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The Featured Presentation

Filipe Valle Costa

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Photo By: JSquared Photography

Every great story should be told. For Portuguese actor Filipe Valle Costa, he doesn’t just star in them either, he lives one. As one of the breakouts of FX’s new crack cocaine origin story series “Snowfall,” his journey towards achieving his dream started in the most unlikely of places upon arriving in the States. Instead of cutting his teeth in Los Angeles or New York, Valle Costa ventured from Portugal to Iowa on a tennis scholarship and began to build upon his dream from there.

We recently sat down with Valle Costa to discuss his “Snowfall” character Pedro, how all of Portugal celebrated on the same day that he discovered the part was his, and why he started the Saudade Theatre Company in New York City.

TrunkSpace: Outside of physically relocating for “Snowfall” in order to shoot the series, how has it impacted your life the most?
Valle Costa: I just drove my girlfriend to work this morning. We were just driving and all of a sudden we looked to the right and there it is, this big billboard with my face on it. That was pretty bizarre. It was a very surreal feeling.

I come from Portugal. I’m from Lisbon. I grew up falling in love with movies and falling in love with the idea of Hollywood and what that meant from afar. My grandparents used to show me “The Godfather” and all of these really dark movies at a really young age and I used to daydream a lot about them. Even “Jurassic Park” and “Home Alone” and all of these movies, they’ve had such a big impact on me as a Portuguese person. Martin Scorsese as well. So for me to be here and to look to the right and be part of it, it’s really a dream and I couldn’t be happier.

Of course, all of us actors have to go through a lot of struggle and no complaints on my part, but it’s definitely a step up and it feels that way. I’m so happy. I feel like great things are going to continue to happen. That’s one of the main changes.

TrunkSpace: You booked the job about a year ago. Is it a crazy ride to have this thing exist in your life that could completely change your career, but not really be able to talk about it or see the fruits of that labor for so long?
Valle Costa: Yeah. This happened a year ago. It was all really serendipitous because I got the call that I got the part the same day that Portugal won the Euro Cup. (Laughter) I was walking around New York with my Portuguese flag, my girlfriend, and some of my best Portuguese friends and we had just gone to this Portuguese restaurant and we were celebrating. So I was already happy and then all of a sudden I get a phone call from my manager that I had gotten it. I just started running and dancing in the middle of New York with my Portuguese flag. It was very bizarre.

And then to go through all of it and have to wait a year, that was definitely a new experience for me because a lot of my experience so far has been in theater and it’s such an immediate and “in the moment” experience in terms of how the audience perceives it. To put that amount of work out there, 10 episodes, and then wait six months for them to come out… it’s definitely a new feeling that I’m learning to deal with.

TrunkSpace: What’s great about that story is that you can just tell people moving forward that all of Portugal was celebrating your success and leave out the part of the Euro Cup win.
Valle Costa: (Laughter) That was by far the happiest day of my life. I was already happy. Imagine it, we had never won the Euro Cup, so we’re all crying and singing the Portuguese anthem and then all of a sudden I get that phone call… it was too much for me to handle. It was very surreal.

TrunkSpace: It seems like with “Snowfall” that there is a lot of gray area in terms of the characters being “good” or “bad” and ultimately if their motivation is coming from a pure place. Where does your character Pedro fall into things?
Valle Costa: I never like to talk about the characters I play as good or bad. I know that’s such a cliché and all actors say it, but it’s definitely true. There’s a perception I had as Pedro when I first auditioned and the perception that I have now. To have to go through a whole season and get one episode at at time, it’s a new journey for me. I was learning about my character as I was shooting, which was really fascinating. I’d make decisions about who he was and then the next episode would come and it would completely contradict that decision that I had made. But in terms of Pedro himself, he is the cocky, showy, full of bravado guy who is the heir apparent to this really big drug lord… the head of the cartel. There’s a lot of pressure that comes with that and he ends up compensating in a lot of the wrong ways, just like any privileged person on this earth would do. That for me was a lot of the journey, just assuming that person.

Because of the way I look, I have to audition for a lot of characters that at first seem to be Mexican Drug Lord #1 or Colombian Gangster #3, and then you get a part like this. In the first episode you get the impression that this guy is just cocky and full of himself and that there’s no redeeming qualities to him, but as the story progresses, there is a lot that is revealed in terms of what has happened with their family and you sort of start to understand where Pedro is coming from. All of this bravado is coming from a place of mostly insecurity and seeking love in all of the wrong places and trying to impress his dad at any cost. Of course, you end up compensating in all of the wrong ways. For me, he’s not good or bad. He is who he is and the circumstances in which he grew up in, which I think is a very Los Angeles story, have forced him to be the way that he is when he is in a public setting.

I think what the show does so well is, and it’s sort of like “The Godfather,” where you get to see these intimate, beautiful family moments and you understand where they’re coming from and you understand their perspective. And I think that’s a privilege as far as Latino characters go. Very rarely do you get to see the perspective of that person. It’s such an honor to to be able to have those back and forth scenes between me and my dad and me and my cousin. It shows what is really underneath the character.

TrunkSpace: And you touched on it, but that aspect must have been really interesting for you because you were still learning about those sides of him while going through the process of being him.
Valle Costa: Yeah. If you really embrace that sort of energy, it’s a really beautiful energy to embrace. Pedro doesn’t know what’s going to happen next, so it’s kind of nice that I don’t know what’s happening next and it puts me in a place of surprise constantly. And just like how in life we make decisions about who we are and then the next day comes and something happens to you and you have to shift and evolve and learn, that was the journey for me shooting this series.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned being a fan of American cinema. What was it like being directed by John Singleton?
Valle Costa: I had to work really hard to come down to earth. (Laughter) He puts out such a positive, loving aura about himself. I remember my uncle… I was sleeping in my grandparents house and he got home at 1 AM after going out to a club and he was like, “We’re going to watch this movie together.” That movie was “Boyz n the Hood.” So then to be in the same room with John and be directed by him, it’s sort of very easy because you grew up watching a movie that shaped you. It became very easy for me to just be open to whatever he needed to get out of a certain scene. I knew that I was there to learn. And at the end of the day, it could be John Singleton or any other director, that’s what you want. And with a guy like John, you know you have a lot to learn, so if you come at it from a place of openness, John is going to give it to you.

Photo By: JSquared Photography

TrunkSpace: A lot of young people from around the world dream of becoming an actor. Most of them will move to Los Angeles or New York to pursue their dreams, but what is so interesting about your journey is that when you moved from Portugal, you actually started out in Iowa?
Valle Costa: (Laughter) Yeah. I don’t know why! (Laughter) I played tennis my whole life and when I decided to be an actor, my parents suggested that I try out for a tennis scholarship in the United States. So then I sent my tape out to various schools in the United States and there was a small school in Iowa that gave me a full ride. I was 17 and at the time my brain didn’t understand that LA or New York was any different than Iowa. I wasn’t thinking that way. It was like, “Well, I’m going to go to the United States and fight for my dream.” And of all the moments in my life, I feel like that is the one that has shaped me the most. Being 17 and having to say goodbye to your parents, your family, your friends, your country… everything you have ever known… and say that you’re going to fight for your dream, it’s sort of silly when you think of it, but I had no fear in me.

TrunkSpace: Something about you we found to be really cool is that you started a theater company in New York for other people from Portugal who come to the States to pursue acting. Can you tell us about that?
Valle Costa: That’s right. I started a Portuguese theater company in New York City called Saudade Theatre and the “Snowfall” experience has allowed me to put a lot of my positive energy into it. I started it in New York when I struggling and I was looking for a job and auditioning every week. When I arrived in New York I realized that for a Portuguese actor, it was very tough to find a home. More often than not we fall into this place of ambiguity. And for me, I look Latino, so I get to audition a lot for Latino roles and I include myself in the Latino community, but I want a Portuguese actor who arrives in New York City in 10 years or 20 years from now to be able to have a home right away and to not have any questions in his or her mind in terms of, “Well, there’s this Portuguese theater company and I just arrived in New York City. I can start there.” That’s where I’m throwing a lot of my positive energy into these days and it’s a great privilege that “Snowfall” has granted me with, which is time, because time is money and money is time.

Snowfall” premieres July 5 on FX.

For more information about the Saudade Theatre, visit www.saudadetheatre.org.

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The Featured Presentation

Amin Joseph

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Photo By: Bobby Quillard

Amin Joseph is about to have himself one crazy summer. Not only is he hitting the beach to kick some butt in the big screen adaptation of “Baywatch,” but the NYC native is set to star in the gritty FX series “Snowfall,” which premieres in July.

We recently sat down with Joseph to discuss dipping back into the past by way of period pieces, why swimming trunks are not for him, and how “Snowfall” will do for crack cocaine in the same way that “Breaking Bad” did for meth.

TrunkSpace: Things seems to be in full sprint mode for you in terms of projects releasing over the course of the next few months.
Joseph: Yeah. I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to a good summer.

TrunkSpace: The “Snowfall” trailer paints the picture of a very intense show.
Joseph: I’m really ecstatic about the trailer that just dropped. Damson, the lead of the show, he showed it to like 20 people all at basically the same time. (Laughter) He’s been going through it because he’s been with this project, probably about three years from when he initially booked it. It was fun to see him get all ecstatic. He was feeling it.

It looks really good. I liked the trailer. And the stuff that we did on the show, it really has some heart. I really like the way that FX put it together. Sometimes you can kind of see the vision from the pilot or whatever, but it was a very compartmentalized shoot and most of the cast… I would only interact with them during the table reads. It was so compartmentalized and it only spans about three weeks in the summer of ‘83 for that entire first season. Everyone is kind of in their own world and we start seeing it intersect towards the end of the season. It was a fun ride.

TrunkSpace: Is “Snowfall” the first period piece you’ve worked on from that particular era?
Joseph: Yeah. This is the first period piece that I’ve done where I remember it. I slightly remember some of the 80s, so it’s kind of cool to actually have lived in a period. I just did another period piece called “LAbrynth” that is in the 90s and I really know the 90s. The 90s is part of my time.

TrunkSpace: And not only that, but that project is based on such a well-known story, so in a lot of ways, you probably absorbed so much of that by way of TV and news during that period.
Joseph: Exactly. And that’s funny because you’re right. A lot times you think, “Oh, I lived that.” And it’s like, “Well, no, you lived through the headlines of that. You didn’t know Biggie and Pac!” (Laughter) But, it felt like you did because the music and everything consumed the entire zeitgeist.

With the 80s though it was a little different. Performance wise, I’m pulling just as much from imagination as I am from things that I remember and people of that time. It’s always fun to… there’s something about putting on prosthetics and there’s something about putting on wigs and period clothing that puts you in a time machine in a sense.

TrunkSpace: And it just must make the work so much more fun because you can step outside of yourself even in a physical sense and just inhabit the character entirely?
Joseph: Yeah. It’s the closest thing to having a theater production… a classical theater production. It’s the second best thing to that. Like you said, it’s not just an emotional trip, but it’s about what you’re wearing and that brings out so much of the behavior.

TrunkSpace: “LAbrynth” is based on real life people. “Snowfall” is based on real life events, but are the characters in the piece based on those who actually took part in the events of the time?
Joseph: I think that it’s just loosely based around the events that happened during that time. I don’t think they got too close with it to tell anyone’s life story, but there’s enough comparisons to be made with figures that we know from that time.

It’s an original story and it covers so many different sides of ‘83. Financing, selling cocaine, the CIA, the Latin community, the African American community, mobsters… it’s so many different slices of life that it puts together.

TrunkSpace: And even though it’s a period piece, it still manages to feel timely to what’s going on in our world today.
Joseph: Yeah. It seems like that with any period piece you do, you realize that the more things change the more they stay the same in some sense.

It’s kind of like how AMC did for meth. This is what FX is going to do with crack cocaine. There’s a lot of humanity there. I feel like Dave Andron and Tommy Schlamme and Jon Singleton… they wanted to make sure that there were multi-layered characters and it’s not what you think on the surface with most of the cast. It goes a little deeper than just, “Okay, he’s a tough guy drug dealer.”

TrunkSpace: People go down paths for certain reasons. That person is more than just a tough guy drug dealer and it’s his path that brought him to that spot and made him who he is. There is a human being there.
Joseph: And it’s so many greys. A lot of times these hoodlums or mobsters or drug dealers, they’re also giving out all of the turkeys during Thanksgiving. Or they’re making sure that single mothers don’t get evicted or that the man of the house can continue being the man of the house because they’re giving them a job. So there are so many greys and it’s good to be in a world where you see some of that and you also tell a good story that people may know, but don’t know everything about. I’m really looking forward to seeing how the audience responds.

TrunkSpace: On the opposite end of the spectrum, your new film “Baywatch” is set to premiere this Friday, which seems as far removed from “Snowfall” as you can get.
Joseph: (Laughter) Big time. It’s a totally different mood. It’s a different type of fun.

TrunkSpace: Where does your character Frankie fall into things?
Joseph: Well, “Baywatch” has a woman villain. Priyanka Chopra is THE villain of the film and I’m basically a henchman, but because it’s an action/comedy, you have some really big gags and then you also have some kick butt action going on. I tussle with some of the main guys and I don’t want to give too much away, but we definitely bring the bad to the beach.

You’re not supposed to bring the sand to the beach, but you’ve got to put the disclaimer in there that you don’t bring bad guys to the beach either. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: You don’t bring sand to the beach, but when you’re shooting at one, you probably bring sand home with you.
Joseph: (Laughter) Exactly.

We should just give the bad guys swimming trunks and perhaps they’d become good guys.

TrunkSpace: (Laughter) It’s tough to look badass in swimming trunks.
Joseph: (Laughter) You’re right. If they would have JUST given them some trunks… a little red bathing suit… then how bad could they be?

TrunkSpace: Shorts are kind of a young man’s game.
Joseph: (Laughter) Yeah. Especially trunks. Anything that has cheekage… anything with cheeks… doesn’t really work for me.

TrunkSpace: (Laughter) It’s got to be pretty cool going into a project like “Baywatch” because with the people involved, there’s a good chance it’s going to have a nice opening weekend?
Joseph: Yeah. You have DJ (Dwayne Johnson) and you have Zac and that’s great. It’s always awesome for the actors because we get to just play, but I don’t know if the producers feel the same way. (Laughter) They’re probably looking at everything and hoping that something that seems like a sure hit, indeed it is that.

I think what it definitely has going for it is that we have recognized that there is kind of a new formula with that summer blockbuster film and that is one that combines comedy, action, and you bring some sexy in there. I think it’s a good recipe. I’ve done the action films where it’s serious and there just isn’t as broad of an audience for that these days. It kind of becomes more genre whereas this, it’s blending. You take “Baywatch” and you make it a little bit more tongue in cheek where you’re laughing. There’s a crude side to this film. There’re some big gags. There’s some really funny stuff going on, so it gives you that sort of “21 Jump Street” or “Ted” type of humor. At the end of the day, it’s more of a buddy flick than it is about girls on the beach.

And then you bring me on the beach and let me crack some heads! (Laughter)

Photo By: Bobby Quillard

TrunkSpace: Let’s say someone gave you a blank check to retool and revamp any old property and make it new again in the same way that is being done with “Baywatch.” What would it be and why?
Joseph: Wow. I would love to see a “48 Hours.” It was gritty. It was tough. It had racial tension, but it had some good guys trying to get the bad guys. I would love to see that in our political atmosphere and seeing these working class guys. You don’t get to see blue collar guys as much on the big screen because a lot of stuff these days is either you’re taking over the world or not. (Laughter) So yeah, something like that I’d like to see revamped.

I also love “Coming to America.” That’s one of my favorite films.

TrunkSpace: And imagine that one retooled in our current political climate!
Joseph: Yeah. Totally different. We wouldn’t have a movie because they would have been stopped at the border.

I also like love films. There’s a film that starred Billy Dee Williams and Dianna Ross called “Mahogany.” I would love to do something like that with like a Rihanna or Beyoncè. That would be amazing!

Baywatch” arrives in theaters this Friday.

Snowfall” premieres July 5 on FX.

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