“My first assignment for finals in drama class was Shakespeare and the teacher said I couldn’t do it because a Latino wouldn’t do it well. I remember practicing with a little tape recorder, and he ended up giving me an A. He said that I was good, but that I should go to Mexico to do soaps because as an actor I wouldn’t make it in the U.S.,” recalls Hector Luis Bustamante talking to Blast recently.
That teacher is probably biting his tongue now because Bustamante, like many other Latino actors, is making it in the U.S. His latest gig casts him as Pedro Vera in Lifetime Network’s Little Girl Lost: The Delimar Vera Story. He is also Luis Aramboles, opposite Michael Chiklis and Walton Goggins on FX’s hit series The Shield and, oh yeah, his 30-plus episodes as a heartthrob on NBC’s soap Passions.
“The teacher said to me that I had an accent, and I tried to get rid of it, but later I realized my accent is me and its not gonna change. He had his favorites in class and I speculate I wasn’t one,” Bustamante chuckled.
A native of Medellin, Colombia, Bustamante moved to America when he was 12. His family settled in New Jersey, and he became an East Coast boy. As he got used to life in the North, the actor also became interested in the television show I Love Lucy where, as he explained, it was the first time he saw a Hispanic man in an American show. “Something in me said ‘wow that’s what I want to do.'”
Like so many other boys, he first joined drama class in high school as an attempt to meet a pretty girl. As he got to rehearse and learn more about acting, Bustamante took things seriously, which included the teacher’s comments. Although he never said it out loud, the criticism made Bustamante think he would never be a good actor. When senior year came and went, he chose to study graphic design at Parsons School of Design in New York.
“I was rushed and I decided to do graphic design until I was ready to do an audition thinking to myself ‘oh my god what am I doing?’ and I told people,” he said. “They said ‘you’re crazy’ and I became a corporate investigator and did that for 10 years instead.”
Sudden twist? Yes and no. By the late 90s, Bustamante was doubtful he could be a good actor, but at the same time he yearned to act. Under everybody’s radar he lobbied for a move to the West Coast, while going home at night and watching T.V. thinking “man, one day,” he said.
“I ended up getting the job in San Francisco and it wasn’t until a couple of months later that I stumbled into an advertising for an audition. It was for a Latino actor and I said “wow they want an accent,” so I knew I could’ve done this since long ago,” said Bustamante.
With the flier, the then private investigator went home and researched what he had to do to get to Los Angeles and not fail in the business. Without caring about comments he set goals for himself. He enrolled in acting classes at Shelton’s Actors’ Studio and within a year, he started hitting up auditions.
While in the bay area, Bustamante got his first major television role, appearing on CBS’s The Agency, playing the head of the Colombian police. His television credits include roles on NYPD Blue, Monk, Without A Trace, 24 and Heroes.
“In the spring of 2003 I got a TV show and it was the same year I flew to NY to resign [as an investigator]. My boss was crazy over it and he even said ‘sleep it off and come back tomorrow’. I slept it off and the next day I came in and had my resignation signed off,” he said.
His resignation came with an explanation to his direct supervisor too, who after hearing that Bustamante acted on his days off said, “Really? You’re on TV?”
“My boss was like me, interested in the industry,” he said. “When I was working I got a call from him saying he’d drive me to an audition, so along the way certain people have stood out to make things happen.”
But everything is not acting nowadays for the Colombian. Bustamante, who is very close to his family, moved his mom to Los Angeles when he relocated there. He is also a proud dad. His daughter’s only petition is that he plays a “good guy one time and a bad guy the next.” Aside from this, he has also made time to get involved with PADRES Contra El Cancer (Parents Against Cancer), Eva Longoria’s non-profit organization committed to improving the quality of life for Latino children with cancer. After attending last year’s fund raising gala and watching video greetings from children who are helped through the foundation Bustamante wanted to help more. He currently serves as an ambassador to the group, seeking donations and speaking about the children’s needs.
“Even though I feel like I made it, it has to be like I haven’t made it yet. My goal is to be a part of a big blockbuster or a cast that gives me a daily job and make me say, ‘yeah I made it.’ Many actors complain that there’s no jobs and I’ve just been blessed to have a job since I moved here so you have to make a decision and sacrifice it all to make it happen,” Bustamante confessed.
The new season of The Shield, premiering September 2, is rumored to be the best thus far. Bustamante only gushed that the show is “opening with a bang and finishing with a bang.” As far as Lifetime goes, the film, based on a true story, follows a mother whose daughter is believed to have died in a fire and is spotted six years later at a birthday party. Bustamante was “very interested in the story,” and from previews, it seems it will be an interesting tale.
The actor’s Passions episodes will begin airing in October. Of all the projects he has going on he admits that the daytime drama was a big challenge.
“Every actor has to do three scripts a day and you only have one take so it’s a lot of work! It made me a better actor and hats off to everyone who works on soaps everyday,” Bustamante said, saying that any job is a good job too. “As actors we have to be balanced and understanding and sometimes its just waiting, like going to the amusement park. Why stop in a line that takes two hours? Because there’s an amazing ride at the end and that’s exactly acting. You wait to get to the front of the line to get the ride of your life.”
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