Today we’d like to introduce you to Héctor Oliveras García.
Héctor, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I grew up in an average, if privileged, Puerto Rican household, the son of two lawyers, and a baby brother to two older sisters. The first kid in my family born after a very long baby drought, I got used to standing at the center of attention. It was no wonder eventually I’d discover my first love: theatre. Between high school and the top-tier theatre training I got at the University of Puerto Rico, I focused on acting for the better part of a decade. That is until I figured out that the feeling of richness I got from acting, the intense satisfaction of inhabiting a character I loved, could only be amplified in grander, more imaginative ways, in ways I hadn’t yet figured out how to express. So, writing came naturally.
I experimented with poetry, short stories, and comic strips in my teens, but I hadn’t begun to figure out my own voice until I became a playwright. Being a lifelong character actor (whatever that means), I fell in love with the “small parts” and the depth they bring to a written world, so I learned to make every character, even the so-called day players, fun to act and worth remembering. Maybe more than anything else, my work is backed by the knowledge that my island of Puerto Rico was once home to a rich and enviable tradition of writing, in which our home-grown thinkers found themselves sharing their vanguard works and novel ideas to the world. Somewhere along the way, unfortunately, this too felt the effects of our status as a U.S. colony. Take the evolution of scripted entertainment, for example: As the cost of producing in-house content got too high, producers and networks in Puerto Rico figured out it was cheaper to import “canned entertainment” from other countries, like México and Brazil, and the benefits of creating original content were quickly outweighed by the risks.
If there’s one thing that drives my desire to write, it’s the fact that, despite disasters both natural and political, Puerto Rico is still a cradle of world-class talent and incredible promise. Now, when Streaming is Queen and the business of writing is shooting off in a million different directions, Puerto Rico can seize the agency that has been so far out of reach. Our stories have the power to define us, our needs and our strengths, and if I call myself a writer, it’s because this is one tradition worth protecting.
Ironically, this same line of thinking got me out of Puerto Rico. I realized I needed a bigger stage to cut my teeth and really figure out how to go about defining my purpose. I found myself applying to some Screenwriting MFA’s in the U.S. and I was accepted into USC’s Writing for Screen and Television program, where I was happy to represent Boricuas and Spanish-speakers everywhere and share my experiences with a cohort of brilliant individuals, and receive a world-class lesson in storytelling from giants like Ligiah Villalobos, Elizabeth Keyishian, Mark Shepard, the great David Howard, Tom Abrams…. well, I’ll be here all day if you don’t stop me.
I graduated from USC Writing in 2018, and by the end of the year, I was fortunate enough to be hired as a staff writer on Reggie Rock Bythewood’s basketball drama “Swagger” for Apple TV, where I got to work with the best possible crew of writers and even bring a bit of my Puerto Rican perspective into the story.
I’m now working between L.A. and Puerto Rico, evading Covid-19, witnessing the changing times, building bridges, laying down roots, and trying my best.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
It has not been a smooth road at all. Life’s always found a way to keep me on my toes. As an actor, I’ve struggled with not having the “look” of a leading person, so I’ve always played the side parts, the “characters”. This eventually became a strength since I developed a love for small parts that made me write them that much better, but I was left with the question in my soul of “Could I have absolutely slayed that part? Maybe, guess I’ll never know.”
Unfortunately, playing in bit parts in Puerto Rican theatre still doesn’t leave you much to eat with, so I had a number of odd (very odd) jobs. From being a mascot for a beverage company (imagine me, dressed as a large foam orange), to working the patient file room at my Uncle’s family health clinic, to singing Sinatra at a whiskey bar in Old San Juan, which if I may say, was one of the cooler jobs I’ve had.
And before I got the staffing opportunity that completely changed my life, I was working in the shipping warehouse of a fashion trim company, printing out pages on pages on pages of barcode stickers and trying my best not to lose my mind as I listened to podcasts on true crime and Celtic history.
It hasn’t been the smoothest or the most usual road. But that nonsense about the things that don’t kill you making you stronger finds a cheeky way of being absolutely true, and I’ve made some measure of peace with the absurd curveballs and detours of life.
We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
As a writer, I’m in the business of storytelling. The very first thing that made us human was our need to fill our nights with tales of goddesses and wondrous creation. All we’ve been doing since then has been folding the human story in amazing, crazy shapes, like origami.
I too am simply doing variations on a theme. I’ve been a sponge for art and content since I was a kid, so my work as a writer is often reconciling all that life and history and somehow seeing it reflect on the unique, oddball nature I’ve always carried. The truth that everything has been written and nothing is new under the sun has been the most freeing truth for me as a writer, because then you forget about trying to write something groundbreaking, and you look for the spaces where truth lives.
My experience as an actor informs my writing and sets me apart in that I know who I have to convince first in my stories. If my actor is having fun with the role, the world’s my oyster. So I make complex characters that I myself would want to play, saying lines I wished were written for me.
If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
I would tell myself to not get shell-shocked by the world of possibilities. A big change from theatre to screenwriting was the fact that, strangely, I found the limitations of the stage way more freeing and the endless possibilities of TV or Features very constricting.
So, I had to remind myself of why my voice in theatre was valuable. It was always about the characters and their complex inner lives. My greatest enemy was trying to impose something on the characters, be it a cool, glossy world or a ticking time bomb to push the plot, instead of letting them be themselves and having the story follow.
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