SB: Tell us a little bit about J.W.
JW: I’m born to puerto rican parents and was raised in Sunset Park, Brooklyn where I lived up until I enlisted in the Marine Corps.
As far as who I am – these days I tend to wear many hats and for me, they either compliment the other or were born from something closely related to the other; I act, I sing, I write, I produce, I am an activist, I’m a lot of different things – but my most important roles are that of father, husband, brother and friend.
SB: Why did you move from Louisiana to New York?
JW: It must’ve been about four years ago – we tried buying in our beloved Brooklyn but just couldn’t afford what we needed which when I think about it now was just a really cool and accessible driveway (many nights circling a NYC block looking for parking will do that to someone!).
SB: At what age did you start singing?
JW: My first memory of acting/singing was in the fourth grade. I had a wonderful teacher, Miss Dzadick who put together a small christmas themed musical and she cast me as Santa Claus. I remember the smiles on the parents faces when we sang my very aggressive attempt in recreating the infamous Santa laugh. I think about it now, it definitely triggered something very strong and clear in me.
SB: Why did you choose to join the Marine Corps?
JW: Its legacy and no-nonsense reputation was something that really intrigued me and of course the sense of comradery was something I really wanted. I often say, and I mean it one hundred percent, that the Marine Corps saved my life on so many occasions and still till this day continues to be a source of great pride for me.
I often refer to it as my grand escape not necessarily a enlistment. Growing up on a block like I did that housed a methadone clinic, gangs, drugs and every other criminal discrepancy that you can think of, meant that the probability for even the strong morals person, would be at some point or another tempted in ‘exploring’ was very high, very strong. So enlisting was by far the best decision I had made in my young adult life.
SB: Why did you become a NYC MTA police officer?
JW: Not too long after coming back to the world from the war in Iraq there was a time there where I was unemployed and was having a really hard time grasping how I ended up that way. Its something too many veterans are still facing today and I’ve begun to champion various organziations who are committed to helping employ our veterans.
Becoming a police officer obviously provided many benefits for not just myself but for my family: stability, benefits, healthcare, etc, and It also meant that I wasn’t going to be deployed in a sense outside the country (although as a cop you deploy on a daily basis and face different threats). It also allowed me to have an effect on the perspective that someone might have dealing with a police officer and I’m also very much aware that given my background, having been raised on a block the NYPD called “Little Vietnam” meant that someone like me probably wasn’t necessarily highly sought after for becoming a member of the department.
That being said it’s exciting when I’m able to hopefully change their perspective not just for the greater masses but for someone who still lives on a block like that or in a neighborhood like that, not just here New York but anywhere. That to me is critically important.
SB: When did you decide to train at the William Esper Studio and get into acting?
JW: I had some success as an actor, prior to training at Esper’s but I knew that at somepoint I couldn’t just rely on pure instincts, raw talent or mediocre trainning. So by pure happenstance I meet a gentelman in a writing group from Espers around the same day that I had been trying to figure out were I would land (NY is inundated with so many teachers and schools) and I decided to study at Espers. I tell many of my fellow actors that training there, changed my entire perspective not just on acting but life as I know it.
SB: How did you react when approached by NBC to represent the Marines alongside celebrities on “Stars Earn Stripes”?
JW: Honestly I initially thought it was a prank from one of my co-workers. I cannot begin to tell you the many times that “Spielber” has called. After NBC finally grabbed my year and I paid close attention to what they were saying I knew this is something I definitely want to be a part of. Once I met the other Operatives in Los Angeles I knew I had me the right decision. Then I felt atremendous amount of responsibility to do my very best because I believed that not only was I representing the Marine Corps and law-enforcement communities throughout our great nation but I also felt that I was representing New Yorkers and everything that we had been through as well as Latinos. It was and continues to have been by far one of the greatest experiences of my career and I think that NBC was onto something. I hope that other networks will soon follow suit because not only did they employ veterans in front of the camera but behind the scenes as well. There were many veterans who were being game fully employed and that spoke volumes to me on their commitment to hire veterans.
SB: A few years ago, you lost someone you were close to … the most lethal sniper, legendary and highly decorated Navy Seal Chief Petty Officer Chris Kyle who was a fellow cast member on “Stars Earn Stripes”. How has he impacted you?
JW: One of the most beautiful experiences of all of my careers was being a part of SES. Not only were the celebrities a lot of fun to train and get to know but the folks behind the scenes really made it that much more special. The ulitimate though is the bond we created and still till this day carry on within the operatives. Losing Chris was horrible, we all calledeachother pretty much moments after we had heard about what had happned and began making plans to fly out to Dallas to be with his family.
The operatives and I are committed to helping Taya and her family cope with the loss of Chris by furthering the awareness and whenever humanly possible raise funding for Chris’ charity. And to further the grasp of his story to the many others who do not know what a true patriot Chris was. One of the biggest impacts he had on me was the importance of of caring for our veterans.
SB: Last year you also performed in NYC’s Madison Square Garden for “Stand Up For Heroes” with Pink Floyd guitarist Roger Waters accompanying you. Tell us about “Stand Up For Heroes” and the performance that night.
JW: I had auditioned soley to be one of the back-up singers Roger was looking for. That performance was going to have a large contigency of the band being comprised of members from the Wounded Warriors Bad some single, double even triple amputees. I just wanted to meet with them and if it so happened that I could sing backup for them and roger for me it was a total win.
Obviously when Roger asked me to perform “A change Is Gonna Come” I wanted to do my absolute best not only so that I wouldn’t disappoint the fans but I really wanted to get it right because of the message of the song and because I was sharing the stage with true American heroes. Everything else that followed, to include the Rolling Stone magazine write up was gravy on an already spectacular night.
SB: How has everything, singing, performing, acting, television, affected your job, coworkers and family life?
JW: I’m incredibly fortunate that I have coworkers family and friends who are very supportive of what it is that I do and continue to strive for. As much of a ribbing as I may get from time to time from some of them I know deep inside they are very proud of what I do. I’ve even excepted the affectionate moniker they so smartly placed on me of Officer Hollywood.
SB: Being that your wife and my wife are cousins, so us being cousins-in-laws it might be biased in my saying but, you and your beautiful wife have 2 very handsome boys! One of which is Autistic; how has this affected your life and in what way?
JW: I don’t think anyone could ever prepared to receive the call that informs their child is on the spectrum of autism or for that matter any disease, illness. But we knew we had to inform ourselves of what exactly was going on with Jonah then we had to make adjustments not with Jonah but within ourselves and be the best parents that we could be. So it’s definitely been a learning experience for all of us but I am so proud to report that Jonah will no longer be in a special needs classroom and has been mainstreamed. We will continue to monitor his growth of course and watch him grow even further into the beautiful spirit he already is.
A large motivating factor behind what I do is that I can use my talents to raise further awareness for autism and if I’m able to raise any money for them then for me that’s always a win-win – to do something that I love and feel very passionate about is what I believe the true purpose of sharing one’s talents is to be used for.
SB: You have been on tv, performed at Madison Square Garden, been in music videos, you’ve acted alongside Isaiah Washington, Cary Elwes, Andy McDowell, made your directorial debut, you’ve been busy. What do you want to do next?
JW: We’re currently in preproduction for new web series slated for Netflix titled a moral and immoral play the lead character name DEME. I’m excited because this will be my first series lead role and the cast will be besides incredibly talented very diverse and that’s exciting for me to be a part of. I have also been quite intensively training/preparing for this role under the tutelage of celebrity trainer Terry Southerland. I’ve never prepared for a roll this way and it has only pushed me to a new place and I’m excited to put to use the many skills that he’s infused in me.
I’m currently in a recurring role of Detective Alvarez on Fox’s Gotham, and some roles such as Agent Suarez on The Blacklist and FBI Special Agent Lewis on The Mysteries of Laura and working on many other projects.
SB: What would you tell someone who wants to get into the entertainment industry?
JW: I’ll use the analogy of someone who wants to build a house. I would say no one in their right mind would dare to build a house without the proper tools and training. In the same vain the same can be said for anyone who wants to study the craft of acting. Training is paramount and will always be something that should be continuous throughout your career. I studied under Terry Knickerbocker at William Espers Studio and I can tell you that it not only changed whatever I thought I knew as far as acting is concerned for the better it actually changed my life and in many ways served as the much-needed therapy for someone who has the background that I have and so that’s what I would share – train, train, train.
SB: What would you want your sons to learn from you and your experiences?
JW: As much as I want to encourage that they have your own voices in this world, for me if I could impart anything is to be the men of your word. It’ll carry you through despite how inconvenienced or difficult that maybe some times. I think at the end of the day it’s something that I’ve always strived to do. The other thing is to understand that there is much value in working hard at something. I think if the Marine Corps has taught me anything it’s that discipline coupled by hardwork can help you in many instances in achieving something that you truly desire. And of course ALWAYS respect, love and care for their mother!
2015 Acting Reel