Bartender-turned-actor Amaury Nolasco dishes abouteverything from booze and babes to his hit TV show, “Prison Break.”
By Patty Adams
When Amaury Nolasco showed up at Red Pearl Kitchen in L.A. for DRAFT’s photo shoot, his life—and career—came full circle. “This place used to be called Citrus,” says Amaury, 35. “And it was one of the first places I applied for a job at when I got to L.A. in 1998. They never even called me. But eight years later, it’s a different story. Now I’m doing a photo shoot at the same bar because I’m on TV! What a crazy ride.” Amaury candidly fills us in on the rest of his rollercoaster of a career, including what hot Latina actress he used to call roomie, who’s asking him to have her baby and the most valuable lesson his father ever taught him.
Like most actors, in the early years you bartended to get by. What was the craziest thing that happened to you behind the bar?
I was hit on by couples looking to swing a few times. Women would say things like, “My husband just wants to watch.” And I’d be like, “That’s okay. I don’t want him to flip out the minute he changes his mind.”
Did you ever serve any celebrities?
Bruce Willis once gave me a $20 tip for handing him a glass for his bottle of water. He was a bartender his whole life. Bartenders take care of other bartenders.
What’s the biggest lesson you learned as a bartender?
Don’t buy a girl a drink without even talking to her. Guys used to come in and say, “I want to buy that pretty girl a drink.” And I’d be like, “Dude, she’s not even looking at you.” So I’d go over and say, “That gentleman in the corner wants to buy you a drink.” And they’d look at him and say, “Okay.” And then she’d say, “Give me the most expensive shit you’ve got,“ and then they’d say “thank you” and go the other way.
So you won’t buy a girl a drink?
Not if I haven’t spoken to her for a while, no. It’s not about being cheap. It’s just not a clever way to open a conversation. Because it’s like, “Okay, you bought me a drink so now you have five minutes to try to take me home with you. Go!” Like you’re on a timer. There’s this saying that my father taught me actually, “You meet her at a bar, you lose her at a bar.” So I try to avoid meeting girls at a bar.
What’s your favorite beer?
By far, my favorite beer is a Venezuelan beer called Polar. It’s phenomenal. Another one of my favorites is called Medalla. It’s from Puerto Rico, where I’m from, so I drink it all the time when I go home. Here in the States, I drink an Amstel Lite or Michelob Ultra.
Have you found a local hangout while shooting in Dallas, where Prison Break’s taping?
There’s a Mexican place called Primo’s Bar & Grille that’s cozy, so the cast will hang out there and have a beer. It’s the closest thing to the neighborhood bars I like.
Who are your usual drinking buddies in the cast?
Robert Knepper (T-Bag), Rockmond Dunbar (C-Note) and Lane Garrison (Tweener). When the four of us go out, it’s just madness.
How often are you recognized?
A lot more than I want to be. Before I could go out and scratch my ass if I wanted to or pick my nose. Now I have to be more aware of those things because people are always watching and taking photos of me. But on the other hand, it’s the fans. They’re the ones who watch the show. I love how people come up to me and start telling me their theories about the show. It’s a complex duality of good and bad.
Is it mostly men or women?
Mostly women. I think most men are too cool to come up and tell you they’re a fan. When men do come up for a picture, they usually say their wives are big fans, and she’d die to have a photo of the two of us together. I’m like, “Sure, whatever gets you laid, bro.” I don’t know what it is about women loving convicts. I guess they want to take care of them or they think they can change them.
Have you gotten any marriage proposals yet?
No, but I’ve gotten, “I want to have your baby!”
What’s been your most Hollywood moment?
The very first was when I had the pleasure of flying out my mom and dad to my very first movie premiere, which was for 2 Fast 2 Furious. It was like a MasterCard commercial: Tuition for high school: thousands of dollars. Tuition for college: thousands of dollars. Your kid telling you he’s going to act: heartbreaking. Going to his first movie premiere: priceless. You have to keep in mind that both of my parents are doctors and my brother is as well. My degree was in biology, and I was on track to become a doctor, but then I became an actor instead and that was very, very shocking to them.
You’ve done movies like Mr. 3000 and The Benchwarmers, so what made you want to play Prison Break’s Sucre on TV?
I fell in love with the character. I didn’t want to play a thug, a stereotypical Latino. Of course, he’s in jail and he’s there for robbery, but I wanted to play some guy who’s heartfelt. Maybe he was raised by a mother with three jobs, and he’s one of those guys who’s never had a chance. He’s not the sharpest tool in the shed, but he’s your best friend and you know you can count on him. The show’s very Shakespearean—lots of betrayals and brotherly love, love that can’t be conquered, and a whole lot of death.
Your character is running after a lost love. What’s the silliest thing you’ve done in the name of love?
At 17, I had a girlfriend that my folks were not very fond of, and I was on the phone with her and my mom came in my room and was bitching at me about being on the phone all day, and she tore the phone cord out of the wall. It was an important call because it was a very rocky point in my relationship with this girl, so I left my house pissed off, running in my jeans with no shirt and no shoes, running like Forrest Gump for a good half hour to my friend Ricky’s house so I could speak to her from his phone. Now it seems stupid, but it was so important at the time.
Like on the show, has one of your ex-girlfriends ever ran off with a friend of yours?
No! God forbid. That has never happened and hopefully never will [knocks on wood]. That would be a big betrayal.
You’ve talked a bit about the show being like Shakespeare. Can you talk about your classical training?
When I lived in New York, I studied at the American British Dramatic Arts School. They wanted me to work on my English as much as possible, so they had me do a lot of Shakespeare plays. So, you can imagine, a Puerto Rican with an accent playing Julius Caesar. I did Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, Taming of the Shrew, Macbeth and Othello.
I guess that means you’re comfortable in tights. Secure in your manhood, huh?
Oh, yeah, I’m very comfortable with that. When I was a kid, I wanted to be in a singing group called Menudo and they wore tights, so I’m beyond that.
You were originally a bio major. What made you make the plunge into acting?
I was at the beach one day and someone asked me if I wanted to be in a commercial. I thought it was a Candid Camera joke, and was like, “Yeah, right.” But she was a casting director, so I went to an audition and I ended up getting the Tylenol commercial. I liked it, I was making money, and girls were watching me on TV and recognizing me on the street in Puerto Rico. Then people said I should start taking acting classes to really hone my natural talent and loosen me up. So I was in my second year of biology and I went to the theater dept. and the bug hit me. I would hate to go to Biology and Chemistry, but loved my acting classes. It was my teacher, who I’ll owe for the rest of my life, that encouraged me to take up acting as a career. But I said, “With all due respect, I don’t think so because actors struggle and die of hunger.” But he told me I had a talent, and should finish Biology, but think about taking up acting full time. So I got my degree and fell more and more in love with acting, and he encouraged me to move to New York. I left with a pocketful of dreams.
Did you have any starving-artist moments along the way?
The minute I left! My folks told me they were not supporting me. I lived in a little apartment in Astoria, Queens, with a very good friend of mine, Roselyn Sanchez. I was bartending and made $50 a day. I was eating hot dogs for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Was there any point where you considered giving up?
No, it was not even an option. I had a girlfriend who moved with me from New York to L.A. She asked me one day, “What’s your plan B if this thing doesn’t work?” And I told her, “My plan B is to make plan A work.” We broke up very amicably, and we’re still friends now. She’s married and one of my biggest fans. But I was determined to make it, and making it is all about perseverance and patience. •