“Surround Yourself With Good People Unwaveringly”, 5 Acting Tips with Juan Riedinger from Narcos
“As an actor, you don’t always have the choice, but as a director….you can usually choose your team. And every person needs to be an absolute rockstar with a positive attitude, doing it with the motivation to create the best work possible. I directed a film where an entire department bailed out on the production two days before going to camera — but then someone else stepped in to save the day just because they believed in me and the project. Find those people early on and stick with them.”
I had the pleasure to interview Juan Riedinger. Juan can currently be seen on the popular TNT series “Good Behavior.” You can also see him guest-starring on next Tuesday on a new episode of “Leathal Weapon” on Fox. Best known for his work on Netflix’s “Narcos,” other upcoming projects include film festival favorites, Once There Was a Winter, Drawing Home and It Stains the Sands Red.
What is your “backstory”?
My mom is Peruvian, my Dad is German, and I was born in a tiny Canadian town called Banff. I’ve been a dishwasher, a dog walker, a waiter, a door-to-door salesman, and a pizza cook. After taking a couple of theater classes in university, I decided to move to Vancouver alone in 2004 to check out the film/TV scene there. To make ends meet, I was digging holes and picking up garbage at a construction site for $8 an hour. Then I found an acting agent and the real grind began. I’ve put in my 10000 hours since then and I now split my time between LA and Vancouver working full time as an actor as well as a director/editor on some pretty cool stuff.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your acting career?
One of my most incredible memories came from a show I was acting in called When We Rise. I was scheduled to be on set one day at 5:30pm. Earlier that day, my wife (who was 8 months pregnant) was feeling a bit off, so I took her to the hospital for a checkup. We get there around 3pm and find out that she was having some complications and would need to give birth that same day via C-section. I started to panic, as it was extremely important for me to be there for my baby’s birth. But it was also way too late to bail on When We Rise, which was a major production with a lot of people relying on me to show up. We were then told we had to wait for a room to become available, which felt like an eternity. Eventually, it’s our turn. It must have been around 4:30pm by then. Next thing I know, my wife is on the operating table, I’m all suited up in the hospital clothes, and the doctors and nurses are doing their thing. Not gonna lie, I may have looked at the clock once or twice. Somehow the gods were on my side that day. I got to be present in the room with my wife as she gave birth to our healthy twin boys. Getting to hold them with her in those first moments of their lives is something I’ll never forget. I did arrive to work a few minutes late, but I had a good excuse. The craziest part of it all…the scene we were shooting on the show that day was of my character’s partner giving birth. I went directly from living the experience in real life to acting it out. That was the most surreal day of my entire life.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
I worked on a really great TNT show called Good Behavior” this year, which is currently airing on Sunday nights. I also just did a fun guest star role on the Christmas episode of “Lethal Weapon,” which airs December 12th. Aside from acting, I’m actually about to direct and edit another short film after a six year hiatus from filmmaking. I told myself I wouldn’t direct any more shorts, as I’ve been holding out to find the perfect feature length script to direct. But time passes, and you get the itch. It’s a powerful story about a convict who is also a very talented artist and whose only remaining family is his estranged father. It’s some pretty heavy material, but a really compelling story surrounding the themes of family, art, and mortality. It’s a passion project we’re shooting up in Vancouver with a very talented cast and crew.
Who are some of the most famous people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
I’ve been lucky to work closely with some pretty big names in the industry, including Michelle Dockery, Dustin Lance Black, Guillermo Navarro, Rutger Hauer, Kate Mulgrew, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Connelly, Megan Fox…. But it’s usually been very much on a professional level. Show up to set, do the work, and see you next time kind of thing. I did have a good time in Colombia with Luis Guzman while shooting Narcos. We both take eating pretty seriously and the two of us shared a number of good meals throughout Bogota. We wanted to try out a restaurant called ‘La Puerta Falsa’ that Anthony Bourdain once featured on his show, and we eventually found it. Best tamales either of us ever had in our lives. Luis…if you’re reading this…”que pasa papa?”
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
There’s something inspiring about all the people that nobody has heard of. The vast majority. The everyman. Our ancestors who paved the way for us by humbly living their lives in obscurity, leaving a small mark before they left us. Those people inspire me the most because there was no expectation of being remembered for their contribution to human history. They just lived.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
The truth is, I feel like the same person with or without success, and I’ve consistently tried to live my life with a high level of integrity and generosity. I don’t have a big philanthropic story, but I do try to spread kindness through small gestures whenever I can. Buying a homeless person a sandwich, donating money to small independent passion projects, sending a donation for hurricane relief, or volunteering at a dog shelter. In my life and career, I’ve had a lot of people take chances on me, which has helped me get to where I am today. I don’t take that lightly. As I grow as an artist and human, I try to not only give back to those who have helped me, but to also help others who just need a little break.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Be a part of absolutely everything you can get your hands on.
This is actually advice I did get from my first acting teacher. She told me the best way to get experience as an actor was to dive in head first and to just go out and work on anything I could. This included student films, commercials, community theater, independent films — anything I could get my hands on. I took this to the extreme, which might explain why I have 100 credits on IMDB. Some of the early projects were not that great to be honest, but I saw it as free film school, and you inevitably build relationships with people that will one day be doing bigger things. I would offer the same advice to anyone else starting out. Just get out there and do it, no matter how tiny the role or project.
Surround yourself with good people unwaveringly.
As an actor, you don’t always have the choice, but as a director….you can usually choose your team. And every person needs to be an absolute rockstar with a positive attitude, doing it with the motivation to create the best work possible. I directed a film where an entire department bailed out on the production two days before going to camera — but then someone else stepped in to save the day just because they believed in me and the project. Find those people early on and stick with them.
Find your own process rather than adopting someone else’s.
I’ve learned some great things from some wonderful acting teachers throughout my career. But nobody knows it all — because every actor comes from a different place with a different set of life experiences. I’ve learned to take shreds of knowledge from many different sources, and my own creative process has evolved from that.
Take care of your health.
When I first started acting, I was in the habit of eating ice cream at midnight and substituting meals with chocolate bars. I paid no attention to what I was putting in my body. That might work for some people in their twenties, but it will definitely catch up with you in your thirties. I’m much more conscious of diet and exercise than I once was, and that has paid off both physically and mentally. As an actor, your mind and body are literally the tools of your trade. You need to take care of them. I wish I’d learned this sooner. I’m still lacking in the sleep department, but as the father of twins, I don’t have too much a choice there.
Don’t take it personally.
If I’d known when I started how little the rejection I’d be facing actually had to do with me or anything in my control, the early years would’ve been a lot less excruciating. I was actually a reader for actor auditions for quite some time, and getting to experience the other side of the casting process taught me that regardless of an actor’s talent, the decisions usually come down to such things as having the right hair color, or being the right height, or simply matching you up with another actor that’s already been cast. During the last day of shooting one of the biggest roles of my career, a producer admitted to me that I was cast straight from my headshot because I had the “right look”. They didn’t even really watch my audition. Sometimes it’s simply about being in the right place at the right time.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
Wow…that’s a trip. Hmm….PT Anderson. If you’re reading this. I’m your man. I will spill my soul into anything you make. I just need that shot. Lunch works too though. On me!
Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on December 10, 2017.