Hispanic Heritage Month '23 - A Conversation with Damian Alonso
Despite a global pandemic that upended our industry and nearly all others, actor Damian Alonso ('20) wasted no time getting to work after graduation. His determination and focus are steadfast, propelling his career, and his acting craft, forward. He continues to land roles and create his own work at breakneck speed.
The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
We graduated in the same year, 2020…what was your experience like graduating into the pandemic and navigating that?
I remember it well. At first, we thought we’d be in lockdown for two weeks, and then come back to finish these performances we’d been working on. It was supposed to be two weeks, which turned into longer, and we ended up going online and doing everything on Zoom. But I was able to navigate it…the school prepared me well. How to look for an agent that was so important at the end of the program and that gave me such a leg up after graduation. Because of that, I was able to book a job pretty quickly, only a month or so out of school. That almost gave me a false sense of being a working actor, that I would be able to work all the time–that wasn’t the case [Laughs]. Being on set then was pretty wild; everyone was a bit hesitant, and nobody wanted to cross any boundaries…nobody wanted to get sick.
In entertainment and in Hollywood, how has being a member of the Latino community shaped your experience?
It’s been tricky. When I came into the industry five years ago, there was so little Latino representation, at least we weren’t being cast to the same extent as white people had been for decades. I always thought a movie like Superbad with a Latino cast would be great, you know? I wanted to add to the diversity, I wanted to be the “Latino answer” to the other guy who was my age and type and up for the same role but was white. There have been a lot of great initiatives and movements for the Latino community in the past five years. Latino representation has gotten a lot better. I think the next step is to not only cast more Latino actors but to have stories written by them. It’s great to see us onscreen, but when it’s sort of awkwardly pushed in there…it doesn’t work.
I recently saw the Blue Beetle movie, which had a Puerto Rican director. There was so much love and passion put into it. Some of that “heritage” was right there; it was really personalized and a great representation of the direction we’re heading.
What are some projects you’ve worked on that you feel represent this?
The most recent that I’m really proud of in terms of my heritage was a Nickelodeon show called The Really Loud House. The character I played there was named Bobby Santiago. The show was a lot more authentic, even when it started as a cartoon. There was this joke on there that the grandma would sort of freak out if you hadn’t eaten enough…that was a recurring joke in the show. It got me every time. Doing that show live-action was great, and hearing the response was even better. Everyone who worked on the show was also a fan of the show, of the cartoon, and they brought a lot of enthusiasm.
Right now I’m working on my own material, developing my own projects, because growing up, I had to dig to find any Mexican representation. Just having someone who looks like me, when I did find that as a kid, it meant so much. There was a Power Ranger, I think the red one, who had Latino parents, but then the actor they cast was of South Asian descent, I thought, “You know what, I’ll take it, bro.” [Laughs] It was better than nothing.
And now you’re helping to make it better. Tell me, what is it that fuels you artistically?
I think I’m in the business of feelings. I’ve never been such a critical thinker…the whole “facts over feelings” thing has never worked for me. We’re humans, our emotions are such a huge part of how we function. I love seeing emotions and bringing them out, it’s what makes us all human. Artistically, I love capturing the things we don’t say with words. Finding what is in the scene that isn’t written, those things that just happen onstage or onscreen, and it was so clearly not written to happen exactly that way…it’s what makes acting so special. I really love highlighting that part of human nature.
I think our stories have so much value, too, the Latino community. Statistically, we’re the number one ethnicity to show up at movie theatres, so we love stories and movies. We deserve to be onscreen, we have so much to offer. I’m driven to see more of us onscreen. That really fuels me. One of the projects I’m working on is about a Mexican-American kid who can’t speak Spanish, so he feels really disconnected from one world. It’s like he’s stuck in purgatory, and a story about belonging. When I started to pitch it, people told me that nobody would be interested in that idea. This was so untrue, the proof of concept ended up catching on and one of the guys involved now is a German guy that totally connects to the story. He connects to it, too, in his own way.
The short answer is that I love how humans connect. I love being a part of that.
What was something at The Academy you’ve kept with you? Something you still use?
Everything I know is from The Academy. I remember when we were students and there would be alumni who’d come talk to us and they said the same thing. I never quite believed them, I was like, “Nah, you’re just saying that because you’re on a panel!” [Laughs]. But it was true. The “backbone” they give you is right there. It’s with me all the time.
And what’s next? What’s next for you and where can people find you?
It’s tough to say with the strike going on. I have a few projects I’m working on now, so we’ll see where that goes, and how things change when the strike ends.
I’m all over social media, everything is @TheDamianAlonso.
Thanks for chatting, it’s been…three years since we saw each other. I’m glad you’ve been well.
Yeah, three years…COVID, man. Thanks for reaching out and take care.