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"When I got the role of Ann, I felt the luckiest guy in the world"

Carlos Antonio León went from modeling ("I wasn't happy doing it") to acting in Venezuelan soap operas ("I hated it") until he found his true calling: Film.

Since then, he performed in tens of productions, from short indie films to higher budget feature films. So why is he still nervous before every audition ("I'm always nervous, the trick is not to show it"), what does he think about directors who hire non-actors just because they want "raw and true" ("that's disrespectful"), how did he find himself the lead dancer in a TV hit, although he's not a dancer ("I pretended to be!") and how did he get to play TWO female roles in one film ("such complexity characters are so scarce and rare to find").

Read this fun and honest interview with our Best Performance of Fest winner.

Carlos, you were born in a remote village in the Venezuelan Andes, called "El Alto" (The Tall). When did you decide to become an actor? Tell us about your path and how you got your first gigs in Caracas.

I can't recall the exact time I decided to become an actor. I think actors are always "acting" even before they know it. I participated in school plays and acts, it was like a calling for me. Effortless and fulfilling. I knew that's what I wanted to do in my life. Come to think about it, I always knew I would be an actor.

How did you get into producing your won fashion shows?

I guess while looking for ways to enter the biz I became a model first. But I wasn't happy doing it. It wasn't what I wanted to do. In all honesty, I thought it was such a lame way to exercise my talents. Therefore I switched from modeling to something more "creative" such as producing. That's how I started creating fashion shows, directing the choreographies, and taking care of the creative aspects of the event. That truly was satisfying my cravings for creativity. Yet, I needed to perform. Thus, such tasks were short lived. I went to acting school immediately and kissed Good-bye the fashion world.

What was the best part about hosting a fashion segment for the State TV Station?

It was such a cool thing to do. TV is a whole another world. After one of my produced fashion shows, a TV producer asked me if I would like to host a weekly segment about the industry. That really gave me the pump I needed to continue searching for ways to educate myself about the showbiz. I learned a lot doing this show. That's the best part of it.

You were cast to play in high-rated soap operas in all of the major Venezuelan TV networks. What were some of the highlights of these productions?

Honestly: I hated it. Can't stand Soaps. It was such a constricted way of acting, stiff and over the top. They control every bit of the dialogue, no room for creativity from the actor's part, the stories were surreal and hilarious in a bad way. I felt like I was confined to a cage! (laughs). I always knew FILM was my true calling.

Besides acting, you hold a bachelors degree in Psychology from Webster University and a Master degree in Social Work from George Washington University in St. Louis (rated no.1 school of social work in the country!). When did you have time to complete these studies, and why did you pursue these academic degrees?

Actors are psychologists in a way. We prepare our characters by studying human behaviors and what makes us all act and do the things we do. We observe, absorb like a sponge, process and try to deliver what's been studied in the most organic way possible (at least that's my case). Psychology was always a career I considered having besides my acting degree. It is so fitting for us actors. It helps us construct characters from the mind's perspective. I organized my life in order to make room for my studies but during such time I did stop acting for a while. I worked for a company that helps people with substance abuse and that was very rewarding for me. I put my academic degrees to work. I also worked for the Alzheimer's association and volunteered for many other agencies aimed to help the mentally ill and abused. As citizens we must participate in the human experience and DO SOMETHING. Get involved, act up, help others... leave a mark in this world. It's our duty.

Carlos Antonio León in "Twilight Hunters" (full movie)

At some point, you also became the leading dancer for the TV hit "La Tropa de Vacaciones" (RCTV-first season). Where did you learn how to dance?

Oh boy! you just reminded me of a GREAT time in my life! I am a "poser" but a good one. I am NOT a dancer but pretended to be one (laughs). When a friend of mine told me they were looking to ensemble a dancing troupe for a new TV show I said "put me up for!"...he asked "you dance?" and of course desperate and broke me said "hell yeah!"...I felt like Jim Carrey in that basketball-play scene from The Cableguy (laughs)...however, I impressed even myself! I was able to do so!! and I must have fooled everyone because I lasted the entire season!! Obviously, I went to dance lessons while I was holding the dancer position... no one noticed I wasn't a real dancer. Things we do to survive and pay the bills!

How do you prepare for auditions? Do you get nervous, or after hosting a TV show for five seasons, you feel comfortable walking into any room?

I'm always nervous. ALWAYS. And I don't know any actor who does not get nervous even after years in the industry. Yet, the trick is NOT to show it. Act with confidence, speak slowly, calmed, take your time, do couple of (non-yelling) vocal and breathing exercises, simply put: take it easy. You know your lines. Don't over think the situation. And try to offer something that the casting directors may have not been offered yet. If the script says "{Character} is angry" go the opposite direction. Be 'angry' but a different angry. Remember every other actor who came to audition was the same 'angry.' Be smart and give them a smiley angry, a sad angry, a calmed angry, an ironic angry...just don't repeat what 90% of actors do. They give call backs to those who "act out of the box"

Carlos Antonio León in "Suddenly a Film" (full movie)

In 2010 you started working on many independent films (domestically and internationally). Why did you decide to take on these projects? What do you like about indie films?

Indie films are the most creative of all. They allow you to truly experience the process from the most non-pretentious way. We all feel like a family. Egos are down, sharing is up. Brainstorming goes full speed when you are involved in an independent film. And we all participate of the human experience. We all put our two cents and such input is welcomed by all.

How do you pick what movies/stories you want to be part of?

Well, I read a script and right there I know if the character "speaks" to me in the right way or not. I like challenges and when the character does not offers me that then I look for ways to work with the writers to see if I can "twist" it a little. I like all stories, seriously. But that does not mean I want to play them all. I want to play what fulfills me and challenges me. With "ANN" that was the case. Such a beautiful yet sorrowful story with extremely complex characters. A true test for any actor. When Carla Forte (director) offered me the role I felt the luckiest guy because characters with such complexity are scarce and rare to find. "ANN" came to me, she wanted me, and I ended up loving her and her evil twin, "Ana Angel."

Ann - Official Trailer

How did you get to know Carla Forte? Is this your first collaboration? What did you enjoy about working together?

We met at the Venezuelan Film Festival in South America few years ago and always talked of a possible collaboration. She had a film at the Miami Film Festival and I went to support and right there she told me about "ANN" but didn't disclose the fact that she wanted me to play a transgender. I thought she wanted me to play "Ruben" (Ann's lover who is played by the amazing Jose Manuel Dominguez) but then I came to realize she wanted me to play TWO female roles. I was in shock at first but after giving it few thoughts I realized this was the opportunity I so craved for. I'm blessed and thankful to have been chosen to play them.

Carlos Antonio León in "Ann"

Were there any disputes? How did you resolve them?

In every creative process you will find disputes. It's the nature of brainstorming. We all sat for months and months looking for the best way to represent these characters and in doing so ideas were occasionally opposite and that's fine. It means you are getting somewhere. The story was there, the question was 'how to play it?' We synchronized our thoughts because we all were on the same page 90% of the time. The other 10% was simply 'how to' and we answered it quickly and effectively.

You portrayed the multi-layered role of Ann / Ana Angel wonderfully. How did you prepare for the role, and what was the most challenging part of it?

Carla and Alexey (producer-choreographer) had us rehearsing for 5 months before shooting. I had plenty of time to watch great films such as "The Crying Game" and "Dallas Buyers' club" just to name a few. Carla also had us meet a transgender person who came to speak to us about details we needed to consider when playing a transgender. I read couple of Psy Journals about Transgenderism, split personality, multiple personality, and so forth and the DSM-5 for symptoms and criteria for any of these conditions. Then I decided that "ANN" was to be played as a woman, not a transgender woman but an actual woman. That way I "programmed" my brain to think of her as if she was born female only for the purpose of keeping my acting from looking like a stereotype, a cliché, or simply not believable. I didn't want the audience to think of her as a drag queen or a guy on women's clothes...I wanted people to watch her and forget she is actually a man. Now, for "Ana Angel" (the evil entity created by Ruben's mind) I went totally psycho. "Ana Angel" is the extreme opposite of "Ann." She is not real, non existing and basically a representation of Ruben's mental decay. Thus she must look weird, androgynous, perverted and sadistic. I had the most fun playing "Ana Angel" I must confess. She was off the hook!

Did any of the actions/dialogue of the character continue with you to your personal life?

All of our characters have so much of us in them that sometimes we think "is that from a movie I did?" but in all honesty, no, I didn't bring those two "women" into my personal life. I watch it sometimes and even I forget I'm in it..."ANN" story is so captivating and the way Carla shot it (so beautiful, artistic and melancholic) that I tend not to see me in it.

You once stated that acting is acting and it truly doesn't matter what language you're using to convey it - and that feelings are universal. Can you elaborate on that thought?

I heard someone once said: "being scared in English is different than being scared in other languages"---I thought "Whaaaat??" Emotions have no language. If someone plays a prank on you, whether you are Chinese, French or Venezuelan, the FEELING of being pranked is the jump, scream, gasp, whatever the individual's reaction to the same stimulus is the same: FEAR. Feelings are universal.

What do you wish people knew about your job as an actor?

That being an actor is not an "easy" career... It's not about autographs, red carpets, and "sex, drugs and rock and roll"... It's not a superficial, banal, shallow-minded profession. It's a VOCATION. It's a life style. It's a compromise for life. It requires discipline and commitment. I hate when people think acting is just "a thing" anyone can do... Or when directors decide to hire people who have never acted before just because they want "raw and true" performances... that's disrespectful. I bet they would protest if studios and producers decide to hire directors who have never directed anything and have no clue about the hardships of directing a film. If you want "raw and true" you don't need non-actors; it's actually quite the opposite: you need REAL ACTORS.

Aside from winning Best Performance of Fest at The Actors Awards LA, you also won Best Protagonist Award at the Social Machinery Film Festival in Italy (2017) and at Santo Domingo OutFest (2017). Congratulations! How do you feel about your success so far?

I feel blessed. I don't act thinking "I need to win something" winning comes in the form of getting the job done. There are millions of actors and if an opportunity comes your way you must be grateful that YOU are the chosen one for the job. Remember, producers could have gone a different way and pick someone else. They picked you. Be humbled. Be grateful. The awards that come along are the ice on the cake.

Tell us about your next projects, what is lined up?

I have this film titled "Blindado" (Armored) to hit the Venezuelan theatres this coming summer. A project with director Mark Christensen called "Smoothies" that was shot in the Californian desert and just finished a comedy called "The Third Wish" in Venezuela that should come out next year...There is also a film titled "The 86" that's close to getting distribution and another one titled "A paper tiger burns" that should be getting closer to hit the festival circuit.

Carlos Antonio León - Demo Reel

Is there anything you wish to add?

I want to thank you Actors Awards once again for this opportunity and the recognition. Like I said, I don't act looking for this kind of gratifications, but when they come naturally and unexpectedly as in this case, it feels so good! I feel appreciated and for that I will always be thankful to you.

Many blessings.


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