It only took Cuban actor Gonzalo Menendez one viewing of Arthur Miller’s Tony Award-winning play “All My Sons” while in college to decide he wanted to become an actor.
After studying at Florida State University, Menendez moved to Los Angeles in 1995 where he’s been jumping around from TV show to TV show for over a decade. Along with short stints on “Nip/Tuck,” “24,” and “CSI: Miami,” Menendez has recently earned small roles in feature films such as “The Lost City” starring Andy Garcia, “The Island” starring Ewan McGregor, and “Fracture” starring Anthony Hopkins.
Currently, Menendez (above right) can be seen in the action film “12 Rounds” opposite WWE wrestler John Cena. In the film Menendez, 37, plays Ray Santiago, one of the special agents on the trail of an ex-con who has kidnapped the wife of a New Orleans police detective.
What is your first memory when you moved from Miami to Los Angeles in the early 90’s to start your acting career?
One of the more difficult things is getting used to the audition process. The first job I ever booked was on TV for “Beverly Hills 90210.” It was an episode directed by Jason Priestley. I had two lines. I can always say Jason Priestley is directly responsible for giving me my first job in Hollywood.
I saw that on your filmography, so I search for it on YouTube. Is that the episode shot as a Western?
That’s exactly it. I don’t know if you remember this at all, but Luke Perry [as Dylan McKay] at some point was going into regression therapy and going into past lives. In this particular episode [“The Real McCoy”], the therapist hypnotized him and he regressed into a persona from the Wild West. He was like a Billy the Kid-type character. I was one of the guys in his little gang that robbed banks. I lied my pants off in that audition. They asked me if I knew how to ride a horse and I said yes. I had no idea what I was doing, but I just wanted to work.
Including “90210” you’ve been on at least one episode of 26 different TV shows in the last 12 years. What has your experience been like transitioning into film?
Well, for this project, from top to bottom, I was working with some of the best people in the business. The producer is Mark Gordon, who did “Speed” and “Saving Private Ryan” and on TV does “Grey’s Anatomy.” He has a terrific reputation. Then we have director Renny Harlin who did “Cliffhanger” and “Die Hard 3.” Then there’s John Cena, who is the biggest superstar in wrestling. He is the Hulk Hogan and the Rock of his generation. It’s like being a good baseball player and then all of a sudden finding yourself playing for the Yankees. You look to the right and there’s Derek Jeter. You look to the left and there’s A-Rod. You’re just happy to be there and really want to be part of the ride.
What about the WWE as a production company? They really seem to be backing their wrestler’s acting aspirations. Do you think John Cena can be the next big action star?
Absolutely. He has all tools for it, not only physically but mentally he is a really bright guy. I don’t know if you watch any of the WWE wrestling shows, but all those interviews he does are totally off the top of his head. He is a very funny dude. He’s not just there to pick things up and throw them down. He has thoughts about the scenes and how they should be played. As far as the WWE, I’ve been a wrestling fan since I was a little kid. I grew up watching Dusty Rhodes and Blackjack Mulligan. Anything involving wrestling, I’m there. If [WWE owner] Vince McMahon wants to put up money to make movies that are either going to go straight to DVD or be theatrical releases like “12 Rounds,” I think it’s money well spent because he is a really bright guy and has done well so far. I think his business plan is going to work out just fine.
What is your fondest wrestling memory as a kid?
I use to drag my father out to the Miami Beach Convention Center all the time in the late 70’s and early 80’s. I was like 10 years old and we would go out and see all the cage matches and ladder matches. We would watch Dusty Rhodes in Texas Bullrope matches. I used to love all that stuff.
I’m sure you would’ve loved to jump into a wrestling ring when you were a kid, but what about now? Could you go a few rounds with John Cena?
If they offered me the opportunity, I would take it in an absolute second. But you have to learn how to do it first. I asked John to teach me a couple of things when we were out having a couple of beers at a bar one night. I have to tell you, that boy is stronger than hell so I would have to beef up at least 20 lbs. before I end up eating the pavement again.
I know the answer’s probably not John Cena, but if there was anyone you could pick to go 12 rounds with who would it be?
Why don’t we just say 13 rounds and I’d love to come back and be Cena’s partner in the next one.