In conjunction with our 2007 Fall TV Guide, BuddyTV will be publishing exclusive interviews with the stars of some of the hottest new shows this fall throughout the week. Check back all this week for interviews with the actors and actresses of the new shows.
Oscar Torre stars as Santo on the new CBS drama series Cane
which focuses on the Duque family, the Cuban-American owners of a sugar and rum business. Oscar took some time in between filming to sit down and chat with BuddyTV to talk about his character, shooting behind the scenes, and what it’s like working so closely with Jimmy Smits
. Read the full interview transcript and listen to the mp3 audio below.
This is Royce from Buddy TV, and I’m here with Oscar Torre, who plays the role of Santo on the upcoming CBS TV series Cane. How’s it going, Oscar?
It’s going great, lots of work.
Yeah, I bet. Well, I definitely appreciate you taking some time out to talk to us at Buddy TV.
Thank you, I’m a fan of your website.
That’s great. So Oscar, maybe you can just start off by telling us a little bit about your background, and how you got started in the world of acting?
I got started by acquaintances, actually. I was in my last year in college, I needed an elective class to take. I was very shy, and the only class available was an acting class, and I had no choice but to sign up for it. So I can get my associates actually, and I was in that class, and I was failing the class ’cause I was very shy. The teacher asked me to do an exercise, and I had to go up for the exercise.
I did something that was very personal to me, I figured that this was something I could be close to, although I had no idea what acting was all about at that point. It was very close to me, and I went up, I did the exercise. She called me aside and told me that I should take it a little bit more serious, so that’s how I got hooked.
That moment when I connected, I actually when I did the scene of something that really happened to me, which was my grandmother dying, or her dying in front of me, and I did that scene in class. I had all these ideas, these preconceived ideas of what I wanted to do. Just pass the class, pretty much, that was my goal. I connected emotionally to it, and from then on I was hooked, it was like magic.
Wow, that’s amazing. Well you know, in your career you’ve amassed a very impressive list of roles, which includes theater, independent films…
And now with Cane, it’s such a great role. I feel very blessed to be playing Santo, and Santo is an accomplished character, very interesting as an actor. Thank God they’ve given me, they’ve given me freedom to bring some stuff that I know from life. I grew up in Miami, I was born and raised in Miami, so I’ve known people like Santo.
Santo’s a guy who came from Cuba, he just got here, so everything’s new to him. If you imagine coming from a place where you had nothing, like Cuba, to the U.S. where you have everything. Where everywhere is like Disney World, you know. He’s looking around, and he’s amazed by everything, but at the same time you can’t get too away from who you are and where you came from.
Santo is a guy… I have a line in the show in the first episode, I say “I do what I gotta do.” And I’ve been imprisoned in Cuba for doing what I gotta do. I do what I gotta do to support my family, and that’s pretty much what motivates me. I don’t want to go about it, Santo doesn’t go about it the right way all the time, but his motives are very true. I think that’s the beauty of the character that anybody can identify with it. If it really comes down to it, and you have to feed your family, most people will do whatever they need to do to support a family, or a mother who’s sick. Like my character’s case, I have a mother in Cuba and she’s barely making it. My dream is bringing her over, that’s what motivates me, and I’ll do whatever I have to do to bring her over.
Santo gets recruited by Alex Vega, Jimmy Smits who’s the lead actor. One of the leads, but he’s the ones that’s in charge of the family, reminds me a little of The Godfather. He’s like the Michael Corleone, who has been given power over the family by Hector Elizondo, who plays his father. And he recruits me, he first sees me working at the rum company, they own a big huge rum and sugar company, he sees me working there. He sees I’m a little shady, but he can use me in other ways, because there’s a lot of pressure on him. I’m savvy in the ways of the street. I’m not a business guy, I don’t speak well, I say the wrong words because English is definitely a second language to me. The only English I’ve learned was hustling the streets of Cuba, hustling the tourists in the streets of Cuba, so that’s my English. But I do know how to get things done, especially if they’re not legal, I know how to get around that. It’s a very interesting character, because it has a lot of humor. The character has a lot of humor, but also has a lot of heart.
I do recognize that despite where I came, from I do recognize that this is a good man, and he’s giving me an opportunity. And he is a family guy, and as the show goes along, we started shooting just the third episode. We start realizing that both of us, although we’re very different, that we’re not that different. We have a lot of things in common, and I think that’s a beautiful thing, ’cause it’s a human quality. We come from different countries and we’re different people, but when you come down to it, there’s a lot of things that we’re not that different. Regardless of who you are or where you’re coming from, and I like that’s being explored in Santo’s character, my character, and Alex Vega’s character. That relationship and the writers, it’s a great writing staff, their writing is superb. Honestly I must say that because I’m on the show, because if it wasn’t I wouldn’t mention that part. But it is great writing, I think audiences are really gonna be surprised when they see the show. I hope that they’re expecting a great show, because it is a great show. But it all starts in the writing, and it really is great. There’s not one simple character, you know, “This guy is like this and I figured him out already.” Sometimes it happens in shows, in films, you figure out a character the moment you see him. I think they’re all complex characters.
Can you maybe take a step back, and tell us how exactly did you land this role as Santo?
Santo, how did I land this role… I found out through someone that they were casting for this. Then I think my manager called me, and then I mentioned it to her, and then she found out about it. She called me and says, “Hey, I got you an audition for this role, for Santo.” And when I saw a breakdown of Santo, it was pretty simple.
A breakdown’s when, anybody who’s been an actor, you see a breakdown’s just a couple of lines. This guy’s a tough guy from the streets, he’s just arrived from Cuba, but when I read the scene… It was a very interesting scene in the audition – which is in the pilot, in the first episode – between me and Alex. It’s when he offers me a job, me and Jimmy Smits, he offers me a job. There’s a lot of tension between us, but there’s also humor. And I’m like, “Oh my God, I have to play this, I have to play this.” I don’t feel that way a lot of times, you know, a lot of times it just comes from wanting to work. As an actor, you just want to act. But this was a little more, this was like, “I really have to play this, I really know this guy.” So I went to the first audition, and a bunch of people auditioning for this show, Saturday morning. Early in the morning I went in, and there were a bunch of people, and I was like, “Ugh, look at all these people here.”
But I went in and I did well, I felt that I did well, and then I got called in for the callback. And in the callback there were like, 10 people in this room, including Jimmy Smits whom I had never met before. And he’s sitting there, and I know I would be playing opposite him although I was actually reading, but I didn’t know that at the time I was reading with Jonathan Prince, who is the executive producer of the show. One of the executive producers, and he was the one that was reading the scene with me. Jonathan is a great character, a great guy and a good actor too. So I read with him, but I pretty much went in character.
I figured that I should show that I know who this guy is, let me come in with all his colors of who he is. And I came in with humor, and I said good morning to everybody. I was talking like Santo would talk, “Hey, good morning everybody!” And then I told them a story, I go in my character, ’cause I mentioned a place in Cuba. I told a little joke which was ironic and funny, my grandfather in Cuba owned a funeral home, and there’s a town that where he’s from, Matanzas. He would like to say, my grandfather used to say, “I have the biggest funeral home in all of Matanzas.” Which is actually still there, the government owns it now, but it’s still in Cuba, it’s still standing.
So I said, “Oh, you know, I come from a long…” You know my character, one of the things he does is he kills in the show. So it’s ironic that I say my grandfather owned the biggest funeral home in all of Matanzas. Matanzas wasn’t very big, so I’m imagining that funeral home wasn’t very big either, but it was still the biggest funeral home in all of Matanzas. And they all laughed when I said that, because it’s ironic if that’s true. I don’t know if they knew that it’s true, but it is actually true, it’s a big coincidence. My character is from Matanzas in the show, they had no idea that my father and my grandfather were actually from there. So I thought that was a good sign, and that they had no rush in getting me out of the room.
I was just talking to them and telling stories and telling them about Cuba and the lingo, ’cause there’s a street lingo which, growing up in Miami, I learned in high school. All these Cuban kids that’d just arrived in the U.S., they didn’t speak English, and they used a lingo from somewhere, from actually the streets. so they used words that I wasn’t accustomed to, although I’m Cuban, my background is Cuban, I wasn’t accustomed to hearing.
So like when I picked it up, thank God I learned it, because it came in handy years later. So I made sure that I had it in the dialogue, that lingo, and then I spoke in the lingo, the street lingo when I went to audition. I think a few hours after I left the audition, they called and said I was on hold. But they didn’t let me know until about two weeks later, which was the longest two weeks of my life.
I’ll bet. So you mentioned that you’re currently filming the series right now. What’s it like shooting for this series? What goes on behind the scenes? What are the dynamics between you and some of the other actors and actresses?
It’s great. I didn’t know any of the actors personally, I’ve known their work. I grew up admiring a lot of them, it’s an amazing cast. Jimmy Smits is a main character, and there’s his father, Hector Rizondo. I had met him several times before, but we weren’t friends, we didn’t even really know each other, briefly met each other.
Rita Moreno, she’s great and grew up watching her, and who didn’t see West Side Story and all that. And Nestor Carbonell, fellow Cuban-American like me. We hit it off right away ’cause we had things in common, and we sort of, “Oh, where did you grow up?” and all that. Eddie Matos, who plays Jimmy’s brother. Mike Trevino.
Huge cast, and I think we all get along, it’s great. We all get along, and mostly I’ve worked with Jimmy Smits in all my scenes, and he’s great to me. He’s great, he really is, he’s a great actor. I knew that already going in, and you got to be at the top of your game when your working off of him, ’cause he’s always on. He’s there, but he’s also very giving as an actor, very giving. He’s all about the scene, and that’s not always the case with actors you work with. Some actors are insecure, selfish, just like any person, any other job. But Jimmy’s all about the scene, “Let’s get the most out of this, let’s make it work.” And that’s all that matters, nothing else, that’s all that matters. No ego behind it, it’s not “Because I’m the lead, put the camera on me. And I’m not gonna let you, because you’re shining at that moment and I don’t want that.” No, he’s all about the scene, and that’s great. That just brings your game up a notch, ’cause he sets the table for his working with us.
Alright, well Oscar, certainly appreciate your time again. And from all of us at Buddy TV, just want to wish you the best of luck and continued success.
I appreciate that very much, and tune in. That’s all I’ll say, tune in, it’s gonna be a hell of a ride. Cane is a great show.
Check out our exclusive interviews with other stars of the new Fall 2007 TV season:
Tawny Cypress, from K-Ville
Jerry Minor, from Carpoolers
Bill English, from Cavemen
Joshua Malina, from Big Shots
Crystal Lowe, from Bionic Woman
-Interview conducted by Royce Yuen
(Image courtesy of IMDB)