By Jack Rico
Shalim Ortiz, of Dominican and Puerto Rican heritage, is a bilingual actor who speaks fluent Spanish and English. He has worked in both languages throughout his career and it has lead to this – an actor who can now be seen weekly on two shows in two languages – Telemundo’s “Dama y Obrero” and Starz’s “Magic City”. Is this the future of acting? Will all actors one day be bilingual and work in two, even three languages? How great is it that if work dries up on one end, there’s a whole other career waiting for him on the other end.
Few people can pull this off on a professional level. It is a rarity. I have seen Jose Diaz Balart host MSNBC’s noon news show, then host the 6pm Telemundo national newscast in the same day. I can humbly add myself to that list – I have literally gone live on VH1 in English and 15 minutes later see a pre-tape of myself on Telemundo doing Spanish language movie reviews or listening to myself on Spanish radio. It’s a blast and a privilege that few enjoy, but Shalim is doing it on two very high profile shows. I had the chance to speak to him recently and asked him if he is aware of what he’s doing and what it means to the future of the industry.
Jack Rico (JR): So you’re currently working in English and Spanish on two shows that I can tune in on TV today – “Dama y Obrero” and “Magic City”. Michael Peña can’t do that. He can’t go on Telemundo and do a novela and then head over to Fox and do a show or a movie. With so many Hispanic actors dying to break into the English market, are you aware of the privilege you are experiencing at this very moment and do you think this is the future of the business or do you think you are one of those exceptions to the rule?
Shalim Ortiz: I think it’s a little bit of both. It’s partly the future of the business. Call me crazy, but I just see it happening faster for telenovelas to be subtitled in English than for the whole market to transcend into the English market. I totally picture Americans starting to gobble up “Dama y Obrero” subtitled, the same way that we watch it … I see that happening very soon because we are calling their attention and they are very hungry for [our] culture because it’s becoming a part of theirs. I also feel that for many novela actors to transcend into Hollywood it also takes a lot of sacrifice. It takes giving up big deals because many novela actors have exclusivities and long-term contracts with these networks where they are in a very comfortable place. To give that up is a huge sacrifice because Hollywood is very heartless, they don’t care who you are, they just care if you are right for the part.
JR: Performances in a telenovela are different than performances in an English language drama. While doing a scene, how do you control that one method of acting doesn’t bleed into the other by mistake?
Shalim: You emotionally divide the acting temperature levels of your performance and you have to train yourself to make that switch immediately. Part of an actor’s training is to be very aware of what it is they are performing, that’s why a film actor is able to do Broadway — like Al Pacino. I’ve been doing it for quite a while now and because my beginnings were in theater – The Thespian Society of Performing Arts in Miami [from] 1993-1995 – these were all young adult training years that gave me such a beautiful theater knowledge that I’ve been applying ever since. I think [theater] is a boot camp that every actor should go through just because of the rhythm and the amount of emotions you need to narrow down in one day of work and it’s fascinating, it really makes you a lot sharper. Novellas are more hardcore in that sense, you need to have very quick emotional work, it barely gives you any time prepare emotionally for a scene. In an American [drama] like “Magic City” or any other TV series is very different because they usually don’t shoot any more than 4-6 scenes every day because of the complexity of the scenes. You have a chunk of time to really find those sensibilities and those emotions that you really want to give in that scene, and to rearrange yourself to get ready for the performance, which also means that you get to have [your] moment to shine.
JR: It sounds like you’ve conquered television, but what about film? Do you want to go back to doing film, are you exploring?
Shalim: I’ve never considered myself a television actor or a film actor, I consider myself an actor. Years can pass by without [me] doing film, but if I’ve been doing great content on television, I don’t miss doing a film and vice versa. To me it’s all about the content, the story and the type of character I am given, it’s always been this way. I think the reason I feel this way is because I’ve been blessed to be living in [an amazing time for TV series] where shows like “Magic City,” “Game of Thrones” and “House of Lies,” don’t envy filmmaking. These are television films, they are high quality and they are as premium and as flawless as any film you would watch.
Watch below Shalim work in both languages. Leave your comments below.