Actor Arlen Escarpeta is living proof that hard work, dedication and a focused plan go a long way when it comes to navigating the highs and lows of Hollywood. The Belizean actor is carving out an impressive resume of work that sees no end in sight.
On the big screen, he’s had memorable performances in films such as We Are Marshall, Friday the 13th, Final Destination 5 and most recently, Into the Storm. On television, he’s appeared on series such as Extant, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, ER and The Client List. Arlen received critical praise for his portrayal as Sam Walker in the coming of age 1960s short lived series American Dreams.
We sit down with the actor to talk about his upcoming appearance on the hit NBC series Grimm, his portrayal of controversial singer Bobby Brown in the upcoming Whitney Houston television movie and what his advice would be to up and coming actors.
Pop Culture Principle – You will be appearing in an upcoming episode of Grimm. How did you land that role?
Arlen Escarpeta – It was just a general audition that came in and it was me with a bunch of other guys. I was super excited because I’ve always wanted to play a boxer. My grandmother, who lives in Belize, trains boxers. She trains kids who have lost their way and are turning to gangs and things like that. She puts them in the ring and trains them on how to fight and helps them get that anger out and give them a skill that might serve them in the future. She helps them control their anger and deal with their emotions in the right way. I trained with her a little bit when I was younger and also have done a little training at a place called Pound for Pound boxing just as a workout. So, I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to put some of this training to use. That’s not to say I didn’t have my work cut out for me because pretend boxing and real boxing are two different things. The guys that I got to box with on the show were real boxers and I was hit with a couple of jabs, but I rolled with the punches. I accidentally hit one of the boxers once and felt so bad.
Pop Culture Principle – Can you tell us anything about your character on Grimm?
Arlen Escarpeta – He’s conflicted. He’s doing the wrong things for the right reasons. He’s a good guy and a lot of times good people get taken advantage of. It was fun to play this character because he had so many layers. He is two completely different people and as an actor, it was a blast to play someone like him.
Pop Culture Principle – What was your experience like on the set of Grimm?
Arlen Escarpeta – It was a pleasure. Everyone was so nice. David was a pleasure, Russell was amazing and they made me feel at home. The show shoots in Portland and Portland reminded me of Vancouver because everyone is so nice. I had no complaints at all working on the show and the director was amazing as well. Again, they made me feel at home and you don’t always get that as an actor coming on a show as a guest star. You never know what you are walking into and they made me feel at home. Jacqueline Toboni, who plays Trubel on the show, invited me to this big concert event with a bunch of bands. I unfortunately wasn’t able to make it, but I appreciated the fact that I am just a guest star and she reached out knowing I was in town for the weekend and didn’t know anybody. I thought that was really nice.
Pop Culture Principle – You will also be playing Bobby Brown in the upcoming Lifetime movie Whitney. Can you tell us about that project?
Arlen Escarpeta – I don’t know if you know this, but when Bobby was younger, he was a boxer as well and won Golden Gloves. For me as an actor, I couldn’t have wished or prayed for something better to come along. Such a complex character and a complex story and getting the opportunity to play against what’s out there in the media versus what we are trying to portray and what really happened within this relationship. As an actor, we dove right in and Angela Basset as a director, we had no days off. Every day was hard work and painful. It was happy, sad and very therapeutic to go through the emotions of what Whitney and Bobby lived. I really feel like anyone that gets the opportunity to watch the film, they will know that everyone put their best foot forward and there was nothing but love in every frame of this movie. Everything isn’t peaches and cream in family and relationships and we showed it all; from the outside to the nitty gritty. I am really blessed and fortunate to have worked with such a fantastic cast. I have a big smile on my face right now because not only am I excited to see it, but I am excited for everyone else to see it.
There were days when I finished takes and I was literally out of breath and my insides hurt because it was that impactful and that painful. As an actor, I really got to get in there and Angela really pushed us. She knew Whitney because they worked together and she also had the opportunity to meet Bobby on several occasions and she told me these very sweet and poignant stories of her interactions with him. So, I was able to use those stories to pull from as well as a lot of the interviews and YouTube clips I was able to watch. I was able to see the chemistry and that crazy magic that they had and it was absolutely amazing.
Pop Culture Principle – Any nervousness portraying someone who is still alive and still in the public eye?
Arlen Escarpeta – yes and no. Yes, because Bobby is here and he has fans and family. It’s not that you are playing someone from the past that people may have forgotten about that you are somewhat brining back to life. Whitney and Bobby will always be relevant 150 percent, so there was definitely a little bit of reservation there. One of the main things that made it ok for me was knowing that Angela was our director. That meant that the work came first and we weren’t just doing a Whitney Houston movie just to do a Whitney Houston movie. You had to care, do the work, do that research and it had to matter. Every single day and every single frame mattered. There were times when we would just stop filming and just talked about what was happening. Although we had a quick shooting schedule, we didn’t rush any moments. We tried to make sure that we put our best food forward.
Pop Culture Principle – There has been some controversy as Whitney Houston’s family doesn’t want the movie to happen. What do you say to that?
Arlen Escarpeta – You have to understand that we are telling a story about someone’s family and yes they should be concerned. Yes they should care and feel as passionate as they want about it. As a person who is not part of the family and just an actor, I have to take a step back and respect how they feel. At the same time, I have a job and I am going to do the best job that I can do. I hope and pray that if anyone in the family decides to watch the film that they realize we are coming from a place of love. I know it’s going to hurt to see certain things re-lived, but that is part of what we do as actors. That is something that I have to live with across the board.
As an actor, you really can’t worry so much about that, but if I was able to reach out with anyone from the family, I would love to sit down and hear from them. I would love to let them know where I am coming from so they would know that I have no malice in my heart. I never approach any project with a sharp edge, but I approach a project with an open heart and an open mind. I always look for balance when I am playing a character. No one is every wholeheartedly bad or wholeheartedly good, there is balance. Unfortunately in the world we live in today, a lot of things are easily misconstrued and played in one direction. Sometimes certain people in relationships will play the good guy or play the bad guy for sake of whatever they are trying to protect. I think both Bobby and Whitney did that at different times to one another where they both played the bad guy or the good guy to protect what they built.
Pop Culture Principle – You worked with director Steven Quale before in Final Destination 5, but most recently in the film Into the Storm. What was it like working on that film?
Arlen Escarpeta – Here’s the thing. Into the Storm was my third job working with New Line Cinema and my second time working with Steven Quale. That alone was piece of mind because I knew everyone there and it was very comfortable. Also, there is the element of playing a character that I have never played before. Playing a storm chaser who can look at a computer screen and breakdown where the weather is going and what is happening; that was icing on the cake. Steve is such a smart guy and a great director. I look forward to working with him again in the future because he’s innovative and he does not settle. This is just the tip of the iceberg for him and he’s going to do some really great things. Final Destination 5 and Into the Storm, he is just scratching the surface and I think he has a lot to offer. He has an incredible eye and his mind is so sharp.
When I become a director one day, I want to emulate some of the things that I have seen him do. He sees the entire movie in his head before he shot it. He was able to come on set and make sure that his vision was done to a T. As an actor, you really have to admire that.
Pop Culture Principle – You were part of a very important show called American Dreams. You played Sam Walker, a young black male growing up in the 1960s. What was your experience like working on that series?
Arlen Escarpeta – I think American Dreams was way before it’s time. I wished Twitter, Instagram and social media was a little bit more relevant then because I think the show would have lasted longer and we would have seen a lot more. There was so much more story to tell and so much further to go. There were so many curtains to pull to the side and let people see, especially now. I feel that things that happened in the 60s, not that it mirrors exactly what is happening now, but I feel it is a revolutionary time. When you can see it happening, it’s very important to go back and say we’ve been here before, we’ve seen this before and we can learn from this. Playing Sam Walker was something that I wanted to do. It’s funny, because I always want to play Sam Walker in everything that I do. He transcended the 60s; in fact, every character on that show transcended the 60s. They exist now and in any time period that you can imagine.
I loved that job and the fact that Sam had to deal with so much, because as a black man in general, you do. The rules are different, you have to operate accordingly, but at the same time, you don’t want to lose yourself. If you lean to far right, are you an Uncle Tom? If you lean to far left, are you pretending to be something that you are not because you don’t necessarily fit in to what you are supposed to fit in? There is a stigma for what I am supposed to be as a black man, but that doesn’t mean I fit that mold. People are different and people are complex and I think American Dreams played with that so well.
Keith Robinson who played my cousin Nathan, he was just as complex and so different from Sam, but just as important. Then my father on the show came from a different generation. There are all these layers and colors of who people are in general and who people are specifically as black men and black women. I loved the way American Dreams played with it and I just prayed and wished we had one or two more seasons to really open up that door for Sam and Meg to really start to date and realize what comes with that and what comes with an interracial relationship. How would Jack and my father really feel now that Meg and Sam would be dating officially?
You can throw in Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, Martin Luther King and you start letting history mix this pot and you start cooking. You are going to get something that is going to offend people, scare people, open eyes, educate and enlighten people. Some people may even be excited by it. It was an amazing, crazy time and it was life and to get to go back in time and play that, it was self-serving as an actor and self-serving as a person. I also think another thing that American Dreams did so well was that they didn’t try to be provocative and they were very respectful. It’s still a family show and you want to make sure that everyone could sit down, watch it and get something from it.
Pop Culture Principle – You are building a very solid and successful resume in Hollywood. What advice would you give to up and coming actors?
Arlen Escarpeta – Whatever your reasons are for wanting to be an actor, whether it be fame, money or just chasing the dream, it’s never easy and it’s hard work. Depending on what angle you approach it from, you will still have an uphill battle. I wanted to phrase it that way because a lot of people want to be famous and be on television and that is fine, there is nothing wrong with that, just know what comes with it. It’s a job and by all means respect the craft, respect the people that have come before you and the ones who will come after you. Not saying that you have to be a role model per say, but once you join this you are on a platform whether you like it or not. People look at you and will judge you differently and it’s a different world. You are not the same whether you want to be or not, it doesn’t matter and that’s the reality of it.
Also, educate yourself, read and soak up as much information as you can. I don’t care if you read it in a book or on the internet, still do your research. I want you to counterbalance what you are reading with something else and get a different opinion because I want you to have balance in life in general and be able to walk into any social setting and be able to hold your own with anybody across the board.
Those would be my words of advice for anyone wanting to get into acting. It’s fun, it’s amazing, but it’s a job and you have to make sure that you continue to grow; you should never plateau.
Pop Culture Principle – Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
Arlen Escarpeta – I would say we will see what happens with pilot season. That is how it is an actor, you finish a job and then you are unemployed. You balance your checkbook, bide your time and start plotting, planning, praying and preparing for your next job. I could have an audition tomorrow and have a whole other story to tell, but as of right now, I am taking care of myself. I’m trying to make sure that when the next audition comes or the next idea sparks, I’m ready to write as a writer and perform as an actor.
We would like to thank Arlen for taking time out of his schedule to sit down and talk with us. You can catch him on a brand new episode of Grimm on November 7th at 9/8c. If you are interested in keeping up with all the latest news about Arlen and his career, make sure you follow him on Twitter @ArlenEscarpeta.