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Check Out A.J. Castro’s Story

Today we’d like to introduce you to A.J. Castro.

Hi A.J., thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
My journey started around 1990 when I moved from Costa Rica to Miami. I was seven years old, didn’t speak English, had zero friends, and was reluctant to start my life over in a new place. I had great parents who did everything they could to make the transition easy. My dad even tried to help by buying me Ninja Turtle bedsheets and a Nintendo gaming system. However, I found comfort in movies and television. Not only was it entertaining but I also found it as a way to help me learn English. I didn’t know it at the time but those early movies would leave a lifelong imprint on me. Growing up in Costa Rica was never about going to movies. My parents raised me in a different culture where, at the time, there was less importance on the arts.

However, once I got to the states, TV and film were always my constant. Here, in the US, that was part of life. I laughed with “Ace Ventura.” I saw Kevin from “Home Alone” beat the bad guys. I wanted to throw the next pitch like Henry from “Rookie of the Year.” As I got older my understanding and respect for movies changed. It was less about entertainment and more about art. I remember I once asked my grandma if he liked the movie “Powder” starring Sean Patrick Flanery. At the time, it was getting mixed reviews from critics and my grandma liked those sorts of movies. I thought it was boring. She told me that she didn’t watch movies the way I did. Instead, she watched for the art, the directing, the performance, the cinematography, and the musicality of the film. I started seeing movies differently after that. I guess my grandma unknwingly planted that seed. The first time it really clicked in for me was when I saw “Jerry Maguire.” I saw the movie for its pieces as well as the sum of its parts rather than just entertainment. That’s when I knew I wanted to be in the entertainment industry. In high school, I started an unofficial production company with one of my best friends, Javier Lozada who today is a terrific Cinematographer. As far back as 9th grade, I remember making full-length movies on an old camera, editing them manually with two VCRs connected to each other, and holding premieres at my house – red carpet and press-passes included. Only the bestest of friends would be invited, the “A-list friends” if you will. I knew two things at a young age. First was that movies and television provided an escape. If I could give that gift to someone going through something, that’s one of the best gifts I could ever give back. Second, I enjoyed making films.

As an actor it allows me to create a life. The feeling of creating is exhilarating for me. Thatt is the “why” but in terms of the “how?” Well, in a nutshell – I was born in Costa Rica, migrated to Miami, learned English, and assimilated to a new culture. I was making feature-length and short films with friends since the age of 15. I moved to Los Angeles when I was 21, became a professional actor in 2006, and joined the Screen Actors Guild shortly after that. I had a lot of success early on, followed by a lot of failures and misses. I lost myself in expectations and gut-wrenching self-doubt. I found myself through my beautiful family and the support of loved ones. Tore down the walls of my preparation and refocused on the basics. I gained recognition for my hard work, dedication, and determination. Today, I’m proud to be a working actor. At the end of the day, in this business, you start off with lofty goals. You find out that those can goals get lost and the only thing that keeps those goals alive is consistency and discipline. I stole most of that quote from Denzel Washington.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
For me, I wanted to earn the respect of my parents for the career choices I made. They wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer. I’m still waiting to play one on TV so I can check those boxes for them… Someone get Shonda Rhimes on the phone for me.

Don’t get me wrong, my parents love me and are proud of me in general, but when it comes to acting, they used to see it as a hobby instead of a career. It took a long time for them to accept that this was a real thing. Both my mom and my dad are not TV and movie people. A perfect example is when I booked my recurring guest star on Mr. Mayor. I was thrilled to be on a show created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock. I was excited to be part of the cast with Ted Danson, Holly Hunter, and Bobby Moynihan. However, my parents don’t know who any of those people are. At the end of the day, I’m not sure that they understand what a huge success it is when I book a role or the endless work and amount of time that went into booking that role, but I know they care and they love me.

Outside of that personal challenge, the obvious answer here is that having a consistent acting gig is always a challenge. I’ve been acting professionally since 2006. In 2008 I only booked one role. In 2014 I didn’t book any. In 2016 I had to create my own project in order to work. The pitfall is when you start acting “to get the job.” It’s such a counterintuitive thing compared to other careers because in other industries you undoubtedly interview to get a job, why else would you? As an actor auditioning, the work has to be done with a different mentality. I had to change my thinking to be “acting to find pleasure in the work” instead of just trying to “get the job”. Don’t get me wrong, I always want to “get the job,” but I found that end-point frustrating and often unreachable. I heard a Bryan Cranston interview once where he advised forgetting about getting the job. Instead, he advised to take joy and find comfort in the process and the audition. It took me almost seven years after I heard that interview to understand and accept what he was saying. His advice allowed me some of my best work. It allows me to find the reward in getting to live in a character’s shoes for a few hours or days while I prep an audition and present my preparation to casting directors. If that’s where that particular journey ends for me, I’m okay with that. It took me almost 15 years in the business to accept that. I had a lot of misses where I was put on hold for a role and later released. At times, I really thought I was perfect for a role and it didn’t go my way. If I allow myself to sit in that place mentally, after a while you can’t get out of that mental negativity. Instead, using Bryan Cranston’s advice has given me peace within my work.

Do I have time for a 3rd challenge? Wow. There are a lot of challenges in the entertainment Industry now that I think about it. A different challenge altogether for me is that English is my second language, I come from a different culture. I feel like today I’ve fully assimilated into the US but even now when I read a script for the first time, I may miss the musicality of a line, or maybe I miss a reference, or a joke, or a cadence. I really have to focus on my preparation and ask myself WHY something is funny or how the writer intended for a line to sound. I feel like breaking down a script takes me twice as long. But I enjoy the preparation. I enjoy “finding” the voice through my work. All this to say, those are bumps in the road that I accept willingly and have grown to love. My wife and daughter treat me like a superstar. To them, I am just as big a draw as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson… just without the Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson money (but don’t tell them that). When I get to audition, I believe I am the best choice for that role and I know my preparation is second to none. Sometimes, on a professional level, that’s all you need.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
There are a lot of Latino actors. Each leaving their own imprint on Hispanics in Hollywood. What drives me is my desire to bring an Oscar for “best actor” to the Hispanic community. Much like I grew up getting lost in movies, I want to provide that to the next generation. I can’t speak for others. I don’t know what makes them tick so it’s hard to say what makes me different but I can tell you that I take pride in the process. I find value in the process. I learned that from Kobe Bryant. I enjoy creating.

We’ve all heard the saying, “In show business, there is no show without the business.” When I first got into the business, I tried to force a “business first” mentality with the “performance” coming second.  I think early on, I leaned too far into that concept focusing on the “business” aspect of the industry. I found the most mentally-rewarding experiences when I focus on the “show” part, the art. However, “mentally rewarding” doesn’t pay the bills. Today I find peace in the middle. You need the business but you can’t forget about the art, and vice versa. Jay-Z has a verse in one of his songs that says, “I’m not a businessman. I’m a business, man!” and I think he encapsulates the idea of “art married to business” in one line. That’s what I strive to be – a business, man.

Sidebar, You’ll notice that throughout this interview, I’ve referenced. Denzel Washington, Bryan Cranston, Kobe Bryant, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Jay-Z and others. What makes me who I am is that I learned to study the people who are great at what they do. I look to those that came before me to help shape my journey. I steal from their choices and principles to make it my own. I think in my performances you’ll find a little bit of the greats and a lot of AJ Castro.

What are your plans for the future?
Someone get Marvel on the line and pitch me to replace Hugh Jackman as the next Wolverine… In all seriousness, the goal is to be the leading man in a TV series that runs for ten years while working on films and winning Oscars. But the plan is to grow both as an individual and as a professional. In a perfect world, I’d like to have steady feet in the entertainment industry and use that as a catapult to launch my own production company. I have 4-5 projects in development which will be really special when they’re finally made. I’d like to shine a light on things that can inspire others. I have a little girl about to turn two years old. I am so proud she is growing up in a world where she has tremendous female remodels, including her own mother as an entrepreneur she can look up to. I want to bring more positive and badass female characters and more Latino characters to the screen.  As a proud Hispanic American with Costa Rican roots, I’ve seen the world from different points of view. I know what it’s like to be a minority, but I don’t let it define me. I believe in unity and love and respect. I hope that when I launch my own productions, my stories speak to all and inspire those who need inspiration.

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