anderson, to the Cohen Sisters, to Sebastian Lelio and many more. And I would love to work with Tina Fey. I should also point out that as a brown skin Latino, it is difficult to find myself on the silver screen, or any screen for that matter, and specially if I want to look at myself on a screen as a human being going through life and not as a one dimensional dirty cop, or a drug dealer, or something like that. Hopefully, I get to change that for people who look like me.