Jacob Vargas – Devil

September 17, 2010 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

For actor Jacob Vargas, the worst kind of fear is the kind created in your own mind.

“It’s when you use your own imagination when things start to get scary,” Vargas, 39, told me during a phone interview to promote his new movie “Devil.” “Everyone has their own idea about what is terrifying to them.”

In “Devil,” a group of people find themselves trapped in an elevator and fighting to survive when they learn Satan may be among them. Vargas plays Ramirez, a religious security guard who watches the eerie events unfold in the elevator from monitors in the building’s security office.

During our interview, Vargas, who has starred in such movies as “Selena,” “Traffic,” and “Death Race,” talked to me about a supernatural experience he had as a kid and how he reacted when he was once stuck in an elevator for almost half an hour.

What do you think makes a good scary movie?

I love a good supernatural thriller. Movies where there is something unknown like “The Omen” and “The Seventh Sign” really scare me. This movie is right up my alley. That’s what “Devil” does. It lets you create your own fear.

Have you ever been scared by something supernatural?

Yeah, I saw a ghost once when I was a kid. I fell asleep watching movies I wasn’t supposed to see. It was when cable first came out. When I woke up I looked to my right and saw a man sitting on the couch. He was a ghostly figure. I couldn’t move and nothing came out of my mouth. He put his finger over his mouth making a gesture to be quiet and then he disappeared. It freaked me out. Once he was gone, I screamed my head off and woke up everyone in the house.

The devil himself is a major part of Mexican folklore. Your family is from Michoacan. Do you remember any legends you were told as a kid?

Yeah, my dad would tell me a story about living on a rancho in Michoacan near Las Guacamayas. If you know about La Guacamayas, you know that nothing good can come out of that place. He told me there was a treasure around there that allegedly belonged to [Hernan] Cortez, but it was protected by dogs. He told me he went to go look for the treasure once and he saw one of the dogs and the dog looked at him and then stood on his hind legs and started walking like a human being towards him. It scared the hell out of him and he took off and never went back. They say the devil can take many different forms, so when he told me that it scared the crap out of me.

What do you do when you get scared? We see you praying in Spanish at one point in the movie.

I grew up in a very religious family. I grew up going to church and doing catechism and first communion. What’s interesting is even though I speak English now, whenever I get freaked out or I pray I do it in Spanish. It just comes naturally. When I was shooting the movie I had to get in a really dark place. For whatever reason, I felt compelled to start praying in Spanish. It gave me some comfort.

Have you ever been stuck in an elevator like the characters in “Devil?”

I have actually gotten stuck in an elevator. I was at a comedy show at a hotel. We were on the top floor so everyone had to take the elevator down. Everyone was totally drunk. They packed the elevator with too many people and we got stuck for about 25 minutes. The first five minutes are funny and people are cracking jokes, but as time went on people start freaking out, girl start crying, it starts getting hot, people start turning on each other. It was really fascinating to see how people were at each other’s throats in 25 minutes. I was kind of calm for a while, but then I started freaking out, too. I think it was more of the energy that was in there that made me freak out.

In the film, all the security officers react to the events happening in the elevator as they watch the security monitors. What did you have to imagine you were looking at to create that sense of fear?

I imagined I was watching the Governor of Arizona pass SB 1070 (anti-immigration Senate bill).

Jacob Vargas – Sleep Dealer

September 11, 2009 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

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.

Death Race

August 30, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jason Statham, Joan Allen, Ian McShane
Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson (“AVP: Alien Vs. Predator”)
Written by: Paul W.S. Anderson (“Resident Evil”)

If “Speed Racer” wasn’t enough to satisfy your need for future NASCAR-racing concepts, then “Death Race” might add a little more fuel to the fire for those who like their asphalt track chock-full of human remains.

A remake of the 1975 sci-fi action flick “Death Race 2000,” which starred David Carradine and Sylvester Stallone, “Death Race” is set only four years into the future. Forget the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. When the U.S. economy hits rock bottom, the face of sports entertainment changes so drastically, people are paying money to watch a group of felons kill each other on the racetrack on TV. Another cliché film about America’s blood lusting for violence in the media? That would be giving “Death Race” entirely too much credit.

Recruited by the prison’s stone-cold warden (Joan Allen), Jensen Ames (Jason Statham), who is thrown into the pen after being falsely convicted of killing his wife, is told that he can win his freedom back by secretly replacing one of the prison’s best drivers, Frankenstein, who was unknowingly killed in the last race.

Hoping to one day see his little girl again, Jensen accepts her offer and is teamed up with a few greaser cons who strap him into a supped-up black Mustang to go head to head with other twisted-metal vehicles equipped with machine guns and other dastardly weapons. Along with his boys in the pit, Jensen is matched with Case (Natalie Martinez), a tight-bodied co-driver brought in from a women’s prison facility (hint: she’s cast for the sex appeal) for the three-day event.

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (“AVP: Alien Vs. Predator”), “Death Race” is rip-roaring fast, sleazy, and mind-numbing. While Anderson gets some cool points for a few exciting loops around the track, his screenplay misses its opportunity to give its characters some life behind their deadened eyes. Instead, Anderson focuses on the gruesome deaths, Allen’s bitchy and underwritten persona, and keeping the camera on Martinez’s assets.

If you’re accepting of all low-brow entertainment no matter how tacky, “Death Race” will probably be your new favorite sport pastime. If you don’t want to risk it, you can get the same effect by reading a lowrider magazine while stabbing yourself in the leg with a rusty nail. Tetanus anyone?

Jacob Vargas – Death Race

June 6, 2008 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

Actor Jacob Vargas might be oozing with machismo when he shows off his athletic physique and precisely-trimmed goatee during photo shoots and maintains his manly image when he stars in films like “The Hills Have Eyes II” as a mutant-hunting solider or as a stereotypical Mexican gangster in “Next Friday,” but he’d be the first to tell you about his sensitive side.

“I like to watch “Design Star” and “Project Runway” with my wife,” Vargas, 37, says during an interview to promote the release of his last film “Death Race” on DVD. “Maybe on the surface people would think I was macho, but…I’m not scared to get in touch with my feminine side, you know? I like gardening and interior decorating. Every now and then I like to cook.”

In “Death Race,” Vargas pushes his testosterone to its limits when he plays Gunner, prison mechanic who rebuilds muscle cars used in races where inmates kill each other in hopes to win their freedom. Set in a futuristic world where the economy is in shambles, the bloody competition is a moneymaker when the prison’s icy warden (Joan Allen) charges the general public to watch via Pay-Per-View.

Now, four months after the film was first released in theaters, Vargas sees the fine line between fiction and reality as the current U.S. economy worsens every day and institutes like banks and credit card companies are feeling the crunch.

Metaphorically speaking, it might be a different movie than it was in August with an economic crisis looming, but Vargas doesn’t think the film makes any real political statement. He’s not sure, however, if something as drastic as death races could appeal to a mass audience, even though he is stunned at what people find entertaining these days.

“The taste people have in entertainment surprises me,” Vargas said. “I remember when reality shows first started, I thought, ‘Who would watch this stuff?’ I thought people got dumber every time they watched an episode of “Flavor of Love.” However, these shows are huge and draw in big audiences. And they are cheaper to make.”

Vargas says he sees the same thing happening in the world of sports.

“I remember I used to watch boxing with my family and all of a sudden UFC [Ultimate Fighting Championship] and MMA [Mixed Martial Arts] came out,” Vargas said. “I thought it was so brutal and that no one was going to want to watch it. Now, it’s one of the biggest sports out there. People always want something new.”

Although he does not watch much reality TV, Vargas admits that he does like a few of the shows that are more talent-based. Basically, he’d rather be inspired by a designer’s creativity when choosing a color palate than watch a group of desperate women fight over a millionaire.

“I like the shows that are on Home and Garden [HGTV] where someone is given a blank slate and by the end of the show there is something beautiful that has been created,” Vargas said. “There’s actual talent there.”

The same sentiment can be said about Vargas, who, after 22 years as an actor, is as excited to land a role as he was when he first started. He still takes nothing for granted and is thankful his success in the industry continues to give him a viable shot at every audition.