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Meet Juan Felipe Restrepo in Los Angeles

Today we’d like to introduce you to Juan Felipe Restrepo.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Well, it all started when I was 7, I was really drawn to arts in general. I started by drawing, then painting, then, I went further and wrote fables or short stories and sent them to competitions. After that, I learned to play the guitar and finally, the last field I got into was acting. Some of my stories would be close to winning and my drawings and painting would be appreciated by my classmates and teachers, so I realized I was pretty good with arts and my love for them just kept growing. I got into movies and T.V, and the funny thing is that, after I watched any film once, I would already have memorized most of its dialogue, so, whenever I would watch it again with my family, I would repeat the character’s lines during the movie, driving my parents crazy, because all they wanted was to watch the movie in peace without me interrupting or telling them about the dialogue. I loved movies, I saw the infinite possibilities of a story, the creativity that was put on the screen and the message that films could deliver, so I realized I wanted to be part of “the other side of the screen” and become the one who tells the stories.

When I was 11, a new theater teacher came to my school, he had a mission to create a theatre company with students of different grades, and put together plays that we could perform inside and outside of school. He did some tests of physicality, reading scripts, being in front of an audience, etc. on some people who were interested in his idea, and when my turn came, he allowed me to become a permanent member of the theatre company, which later on we named “La Maleta Roja”, which means “The Red Suitcase” in Spanish. With this group, I performed many plays in my home country Colombia and when I was 13, we got to be part of an International Theater Festival between Colombia and Ecuador, where different groups and schools would present their productions, and later we would meet and be able to work with all the other groups on different exercises.

I was the happiest at that moment, I could only daydream about making movies and coming to Hollywood. However, I knew how hard it is for an international to achieve this dream. So, the night we were coming back home from the festival, I sat next to my director on the bus and asked if he thought I was good enough to make it as an artist. I will always remember his words. He said; “I think you have talent, but you have to understand that talent is never enough, is at best only 20% of an actor, if you really want this, then you have to fight for it, educate on it and work hard, I’ve seen people with no talent, who worked day and night and now they have a name, and I’ve seen people who have tons of talent, but never exercised the muscle, so they’re still at the bottom. I think anyone can be an actor as long as they have the drive and the gut for it”. Since that night, all I did was research schools, acting programs and ways to come to the U.S., so I could study acting and become a professional.

When I was 15, I found a summer program at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Los Angeles. It was going to last around a month and we would learn about scene study, improv, dancing, stage combat, a business of acting and other subjects. I applied to it with my tourist visa and they allowed me to come, so for a month, I moved with my mom and my little brother to L.A and attended to this summer program. The language was still a bit of a barrier for me, I could understand everything people said to me, but it would take me some time to process the thought and answer. However, I made some friends who helped me out any time I struggled, and this made the whole experience just better. I learned so much, my love for this career just grew bigger, I was attracted to stunts and improv a lot, I realized about all the other skills necessary for an actor and how rich each one of them was, so I made the sole decision to come back after finishing High school and pursue a degree in acting from the city of angels.

When I was 17, I got my high school diploma. I was ready to go back to LA and start the next phase of my life. However, there were a few bumps in the road. First, the school where I went to for summer camp wouldn’t give me a certified degree if I graduated from their program, besides, their foundation was structured mainly on theater, so film and TV would only be topics I’d see almost at the end of my 2nd year. Second, some of my family members wouldn’t support the idea of me becoming an actor, they would question and discourage me, telling me to do something useful with my life before chasing something as silly as art. I would constantly defend my position on the matter, until one day I had enough. I was talking with one of my uncles about my plans and he asked if by any chance I had a plan B. That’s when I looked him in the eyes and I told him, “If I have a plan B, then, that means, I subconsciously convinced myself that at some point my plan A will fail”, and with that our conversation ended and he never discouraged me again. I tried finding other schools, however, 90% of the colleges would reply to me saying that I needed to be at least 18 years old to apply for their program and the ones who would accept me were only short-term workshops with no certificate that in addition, wouldn’t support me to get a student visa.

I didn’t want to wait for a year back in Colombia doing nothing, I was at the edge of losing hope when I found about the New York Film Academy. I told them about my situation and they gave me a chance to prove myself. So, I filled up all the paperwork, sent my audition, got my recommendations and waited for a reply. A month later, I received a letter saying that they were more than satisfied with my application, they offered me a spot in their program along with a talent-based scholarship for the duration of my studies. After that, it was just a matter of time to get my visa, prove I mastered the language, move to L.A, find a place to stay and then start my college life.

It was a little bit overwhelming at the beginning, first of all, because I was 17, I was the youngest person in the entire program, all of my classmates were already at least 20 years old, and the oldest person I knew is my closest friend nowadays, who was 27 back then, imagine that difference. Most of my classmates treated me like a kid and the ones who didn’t would treat me like this careless person who left his country and his family at an early age to try acting. I didn’t really let it affect me, I knew the earlier we get into this industry, the better it is, because you play mole roles the more you grow into it and your chances are better. So, I focus on developing my skills for stunts and stage combat, Voice Over, theater, acting for film and TV among others, I spent my free time doing extra classes or consults, training with any chance I had and doing a lot of student films. I finished college as an honorary student, being at the top of my class and after that I got my permit to work as an actor in the U.S since May 2017.

Since then, I got signed by a manager and a commercial agent, I’ve been to a couple auditions with Sarah Finn, the casting director for “Marvel”, as well as Disney, Nickelodeon, and Youtube Red, and am currently auditioning for some other great projects. I made my own film based on a true story, which, has been recognized in multiple film festivals in the country and is still in competitions internationally, making me an award-winning actor. I had the honor to work with names like Eugenio Derbez, Danny Trejo, and Drake Bell, which has taught me about how prepared and professional each one of them is. I still work on my craft and take some classes to not get rusty and improve as much as I can. I have to say my main focus right now that my work permit is about to expire, is to get my artist visa and be able to keep moving forward in this industry, working with great professionals and representing my country holding my head high.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Not at all!!! Hehe. Not only as an actor but as an international, you realize how difficult it is to achieve your dream in this city and this industry. There are some weeks where you have a lot of work, many auditions are piled together and there’ a lot of shoots to do. However, this life is like a rollercoaster, because you can be busy 24/7 for one week, but then the next week, two weeks or even the next month you don’t get any auditions, or you if you get some you don’t book anything, and is frustrating, because you start comparing how well it was going, and how now nothing is coming your way. To that you can add the fact that a lot of rooms where you go in to audition, you can see people who are extremely similar to you physically, the competition is incredible, the way you dress, have your hair or speak is very alike, is like entering a room of copies of yourself.

Also, there are many variables that go into booking a job, sometimes if you have an accent (like me) it could play as an advantage for the role, depending on what the casting is looking for, sometimes, having an accent is what eliminates you right away. Same goes for social media, sometimes the amount of followers and engagement plays an important role in an audition, in my personal opinion I think this is unfair and dumb. I understand that the more followers you have, the more people will watch your show, but at the same time is a double edge sword, because if you don’t know your craft and you don’t know what you’re doing on set, then you kill the whole project after one season and that, affects all the people involved who actually have prepared for this job.

In addition, money plays a part here, you need good headshots to get auditions, you also need to be on the castings websites, have the necessary tools and skills for different jobs. So, it all comes to how much can you spend to better yourself and present your image in the best way possible. Where have you trained and what credits have you built as an actor. Which, in my situation also is very important, because if I want to get my visa extended then I have to show that I am not just another guy who came to L.A to be a star, I need proof of my quality work, people who support me and see I have what it takes to succeed.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Juan Felipe Restrepo – what should we know?
I am an actor, I do my own stunts, choreographed fights and am a free runner (Parkour) which allows me to do a lot of physical challenges and participate in action/adventure films, I also model on the side a little and have found that the camera has a very different vibe while you act than while you pose for it, so I love every chance I have to be on camera. My main field is drama and I feel like is easier for me to do drama and action or sci-fi than comedy, even though a lot of people tell me in real life I am naturally funny, for some reason doing comedy makes me think a lot, rather than if you throw me in a choreographed fist fight or ask me to dig deep into myself and feel about losing someone I cared about or dealing with personal struggles.

One of my dreams is to be in a superhero movie and/or work in the CW, I am a geek at heart and I am proud of it, because back at home I’d be seen as a weirdo, but here in L.A a lot of people share my passion for comics, video games, and anime. I’ve worked my entire life to develop the skills needed to play a superhero and I know I could do a great Spiderman, Robin or Green Lantern. as well as being in shows like Riverdale, Flash, Teen Wolf, Supernatural, etc. Finally, being native from Colombia gives me the advantage of being fully bilingual, allowing me to work on projects in Spanish and English, or even a mix of both in some occasions, as well as expanding my range in Voice-Over because I have been able to do some dubbing and other projects thanks to my training.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
I think all my success I owe it to my parents, who from the very first moment I told them, I wanted to become an actor, supported me without hesitation. I would also thank my theater teacher from back home “Piero”, for giving me those wise words that triggered my hunger to become a professional actor. To my teachers from NYFA who taught most of what I know and prepared me to face this industry and I would thank the friends who have stayed with me in this journey and have been there with me for good and bad moments. Finally, I would thank my representatives, for believing in me and giving me the opportunity to grow and prove myself in every audition they get for me.

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Image Credit:
H Peter Ji Photography, Leo Wu Photography, Troy Ramirez Photography

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