After making his television debut in 2000, Belizean native, Arlen Escarpeta has found success in roles in some of television’s most popular shows including “House MD,” “Law & Order: SVU,” “ER,” and more. On television this past year, Arlen was seen in the science-fiction drama “Extant,” produced by Steven Spielberg, as well as NBC’s “Grimm.” We caught up with the talented and humble actor to talk about his role in 50 Cent’s “The Oath”—premiered on March 8th on Crackle—his favorite roles so far and of course, some advice for aspiring actors and actresses.
Parlé Mag: Tell me about your childhood. How did you settle on living in California?
Arlen Escarpeta: My mom already had some family living here in the states. My father passed when I was very young, maybe around two, but once he passed my mom made the decision to transition our family and move here to California. So I grew up here, in the States, in L.A. I was around 3 or 4 years old, so just in time for preschool. I had school in Belize and then I started preschool here at 4 or 5 years old.
Parlé Mag: Was acting always your career goal?
Arlen Escarpeta: You know what? I remember being in junior high school and constantly telling myself “I was not going to have a 9 to 5. I’m going to do something, I don’t know what it’s going to be but I will not have a 9 to 5.” I think a lot of actors and actresses do this, I would sit there and practice my signature. Which is crazy! But you dream big when you’re young. Acting itself, I fell in love with in the fourth grade. Fourth grade is when I realized I liked acting. It made me feel really good about myself. I accomplished something that I never thought I could do when I did my first play. It gave me an enormous sense of strength and foundation. I told myself and I told my mother “I want to do more of this, I want to do this again” That’s how I ended up going to a performing arts junior high school and a performing arts high school as well.
Parlé Mag: I was just about to ask if you attended performing arts schools or did any acting in your younger years?
Arlen Escarpeta: Oh yeah! We did plays, we did musicals. We didn’t have P.E., there was dance class instead. They’re very serious about it. In high school, every student that joined the performing arts program had to go up on stage in front of the drama, dance and stage teachers and present your specialty.
Parlé Mag: What did you do?
Arlen Escarpeta: Mine was acting, so I did a monologue that I don’t even remember. I don’t know if I grasped what it all meant at the time but it was good to get up there and break that ice barrier of my very, very first audition.
Parlé Mag: That is too much pressure. But I’m glad you were able to handle it.
Arlen Escarpeta: I don’t even know if I handled it! I told myself “You’re going to this school, everyone else is doing it, so you’re going to do it too.” I remember being very, very nervous. VERY nervous! What’s funny is, in high school, I didn’t do that many plays.
Parlé Mag: Really?!
Arlen Escarpeta: My best friend and I bartered with our counselor to allow us to run track and play football. The deal was that we had to audition for every single production that the school had. However, if we didn’t get into the production then we had to work as stage hands to help build the sets or work behind the scenes. I did that my tenth, eleventh and twelfth grade years because I wanted to run track and play football. I did two major plays there but I still didn’t know that’s where it was going. It was all fate.
Parlé Mag: Oh wow, that’s so ironic and incredible. The world was introduced to you with your television debut back in 2000. How, exactly did that come about?
Arlen Escarpeta: My very first tv job if I’m not mistaken was on an episode of Boston Public.
Parlé Mag: That used to be my jam, back in the day!
Arlen Escarpeta: Yeah, Boston Public was a great show. If you go back and look at their IMDB there are so many actors that came through that show as either teachers or students or other elements. But I had one line. I remember getting the audition and being, once again, very nervous. I walked into the room and everyone knew each other. My line was “Cause that could kill me” What’s interesting about that episode is it’s playing into what we’re seeing now. In that scene, someone brought a gun to school, the teacher did actually. And he was trying to explain to the kids why it was dangerous and asking why were they so scared? I was sitting there quietly, then I said my line, “Cause that could kill me.” I tried to put all of this extra weight on it. From there, they threw me to the wolves. It was one audition after the other. Each one, whether I booked or not I learned and studied and kept going.
Parlé Mag: What was that moment like seeing yourself on tv for the first time?
Arlen Escarpeta: Oh it was amazing. It was special. It was a combination of everything I thought I could do from believing in myself and trusting, having faith and praying. It was a little bit of everything. It’s weird, even now, I don’t like watching myself on screen because I keep critiquing myself. I don’t know how to just sit back and watch and enjoy. I’m always critiquing myself. I don’t know if it’s like that for most actors but I do enjoy watching other people on screen, very much! I can lose myself in watching other people.
Parlé Mag: It’s hard not to critique yourself, and that’s with any profession. When you see that tape or hear that audio roll back, you instantly think of what you could or should have done.
Arlen Escarpeta: Of course!
Parlé Mag: Do you have any special rituals that you do to prepare for an audition?
Arlen Escarpeta: I think more than anything I relax. I try to unwind in the best way possible. For me, it’s a couple of ways that I do that. One, I definitely try to get as much sleep as I need to. I will take a nap sometimes before I even study so my brain can be rested and refreshed. Sometimes I need to decompress coming from one audition going into the next and I’ll throw on some cartoons. I will throw on some Smurfs or old school cartoons and I will zone out to the max. That’s a ritual I do on the regular, even when I’m not studying it’s something that I do to unwind and relax.
Parlé Mag: So let’s talk about The Oath, being produced by 50 Cent. Tell me about the show and your character.
Arlen Escarpeta: The Oath is a special show. First off, a huge thank you to the creator Joe Halpin, 50 Cent the producer and the rest of the cast. We definitely have something special, and I’m not biased in saying that, I’m very proud of this show. I stand behind this show for a number of reasons. I love my character! Damon Byrd is such an enigma. What you see is not always what you get. He has a very strong sense of honor and foundation. He’s very pure in that sense and believes in the best in everyone. Within the world of The Oath, he gets tossed into the real world where everyone isn’t your friend or has your best interest at heart. The audience will get to see him grow up throughout the episodes. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed every part of this from the beginning to the end.
Parlé Mag: This sounds like my kind of show! My anticipation is growing.
Arlen Escarpeta: Yes! March 8th on Crackle is when everything will be available, all ten episodes. Crackle of course, is a free app so you can download it on your smart tv, tablet or phone. I just learned that Crackle is a part of the Playstation network through Sony, so you can actually get a couple of the episodes ahead of time if you have a Playstation. You can binge watch or do the slow burn, which is probably what I’m gonna do. For me, I don’t want to watch them all right away because when it’s done that means it’s on to the next and I really enjoyed this project so much, I’m not trying to rush it.
Parlé Mag: Let me also congratulate you for landing a recurring role on TNT’s “One Day She’ll Darken”.
Arlen Escarpeta: Yes, yes, yes. Thank you. That was another special opportunity. I really, really, really wanted to be in this project.
Parlé Mag: Well definitely, tell me more about it.
Arlen Escarpeta: I auditioned for two different characters, initially. I put myself on tape while filming The Oath in Puerto Rico, but didn’t hear anything back. I kept thinking, “Man, I really want to be apart of this!” I saw Patti Jenkins name, she’s incredible and Carl Franklin; who actually booked me my first feature film way back when in a film called High Crime. Then I saw Chris Pine‘s name and again, I’m thinking “Man, I would love to be in this!” I didn’t hear anything back from either of those characters.
I finished filming, The Oath, got back home to L.A. and received a call from my manager. She said, “Hey. Just got a call and there’s some really heavy interest for you in One Day She’ll Darken. I asked which character and she told me that she didn’t know because they haven’t given her any information, yet. Then comes the call that we got an offer, I didn’t have to audition again. God blessed me, the offered me a completely different character based off the work in the other two auditions.
Parlé Mag: Wow! Talk about fate.
Arlen Escarpeta: Yeah, it was good. And I’m very grateful for it.
Parlé Mag: Have you guys started filming yet?
Arlen Escarpeta: I actually just wrapped up. The show itself probably has about another month or so. I’m not 100% sure on the release date as of yet but It had a really good time working on that show.
Parlé Mag: Are you able to give any details about what the show is about?
Arlen Escarpeta: Yes. One Day She’ll Darken is the true story of Fauna Hodel, we follow her as a young girl. She was abandoned by her real family and raised by a Black family. Her birth certificate says she’s Black but she is trying to find her lineage. She wants to know exactly who she is and who she is related to. She has family, but desires to know exactly who she’s connected to finish telling her story. She has a wonderful host of characters, myself included; I am one of her cousins on the show. We have a lot of fun but also have those deep conversations about life. It takes place in Watts, California (at least my part does) circa 1969/1970. We brought forth all of those elements: the wardrobe, the Watts Riot, etcetera tossed into the story line of a young girl trying to find out who she is.
Parlé Mag: This is going to be amazing. I am a huge fan of shows and movies set in different eras.
Arlen Escarpeta: And it’s based on a true story. We’re telling someone’s story and diving into the world of someone who actually walked these steps. It’s a very interesting story for sure.
Parlé Mag: I can see why both of these projects are special to you. You guys have created something what will resonate with audiences. Speaking of, I was excited when I saw your name because I immediately recognized you from playing in Lifetime’s Whitney movie, as the iconic Bobby Brown. What was that experience like?
Arlen Escarpeta: That was a pleasure. That was an absolute pleasure. It was definitely tough because it was a world that I had to submerge myself in. Bobby was a wild, wild man. He lived, I think, a wild life as a young man. Someone like myself, I don’t drink, I’ve never done any drug. I’ve never been high in my life! I had nothing to pull from in that sense. God bless Angela Bassett, the director because what she was looking for in Bobby, I was able to bring. What I really focused and dug my heels into was that here’s this man and he’s going to meet this woman. When he meets her, he is going to find something in her that he hasn’t found anywhere else and vice versa. My version of Bobby was coming from a place of “I love this woman more than life itself.” When Bobby and Whitney were together, they were in their own world. Everyone else was on the outside watching, but the world was theirs. I had a great time. I got to go to dance class every single day after filming; I didn’t shoot my dance scene until the last day of shooting. And God blessed me, I didn’t have to sing! I got to practice my lip syncing and all that other good stuff. I really enjoyed myself. Yaya was amazing to work with and Angela Bassett was just a blessing. I left with more than I came with working on that project.
Parlé Mag: I would have never guessed that with the dance scene. The movie was great. You gave an outstanding performance, everyone did. What has been your favorite role, so far?
Arlen Escarpeta: Oh wow, my favorite role? By default and as an actor they say that your favorite job should be your next job because you want to keep working. However, if I had to choose it would be a toss up. American Dreams was a special time because the 60s was a revolutionary time in our nation with change, diversity and people rising to the occasion. That was special for me to play Sam Walker on American Dreams. On the flip side, when I got to work with Forest Whitaker on American Gun. That was another special character that I really enjoyed. We dived into the world on a young man who felt the need to carry a gun as a security blanket. He’s smart and intelligent but somewhere in the back of his head, he doesn’t know how to put his gun down. I think that’s always an interesting world to go into, trying to figure out why people do certain things.
Parlé Mag: Your acting style certainly reflects a lot of range. What advice would you give aspiring actors?
Arlen Escarpeta: I think the best advice, honestly is to keep going, don’t stop. When working with Forest Whitaker, he recalled going to auditions and seeing people such as Don Cheadle and Denzel alongside a bunch of other gentlemen, but we wouldn’t know the names of the other men if they stopped. They were just as good and just as talented and the only thing that they did different is they stopped. They decided not to keep going. So, if I can give a piece of advice to aspiring actors it would be to just keep pushing forward. There’s so many avenues to open doors or opening your own doors with social media, the world really is yours. People are shooting movies and TV shows on iPhones, ya know? People are buying content from folks like Issa Rae and all the wonderful things that she’s doing. It’s there and the opportunities are there to either take or pass on to someone else, so by all means don’t stop.
Parlé Mag: It’s hard to follow-up with such sound advice. Any closing words to share with our audience?
Arlen Escarpeta: More than anything, I want people to watch “The Oath”. Tweet about it, “@” me about it, Instagram me about it. I think it’s a great conversation piece and it will spark people’s interest. It’s going to be a hot bed of topics for people to dive into. You’re going to love these characters and see the family aspects of this show, there’s another side to it that people are really gonna grab a hold of. By all means, after you watch this show reach out and let me know what you think.
Parlé Mag: I’m ready! I’m sure everyone else is too, and we’re looking forward to seeing you in many other projects in the near future.
Arlen Escarpeta: Oh yeah! Rest assured, I’m staying busy and we’ll be having this conversation again, hopefully sooner than later. My goal as an actor is to just keep it moving.
The Oath starring Arlen Escarpeta, Katrina Law and Corey Hardrict is available for streaming now on Crackle.
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