Julián Juaquín, is about to graduate from the MFA USC School of DramaticArts MFA in Acting program and bust through walls that have challenged him much of his life. He identifies as Colombian and hails from Jamaica, Queens, in New York. This past semester, he enthralled audiences in a production of Tony Kushner's "Angels in America" as the pugnacious, hypocritical and infamous lawyer, Roy Cohn – who, as it turns out was a best friend and legal counsel to President Donald Trump back in the day when Trump was a mere citizen and "The Apprentice" a gleam in his eye.
Juaquin portrayed Cohn in such a way that made him leap into relevance, providing ways of understanding current politics – which, in the end, is Kushner's brilliance and why his Reagan-era AIDS epic, "Angels in America," earned the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony. Juaquin went to St. John's University for his undergraduate education as as television and film major. Here he talks about the transforming power of theater and facing graduation as an actor.
How has your background carried over into your work?
I fought a lot growing up, and as a result created this "cool" persona. Acting lets me take these walls down and accept myself for my weakness and vulnerability. A lot of my walls come from my childhood environment. I had friends where I'd turn around and they'd be there fighting with me. I've had some friends who were running, when I was getting beat up.
Has your friend group from your childhood affected your acting?
What I took away from being a part of a crew was loyalty. Right now [as part of the graduating MFA Acting class], I'm going to trust these people to have my back, and we go through these trials and tribulations. This is who I am in this pack. I can stand on that and I know whom to rely on because of their consistency. The beautiful thing about it is that no one is going to be hurt in this dynamic.
What was the process preparing for this Roy Cohn in "Angels in America"?
Our director, John Rubinstein, wanted us to look at each word in this wordy play. What did you say? Why are you saying it? Why did your character use these words? That is always my first question. I also had to go and put on a voice. I spent three weeks ruining my voice, just trying to find a comfort level but also connect it with my ideas of him. I search for the character's physicality that fits his personality, but at the same time not so much that it makes me look artificial. This is something else I love to focus on. There are small enough adjustments like facial gestures where it still defines the character, but it's still a part of me. It's super important to hold on to what my ideas are and not reach for ideas that are outside of me. A lot of actors want to completely be a character, but it's you. These are my thoughts and my body.
Have you gotten past the fear of judgment?
I think last year in this program there was this idea of judgment. The idea was that it had to be perfect or it had to be to this text. It had to be what the author was thinking. I think this year I've learned to have the confidence to see what the author is trying to do and formulate my own judgment. Now, I create what I want. I don't care what the author or analysts think. This is my opinion and how I interpret it.
What does your family think of your career in acting?
When I realized I wanted to be an artist, my parents initially asked, "Why don't you become a doctor or a lawyer?" I said this is what I wanted to do. Have fun every day and be a tool to communicate as an artist. In the beginning, they said if this is what you want to do, go do it. My father came to see "Angels in America." He hadn't seen me act in three or four years. When he came to see it, he was impressed and told me, "You're an actor. I didn't believe that this was something you were serious about. After watching you tonight, you're an actor. Congratulations." That was a surreal moment for me because his thought process about what I'm trying to do in this world has changed.
What are your goals after graduating?
I don't want fame. I really want to be able to feel relaxed and have peace. If I can make a little money to survive in my life right now and express what I see in this world, I'll be happy. Do I want to stop doing this? Never. Expressing myself and views and saying something to this world is what I enjoy. It's why I love doing this job. Some of me is afraid of this fame due to the clouded turbulence that is media and publicity. That's not interesting to me. I want to portray what's going on in this world. The problems and issues that we deal with as human beings are just things we go through. This is what people don't always understand today. Because you're having a feeling that makes you feel bad doesn't necessarily mean that it's a bad thing in life. We're just learning about ourselves.
Contact contributor Joshua Hung at firstname.lastname@example.org