Napkins to Prospects: Zachary Laoutides peaks indie actors to watch in 2019
Zachary Laoutides is co-founder of the first Hispanic film studio in Chicago and the Midwest with his partner Executive Producer Monica Esmeralda Leon, both having Mexican and United States citizenship. Laoutides’ life changed fast from writing down stories on McDonald’s napkins and beat-down notebooks to soon having his red carpet movie premier in Hollywood, the 2016 Amores Perros inspired art-house film Adios Vaya Con Dios. Laoutides quickly proved he wasn’t a one hit wonder and the next year followed up with the the limited theatrical release of Arise From Darkness; both films now carried through Lions Gate Films an Redbox.
In 2017 Laoutides and Leon’s latest film Black Ruby journeyed to international film festivals earning nominations in London and Rome. In 2018 Black Ruby premiered in the states at the Los Angeles Film Festival Awards where Laoutides won Best Feature, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Soundtrack and capturing the Independent Sprit Award. The Los Angeles Film Festival Awards called Laoutides, ‘the best natural independent actor of 2018 and a master at subtlety.’ Laoutides and Leon were also added to the list of the Next Generation of Hollywood’s Rising Stars in 2019.
Laoutides had a solid 2018 run as Black Ruby’s movie reviews were positive overseas with Celebrity UK and Essex TV Magazine giving the movie four stars. The Huffington Post praised Laoutides and his co-star Joseph Mennella’s performance as homages to Montgomery Clift and Marlon Brando. After a private screening the only criticism was that the stage needed an enhanced ensemble amongst Laoutides’ silent performance. Laoutides heavily out shined his co-star Joseph Mennella with the Clift and Brando attributes really only deserving to his character Louis Katz.
Black Ruby found good news at the Los Angles Film Festival Awards getting an early 2019 world release through Hollywood Executive Eric Doctorow’s distribution company Random Media in partnership with The Orchard and Sony Pictures. I had the occasion to speak with Zachary Laoutides, Monica Esmeralda Leon and director of the LAFFA Michael Levin.
Zachary, you have over thirty nominations with seven wins? — These ideas were on fast food napkins at one point, now they’re a reflection of your work.
A lot of people will only see the awards, but acting is the least thing I did. Writing, producing and pushing a studio forward are a mix of pleasure and chaos. — Most of the ideas that made it onto those napkins and my beat up journals became official selections, so it’s a testament to sticking with your art and believing in it.
In Black Ruby you play Louis Katz, how challenging was it playing that character? — You lightened your hair, skin tone and eyes to play the role.
It wasn’t necessarily hard, I just try to approach the characters with details that I find interesting. I honestly thought I’d be a better Jules Mandel. I didn’t really want to play another introverted character, but that’s the way it panned out — When I wrote the screenplay I knew how Louis was supposed to look, I tried to come close to what was in my head. Truthfully, I really wanted to play Jules — playing Louis still worked out though.
Michael, what stood out about Zachary Laoutides to win the Independent Spirit Award?
There is mainstream and there is independent but still it’s really mainstream — than there’s genuinely independent where you have untarnished artists, kind of the professional boxers with good records looking for promoters. I’m always looking for the upcoming — Zachary struck me as a younger Ryan Gosling, the tall and dark version. It’s a Sergey Lomachenko performance if you’re following my boxing analogy… Not only has he been the lead in three films since 2016, but he wrote them, he launched a movie studio from the streets, he’s the first Hispanic film studio in Chicago. That’s a ten-year plan plus, but this guy knocks it out in about four years… How is that possible? — You know talent when you see it.
Monica, you have been persistent to let people know that you don’t just make Hispanic films or Latino films, are you changing the direction of your studio?
I believe because of our name and background it was assumed everything was Latin based, but that’s not really correct — we reflect who we are in our films; I think it goes beyond a race or background. Zachary has been relatively silent in his accomplishments and never engaging in the studios racial identity. Zachary is Hispanic Sephardic, Greek, Middle Eastern; he is also Eastern European heritage. How do you categorize that? Why does anyone need to label what he or she plays? — I respect him for being quite, watching and listening. Everyone says that Zachary is good at playing silent roles — that also applies to him being a creative leader with Ave Fenix Pictures; he’s very in tune and a listener.
The final question went to Laoutides — you don’t mention racial identity, being of national, Mexican and Israeli citizenship, you don’t speak about politics, you stay relatively under the radar for collecting so many nominations — Why?
Well, my inspiration is spiritually driven not racially or politically. I’m glad I can play different characters; that’s the attraction for me. I’m proud of my Sephardic heritage, as for the La Raza movement I wanted to give the moment to Monica, to the Latino community. It would be disingenuous of me to take that moment away and direct it toward myself - this way their story — it was their time to shine.