Eric: A friendly warning, this episode features some adult language, or, as our guest put it.
Manuel Garcia-Rulfo: I want to apologize in advance because of my English. So, you know, you’re going to see a lot of this and swearing and all this s***.
Eric: So if you’ve got kids around, throw on some earbuds.
Hi, I’m Eric Conner senior instructor at New York Film Academy. And in this episode, we bring you an actor who shared the screen with Hollywood legends. Michelle Pfeiffer, Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe and Johnny Depp. And that was just from one movie, Murder on the Orient Express. He’s also costarred with Liam Neeson and Viola Davis in Widows, Tom Hanks in Greyhound, and rolled alongside Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt as one of The Magnificent Seven. We’re talking about Manuel Garcia-Rulfo. Before appearing with all these Hollywood luminaries, proud to say he was a student at New York Film Academy.
Manuel Garcia-Rulfo: One thing that I really appreciate from this school, it’s because, like I said, I took a lot of, after this I went to study in Mexico for a year and I took here a lot of courses in that. But what NYFA really gave me was to work with the camera a lot. And most of the acting schools, they don’t give you that. You know, it just makes you comfortable to be in front of the camera. And once you get out of here, when I did it, like I knew, you know, the little kind of words they use and techniques of the camera and the filmmaking and all that, they teach us and some of the acting schools, they don’t. They just focus on the acting craft, you know? So that was one of my favorite things. And yeah. And it was my first acting school, this one. So, you know, I really am very thankful with the school. I think the path of everybody is going to be different. For me you know, I graduate here. I took the one year acting for film a long time ago. I think it was 2004. And after that I just kept studying more and doing everything. I remember after this, I stay here in the States for like one year and a half more and I keep studying. I went to this school called Larry Moss studio in Santa Monica and taking a lot of courses and just doing anything, you know, like doing any kind of short film, thesis. Anything, really, because that’s, you know, you start getting experience and all. But yeah. I mean, just be there, be prepared, I think. And and s*** will happens, I guess. You know.
Eric: Part of stuff happening is how one role can lead to the next, especially if you do it well.
Manuel Garcia-Rulfo: I think every project, every character that I’ve played, you know, you do one thing and then that brings you to another. You know, one short film, brought me to a feature film. That feature film, my first feature film that I did. It was a Mexican film. It was selected in the Denver Film Festival. And they invited me as a guest and a very well-known actor, American actor, he was there as well as a guest, and he saw the film. And after the film he came. He was like, Manuel, your work, I really liked it. And if you’re ever in L.A., let me know and I can introduce you to my manager. So, you know, and it was a good manager and that manager got me another job. You know what I’m saying is every project, even if it’s very small, brought me to like more things, you know.
Eric: As an actor starting out, Mr. Garcia-Rulfo stayed focused and kept pushing, even if it meant taking roles that were not quite part of the long term goal.
Manuel Garcia-Rulfo: I mean, I had very clear what I wanted to do, what my career wanted to be. And I did say, even at the beginning, I mean you’re f***ing hungry literally, like you want to eat, you know, and you’re hungry to work and you have no money and everything. But I had very clear what my career I wanted it to be. So I said no to a lot of things the beginning. In Mexico, I don’t know if you know this, but there’s this thing called soap operas, novelas. And, you know. I mean, some people like it. Whatever. It’s not my thing, you know, but they offered me a lot of that in Mexico. And there’s very good money involved in these things. And they offer you the moon, whatever. And I remember being like f***ing – and it’s just a job. It’s money, you know, it’s f***ing whatever. Let’s just do it. And then my inside thing was like, no, this is not your path, because I think that to do the crossover from soap opera to the things I want to do, it’s very hard to do. So yeah, I’m not saying say yes to anything. What I’m saying is, who am I to say what to do, you know? But that was my thing. I did say no to things and I mean I worked for like four years, five years without getting paid, you know, doing short films and plays or whatever.
Eric: Part of what made Manuel Garcia-Rulfo’s journey unique and more difficult was breaking into Hollywood as a Latino actor.
Manuel Garcia-Rulfo: One thing I could say, and not just Latino actors, just to any kind of actors, buckle up, because it’s going to be a bumpy ride. You know, it’s a tough career. It’s a very tough career. And it’s going to sound cliche and it’s going to sound f***ing corny, but it will bring you down because it’s very tough. It doesn’t depend on you a lot. And I think we have to enjoy that as well, you know, nurture from those downs and ups and whatever man. We f***ing, we have to just relax. And one of the things that I, you know, I work in myself is an element of not giving a f*** anymore. I used to be very obsessed to please the director, to please the audience or to please my fellow actors or whatever. And that kills creativity and the artist in you, you know, if you come from that place of trying to please everybody. So I think my advice would be to relax and just, I’m not saying don’t give a f***. Don’t come to that direct and p*** all over. No. You know, do the work and be focused and all, but relax and enjoy the ride. I think now for us Latinos, you know, the doors are open. I think Hollywood has changed little by little, has been changing the way they portray Latinos. So I think it’s a good time for you guys to come. I mean, for us to come, you know.
Eric: Rather than be discouraged, Mr. Garcia also took advantage of what made him different.
Manuel Garcia-Rulfo: Could be an opportunity as well. You know, that you have this accent or this whatever, you know. So, yeah, maybe you can have – maybe embrace it. You know, the thing that can, I mean, I know actors of, that very famous actors that, Mexican actors that, they’ve been there forever and they never change their accent. And they could. I mean, I know that they work on it and they have the best accent coaches or whatever. F***, because that’s what works for them. The world wants to see them with this sexy accent or whatever. And and they’re like, f*** it, I’m going to do it. I’m the kind of actor that I want to do everything. I want to play in American one day. And I think I can. If I have to work on the accent, whatever. But but yeah, Hollywood puts you in a box, and not Hollywood, the audience, they want to see you as this and that.
Eric: Mr. Garcia-Rulfo’s ride eventually got him the chance to jump in the saddle for the remake of The Magnificent Seven directed by Antoine Fuqua. It’s a job he landed, ironically, thanks to a part he didn’t get.
Manuel Garcia-Rulfo: For this film I auditioned before with Antoine, the director. He did a movie before this one called Southpaw. Boxing movie. I was going to play, I don’t remember the story really well, but it was a boxer that plays against the main actor. So he saw me there and he kind of liked me. He called me again. It was like, Manuel, I like you, but it was, you’re too tall for, you know, it’s not going to make sense because, you know, because of the weights in boxing. So we left it. I’m like oh my god, another one that is almost there. So for this one, he called me and we had a meeting and he was like, Manuel I really like you for this. The part was going to go for another actor first because of, you know, the studios wanted this actor because he’s kind of famous in Latin America. And he couldn’t. So Antoine called me and he’s like, he’s just offered me the part.
Eric: He relished the opportunity to play cowboy alongside an A-list cast, one which required him to bring his own A game.
Manuel Garcia-Rulfo: I do have a favorite scene which didn’t make the cut. I think we were at the bar, we’re dining and we’re kind of drunk. And then Chris Pratt talks about the Maria, this and that. And that was a very fun because it was improvised everything. Most of it was very improvised. Antoine, the director, just left us there to play. The cameras kept rolling and we just went with it. And, you know, you have very good actors there, Vincent D’Onofrio and Ethan Hawke. And so you just have to bring your game. And it was so fun because we were all present and we were all committed to the characters and it was just a bunch of guys just being drunk and doing stupid things. That was my favorite. And of course, the fact that it’s a Western and you have this shooting and spinning guns and riding horses, and grabbing your crotch, and spitting and all these things.
Eric: As fun as it is to be paid to play cowboy with the coolest guys in Hollywood, The Magnificent Seven still had its share of difficulties.
Manuel Garcia-Rulfo: It was a very tough movie to do because we shot it in Louisiana. In the summer. I’ve never in my life felt that heat, in my life. Like it was and I loved it. I love Louisiana. It was beautiful, but it’s too hot. So that was one thing because, you know, you have this, the wardrobe is leather and the pants are like they used to be of this very thick thing. Boots and this and the hat. And so I think that was the hardest part. Also spinning the guns because it was, they’re very heavy. They’re real guns. We took like one month of training with a guns and with our horses. And, you know, that was kind of hard because but it was fun as well. I mean, I think all of that helped the film. You know, it helped the, ambiente? The atmosphere of the film, you know, of the characters and of the film, of the story. It helped us to be in that kind of heat and gave you the sense of being tired like on those days. You know, you imagine these guys sometimes they didn’t eat for I don’t know how many days or hours or didn’t have a river to drink water or whatever. So it kind of help us to be, you know, to feel tired and f***ing sweaty.
Eric: And what about when it wasn’t hot?
Manuel Garcia-Rulfo: When it rains, it pours, so we had to stop for like three, four hours. You know, we were shooting. We have to stop for three hours because of the rain. And then after the rain came the lightning storms. And you have to wait every time lightings hits whatever, you have to wait 30 minutes because of safety. So, you know, like nature elements was like very tough things. And so it was a very long shoot. It was like five months shoot. So it’s a very long thing. And then this, I don’t remember the organization, but they shut us down, not shut us down, because there was a lot of horses. And with the heat, they were like, the horses are hot. I’m like, m****rf***er, what about me? Yeah, they don’t, like horses. Keep them in the f***ing AC, you know. And I’m in the sun with a f***ing thing. But I mean, it wasn’t like we were, you know, they need to rest for three hours or whatever. So, you know, we have to rest the horses. So it was, it was a tough shoot and so many extras and stunts and horses everywhere. But yeah. Other than that, it went smooth.
Eric: The Magnificent Seven was not his first Hollywood role, but it’s the part that cemented his career in the states, leading to work in Murder on the Orient Express and Sicario: Day of the Soldado. And through all the downs and ups, Mr. Garcia-Rulfo finds it crucial to keep a routine.
Manuel Garcia-Rulfo: When I’m not working, I have to do one hour reading. I have to watch one film a day. I have to play for 30 minutes music. And I have to do one hour exercise. That helps me a lot because reading opens you everything, novels. And I think that’s the most important thing an actor should do, to read, and to watch films, and watch every kind of film. I mean, especially the kind of career you want to take. You kind of see those films, you know, but I mean, I encourage, encourage? No, who the f*** am I to encourage anyone. Whatever. What I do is listen to music, things that nurture your creativity and your – you know, because as actors, we’re an instrument. So we have to trigger these emotions and always be sharp because we start growing up and we start changing. Like before I used to cry because my girlfriend left me. Now I’m like, whatever, you know? So you have to always keep asking, you know, like triggering yourself. So I say read books, read novels, any kind of, poetry, films, good films, listen to music, go to museums, go watch art. F*** I get goosebumps because we have to be, you know, motivated by everything, even go watch a fight. And and that gets you a life, you know.
Eric: He also stressed the importance of not waiting around for a role to keep performing.
Manuel Garcia-Rulfo: Nowadays, you can do you know, you have so many methods or whatever to shoot anything, you know, you have an iPhone. I mean, I just saw on a couple of months ago a movie called Tangerine, and they shot it with an iPhone. And it’s brilliant. I loved it. You know so you have like, just get together with your friends, or your, I mean, you have the means here in the school and you have writers and directors and just, you know, do your own short films, whatever man. Do theater. So many things that now we can do is, because the thing is, after school, we have this because it happened to me. You know, you have this thing of, oh, I need to work. I was obsessed with getting this to work. I need to get an agent. I have to work, work, work. And honestly, that kills you because you’re obsessed now with, and it doesn’t go the creativity, the artistry, the you know with the sensitivity with this thing of I need to make it, I need to make it. And it kills you, man. So just go for it. And, you know, instead of waiting for it, trying to go and make it your own and do plays. It’s very easy to do a play. And you never know. Somebody might watch that play and would say, hey, you. Come here.
Eric: Part of going for it means taking a big swing for the fences, with a fair warning: that also means you might strike out. Badly.
Manuel Garcia-Rulfo: I remember being here after I graduated. I stayed for like a year and a half more, and I was obsessed about getting an agent. I remember sending every day a headshot with my resume, whatever, my reel. Nothing. We even had, because back in the day when I started, they had these like very wealthy students, right? And I became friends with one, who was Colombian. Don’t ask me where the money came from. One was Colombian, whatever. And he’s like, I know the solution for this. I’m like, what are we going to do? All right, so we’re going to grab, there’s a very nice hotel here in Beverly Hills called the Peninsula. The Peninsula Hotel, right? And he’s like, if we’re not getting an agent, we’re going to rent the Peninsula Hotel and we’re going to show our demo reels. And then we’re going to show this short film that we did. And we’re going to invite all the agents because agents and the big agencies are right in Beverly Hills. They’re all together, right? So we start sending invitations, like very expensive invitations, to the big agencies, CAA, whatever, whatever. We used to send, una canasta?
Miguel Cruz: Basket.
Manuel Garcia-Rulfo: A basket, thanks, full of chocolate and s*** and with a f***ing invitation, the poster of the film that we’re going to show. Come see our this and whatever at the Peninsula Hotel. Champagne after. It’s like, this is it. We f***ing made it. So the big day came. I don’t know how much money he spent. I’m sure like, I don’t know. But the big day came and I don’t think even my mother came. Not even my mother show up. Yeah. At least I didn’t pay. I didn’t lose my money.
Eric: Fortunately he did not let that one pretty rotten night stop his dreams. Thanks to his perseverance and talent, his career has only gotten better with time.
Manuel Garcia-Rulfo: I think it’s better to focus on your craft. Keep studying, you know, to feed yourself with these things and study and study, and I say after this, I don’t know, if you have the money, go to London and study in London, go to New York and study different kind of things and – because if you worry about after this, I mean, it might happen. I’m not saying – there’s no formula for it. I think in my experience, it was kind of. We even did that and didn’t f***ing work. Hope that helps.
Eric: It’s always great to see our alumni out there making things happen. We want to thank Manuel Garcia-Rulfo for sharing his tales with our students and thanks to all of you for listening.
This episode was based on the Q&A moderated by Miguel Cruz. To watch the full interview or to see our other Q&As, check out our YouTube channel at YouTube.com/NewYorkFilmAcademy. This episode was written by me, Eric Conner. Edited and mixed by Kristian Heydon. Produced by Kristian Heydon, Helen Kantilaftis, and myself. Executive Produced by the New York Film Academy. A special thanks to all our staff and crew who made this possible to learn more about our programs, check us out at NYFA.edu. Be sure to subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen. See you next time.