Actor and Producer Jon Huertas On The Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In…

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Actor and Producer Jon Huertas On The Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In TV and Film

…Stay humble. Understand that especially in this business, it’s a gift to be able to do what we do, but it’s also a gift to be able to breathe another day. We live on a rock floating in space. Lots of things happen unexpectedly, from volcanoes erupting, to lightning strikes, to shark attacks, to planes falling out of the sky, cars running over someone riding a scooter…You just never know. So we should be humble in this life and walk around with a little bit of humility so that you treat people the right way, so that you leave a wake of good behind you and not leave a wake of bad behind. I think that’s what humility can do for people…

I had the pleasure of talking with Jon Huertas. Jon is a dynamic actor and producer, born in New York City to a Black Puerto Rican father and a white mother. Raised by his grandparents, Huertas discovered his passion for acting in school plays at an early age. After graduating from John Handley High School in Winchester, VA, in 1987, he briefly attended college before enlisting in the United States Air Force. During his eight-year tenure, he served as an aircraft nuclear/conventional weapons specialist and participated in Operation Just Cause and Operation Desert Storm.

Huertas’s early career was marked by a blend of film and television appearances. In 1998, he delivered a notable performance as Joe Negroni in the romantic drama “Why Do Fools Fall in Love”, sharing the screen with stars like Halle Berry. Other film roles included appearances in “Cold Hearts” and “Stealth Fighter”. However, it was his television work that brought him widespread recognition. He portrayed Sergeant Espera in HBO’s “Generation Kill” in 2008, a role that resonated deeply due to his military background.

Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, Huertas appeared in various TV series, including “Moesha” and “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch”. His portrayal of Detective Esposito in ABC’s “Castle” from 2009 to 2016 further established him as a versatile actor. This role earned him and co-star Stana Katic a PRISM Award(2012), an Alma Award(2012) as well as an Imagen Award(2013). Huertas was also actively involved with the Screen Actors Guild, serving on its National Board of Directors.

In addition to acting, Huertas ventured into music, releasing a music video single titled “Sex Is the Word” in June 2011. His diverse talents were again on display when he joined the cast of “This Is Us” in 2016, where he played the character Miguel and won a Screen Actor’s Guild award for best ensemble in 2019. His work on “This Is Us” not only highlighted his acting skills but also his directing abilities.

Huertas’s personal life is equally fulfilling. He married his long-term girlfriend, Nicole Bordges, in Tulum, Mexico, on May 4, 2014. His trademark smile and engaging on-screen presence have made him a beloved figure in the entertainment industry.

Known for roles that often reflect his real-life military background, Huertas has played military characters in several TV shows, showcasing his ability to bring authenticity to these roles. His contributions to the entertainment industry are significant, particularly as a LatinX actor who has transcended cultural boundaries to appeal to a broad audience. Huertas continues to be a prominent figure in television, known for his dedication to portraying diverse, universally relatable stories.

Yitzi: Jon, it’s a delight to meet you. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn about your origin story. Can you share with us the story of your childhood and how you grew up?

Jon: Growing up, it wasn’t exactly like the nuclear family that was promoted in the seventies and eighties. I grew up with grandparents , not a mom, and dad. My grandparents worked hard to provide the best they could. I went to a Catholic school and that’s where I got into acting. I was pushed into the theater as an outlet because I was getting into trouble. The nuns decided, “if he’s going to act out, put him on stage.” That’s where I caught the bug for entertaining and performing. I just kept doing theater and played mostly football but excelled in a variety of sports. I moved from New York to Virginia and then, once I joined the US Air Force, I moved around a lot, from Colorado to Texas, back to Colorado, Louisiana, Florida, and then I was sent overseas a couple of times before landing in California in my mid-twenties.

Yitzi: You probably have a lot of fascinating experiences, and maybe it’ll be hard to choose, but can you share with our readers one or two favorite memories from your career, either from the set or from your travels?

Jon: I think one of my favorite memories is the first time I felt like a professional actor. It wasn’t even about getting the job. Getting the audition for the original Beverly Hills 90210 was one of the first auditions I had for a television show. I’d seen that show for years before committing to wanting to be an actor, so getting that audition felt like playing in the sandbox with the bigger kids. Another favorite memory was graduating basic training in the Air Force. It was a rite of passage moment for me, someone who didn’t have that father figure growing up. To have the trust of the United States Air Force, to operate lethal weaponry, it made me feel like someone finally trusted me.

Yitzi: It’s been said that sometimes our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Do you have a story about a humorous mistake that you made when you were first starting and the lesson that you learned from it?

Jon: Oh, man, I had a lot of mistakes when I was first starting out. You know, I think one of the lessons I got was from an audition. In the pages they gave me, it was a bad guy role. My character grabs this woman around her neck, threatens her with a weapon, and yells at someone off-camera. How do you do that in a casting director’s office, right? I’m pretty new, probably my first or second year in town. All I know is my character was supposed to scare the other character. So, in the moment, I thought, the only way I can scare her is if I lift my fists and slam them down on her desk. Everything vibrated, rattled, and jumped off her desk. I kept going with the dialogue. Later, I got a call from my manager. He’s like, “Yo, what did you do there? She’s offended and says you’ll never be in her office again.” I’m like, “What? It says I’m supposed to grab her around the neck. I didn’t touch her.” He goes, “It doesn’t matter. You have to control yourself and carry yourself a certain way.” All I knew was the character was supposed to be scary. So the lesson I learned is to monitor yourself and your choices as an actor, not to step over a line. But, cut to three weeks later, that same casting director calls my manager and says, “I apologize for what I said. He can come and audition anytime he wants to because he did exactly what he was supposed to do. He was supposed to scare the crap out of me, and he did.” The guy they hired wasn’t what they wanted; he wasn’t as scary. They came back to me and said, “This is who you said we should hire.” So, the real lesson learned was to trust your instinct and just go for it. You have to make an impression as an actor if you want to work. From that point forward, I thought, “If I scare them, great. If they don’t hire me, it just wasn’t my job. They’re not rejecting me; it’s just not my job.” So, that’s probably the coolest lesson I learned. It’s a double lesson.

Yitzi: Is there a person who made a profound impact on your professional life? And if there is, could you please share a story about that person?

Jon: I think there’s two people, because I met them both at the same time, and they were on the same project. So, one of my earliest projects was a small role in a movie called Executive Decision, and Kurt Russell was in it. He’s someone I grew up watching in Disney movies. I was a big fan of his in Escape from New York. And then John Leguizamo was someone I also looked up to. He was influential as a Latino who was doing his thing and on the rise during that time and the years after. I really respected both of them. So, I ended up getting pretty close with John Leguizamo on set. And then with Kurt, we did a couple of scenes together. The first thing I took from Kurt was, you know, as a theater guy, you learn your lines and stick to what’s on the page. I go to do a scene with Kurt, and he says, “Hey, Jon, what’s up, man? Good to meet you, Kurt. What do you want to do with this scene?” And I start explaining what the script says, and he’s like, “No, forget that. What do you want to do? I think we could make more out of this scene than what’s on the page.” And I was like, I didn’t know you could do that. But we ended up working the scene, and it turned out great. It was a moment I learned that collaboration is really important in creating art. It’s not just one artist; we’re all painting a picture. Another influential moment was from John Leguizamo. He asked what I was doing at that point in my career. I was going to Groundlings and learning improv and storytelling. He had a project he was working on and basically asked me to join. It was a boost of confidence that this guy I admired thought of me to be a part of this team. Those moments really helped me and taught me a lot.

Yitzi: Can you share with the readers the exciting projects that you’re working on now and what you’ll be working on in the near future?

Jon: Right now, we just produced a film that Lena Headey directed. She’s known for Cersei Lannister on Game of Thrones and Sarah Connor on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. She’s got a show dropping on MGM Plus called Beacon 23. So, obviously, I’m proud of her and her work. She directed her first feature film, and I was one of the producers on it. We premiered at the Austin Film Festival, and we’re hoping for a screening here in LA for potential buyers. I have a couple more projects in the works — one with EOne and Alexi Hawley’s Company, Perfectman Pictures. It’s a series based on a book called Fire with Fire. Another project is set up with Happy Madison, Adam Sandler’s company, and Village Roadshow. Peter Farrelly is one of the executive producers and we developed the show with him. Hopefully, these projects will be out for people to watch next year. But right now, due to the strike in the industry, nothing’s moving forward. We’re not able to film anything until this is settled. So, it’s a waiting game. I’ve been doing some writing, working on a play based on a conversation I wish I could have had with my mom, who has severe Alzheimer’s. The play is a way for me to explore that conversation I couldn’t have. Hopefully, we’ll stage it someday.

Yitzi: So, let’s pretend that you were the king of Hollywood and you can snap your fingers and make changes. What changes are you pleased about seeing over the past few years? And what would you like moving forward to change, to improve?

Jon: I’m happy to see a lot more diversity with writers, directors, executives, and it trickles down to the people we see on screen — actors, background actors, even in music and voice over. A lot of changes have been made where I see more diversity and diverse storytellers in the writer’s room. But I’d love to wave a wand and see the percentage breakdown of our population reflected in the entertainment industry. I’d like to see the representation be really equal, so it’s normal, and we’re not even using the word “diversity” anymore. I’d rather fix the problem than keep talking about it. That would be my magic wand.

Yitzi: So on This Is Us, you played as Miguel? How are you similar to Miguel? And how are you different from Miguel? How’s your character similar to him? And how’s your character different from Miguel?

Jon: Well, I think most of my characters, in the last two big jobs, I’ve had a lot of personal experiences aligned with those characters’ experiences. Especially the last show I was on, many of my past experiences aligned with the character’s experiences. We had episodes focused on my character where there was a lot of overlap between our experiences. Every season, especially on the last show, I’d meet with the writers and the creator to talk about what we wanted to see happen for the character, sharing personal stories that sometimes influenced the character or were applied to other characters. For me, bringing my experiences to the performance makes it more grounded and real. I like to infuse myself into every character I bring to life, making the performance more personal and emotional. I can relate to a lot of people’s stories because of the life experiences we’ve all had, our ups, downs, high days, and low days. Bringing that part of yourself to a performance is something we all do, and I think it makes it better that way. I think that’s what people liked about the last show — characters experiencing relatable things that resonated with the audience’s own experiences with family and friends. So yeah, I bring a lot of myself into my characters.

Yitzi: This is our signature question. So, you’ve been blessed with a lot of success now and you have a lot of experience. Looking back, can you share with our readers the five things you need to create a highly successful career in TV and film?

Jon: The first two things you definitely need are initiative and discipline. You gotta have the initiative to go after what you’re dreaming about and what you’re hoping to become, which is a professional actor, writer, director, someone in the arts, entertainment. So you have to have initiative, right? To even figure out how to do it, to go to people and ask them how to do this, to ask people for help.

With that initiative, you also need the discipline to keep pushing forward, the discipline to never quit. You have to have that discipline to be absolutely prepared for the opportunity you will eventually get. So those two things, I think, are the most important.

And third is to have confidence in yourself, who you are and what you can bring to whatever you want to be successful in, right? And I think there’s such a thing as a good ego and a bad ego. You want to put the bad ego in the trunk and lock the trunk, right? But you wanna have a good enough ego so that you can perform when it’s your time. Whatever job you choose, you must have faith in yourself, you must have confidence.

The fourth thing I think is being prepared, being ready. If it’s in my business, when you get an opportunity, luck is a preparation meeting opportunity. So when you get the opportunity to show people what you can do because you’ve got that confidence, you’ve had that initiative, that discipline, you need to be ready. So the only person who’s gonna take that opportunity away from you is yourself. You’re the one who’s going to either give them exactly what you want to give them. And if it’s not right, then it just wasn’t yours. But hopefully, you’ve made a fan because you were that prepared. You were that good at what you do. You’ve made a fan or two or three or four, so that the next time they have something that you are right for, they go, hey, remember that guy who came in here? Let’s call him.

And then the fifth thing I think that I can say is humility, you know, stay humble. Understand that especially in this business, it’s a gift to be able to do what we do, but it’s also a gift to be able to breathe another day. We live on a rock floating in space. Lots of things happen unexpectedly, from volcanoes erupting, to lightning strikes, to shark attacks, to planes falling out of the sky, cars running over someone riding a scooter…You just never know. So we should be humble in this life and walk around with a little bit of humility so that you treat people the right way, so that you leave a wake of good behind you and not leave a wake of bad behind. I think that’s what humility can do for people. So those are the five things.

Yitzi: How can our readers continue to follow your work? How can they purchase any of your films? How can they support you in any way?

Jon: There’s all kinds of stuff out there. The best thing to do is if they really want to see something that I’ve done, just Google me and Google the name, and lots of stuff will come up, I think. IMDB is also a great place to follow. You can track actors, directors, writers, and producers. I think that’s a good way for people to stay up. But, you know, the one kind of social media platform that I frequent a little more often than not is Instagram. But I’m right now in a social media kind of blackout gray out. I’m not really posting anything or I don’t have anything to promote because we haven’t been able to work since April. But if I do have something that I’m proud of or that I’m excited about, I’ll post about it, and you can see it on Instagram. Otherwise, I think I like what IMDB does, and it allows people a little more access to our work and what we’re doing, and I encourage everyone to be on there, not just people in the entertainment industry.

Yitzi: Jon, it’s been an honor to meet you. You really shared some amazing answers, and I’m excited to share this with the world, and I hope we can do this again next year when you’re busy and bustling.

Jon: Hope so too. Thanks, man. Appreciate it.

Actor and Producer Jon Huertas On The Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.