April 21, 2015


Q&A: Michael Ray Escamilla, Rising Star and 'Hot Pursuit' Baddie

If you've only seen the posters for Hot Pursuit, you're missing out on some of the inherent chemistry that this film is going to offer. With the May 8 opening, you're promised a powerhouse of female energy (which is more than enough to get my butt in the theater seat). Director, choreographer and actress Anne Fletcher (Step Up, The Proposal, 27 Dresses) teamed up with producers and award-winning leading ladies Sofia Vergara and Reese Witherspoon to create what looks like a fun ride. 

From some of the action shots, we think we're also in for an explosive show and some interesting man power too. So we got up close and personal with actor and now-gunslinger Michael Ray Escamilla to learn about his role as "Angel" and working with his costars and bosses. 

I have to ask. What are the leading ladies like in person?

They are both really generous and lovely, and I am very proud to call them both my bosses. They treated us all as equals and like we were part of an ensemble.

Is Sofia just as sexy in person?

Are you kidding?! Yeah, she is. It’s innate. She’s also intelligent, thoughtful and, to my surprise, a little shy sometimes. 

Is Reese as charming?

Oh yeah. She lights up a room. She’s also a powerhouse and a real risk taker as an actor. She wasn’t afraid of making fun of herself and was willing to try anything with her character. She was completely in her element. I would just watch her work and learn from it.

You’re playing opposite some heavy hitters and really becoming a name yourself. What would you consider your first big break? 

Ah, well, thank you for that. It’s so hard to say because I feel I am just a “working actor” and that within itself is such a gift. It took me a long time to be able to say that and I still don’t know what the next job is or when it will come. Which is always a little nerve wracking but I am used to it. If I had to choose where I first felt like I was in the company of a “heavy hitter” as you say, it would be playing the role of Angel opposite Laura Linney in The Big C (Showtime). It was just me and her on a boat the whole episode and it was kind of magical, creatively speaking. She is such a generous actor. She made me feel as if I was supposed to be there, on that boat, with her, doing this role, and doing what I have been doing since I was fifteen years old. I can’t speak highly enough of her and that experience. She was a great introduction to performing opposite an immense talent on screen.

Speaking of The Big C, this is the second time you’re playing a character named Angel. It’s obvious from the trailer this one isn’t as true to his name. Tell me about playing a different dynamic this time. Was it fun to play a bad guy?

It was a ton of fun, I am not gonna lie. I like antagonistic type roles. It’s a part of myself I like to explore.

Was there anything specifically challenging about playing the antagonist? 

Well now, I’m from Texas, but wasn’t brought up around guns. And I’ve never fired a gun on film, ever. We had a shoot-out between six characters in this tiny room and I was firing two .45 handguns at the same time. My main concern was that the casings ejected from the gun were going to hit another actor, potentially Reese Witherspoon, since she was ten feet away from me. Those casings can easily travel more than 30 feet and take out an eye. I was scared out of my mind.

Warner Bros. Pictures/New Line Cinema/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Pacific Standard
Warner Bros. Pictures/New Line Cinema/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Pacific Standard

How would you describe this movie to someone who hasn’t seen the trailer?

Sofía and Reese have such incredible chemistry in the film. They are both crazy talented and hysterical as a comedy duo. You can’t help but laugh at their dynamic and I guarantee you’ll fall in love with their characters. The entire film, through Anne Fletcher’s vision, is a crazy, fun-filled adventure.

Tell me about growing up in Texas.

I grew up in a town called Pharr, Texas, right on the border of Mexico. It’s a very unique place that has its own flow and to some degree, even its own language. Spanish and English are heard constantly, with a lot of local colloquialisms. Sometimes it was hard to navigate growing up, in terms of finding an identity...the same issue for a lot of awkward kids going through adolescence, I guess. I had a great foundation—I was surrounded by family, so my memories of growing up are filled with fondness and affection for the place, and I still keep in touch with friends I grew up with down there.

How did you get into acting? 

Texas has a huge football culture. Huge. That’s what all the cool kids were into. I wished to be a wide receiver but turns out I really didn’t like the feeling of being physically annihilated. There was an acting class I could take instead of P.E. and receive credit, so I took it, and honestly, I think it saved me—literally. I didn’t really fit in anywhere...and then I found this place I could go and be myself and make up stories and express myself, be angry, sad and just plain idiotic and not be judged. 

How did growing up in Texas inform the characters you play onscreen? 

It depends on the character really. Recently, I have had three films in a row in which the characters had something to do with Texas. So obviously being from there was invaluable in the audition room for those roles, and then portraying the characters on screen. But the key for me is to try and absorb the people and environment I’ve spent time in and try to make a character as authentic as I can while taking risks and trying to fail. I spent years living in New York doing theater and so I’m grateful for all those experiences.

Let’s talk about your roles. Correct me if I’m being an asshole… but it seems like from crossing the border, to mafia dude, you’re playing some typical Hispanic roles here. How do you feel about that? Do you feel it frees you or inhibits you at all? Provides opportunity? 

Why you gotta be such an asshole and rain on my parade? [Laughs.] Just kidding. You know, I am grateful that I’ve met and worked with some pretty diverse, intelligent, mind blowing creative forces since moving here to Los Angeles. I have also been fortunate to play a variety of roles in the span of my career that have been extremely complex. So, no, I don’t feel inhibited. All these choices have been mine. All of this is experience.

There are definitely more and more Hispanics in a variety of creative roles in the entertainment industry. A Mexican won Best Director for the second year in a row—yay!—although there’s only been a handful of Hispanic actors pushing through to receive awards. Tell me what you think about the environment for Hispanic actors. Is it changing? 

I think it’s changing in that there are more opportunities and roles for actors. But there is still a long way to go in terms of creating complex internal characters that breed a foundation not built upon a life of crime or crossing the border. I am grateful for all the actors who have struggled to make a difference in the past, which have allowed me to get to where I am today. And I guess my way of dealing with it is to write and create projects to try and present a dynamic that may be considered a “risk” for the film industry and have it work. That’s change for me. I can’t say that I have made an impact yet, but I am trying. My roots in theater kind of spoiled me. The audience didn’t care what character you played as long as there was truth within it. I miss that. There was always a possibility. I want to keep cultivating that belief.  

Are there any times you read a script and think to yourself, “No way, I’m not doing that”?  

Funny you ask...an audition recently came up for a role where the script described a scene in which my character would be texting my “love bunny,” when a psycho escaped-convict, dressed as a clown, starts suddenly slashing my best friend and begins to eat his flesh. Of course, the role required the character to speak with a thick Mexican accent, “Holy chit!” Yeah...no thanks...

Sam Emerson/Warner Bros. Pictures/New Line Cinema/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Pacific Standard
Sam Emerson/Warner Bros. Pictures/New Line Cinema/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Pacific Standard

You’ve worked with Laura Linney (so amazing), Ed Harris, Michael Pena, Eva Longoria and now Reese Witherspoon and Sofía Vergara. That’s quite the lineup. Do you have any actors on your wish list to work with next? 

Don’t forget Robert Duvall! I got to work opposite him in a passion project of his titled A Night in Old Mexico. So I got to check him off the wish list! I absolutely admire Mark Ruffalo’s talent, and I think he just seems like the coolest guy. As an actor, he is the heart of every film he’s in. It’s never about him when he acts. I can’t take my eyes off him when he’s on screen. He’s the first one that popped into my head... 

Any directors?  

Alejandro González Iñárritu. Of course you knew I would say Alejandro but I was a fan of his way before his Oscar wins this year, when I saw Amores Perros. Danny Boyle and David Cronenberg also. 

Speaking of directors and border issues, you’ve directed and written one of your own, Cruzando. Tell me about why you chose this story to tell and why or if it’s personal to you. 

I wrote the story with Mando Alvarado. We grew up together in South Texas. I think the idea came about because we missed our families. We probably wrote about a hundred drafts of that story before we really got to the heart of what the movie was about. A young guy, living in Mexico, has seven days to get to his long lost father before he is executed in Huntsville, Texas. It was about facing one’s childhood losses in order to move forward. It was my first feature, and it’s personal in a lot of ways because it draws so heavily on family and cultural influences.  

What are you working on next that you are excited about that you can share with us? 

I directed a short film called Schmoolie the Deathwatcher written by Theresa Gallagher. We are in post-production right now and will begin the festival circuit soon. And I’m in another short film called FORK, written and directed by David Huffman where I play the lead character, Dustin, a person with mental health issues, who deals with a murder he committed in order to find salvation. David is incredibly talented and has done an amazing job with the film. That should be out in the world sometime soon. And, also, I’m in the middle of laying down some final tracks on our album We Might as Well Dream with my band, andSomeone

What’s your ultimate goal? Acting/directing?  

Well, one feeds the other, but acting for me is really enjoyable right now. I love the escape.