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Wingman Wednesday

Joe Minoso

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Photo By: Brant Brogan

As firefighter Joe Cruz on the popular NBC series “Chicago Fire,” Joe Minoso has experienced every career first imaginable. The life-changing part was not only his introduction to a series regular role, but it is a job that has lasted for nearly a decade, paving unexpected pathways for the New York native both professionally and personally.

We recently sat down with Minoso to discuss where “Chicago Fire” has impacted his life the most, the mixed bag of social media, and how he found the love of his life at the job of his life.

TrunkSpace: The “Chicago Fire” universe has been a part of your life now for most of the current decade. How has your time as Joe Cruz – the work and everything involved with it – impacted your life the most?
Minoso: Wow! It’s really weird to hear most of the decade. But yes, definitely it has been incredibly impactful. I would say the largest way was that I met the love of my life and now wife working on “Chicago Fire.” She was a makeup artist for three seasons on the show and still does work there from time to time. But she’s currently moved on to her own business in paramedical tattooing, which is an incredible, emerging field that she’s just going to be phenomenal at. I’m super proud of her.

TrunkSpace: What has been the most enjoyable aspect of getting to play the same character for well over 100 episodes of a series? How has Joe changed since you shot your first scene to where you are today, and how has that changed the experience for you personally?
Minoso: I think what is most enjoyable about playing a character on episodic television is getting to learn new facets of the character year to year. As the writers discover interesting new story arcs for you, it develops more character nuances. Those are always fun to learn about when you come back every year. I would say since the first shot, Cruz has definitely become a firefighter who is more aware of his skill set and far more comfortable in a leadership position. He’s really made strides as a firefighter to be one of the best. And I think that that work ethic is starting to show up in his personal life. He just seems to be more put together. He’s really coming into his own and you can see that more readily, especially now with his new girlfriend Chloe.

TrunkSpace: The series is immensely popular with fans. How long did it take you to become comfortable with having the spotlight of a successful television series shined onto your own life, both in reality and in the social media world?
Minoso: I’m pretty lucky, I don’t get bothered most places I go, so any kind of fame or celebrity isn’t something that I really deal with often. Most of the time it’s someone who is very nice and asking if they can take a photo because they are huge fans of the show, to which I happily reply, “Absolutely!” I’m happy to do it. The fans helped keep us around. As for social media, that’s a mixed bag. I try to keep it as light and inspirational as I can. Whatever social media platform I may have developed over the years, I would like to use towards championing goodness, charity, respect, humanity and laughter.

TrunkSpace: What is the relationship like between the series and real world first responders? In particular, what is it like to hear feedback directly from those who live these types of experiences day in and day out?
Minoso: I would say mostly very positive. We come across a lot of first responders who absolutely love our show – across the world! There are definitely those who get on us about not doing things right, or not showing how things are in real life, but while I understand the issue, some of the things that we would like to show are almost too unbelievable or impossible for television. And firefighters or first responders love busting each others’ chops, so more than anything, I just think they’re looking for something to make fun of.

Honestly though, it’s mostly really great feedback. And they are some of the greatest, salt of the earth, bravest people you’ll ever meet in your life.

TrunkSpace: “Chicago Fire” seems to allow its performers the chance to play in various genre sandboxes, from heavy drama to lighter, more comedic moments, which we would imagine, helps to keep things fresh. Would it be more difficult to spend as much time on a sitcom where you’re always having to deliver on the same beats, as opposed to a show like this where each day brings a different approach?
Minoso: I consider myself one of the lucky ones on the show. I feel like I get to play in a lot of those sandboxes. Some of the other characters are limited to just drama or comedy, but I think Cruz is a character that seamlessly goes from one to the other. That’s been one of the great things about playing him is the opportunity to do so many different things.

TrunkSpace: To date, what are you most proud of with your work as Joe Cruz?
Minoso: I am really proud of my relationship work with my fellow firefighters. I feel like we really look and act like a family. I don’t know how much acting is actually involved. We pretty much are family at this point. But I think ensemble work is some of the hardest stuff to do and I think we are at our best as a show when we’re there as a group.

Photo By: Brant Brogan

TrunkSpace: Prior to on-camera work, you spent a lot of time on the stage. When it comes to performance, is theater your first love?
Minoso: There’s no way it can’t be. It introduced me to the great world of performing and storytelling. The immediate response you get from an audience is one of the most thrilling, adrenaline-inducing moments you could ever ask for. But I have really grown to love the camera medium. I feel that you can tell far more expansive stories this way. However, I’ll always love theater and I look forward to revisiting it someday.

TrunkSpace: When you started to do more work in front of the camera, did you have to take a different approach to your craft than you did with your work in a live setting? Did it take some fine-tuning for you to get comfortable in that new world?
Minoso: There’s a lot of similarities, but I would say the biggest change I had to make was understanding that the audience was not 100 feet away in a seat up in the balcony, but two inches away from my face. I think once I started thinking of it that way, it helped bring my performance down to an acceptable level for television. That being said, I can still be a pretty broad and bombastic actor. I work hard to try and keep it in a believable place.

TrunkSpace: What has been the highlight of your career thus far?
Minoso: “Chicago Fire,” “Chicago Fire,” “Chicago Fire.” Everything that has come with the show has been a first and new for me. My first red carpet, my first premiere, my first photo shoot, my first pilot, my first series regular role, my first stunt sequence, my first autograph… and the love of my life to top it all off. It has changed my life in immeasurable ways and I will forever hold it as one of the most special moments of my life.

TrunkSpace: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your career looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
Minoso: I wouldn’t. Half the fun of the story are the surprises that come along the way. Just like a great film, you wouldn’t enjoy the peaks if you didn’t suffer the valleys. I feel like knowing would take away from that.

Chicago Fire” airs Wednesdays on NBC.

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Wingman Wednesday

Mekia Cox

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Once upon a time there lived a television series that brought together viewers both near and far for seven magical seasons. Many imaginative storylines were conceived with characters of whimsical origins. Laughs were had. Tears were shed. A fandom was born.

Mekia Cox joined the cast of the fantastical ABC drama series “Once Upon a Time” in its seventh season. Shifting between a cursed Hyperion Heights reality and the fairytale world, the Saint Croix native portrays both Sabine and Princess Tiana, a character first made famous in the Disney animated feature, “The Princess and the Frog.” As the sword-carrying Tiana, she’s on a mission with Cinderella (Dania Ramirez) to spearhead a resistance, one that aims to defeat Lady Tremaine (Gabrielle Anwar) and reshape the Enchanted Forest, ultimately leading to fans of the series living (hopefully) happily ever after.

We recently sat down with Cox to discuss how she approached bringing an animated character to life, her favorite aspects of Princess Tiana’s personality, and why we could all use a little dose of niceness in our lives.

TrunkSpace: You joined “Once Upon a Time” in its seventh season, but with so many new cast members stepping in at the same time, does that make joining an existing show easier?
Cox: I don’t know if I would say easier. It’s definitely different. In some ways it does feel like it’s a completely new show with a new cast because there are so many newcomers coming in. We’re all sort of in the same place, the ones who are new. However, the people that have been there, it’s nice to have them as well because they sort of know the ropes and they know how this whole thing works. If we ever have any questions about anything, whether it be what we’re doing on set or whether it be about backstory or what we have to look forward to, they’re always there, which is really kind of nice.

I really have enjoyed coming into this world and this set that has already been established, but yet there’s still this sort of renewed feeling of newness that’s happening.

TrunkSpace: It must also be a good feeling coming into a show with such a passionate, built-in fan base. They’ve been going on the journey with these characters for years, and now they’re going on the journey with you and your character Princess Tiana.
Cox: Exactly, which has been really nice. You know, the fans, I feel like as an actor they sort of help you. I’ve gotten some really sweet gifts and some really nice fan mail and it bolsters you up and helps you get through the day, so I enjoy all of that.

TrunkSpace: Because you are portraying such a well known character from the animated space, did you go back and try to bring any of those original character elements into your performance?
Cox: In speaking to Eddie (Kitsis) and Adam (Horowitz), the show creators, I discovered that they were taking small bits and pieces from the 2009 animated film, but they were also trying to create a new character as well, or a new version of this character. I think they kind of do that with all of these characters. They put their own spin on it, which makes it kind of interesting because you get to see more of their backstory, which you got to see a lot of in episode 5. You get to understand a little bit more about where this specific character came from that the “Once Upon a Time” creators have created.

TrunkSpace: From a performance standpoint, was there something that she allowed you to do on-screen that you have yet to be able to tackle in the past with previous characters?
Cox: I get to play with a sword. That’s always fun. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: (Laughter) What about in terms of personality?
Cox: The character in the real world, the scenes are very, very close to me and my personality – probably one of the closest characters that I’ve ever played to myself. What is nice is being able to play this sort of leader in the fairytale land – this leader of the resistance. There is a bit of quiet confidence that she has that I enjoy being able to play and this leadership role is a little bit different for me. It’s been fun to get to tackle.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned the fairytale land. Because you’re jumping between the two worlds within the storytelling, does it feel like you’re shooting two different projects at times just because of those jumps?
Cox: It does, actually. Even the way in which they speak in fairytale land is a little bit different. I try to keep it real as much as possible, but it is a different form of speaking when they’re in the fairytale land. You have to play the same character but in completely different environments, so there are times that it does feel like we’re shooting two different films.

TrunkSpace: To look around you and absorb that fairytale vibe that you’re entrenched in, we’d imagine it really helps you tap into the mindset of a fairytale character?
Cox: That’s exactly true, yeah. How it works is we come in, we’ll read the lines together, we’ll block it maybe and run through it once or twice before we actually shoot. Sometimes when we do that we come in and we’re just in our normal clothes and we’ll run through things before we go back and get changed and come back as our characters. All of the sudden, like you said, once we are in this world where the environment has already been created for us with our clothes and with the set pieces and with everything that’s going on, it all of the sudden becomes a little bit easier to tap into that character because you don’t have to imagine all of the things they are. It’s right there for you.

TrunkSpace: “Once Upon a Time” is a show with such a large ensemble cast. For you, what’s the best part about being part of an ensemble where there are all of these various storylines going off in different directions and intersecting?
Cox: You get to meet a lot of really cool people. That’s fun. (Laughter)

I will say this, it does make it a little bit more challenging when you’re reading the script because you’re like, “Oh wait, okay, there’s a new character here? Okay, let me go back and figure out who this character is.” You have the real world and fairytale land and they have different names in both. It makes it more challenging, but also a more fun story, I feel like. I think it gives the creators many different ways that they can go with many different stories and players telling the stories.

TrunkSpace: It’s not easy for a series to make it seven seasons these days. What do you think it is that has enabled “Once Upon a Time” to thrive for so long?
Cox: I think it’s something that a lot of different people and a lot of different types of people can connect to. It was internationally, I believe, ABC’s number one show for a long time. I’m not sure if it is now or not, but I know it has been. There is something that people just can connect to and it takes them out of their own world for a second and allows them to remember, if they’re older, what it was like to be a kid, and if they’re younger, to be able to see these characters come to life and just to have fun for an hour and imagine these fantastical things that might not happen in the real world. And there are still nuggets that they give that are things that can help you learn how to deal with what’s going on in your real world.

TrunkSpace: It’s a heightened reality, but the emotions are real.
Cox: Exactly! That’s exactly right.

TrunkSpace: You’ve been acting since you were kid. Are there any pieces of advice or things you absorbed on a set in those early years that you still apply to your career to this day?
Cox: That it’s best to be as professional as possible. Things that everyone should know but sometimes people forget, which is, don’t be late, know your lines, and be nice to everyone around you.

TrunkSpace: We’re in a bit of a hyper-divided time in this country. The advice of being nice to everyone around you could certainly be applied to every day life as well.
Cox: This is very true. It would help the world if everyone was just nice to each other. That needs to be a new campaign – “Be nice.”

Once Upon a Time” airs Fridays on ABC.

Featured image by: Benjo Arwas

 

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