Hired to play a hipster, a punk kid for a Coca-Cola commercial and a self-absorbed son of a drug lord for season two of the Dallas-based, USA television show Queen of the South, Gustavo Hernandez is 180 degrees different from the characters he brings to life.
“My character, Pedro Jimenez, is the most outgoing guy, the life of the party. When I was little I lived behind my mom’s legs. I am an introvert, and I am still shy. Everyone asks me how I play this person. I just go into character. What he wants isn’t what I want, but because it is acting it is ok, because it is his world. It is not as hard to be outgoing when I am in character. I become the other person,” said Hernandez, who lives at home with his parents and works 30 hours a week in retail in addition to his acting jobs and attending classes at Collin.
In his short career, Hernandez has already been in four commercials and performed on stage at Collin in three plays. After getting a few Collin College acting classes under his belt, he acquired an agent in June 2016. He is exhilarated by his new, fast-paced acting career, but he admits he is still learning the ropes.
Hernandez was nervous during his Coca-Cola commercial callback.
“They asked if my favorite food was pizza or Mexican food. I said, ‘Mexican food.’ They asked me if I could order in Spanish, so I ordered tacos al pastor with an Arnold Palmer. They were laughing, and then the director said, ‘Try that again with a Coke,’” Hernandez said, laughing about the experience.
After that rough beginning, Hernandez was sure he was not going to land the job, but he shot the commercial in January in Austin.
To watch the Coca Cola commercial, visit https://www.ispot.tv/ad/w7Y4/coca-cola-nothing-better .
Why Collin College?
Hernandez drives more than 40 minutes to attend classes at Collin. His high school theater teacher, Dr. John Price, told him about classes he took from Collin theater professor Gail Cronauer.
“I came to Collin because of the theatre program. I think if you are going to do it, then do it right. In my acting class, professor Cronauer told me that I had to make a decision. She said, ‘Either you want to be an actor or you don’t.’ That grounded me,” he said.
When professor Cronauer explained that seeing what a character is thinking is one of the most interesting things for an audience, Hernandez was paying close attention. He and fellow students watched themselves act on a television set in the classroom. He learned about the strong impact of small movements in close-up shots and the need to move more dramatically in wide-angle shots. While he was acting in Queen of the South, he applied that knowledge and asked the director of photography to identify the type of shot so he could perform at the top of his abilities.
“Collin College professors care. They’ve been through everything you’ve been through. They are not just teachers to you. It was so wonderful to be taught by professor Cronauer because she is a working actor. She taught me that being an actor is 10 percent talent and 90 percent work ethic,” he said.
Choosing acting as a career was not an easy decision for Hernandez. His mother was supportive, but his father had reservations about his ability to consistently provide for himself. When Hernandez played the lead in Anon(ymous) at Collin College, his father saw his son in a different light.
“My dad shed a tear or two. My character was a refugee separated from his mother. The play is a recreation of The Odyssey. My character sees horrific and beautiful things. He sees death, but he never goes away from his path. He never becomes another person. He had a lifetime to go through in a small time. There are parts when I was in pain and others when I was happy. My dad didn’t know I had the ability to do that. He saw how I have grown and am able to do something that he couldn’t imagine me doing,” he said.
Action on the Set
Even though he is still taking theatre classes, Hernandez is acting for a national audience. His family and classmates can see him perform on their television sets on episodes four, six, nine, 12 and 13 in the second season of Queen of the South.
Hernandez says he will never forget the time he heard the production assistant announce “Team One is coming in now” over the walkie talkies because he was a member of that important group.
“It was one of the greatest moments of my life. It was exciting to be part of the actual cast and not an extra. It felt nice to be trusted with a piece of work and a character. I could hear professor Cronauer in my head. She always said that it is a blessing to work as an actor.”
Landing the part of Pedro Jimenez was a whirlwind for Hernandez. He had a day to create an audition tape and was actually booked off the tape. Hernandez explained that the casting director emailed his agent with immediate positive feedback, something he learned is uncommon.
“The agent sent me a copy of the email. I was put on ‘avail,’ keeping the dates available. The casting director’s email said the tape was sent to the network for approval. The following Thursday my agent emailed that the role was booked to confirm. I confirmed immediately. They sent the script the following Monday, and I shot two days later. I was excited, but it didn’t hit me until I got the script. ‘Oh my God, I am on a TV show. This is going to happen,’” he said.
“Queen of the South” is based in Dallas. Hernandez was shot in the Lizard Lounge, in front of houses on Preston Road and at White Rock Lake. He says it was an honor to meet Alice Braga (Predator), who stars as “Teresa Mendoza” on Queen of the South.
“As the lead of the show, she was not what you would expect. She was really nice and welcoming. One of the writers and cast members, Ryan O’Nan who also plays ‘King George,’ was so helpful. He grounded me on set. Sometimes I got the script the night before, and I forgot a line. He said, ‘Relax you are doing wonderful work.’ I spaced out the line, but I kept in character, and a lady gave me the line, and we went on.”
When you ask Hernandez about his daily memories of shooting on set, his eyes light up, and he laughs as he remembers the “honeywagon,” which he describes as the biggest trailer with the smallest dressing rooms and the “crafty truck,” a food truck with walls lined with chips and nuts and a place to make just about any sandwich you can imagine.
“It is amazing when you are on set and hungry. You work long hours. One day, I worked 14 hours. You get to the truck and you relax,” Hernandez said.
The fact that he was not typecast for his recent roles gives Hernandez confidence in his acting potential. This young actor is more sure than ever that he is following the right career path.
“People are made for different things. When I am on set, I know I am meant to do that. My dream is not to be famous but to do good work and have people think, ‘That is a good actor.’ I want to be constantly working and to be able to live off my acting salary.”