Interview with Juan Gabriel Pareja

Juan Gabriel Pareja is currently starring in AMC’s new TV series “The Walking Dead”. Juan is no stranger to acting, he has already worked with director Frank Darabont in “Stephen King’s The Mist”, Oliver Stone in “W.” and with Robert Rodriguez on “Machete” . Juan took some time to chat with Movie Mikes about his films and his role in “The Walking Dead”.

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Mike Gencarelli: Tell us about your character Morales in “The Walking Dead”
Interestingly enough, I play a character who was not in the original Kirkman series, but who was created as a write-in by Frank Darabont (to whom I feel incredibly indebted to, btw). Being a write-in, I think, is a bit of a blessing in disguise. Die-hard fans may wonder who the heck I am and take a moment to connect with my character, but at the same time, my character’s storyline, and demise, is not already programmed in the world of the comic-book, as is the case with a few of the other main characters in the series. So I like that it is kind of an open-ended character with limitless possibilities. Also, the character I play, Morales, is one of the few survivors of the camp who is fortunate enough to be surviving the zombie-apocalypse with his nuclear family intact. I think this certainly adds a slightly different dynamic than the other lone survivors, as I’m fighting not only for my own survival, but for that of my family… a struggle and perspective shared with our protagonist, Rick, and his family. Overall, I think Morales sees himself as a moral compass (perhaps we all see ourselves that way). Heck, it’s right there in his name! Seriously though, I think he does his best to keep people calm, centered, and rational when tensions rise high, when the defecation hits the ventilation, as I heard someone say recently. I think it might have been on the latest video game I’ve been playing, “Bad Company II”.

MG: Is it connected at all with the character you played in Frank Darabont’s “The Mist” also named Morales?
Funny you should ask….. When I arrived in Atlanta this summer for the table read of what was to be my first episode, Guts, Frank made a quick joke regarding that coincidence, and that I might always end up playing a ‘Morales’ in any of his future projects. But no, there is no correlation between the two characters in either project, just me, and of course the apocalypse of your choice. A little side note for aspiring actors out there, you never know where your next project is going to come from. I actually just arrived in LA (I had been working in the Texas and Louisiana markets for a while) earlier this year, trying to figure out how I was going to make ends meet and get an agent. I was actually out knocking on doors for the U.S. Census when I got the call from my Houston agent, telling me that Frank was doing this new show out in Atlanta, that he remembered me from “The Mist” years earlier (in Louisiana), and wanted me to submit for this new role. I couldn’t believe it. I was floored, reeling with joy, and overwhelmed with gratitude. You never know which seeds that you plant along your journey are going to take root and sprout into something amazing.

MG: What has been the best part for you working on this show?
It is impossible to say really. It has all been a dream come true. Sometimes I’m not even sure if I realize how unbelievably huge this opportunity has been…. I think it is still setting in. It is incredibly validating to be working with such an amazing ensemble of actors on such an awesome piece of television history. I guess if I had to boil it down to one thing, it is the people I was working with, day in and day out, often times in uncomfortable and challenging environments. Not only are they all wonderful, talented actors, but also just terrific and impressive human beings! Incredibly supportive and always generous, there was a synergy on this show which I’ve been told is uncommon. And not just between the actors, but with absolutely everyone involved. They are all at the top of their game and are giving it all they’ve got. I mean come on, Frank Darabont, Gale Ann Hurd, Greg Nicotero, the folks at AMC, and countless others. You can’t go wrong there. I feel incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to work with such amazing talents and industry heavy-weights. I also have high hopes that this new-found level of exposure will help me find representation out in LA and allow me to pursue my career more aggressively.

MG: Even though you character is not in series, did you read the comics to research the story?
Oh absolutely. I didn’t know anything at all about the series when I got the call. As soon as I did though, I marched down to the local comic book store in Burbank… I think it may have been the very same one where Frank first discovered the graphic novel years ago. I bought the first compendium collection of issues 1-48, and consumed it in a couple of days. I mean, it’s no wonder Kirkman has gained such a worldwide audience. Once you start, it is incredibly difficult to put down. With such rich material, it is easy to imagine keeping the audience riveted and the series going for years to come.

MG: What was it like working on a film like “Machete”?
Oh that was a lot of fun. It was a short stint of a few days’ work spread over a couple of weeks time. I’ve known that Robert Rodriguez was someone who I aspired to work with since he first did “El Mariachi” and then “Desperado” many years ago, so it was a real pleasure to finally get to meet and work with him. It was particularly gratifying to work with Robert because he is a fellow Latino and Texan who has brought some of his Hollywood success back to his home state with his Austin-based production studio. And Danny Trejo is just great. Talk about not judging a book by its cover. After years of seeing such an iconic, rugged, and downright mean-looking face on this guy, I couldn’t have been more impressed by his sheer kindness and generous spirit on set. He really couldn’t have been a nicer guy.

MG: You have worked with such great directors, Frank Darabont, Oliver Stone, and Robert Rodriguez, how was it working with such great talent?
Each time I nearly had to pinch myself to see if it was really going on. I mentioned Robert to you already. And Oliver Stone?!? I was beside myself. Giddy really. One of the greatest directors in the history of the medium. And super kind, very accessible, and generous with his compliments. And Frank–hands down amazing. My all-time favorite film has been “The Shawshank Redemption” from back to my earliest days in high school. To work with him on The Mist was special enough, but to then have him remember me and bring me back for such an epic undertaking, is simply extraordinary. It is surreal to have worked with these three greats, and I don’t know if I’ve always done the best job at processing that fact. I mean, I grew up hoping only in my wildest dreams to maybe one day work with one of these men. And it ended up happening all before ever setting a foot in Hollywood. It can also be a little unnerving at times because often you get very little actual direction, and it’s easy to end up wondering if any of the choices you are making on camera are any good at all. But you have to just trust that no news is good news, and that they know what they are doing when they cast you. I heard someone once say, 90% of directing is in the casting.

MG: Besides acting, what are some of your other hobbies?
Dancing. I absolutely love to move and groove to great music, specifically to live Latin salsa beats. It is a great way to have fun and burn calories at the same time. I’m staying active these days also, doing a bit of hiking here and there, and trying to muster up the courage to maybe start training for a half-marathon. I also like to sing, make people laugh, and can easily spend hours just sketching away.

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