Coping with the struggles of trying to uncover your true sense of identity, and contending to find the best way to stay truthful to your genuine personality, is often a difficult process for many people. But the ability to stay committed to your real self becomes increasingly daunting as you reach the later stages in your life. That chronicle of staying true to your beliefs, no matter what stage of life you’re in, is powerfully showcased in the two main character’s diverse, but equally difficult, lives in director Dito Montiel‘s independent drama, ‘Boulevard.’ The film emotionally emphasizes actors Roberto Aguire and Robin William’s characters finally wanting to embrace their true personality, after forming and maintaining relationships that didn’t always completely fulfill their needs.
‘Boulevard’ follows the introverted and reserved Nolan Mack (Williams), who is seemingly content in staying at the same redundant office job at a small Nashville bank, and with the same woman, Joy (Kathy Baker), who he’s been married to his entire adult life. The two are affectionate towards each other in a friendly way, but aren’t overly passionate or intimate with each other; they even sleep in separate bedrooms. So when Nolan is offered the chance to apply for a management position at the bank, he begins reevaluating his life, and realizes that he’s always done what he’s supposed to, instead of what he truly wants.
As he begins looking for more emotional fulfillment in his life, Nolan decides to start making changes one night after visiting his ill father in the hospital. He makes an impromptu decision to talk to Leo (Aguire), an underprivileged young men who’s struggling to survive on the street. While Leo immediately realizes that Nolan is different from many of his other clients, he’s still surprised when the older man only wants to form an emotional relationship with him, and help him out financially.
While Leo is hesitant to give up his lifestyle to form a closer connection with Nolan, who is finally embracing his true sexuality that he’s been suppressing since his adolescence, the banker becomes devoted to financially helping his new companion anyway he can. Even though Nolan is trying to keep his new feelings and relationship hidden from everyone in his life, including his best friend, Winston (Bob Odenkirk), he’s unable to keep the change in his personality and feelings concealed from Joy. While she’s seemingly aware that her husband is gay, as she repeatedly catches him in lies about who’s been spending time with, she never confronts him. But she’s still not ready to end their marriage and finally give them both the chance to pursue real happiness on their own, as she, like Leo, aren’t fully prepared to accept Nolan’s determined stance to finally embrace who he has always been.
Aguire generously took the time recently to talk about starring in ‘Boulevard,’ which is set to be released on Blu-ray and DVD on September 1, during an exclusive phone interview. Among other things, the actor discussed how he was drawn to play Leo in the drama, as the emotionally fragile character was a challenge for him as an actor; how he enjoyed working with the late Williams, who he felt was a genius in every regard as an actor, as he encouraged his performance as an up-and-coming performer on the set; and how his first passion is acting, but discovered there’s also something rewarding in being able to support a script as a producer, after he helped produce the 2012 comedy-drama, ‘Struck by Lightning.’
ShockYa (SY): You star as Leo in the drama, ‘Boulevard.’ What was it about the character, as well as the film’s script, that convinced you to take on the role?
Roberto Aguire (RA): What I personally loved about Leo was how much of a challenge he seemed for me as an actor. He’s a very broken and stuck character. He’s this person who has fallen into this rut in his life. Due to his circumstances, he can’t get out. So for me to take on a role that was so emotionally fragile was something that scared me. That motivation was huge in my decision to take on the role.
Also, the script that Douglas Soesbe wrote was absolutely beautiful. It features this great story of this man who’s trying to find the real him after so many years of being stuck in monotony. So him finding the catalyst in this hustler on the street, who himself is in this really hard place in his life, showed this beautiful connection. That really sold me on the film.
SY: With most of the film’s character development focusing on Robin Williams’ Nolan, who’s the main character, the little information that’s discovered about Leo is revealed through his developing relationship with the protagonist. So what was the process of developing Leo’s backstory and personality while you were preparing for the role?
RA: Well, when I first spoke to Doug and Dito, one of the things that we talked about is the fact that Leo comes into Nolan’s life so quickly, and he disappears just as quickly. He’s this beautiful catalyst that comes in and gives momentum to this man’s life, before he’s back into his own life. But you never really know where Leo came from, where he’s going and what his story is.
For me personally as an actor, I was in charge of filling in all of those blanks. So there was a lot of backstory I got to fill in. I spoke to a lot of people who were in similar situations that Leo was in. That helped me understand that world. You come to understand how a person can end up on the street, and get stuck in having to do that in order to survive. You also see all of the moments and factors that lead you to that type of life.
I really believe that Leo’s an intelligent human being, and he’s very observant of the world. He’s constantly looking and watching things, and he takes everything in and understands what’s going on. But he was dealt a bad hand that he didn’t know how to play, and that’s why he’s stuck in this lifestyle. So getting to understand him and where he was coming from, and why he wasn’t able to move out of it, was where I started from when I became building his backstory. From there, I just started inhabiting him, and everything that he was.
Dito and I had this great plan that I was going to lose weight for the role. (laughs) I ended up losing 35 pounds for the role, so that, in and of itself, was a compelling physical transformation. It put me in Leo’s shoes pretty quickly.
SY: What were your working relationships like with both Dito and Robin before, and during, shooting? What was the process of working with them to develop the characters’ relationships and backstories, as well as the story, overall?
RA: Overall, it was a phenomenal experience. Dito has this uncanny eye for truth, which is such a cool trait in a director. He’ll let you be in the scene and inhabit the situation and circumstances of whatever’s happening. But the minute he feels like it’s becoming a filmesque portrayal, and not the reality, of the situation, he’ll call you out on it. He’ll collaborate with you to make it seem as real as possible.
I feel like that’s a highlighting factor of all of his films-he never hides the truth from his audiences. He’s always going to show you the gritty, true nature of whatever story he’s putting on the screen, and I think that takes a lot of courage as a director. A lot of directors want to hide the truth, and add layers of fluff around things, and Dito’s not like that. He’s much more interested in showing what it’s like to be sitting on the street, and what would happen when these two characters meet. I think that’s an amazing trait in a director.
I can’t speak enough about Robin. He was, and is, a genius in every regard as an actor and a human being. He was so generous to me as a young actor. We had 12-hour days, and he was there until the end, giving me more than he’d give in his coverage. He gave me tips on acting, as well as the world we were living in and the script we were trying to showcase. Everything you could imagine Robin Williams being, he was and more. That experience was more enriching than anything else I’ve had in my life.
SY: What was the experience of filming ‘Boulevard’ independently in Nashville-did it help build the characters and the story?
RA: I don’t think that experience really changed the way I approached playing my character, per say. I do think it influenced the way we filmed, because we had a short amount of time. I think we finished filming in 23 days, and the prep was very quick. I think time is the biggest thing that’s against you in this type of filmmaking.
But at the same time, I think there are so many beautiful elements to shooting an independent movie. I think everybody become much more of a family, because they’re there for their love of the project. They also want to showcase their own art through telling this story. I think there’s a lot of commitment in making independent movies for everybody involved. It’s really nice to see everyone become this close, tight-knit family. You’re in a location for six to eight weeks, so you really get to bond with the people you’re working with, and that’s a beautiful experience.
SY: You studied acting at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. How did your education and experience at NYU influence the way you approach your roles?
RA: My education was a huge influence. I trained at the Lee Strasberg Institute at Tisch, which is a huge foundation for young actors. They teach you their methods, and give you the sense that acting is much more tangible than most people think. I think there’s a mysticism of what acting is, in the fact that it’s this ungraspable, spur-of-the-moment thing that nobody can understand.
But I think there’s so much more to acting. There is so much technique involved, especially with acting for film versus acting for theater. There’s so much study of characters and scripts that you can learn by taking a class and studying. But there’s also the element of letting yourself go in the character, and being present in the moment. There’s truth behind living in the moment of imaginary circumstances, which you also have to experience and feel. But I do think there’s also a whole other aspect of acting that you can learn in classes, which does manifest in me every time I prepare a character.
SY: Speaking of studying theater while you attended NYU, are you interested in pursuing theater, as well as television, roles, in addition to film characters in the future?
RA: Yes, I love acting in both theater and films. We mostly did theater at NYU, and it wasn’t until I moved to L.A. that I also started working in films. I do think you are mainly thrown into one medium as an actor, and then hopefully you grow from there.
Luckily, I have also appeared on ‘NCIS: New Orleans,’ and had a recurring role on that show in the beginning of the year. That was my first encounter with television. It’s a whole different feeling and art form, but it’s so much fun.
Theater is totally different, as well, but you’re so alive. You’re breathing the same air that between 500 and 1,000 other people are breathing with you. It’s a very different kind of experience, but all three mediums are visceral experiences that are manifested in different ways. I’d love to go back to New York and do theater-that would be great.
SY: ‘Boulevard’ had its world premiere at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival. What did it mean to you that the film premiered at Tribeca, especially since you attended NYU? What was the experience like of bringing the drama to Tribeca, and on the festival circuit overall?
RA: It was a beautiful experience-the Tribeca Film Festival is fantastic. ‘Boulevard’ is the second movie I premiered there, and it’s so great to have New York as your backdrop for any film festival. You can walk down the street to the theater, and then you can go right next door for a bite to eat. New York is such a vibrant place, which transcends into the festival. The people who organize and run the festival are so catering to the films that they bring in. It’s such a wonderful experience that I’d love to go back with any other film that I’m in.
SY: Your sister, Monica Aguirre Diez Barroso, has produced several projects you have starred in, including ‘Boulevard’ and the first feature you appeared in, ‘Struck by Lightning.’ What is the process like working with her on your films, especially this movie, which is based on the relationships between family and friends?
RA: Oh, it was so great. The fact that my sister is so passionate about films is such a rarity and treasure that I have in my work. Having someone who you trust unconditionally in your work is almost impossible to find in any industry. Since she’s family, she was there on the days that I was having horrible moments on the set. She was such a pillar of support during the entire process. I think it’s so important to have a connection with your family as you’re going through your life and career. So for me to have her so close was really special.
SY: You also served as one of the producers on ‘Struck by Lightning.’ Is producing something you’re interested in also pursuing in the future?
RA: Yes, I’d love to continue to produce movies. My number one passion is acting, but I also think there’s something so special in being able to support a script and an idea, and take it all the way through to fruition. I think that process is so rewarding.
I think there are a lot of stories that aren’t getting told, and films that aren’t getting made, because there isn’t enough money to go around. There also isn’t enough exposure for projects that are hidden. But there are so many stories that are so impactful and pertinent to the experiences people are having nowadays. These stories would help people, and be a catalyst, in the same way that Leo’s a catalyst in this movie. These films that could potentially change people’s lives are never getting made. So I love being able to find and nurture a story, and then bring it to a screen, as a producer, and I would love to keep doing that.
SY: Now that you have acting and producing experience, are you also interested in trying directing?
RA: Yes, I think at some point, I would love to try my hand at it. Actually, the first course I took for film and television was on directing with the New York Film Academy, and I think it’s so much fun. As the director, you’re really the captain of the ship, and you’re deciding where the project’s going to go. So I think once I have more experience under my belt, and have a better understanding of how to move forward as a director, I think I may jump into it.
SY: Besides ‘Boulevard,’ do you have any upcoming projects, whether acting or producing, lined up that you can discuss?
RA: Yes, I have a project that I’m (going back to) L.A. to shoot. It’s called ‘The Force,’ and it’s this fun love affair between these two newlyweds. The couple finds the honeymoon stage of their marriage to be much tougher than they expected. It’s this really realistic view on what really happens in that moment right before you give someone that ring, as well as when you’re actually giving it to them. It’s a really cool story that’s being directed by Rafael Palacio Illingworth, and it also stars Olivia Thirlby, Ben Feldman and Adam Goldberg. It’s a really fun project.
Written by: Karen Benardello