Nicky Jam is an iconic figure who Gilluis Pérez looked up to as a child. In Nicky Jam El Ganador, the talented actor plays the role of “Chino.” Some may say it is a smaller role but for Gilluis Perez, there are no “small roles”; everyone plays an important part in bringing the story to life. The show itself is in Spanish which is a huge step for the latinx community. For this actor, family is everything and he shared with us a little more about his past, dreams, and more. Keep an eye out and make sure to check out the heartwarming Netflix series, Nicky Jam El Ganador.
Tell us more about Nicky Jam El Ganador. What do you hope your audience gets out of watching it?
It’s an inspiring story told very raw and so many cultural references. So I would hope audiences get to understand where we come from in Puerto Rico. We need more representation in film and tv, and diversity in this industry. Having this show told in its mother tongue, Spanish, it’s a huge step for the latinx community. It opens up a whole new door for great stories. Like this one, that is about overcoming whatever life throws at you. It’s also the first time you get to watch a TV series with so many amazing Puerto Rican actors telling their own stories on a platform such as Netflix.
What made you be part of this series?
It’s the story of an icon, Nicky Jam was a huge superstar in my childhood, and it felt incredibly nostalgic. So when I got asked to be involved and play this character ´Chino´ I did not hesitate. As well the fact that Jessy Terrero was directing and Arí Maniel which I knew from his other projects, was part of the creator’s team, I knew I had to trust and jump on it. They were so careful with all the scenes and characters that I felt it was a treat and joy to explore that side of myself within a safe space.
Share with us some obstacles you encountered and how you overcome them.
I think playing Chino, which some people might call it a ¨small character¨ which I think is not, I believe there are no small parts. Every details conscious and there for a reason. I felt a tremendous responsibility in bringing justice not only to the history where the story takes place but also to my references without judgment. I did not want to make a parody of the person or play a stereotypical Chino. As an actor, you know characters have a need, and whatever Chino´s need was, I think I tried to find it with him. Also when you are in a project that is so ambitious and truthful, you feel it’s moving constantly and pressure is on because this industry puts us in that position many times. But with a cast and crew that felt like we knew each other from before, I felt no obstacles in that matter, I learned pretty quickly that it’s not about competition, but about collaboration.
When did you start your acting career?
I began acting when I was around 18-19 years old. I really had no knowledge about acting being a profession close to me, it was too much of far distant dream for me. I never got to wish for that. But life happens and my sister went on to work for a TV show where I randomly got called on set by the director and he put on my first scene. In fact, I was studying architecture in University and as soon as I discovered this craft everything went on another direction. And I am glad it did.
Who has been your biggest support throughout this process?
Without a doubt my family, especially my mom and sister. Without them, I would have never been able to become an actor.
When you aren’t acting, what do you like to do?
I love to spend time with friends and family mostly. I like to travel and go out, have a drink or two with my loved ones and dance. I love dancing Salsa as much as I enjoy educating myself and others on things to become better humans. I feel during these times, it’s potent to be able to acknowledge each and everyone’s privilege and platform and use it for those who don’t have it. Learning about what I can do to help others and make social change has become a priority and it is as important as telling your story, it’s telling reality.
Tell us more about your family and childhood history.
Well, I grew up in a loving home with my mother, she is from Ponce, Puerto Rico where I was also born and raised. My mom and dad divorced when I was a baby. My father is from the Dominican Republic. So my mom raised me and my sister as a single mother and gave us everything in her power. She would take us every weekend to the movie theaters. Without doubt she fed my dreams as a child with stories and imagination. I used to be very quiet, solitary, and shy. Usually stayed drawing for hours on my sketchbook, so I felt movies were definitely an outlet on imagination and a way of knowledge as well. I’m so proud of my mother and everything she did for me. Without her, I would not be where I am.
What is a conversation or moment that had a strong impact on you?
The first thought that came to mind was George Floyd’s murder. Not because I was surprised that it happened again, but the way it shifted a conversation on the system and race, not only in the US but everywhere in the world was necessary to humankind. These conversations about privilege, colorism, inequality, and racism are among the conversations we need to have, even if they make us uncomfortable but to condition a healthy life for all of us. During this moment we are waking up more and more to the power we posses when we stand together. And to the need to call for deliberate action if racial equality is to be exercised in every aspect of our lives.
First thing you will do when quarantine is over?
Hug my friends and family. Probably travel and go see things I should’ve seen. And absolutely take climate change and health more seriously. In my opinion, COVID 19 was a warning, we need to take care of each other, more and of course, be more active on changing our culture to make everyone feel respected.
What comes next?
First, staying healthy, mentally, and emotionally. Stay patient and busy at the same time, so hopefully, when all this ends, I can get back on set, audition rooms, and doing what we love. But definitely keep going with films and more TV series. I cannot wait to keep growing and self-educating more in this craft. It never stops!
By Alexandra Bonnet
Photography by Bryan Wilhelm