Actor Jacob Vargas had never read a script that combined aspects of science fiction with the economic drawbacks of Mexico. That’s why a film like “Sleep Dealer,” he says, spoke to him on so many levels.
“Sleep Dealer,” which was just released on DVD Sept. 8, tells the story of Memo Cruz (Luis Fernando Peña), a young man who hopes to make a living in Tijuana by physically plugging into a computer system that allows workers to do labor in the U.S. without leaving Mexico.
Vargas, 38, who has been in such films as “Death Race,” “Jarhead,” and “Traffic,” plays Rudy Ramirez, a rookie drone pilot on the hunt for Memo, who he mistakes as a terrorist.
Do you hope a new audience will find “Sleep Dealer” now that it’s on DVD?
Yeah, I don’t think it was really given an opportunity to find an audience [in theaters]. Films are usually given a two-week window unless it’s a big studio film and it’s on 4,000 screens. “Sleep Dealer” is a special kind of movie that has been relying on word of mouth. I believe that it’s a good film and will actually find an audience. It’s really unique.
Was that the reason you decided to take the role? It’s a story about immigration, but it has this wild sci-fi twist.
Oh, yeah. I’m Mexicano so I always have a special place in my heart for these kinds of stories. My father came from Mexico with nothing in his pockets to make something of himself in the U.S. That struggle to survive and find yourself has always been in me. But I also liked the sci-fi aspect to it. I had never seen a futuristic film set in a place like Tijuana or a border town. I’ve been to Tijuana many times as a kid. In Mexico you see this dichotomy. You see the poverty. I thought seeing the technology mixed in with that was pretty neat. I thought it was a very ambitious script with very limited resources. I had to see what [director Alex Rivera] could do with it.
In the film, Memo has this idea that the world is a bigger place than he knows so he decides to go out an explore it. When did you realize that the world extended farther than your backyard?
I was very blessed to discover acting at a young age. At 12 years old I was discovered break dancing in a school yard. When I began acting, I started traveling more to different states and countries. It really opened the world to me. If it wasn’t for acting, I don’t know if I ever would have left Pacoima, [CA].
And now as an actor who is pretty well-established, where do you like to go to escape from everything?
My escape for me is just spending time with my daughter. She is four years old so in a way I’m living my childhood through her. I just love watching her face when she discovers something new. This summer, I taught her how to ride a bike with no training wheels. I taught her how to throw a football and a Frisbee. We flew a kite. I had a blast. That was my escape from everything.
The idea that immigrants are doing the work that Americans don’t want to do is touched on in “Sleep Dealer” a bit. Do you think that is true?
I grew up with an immigrant family. I was an immigrant myself. I was born Michoacan. When my father came to the U.S. with his brother they were able to get work and save money to get the entire family to come over. By the time we came to the U.S. my father already had a house and steady work. He did things that nobody else wanted to do, so I agree. In this country, they love our food, they love our music, but they just don’t love us. I love that line in the movie that says, “You can get all of the work without the workers.”
Have you personally kept up with technology in your life?
I know I’m way behind because I had my MySpace set up by my 14-year-old nephew. I can’t even keep up anymore with the Twitter thing and Facebook and MySpace. It seems like in order to keep up these days you have to have a PDA connected to you. Sometimes I think technology works against us as well. What I liked about the film was how it showed how technology could bring us together but at the same time separates us.