Joseph Julian Soria – Mission Park

September 7, 2013 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

In the independent crime drama “Mission Park,” actor Joseph Julian Soria (“Hamlet 2”) plays Derek, a member of a powerful drug syndicate headed by his childhood friend Jason (Walter Perez). In the film, Derek and Jason’s two other friends, Bobby (Jeremy Ray Valdez) and Julian (Will Rothaar), who have taken different paths in their lives and become FBI agents, are assigned to infiltrate the cartel and shut it down.

During our interview, Soria talked about the specific scene in “Mission Park” that made him say yes to the project, and explained what he’s learned about himself as an actor with each role he takes.

Since this is director Bryan Ramirez’s first feature film, do you go into a project like this differently than with a director who has more experience?

You know, he’s a first time director, but he had a vision. When a writer is also the director, [he or she] usually knows what they want for each scene. Working with him was great. He was very collaborative. He wasn’t bound to his script. He allowed us to bring to the table whatever we had. It wasn’t like we were puppets. That made me even more excited to work on the film.

I heard you impressed a lot of people with your taped audition. What kind of character did you want to create with Derek?

What I felt made this character so relatable is his vulnerability. He has a nice [character] arch. I just wanted to capture that essence of what he had been going through his whole life. There were two scenes in my audition. The first scene was one where you needed to just have a conversation and be believable. The second scene was the last scene [of the film]. [Derek] had suppressed all these emotions he had all these years and he just had enough. I explored that scene within myself and went for it.

I definitely thought you had the best character arch of everyone.

Yeah, I think we all want to be liked and accepted. That was his biggest thing. In my eyes, anyone who says they don’t care about being accepted is full of shit.

How different was the last scene on the audition tape in comparison to what we see in the film?

I don’t think there was much difference. To be honest with you, they told me they could take my audition tape and put it in the movie.

Have you learned anything about yourself as an actor since you started back in 2004?

I’ve learned that my personality was made to be an actor. I’ve learned that I can do it. It’s one thing to say you can do it, but when you actually do it, it’s a whole other thing. I’ve learned that every character I play is me. It’s a transformation of me.

Are you at the point in your career where you can say no to projects? If so, can you give me an example of something you would turn down?

Well, a lot of time there are just conflicts. For example, I turned down “End of Watch” to do “Mission Park” because of that last scene [in “Mission Park”]. I knew “End of Watch” was going to be a great film and I really wanted to work on it, but the offer from “Mission Park” was a better offer. I’m not talking money-wise, I’m talking about the character. But being able to play [that last scene] and sink my teeth into it was great. I had never had an opportunity to do that up until this point. I believe it gave me an opportunity to really see what I can do [as an actor]. I’ve also said no to projects I don’t dig.  I still have to audition for everything. I have to go out there and grind it out.

Who were you cast as in “End of Watch?”

I went out for the lead villain, the main gang member. But [the role] wasn’t meant for me. I had already done that [kind of character], you know? Every character I want to play has to be memorable. If I don’t think the character is memorable, then I don’t want to do it. I want to have a real impact on the story. Those are the characters I gravitate towards.

You worked with actress Melonie Diaz in “Hamlet 2” in 2008. What did you think about her performance in “Fruitvale Station” this year?

Oh, she was solid. She did a great job. The whole cast did a great job. The one that really stood out to me was Octavia Spencer. Man, she got me teary-eyed. There was something about seeing a mama go through what she went through. She was trying to be strong and composed in that situation. I saw my mom in those scenes. That got me. I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to be that parent. I would never want to experience that.

Mission Park

September 4, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Jeremy Ray Valdez, Walter Perez, Will Rothaar
Directed by: Bryan Ramirez (debut)
Written by: Bryan Ramirez (debut)

Independent director/writer Bryan Ramírez has potential. While that might sound like a backhanded compliment for someone determined to lead a San Antonio film renaissance, it isn’t meant to be. I have little doubt Ramírez can produce something substantial for the silver screen. Unfortunately, the crime drama “Mission Park,” his first solo feature-length project, is not that movie—but it’s close. While Ramírez has a knack for capturing a consistent tone, his script lacks the imagination needed to leave a lasting impression on the genre. It does confirm, however, his significant technical chops behind the camera

In “Mission Park,” Ramírez follows four childhood friends who have grown up and grown apart—far apart—but remain linked by a tragic event they all experienced as kids. Bobby (Jeremy Ray Valdez) and Julian (Will Rothhaar) have graduated from the FBI academy and are eager to start their service as rookie agents. Jason (Walter Pérez) and Derek (Joseph Julian Soria) stay behind to sling drugs and contribute to an increasing wave of crime in San Antonio. With Jason sitting at the top of the drug world, Bobby is assigned to go undercover and bring down his entire operation

Loyalty, friendship and ambition are a few of the themes Ramírez presents in “Mission Park,” but the film is hard-pressed to contribute anything new to a formulaic storyline where brothers/best-friends find themselves on opposite sides of the law. From “Blood in, Blood Out” to “Tequila Sunrise” to Hong Kong’s “A Better Tomorrow” (and countless more in between), the framework is a tired one, especially when the screenplay doesn’t deviate from hitting familiar plot devices (corrupt cops, love triangles, etc)

“Mission Park” starts off well enough. Four teenagers (willingly and unwillingly) participate in the robbery of a neighborhood restaurant. The incident claims the life of an employee and reveals the impetus behind the decisions these young men make as they mature into adulthood. That strong set-up quickly dissolves into cliché and predictable scenes once the audience is introduced to the boys five years after they graduate from high school

Even if audiences can believe Jason has somehow become a powerful kingpin of “the single largest drug trafficking organization in North America” or that the FBI would put a major case on the back of one inexperienced agent, the script doesn’t tie everything together with much conviction. In the movie, Ramírez explains a lot of the choices he makes as a screenwriter (for example, Julian gets involved in the sting because he is “tired of being a fucking desk monkey” and “signed up to see some action”), but details like these are fragile at best and expose plot holes as the film continues. Falling by the wayside is a much-needed scene where Julian informs his superiors about his plans or a realistic reason as to why he isn’t given a cover in the police database. Next time, Ramírez should focus on creating a more organic flow to the plot

Aside from the narrative pitfalls, the film is technically sharp (a dialogue-less airport scene with actress Fernanda Romero looks fantastic) and boasts an impressive overall production value. Ramírez also got a couple of solid performances from Pérez and Soria right up to the final, bloody third act in an abandoned warehouse (someone fetch a straight razor and cue up Stealers Wheel), which is wrapped up in a fairly generic way. Nevertheless, with a little tightening up of the loose ends, Ramírez’s stock will rise. As “Mission Park” teaches viewers, “one day doesn’t define a man.” The same goes for filmmakers and their films.