Take one glance at Jaime Zevallos and you’re likely to say “Hey, I’ve seen that guy before!” That’s really not a reach, as the busy actor has appeared in dozens of television shows, films and stage plays dating all the way back to 1999. What doesn’t meet the eye here is his work behind the camera as a writer, director and producer, which has evolved over the years as aggressively as his acting work.
This Fall, Zevallos celebrated the release of Me, You and Five Bucks, his first major feature film as writer, producer, director and lead actor. The movie is currently available to watch on Amazon Prime. Jaime is also currently involved in several movies slated for release in 2016.
UrbLife talked at length with the Peruvian stunner about a number of factors in his career including stereotyping in Hollywood, and how he does so many jobs at one time. We also learn more about his obsession with art, dating all the way back to his roots in the world of New York graffiti, as well as his obsession with tattoos. Read on…
Tell us about one of your biggest challenges in maintaining your career.
Jaime Zevallos: I think the challenge is doing roles that are good, and doing things that are a little but different. I’m a 6’2″ Peruvian guy with tattoos, so I tend to fall under the category of a type. I think the challenge has been that acting isn’t even acting anymore. Every acting school I hear doesn’t even teach the craft anymore. They teach “What’s your type?” and “just play your type”. I think that’s been a huge challenge for me, because I got into acting not to play types. [Laughs]
Whenever I get in the space of if I am gonna work or not, I always go back to theater. That’s always been my saving grace you know? If it wasn’t for theater, I don’t think I would have any longevity. For me, movies are great and I’ve been able to sustain myself doing movies and television, but I think for my sanity, it’s been theater.
Do you worry about your appearance and/or tattoos specifically affecting the type of roles you get?
JZ: No, because I think I’m really educated. [Laughs] A lot of people said “Man, how do you have so many tattoos? It doesn’t match your style.” And I think I started getting tattoos before it was trendy, so I would always cover them up. So I’ve been able to play a lot of doctors, lawyers, and businessmen because of that, even early on when I got to Los Angeles. I think L.A. has been more difficult, because there’s a whole Chicano culture out here and they see me being Latino, and I’m like, “Yo man I grew up in Queens, Long Island. I’m the furthest away from being Chicano there is.”
Who has been your favorite tattoo artist to get work from?
JZ: You know, I’m like a cheater because I’ve always thought tattoos were an art form and I’ve never gone to the same person more than once. Everyone’s like “That’s crazy!” but I kind of feel like art has its own signature on it, and I think it’s cool to have all these people draw on me not just one artist. [Laughs] That’s like a big movement now. I’ve been getting tattoos since I was 14-years-old.
Is there one particular piece that’s your favorite?
JZ: I have a tattoo of a tumi [ceremonial knife], which is a Inca tattoo from Peru on my arm, and I tie that to my culture being from Peru.
What would you think about doing a movie that is connected to your heritage?
JZ: I think that’d be fantastic. I think that’d be awesome because I think the word history is always like HIS-story, because that’s where the word came from. We always see one side of the coin, and with the internet people are so smart nowadays. The history books that we’ve probably had in high school are completely obsolete, because history keeps coming up. I think the world is a smart place now and I’m happy about that. You can’t fool the masses anymore you know?
It’s funny, because culturally I’m one thing, religiously I’m another thing, upbringing I’m another thing… and we’re not just one little thing. I think people try to put people in pockets. I grew up in New York so I really feel like culturally a New Yorker at heart. My culture is like Nas and Biggie, that’s my culture.
What was it like for you to appear on a show like TNT’s Southland that was so L.A. when you are so New York?
JZ: I played Frank the Priest on that show. I also did a movie called Duke where I played a gangbanger and I worked with a lot of these guys from Homeboy Industries. For me, I think it’s really understanding the culture. The Chicano culture is even different from the Mexican American culture. It’s it own culture. I think for me it comes down to whatever I do. I love storytelling so just to be part of good stories is amazing and I think it was a bad ass show and I was just happy to be a part of it.
So you’ve mentioned in other interviews that you were inspired by an Ethan Hawke film that got you the title Me, you and 5 Bucks for your movie. Tell us how that came about.
JZ: I was actually inspired by a lot of Woody Allen films, but I didn’t have a title for the movie. Then Ethan Hawke in Reality Bites… it’s so artsy and cliché to say, But I really feel like in life when you have love, that’s all you need. When you have the person you’re with, you can have a cheeseburger with them from Wendy’s and it’s the same as a five star restaurant. Really that’s the crux of the tagline “Me, You and 5 Bucks” because that’s really all we need. They say that in Reality Bites, “All we need is you, me and 5 bucks” and I said, “Wow that’s a great title, but let me reverse that to ‘Me, You and 5 Bucks’ because that’s how I would say it.” That’s where I got the title from.
What possessed you to write, direct, and star in a film by yourself? And is this overachieving something you would continue doing?
JZ: I don’t know if I want to make a theme out of this, but for me this one was really particular. I really put my foot down with the other producers. The moment that I knew that I had to do all of it was when… we had a couple of A-listers interested in this movie. One older guy who’s very famous and has been on a successful show wanted to play the role that I had written for myself. I even told him “We’ll pay you the same amount just play like cameo” and he said he didn’t really want to do that, because he reached himself at a level where he should be playing a supporting or a lead.
That’s where I kinda felt like “you’ve had your moment, it’s my time to do this”. When it came to the directing, I went back into my film school days and looked at all the shorts that I directed in college. What’s funny is, in some of the shorts I directed in college, I casted myself because it’s kinda hard to find a lot of actors when you have no money and are in film school. For some reason we didn’t work closely with the theater program. I was a theater major who transferred to the film department. For me I thought it could be easily done.
I kind of convinced myself that there’s no one else that could do it. I even went as far as interviewing directors, trying to seek other actors, trying to seek other people, but I had a really good team of producers that had my back on this so I was really fortunate. I think even to convince them, I had to put my foot down in the beginning and said “it has to be like this”. I’m very flexible in life, but for this one I had to put my foot down. I knew it wouldn’t be my vision anymore if I let someone else direct. It wouldn’t be a perfect vision.
What is your plan for projects coming up?
JZ: well I did a lot of movies this year. I did one called Sweet Darling in which I play one of the leads. That was actually written for a white Jewish guy, so I was very proud of myself. It’s a non-stereotypical Latino film. Also I was just in Houston shooting with my wife in a film called The Summoning with Eric Roberts.
One thing that may bring me back to New York is a film called Schrader House written by my friend B.A.M. [Gerald Whaley] who was a Hip Hop artist as a part of a group called The Gravediggaz with Wu-Tang. So me and him sold the screenplay 10 years ago to National Lampoon’s on a whim because we met someone there. He had a problem so he went to teach at the group homes in Brooklyn. He cast me in it, Andre Royo from The Wire and it’s produced by Warren Zide. He’s done all of the American Pie movies. It’s about the corrupt group home systems in Bushwick, Brooklyn and I’m playing one of the leads in it. Thank God the writer is one of my best friends, and I’m so in love with this film that I may get involved on the production end of it as well.
Do you ever consider making a film about your roots in Hip Hop and graffiti?
JZ: That’s probably the next film that I’d like to work on. I kind of have a love/hate thing with writing and took a hiatus from it. So I told myself when Me, you and 5 Bucks gets released, I said to myself that I would start writing again when we found a good distributor and home for it. Now’s the time.
What do you want people to know most about you as a man and artist at this stage of your life?
JZ: As a man, that I am at a good place spiritually. The spiritual side of me is very important. My spiritual connection to me is everything, my religion. I think as an artist that I like to play, and anytime I can play and feel free, that’s the only art worth doing. So whether it be on stage, TV or film, if I could play, then that’s what I want to do. I don’t wanna be remembered as a typecast. I like being a sort of Renaissance person you know? It’s much more fun to me.
A lot of actors build their careers on “that’s the cop” or “that’s the bad guy”. I kind of want to be known as the shape shifter and I’ve been able to do that in a lot of films. Art to me is just about having fun and if you’re not having fun, get another job then.
Watch the trailer for Me, You and Five Bucks