It won’t take long before everybody is saying his name. And that’s not just because Celestino Cornielle is a hell of a name to say. Set to make his big screen debut this Friday in the “The Fate of the Furious,” the former model and self-described mystic is about to be catapulted into stardom with his portrayal of Raldo, a Havana heavy, in the Universal Pictures mega-franchise starring Vin Diesel and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Cornielle is a living example of the old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.” Having previously auditioned for (and losing out on) a role in “2 Fast 2 Furious,” he turned his focus inward, perfecting his craft and getting back on his horse, once again fatefully finding himself in the path of the franchise and ultimately becoming a part of its unstoppable pop culture reach.
We recently sat down with Cornielle to discuss the impact of Raldo on his career, his love for antique vehicles, and his unflinching commitment to his beard.
TrunkSpace: Most of the times as an actor, you never really know if the project you’ve worked on is going to find an audience or not, but with a film like “The Fate of the Furious,” it’s pretty much a guarantee that it’s going to blow out the box office this weekend. What’s that wait like?
Cornielle: It’s interesting. I actually had a friend over last night. We were hanging and we were discussing that it’s something that comes back to me many times. I don’t think that I fully quite understand the weight of it because I’m still going through the process. It’s kind of like… it’s hard for you to see all angles when you are yourself within it. I remember on set talking with Vin. He was telling me, “Man, you’ve got no idea how much work you’re gonna get when this project comes out.” (Laughter) And I laugh because, that would be so fucking cool, but also it’s like… I haven’t experienced it so I don’t really know what that feels like, yet I understand that this is Universal’s biggest franchise and this is huge. This is not only my big screen debut, but it is a much anticipated installment of this huge franchise. If I take a moment to take a breath and just take that all in… it’s mind blowing. (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: Well, just knowing how many people are going to see it in that first weekend alone and then jump on their phone to Google search you… it’s intense.
Cornielle: Exactly! (Laughter) It’s quite exciting. I think part of the magic in life is embracing the beauty of becoming. That higher uncertainty. And that’s exactly what I’m doing. I’m just embracing it and… surfing the wave. (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: When it comes to landing the part… and not to play off the title… but was it fate or hard work? What was it that brought you to the “The Fate of the Furious” at this moment in your life?
Cornielle: I’m a mystic, so yes, I believe that fate has a lot to do with it, yet I believe that there’s potential. Meaning that, we don’t wake up and our entire life is written out for us and then we’re just following the script. No, we have free will and we have the potential to draw things to us or draw things away from us. But, the journey itself has been very fateful and prophetic for me, being that the catalyst to make me consider acting as a craft… to pursue it seriously… was when I auditioned for “2 Fast 2 Furious.”
TrunkSpace: In the world of creative people, sometimes the only thing we can control is our own creativity and then so much of it is in the hands of other people. How do you hope to control your own destiny and capitalize on what Vin suggested will be an increased workload once “The Fate of the Furious” is released?
Cornielle: Well, I believe in consult. I believe that if you want to do something quick, you do it yourself, but if you want to have longevity, then you do it in a collective. I understand that many opportunities will be presented to me. I also understand that opportunities themselves can be distracting. So it’s important for me to have consults, so one of the things that I’m doing is adding a new member to my team, which is a manager that comes with his own set of experiences and relations so that we can look at these opportunities and be like, “Hey, is this something that we want to bite down on or something that we simply want to pass on?” So that’s what I’m doing. I leaning on wiser consults. As my mother would say to me as a child, “Más sabe el diablo por viejo que por diablo,” which translates to, “The devil knows more because he’s old than because he’s the devil.” (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: Your character in the film is a Havana heavy, right? Somebody who is going toe to toe with Vin’s character Dom?
Cornielle: Yes. I play Raldo. In the streets they call him “El Sabroso”, which means “The Tasty One” because he gets a taste of all the action that comes in and out of Havana. Now, Raldo comes from the east side of Cuba. He comes from the countryside and he migrated to Havana for opportunities as many have done. It is done in this country with immigration and so forth, right? But, he builds a name for himself. He went up the ranks in the streets and he’s holding it down, so in essence, when Toretto goes to Cuba to unwind a bit, he’s in my backyard. He’s in my house. So that, needless to say, leads into a big cockfight between the two alpha males. (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: And without giving any spoilers away, that cockfight ultimately leads into a deeper reveal at the end of the film with Raldo, correct?
Cornielle: That is correct. Our dynamic… our exchange… has a surprising twist, just like the entire movie. The relationships are put to the test and a lot of new relationships are built and they’re built on certain character… on honor. And that’s, in essence, the journey Vin and I travel on, which is very fulfilling. (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: Cars are such a big part of the film. Are you a car guy in real life?
Cornielle: You know, interestingly enough, I’m into antiques. So for us to go to Cuba and to be part of the whole Cuba scene where basically all of the cars are antiques, was really cool. I have an International Scout… a 1976 International Scout. And my motorcycle is a 1986 K100 that I’ve turned into café racer. I’m big into the antiques, so it was quite a treat to be in Cuba… different than what you’ve seen in every installment in that it’s always the biggest, baddest muscle car. We go real old school, man. We’re riding old school cars that hold within themselves, within the culture, a lot of honor and value because in Cuba you drive these old antiques and they are passed down from generation to generation. And a lot of them, which we reference in the movie, are running with tractor parts and boat parts. They just do whatever they have to do to keep them running because they represent a means of income.
TrunkSpace: It becomes a part of their family lineage.
Cornielle: Exactly! So we’re riding for that. With that understanding, then you begin to understand the bigger weight being carried between the race that Raldo and Dom engage in, because they’re riding for pink slip. And although in some of the other installments they’ve taken a ride for pink slips and yes it involved honor, but it was more like they were just having a cockfight. This is something different because if I lose my car, I am dishonoring my entire family line. I got this from my grandpa and he got it from his, so there’s a lot riding on it. There’s a lot of honor riding on it, which makes the race that much more juicy.
TrunkSpace: So as a lover of antiques, was it hard to watch those antiques get destroyed on set because, from what we have seen in the past, the franchise is not afraid to smash up a car or… a hundred?
Cornielle: (Laughter) Yeah. You’ve got all these cars and you’re like this big kid with cars you can crash. The entire experience was so surreal, not just because of the opportunity it represents, but also because it’s a HUGE budget. To be a part of that… “Holy shit, they just crashed that car!”
TrunkSpace: In the trailer alone we think we saw more cars destroyed than we have in any movie before or since.
Cornielle: Exactly. It’s surreal. Just the budget and the magnitude of the project… it’s incredible.
TrunkSpace: Do you ever have to pinch yourself and sort of remind yourself that you were a part of it, especially with the film yet to be released?
Cornielle: I’ve had to stop, take a deep breath, and pinch myself throughout the entire experience. I’m heading to New York this coming weekend to be a part of the premiere and even going through that, I’ll have to take moments to be like, “Holy shit, I’m on the red carpet with Vin Diesel.” I have those moments all of the time. I think it’s just a process that I have to go through because it still hasn’t fully hit me of what it means. Like you mentioned, the next day everyone is going to Google you and Vin tells me I’m going to get more opportunities and work… it’s just like, “Whoa.” I’m still going through the process. (Laughter) As an artist, I just appreciate it and I’m happy to go and be a part of the experience, but what exactly it means to me as a person and the future of my work, I haven’t really wrapped my mind around the potential.
TrunkSpace: And acting wasn’t always a calling for you, correct? It was something you discovered a little later in life?
Cornielle: Yeah. It’s something that I fell into. It wasn’t ever something I was pursuing or considered as a possibility for me. I was doing body work in energetic healing and that, to make a long story short, lead me to modeling, which lead me to my agent sending me to acting auditions. My failing so miserably at the “2 Fast 2 Furious” audition just really shattered me. It really affected my psyche. It really beat me up that I could be so terrible and feel so humiliated. And I in essence did what you see in the movies, man… they get beat up and then go into the jungle and train. (Laughter) That’s what I did. I said, “It ain’t gonna happen to me again” and in the process of that, I actually fell in love with it. And because I’m so passionate in everything that I do, I really committed to pursuing the craft and embracing the artistic journey and that’s how I ended up where I am today.
TrunkSpace: You have one of the best beards in the biz. Tell us you’re still rocking it!
Cornielle: (Laughter) Absolutely, man! I love my beard! Many projects have asked me to cut it and I always kindly decline. I was filming “Major Crimes”… I’m in the two-part season finale, so Wednesday the 5th and Wednesday the 12th you’ll get to see me portray a very dynamic individual, but initially, to book me on that, we went back and forth for like two weeks because they wanted me to cut my beard. Ultimately I’m glad that I held my ground because as we were filming that, I got a surprise call from “The Fate of the Furious” camp and the first thing they asked me was, “Do you still have your beard?” It turns out they added a surprise scene that I think all of the fans are going to enjoy. (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: Beards are such a commitment. It’s like being married to your face. Shaving it is like divorcing your face.
Cornielle: (Laughter) There’s no way to explain it. It’s kind of like trying to explain my love for motorcycles to someone who’s afraid to ride a motorcycle. There’s just no way to do it. So with a beard, you really build a relationship. I grow my beard on a daily basis and it’s like, this is a part of me. And each beard is different. Everyone carries their own beard differently and it’s like a fingerprint.
TrunkSpace: And then when you do shave it off and look in the mirror, you don’t recognize yourself.
Cornielle: Not only do you look like a baby, but your whole jawline changes so much. It’s so weird. I’ve seen videos of fathers who shave their beards and then their own babies are looking at them like, “Who the hell are you?” (Laughter)
Check out Cornielle in the season finale of “Major Crimes” airing tonight at 9 p.m. on TNT.
“The Fate of the Furious” will be in theaters everywhere on Friday.