Finding confidence in yourself isn’t always easy. Doubly so if you have to find it while in the public eye. Actor Harvey Guillen has experienced this throughout his career and has become a stronger person because of it. We caught up with him to talk about finding a work/life balance, why he wanted to do a boudoir-inspired shoot, and his new film Truth or Dare.
What made you want to become an actor?
[I] saw Annie On TV at four years old and said: “I want to be that!” I fell in love with acting since then and I remember trying to get into my first acting class at 6. I came from a low-income family, both of my parents were hard-working immigrants, so it was a luxury that we couldn’t afford. I understood that, but I also knew that I wanted to do whatever I could to make my dreams come true so I remember that the YMCA down the street was doing an acting class for $12 so I asked my mom that if I could make my own money to pay for the class, could I do it and she said sure. So for three weeks after school, I collected cans and made the $12 to take my first class.
How do you balance being Harvey Guillen the son/brother/friend with Harvey the actor?
I’ve missed a lot of events because of the schedule I have, but my friends are so understanding. Some of my closest friends don’t work in entertainment; they’re teachers, artists, hairstylists and they have different points of views on life. They each give me a different perspective, which is nice because it reminds that not everything is Hollywood or Showbiz.
Everyone’s experience in Hollywood seems to be different. How would you describe yours?
It’s a love-hate relationship. I love what I do, but I hate the limitations the industry has built for people of color and people of size. I think it’s slowly moving in a positive direction. Growing up, I didn’t see anyone like me on TV, there was nobody I could mimic and say “Hey, I want to be like them!” I didn’t see [someone like me] and a part of me thought, “Why not be the first one?” That has slowly become a reality for me, and I’m excited that Hollywood is going in that direction. It’s a melting pot and it should represent the world, more than just [some mainstream] ideal of beauty, talent and who gets to play the leading man.
I recently did a photo shoot and, in a way, it’s [pushing against] things that are considered taboo for people of size, especially guys, because it’s a boudoir-inspired shoot. The idea behind the photo shoot was me baring it all. It’s about being comfortable in your own skin so that you can be any character.
I want to delve into the topic of being comfortable in your own skin. The pictures are beautiful and it makes us realize that we, as plus-size men, can do that.
See, that’s exactly why we need to do more. If you asked me to do this five years ago, I wouldn’t have because I wouldn’t have felt like it’d be accepted. Along the way, I realized that I’m doing it for myself and I am helping someone look at this and say, “Yes I can.” Who says you can’t? We’ve been told by the entertainment industry for decades that we can’t be the leading man if we’re plus-sized, that we can’t be sex-symbols. Why can’t we? Let’s be real, you can look sexy and amazing at any size.
You’re obviously confident and comfortable with your body. What was that journey like?
It’s been hard, honestly. There are times when you doubt yourself. You go through self-loathing because you’re told these things by society. “Oh, you’re not your ideal weight. Oh, that’s not your ideal nose, legs, butt, etc,” and it took me long to realize that I came from nothing. If I came from nothing then I had nothing to lose, [only] to gain. The journey has its ups and downs, but you have to keep going.
I’ve heard on a podcast that your grandma used to call you “gordito.” I know in Latino culture, it’s often a term of endearment, but what was your messaging growing up about your body from your family?
When you’re a child, baby fat is cute and adorable so when someone’s calling you words like “gordito,” it’s adorable. But that comment becomes your label and the older you get, that label stays with you and becomes part of your psyche. The term of endearment becomes a negative remark. I remember having a conversation about that with my mother and I just told her that while my family thinks it’s adorable, it’s actually hurtful in the long-run.
I don’t want to be getting cast because of my size, I want to be cast in role because I’m the best actor who just happens to be plus-size.
Has your work as an actor made you more comfortable with your body?
It’s helped me understand what Hollywood sees me as. I remember getting roles and realizing that I’m only getting a role because it’s between me and three other guys who are fat. I told myself that I don’t want to be cast because of my size, I want to be cast in a role because I’m the best actor who just happens to be plus-size. I can honestly say that now, I’ve gone in for roles that don’t fit my body type or that I don’t fit the description for and I come in as a wildcard. A lot of my roles were not originally meant for me and I take pride in that, knowing that I went in for a role where the odds were against me and I walked out booking it. That’s a big accomplishment for me as an actor.
Speaking of roles, you have a film coming out soon, don’t you?
Yes! I have a film coming out on SyFy on October 8th and it’s called Truth or Dare. I’m really excited for this one because it’s been on my bucket list to do a horror film. I love films like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer, and it just sounded like such fun to make something like that. I told myself that I was going to do it and I did. I like the character I play because he’s such a ladies man who tries to flirt & finagle and he’s a smart aleck, which again isn’t a role that I’d be traditionally cast as, so it’s great to play that.
How do you balance being a public figure, but also your own person, dealing with your own struggles and life?
Being in the public eye, you’re going to be scrutinized for everything that you do and it’s easy for critics to jump on your weight. I’ve been lucky to have both negative and positive criticism to help me along the way. I’m excited at the direction Hollywood is going and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.
What do you want to do next?
I’m starting to put on different hats. I’m producing, writing and I’m really excited to be [doing things] I traditionally may not have been allowed to do. I just wrapped up a casting session for a commercial I’m helping produce, then I’m heading out to act, and when I come back I’m going to be a part of a writing team for a film. I’m lucky that I can try different things, work with friends, and create content for people who I know are talented but maybe wouldn’t get the same opportunities. This makes me think of that quote by Kevin Spacey, “I feel it’s a responsibility for anyone who breaks through a certain ceiling to send the elevator back down and give others a helpful lift.”
Catch Harvey in the new horror thriller Truth or Dare, Sunday, October 8th at 9 pm/8 pm central on SyFy. Watch the trailer below: