Emilio Rivera is a busy man. Even after saying goodbye to his Sons of Anarchy counterpart, Marcus Álvarez, a few months ago, he’s hard to track down. Which is what makes getting a chance to speak with him so special. We were able to find him on the set of one of his upcoming projects, and we sat down to talk with him about life after Sons of Anarchy, his family, and his next big television enterprise. We even got a healthy dose of advice, proving that Rivera has been around the block enough to know what’s important in life. Stick around, and you just might learn something. We sure did.
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. Our CEO, Jason, is probably your biggest fan. He was so excited that we were going to do this.
Emilio: Right on.
But, I won’t take too much of your time. We just have a few questions.
We definitely want to talk about Sons of Anarchy first, because it just ended. Looking back, do you have a favorite moment from the set? From all of your filming?
There were too many to list, but, you know, one that sticks in my mind was when I had my son – when Happy put my son in my arms. That was pretty cool, you know?
That sounds wonderful. Now, do you see a lot of yourself in Marcus Álvarez?
A lot of myself? Yes. In every part I play, pretty much, I put a little bit of myself into them. That’s what makes it real, you know what I mean?
There were a lot of surprises during the final episodes of the show. As it was coming to a close, did you have a moment where it all flashed before your eyes and you thought, “Oh wow, this is it! Alvarez is ending!”
Yeah, it was kind of weird. It just didn’t seem too long since we had started. Seven years just passed by. It was a trip, man, you know? It was. I mean, actually, you don’t think about how at the end it felt like one season when I looked back at it all together.
It went pretty quick. I guess it was because we had a good time. When you’re having a good time everything, time, always goes by quick.
I believe what they say, the days are long, but those years are so short.
Yeah, and we were all going to work together – it was just friends going to work with friends. Everyone got along with each other so it was really cool. I had a ball, Man, one of the best times of my entire career.
Wow. Now I know you worked with Jimmy Smits before, in Mi Familia, correct?
Mi Familia, yeah. So it was nice coming back to it and working with him again.
Did the dynamic change a lot in that twenty year period?
Yeah. Well you know, back in the day, Jimmy, he was already an established artist and Mi Familia was my first movie ever. Not my first TV show, but my first movie, so it was cool because back then Jimmy had to play like a gang banger guy and they were trying to dress him and I told them, “That’s not the way you wear it.” They, costuming, interfered and he [Jimmy] said, “No, he knows what’s going on, so how do you want me to wear it, Bro?” So I told him how to wear it, which was really cool.
So we fast-forward all these years, and he’s playing another – a retired – homeboy. It was just really cool.
That would be such a good thing to get to do together.
That’s the kind of guy Jimmy is. He’s one of my favorite actors, and he’s very giving and he listens. A person who listens is going to always be good because he wants to get it right. You dig what I’m saying?
I do. We are also big fans of him over here.
He’s a real, real cool cat.
Now, we were especially psyched to see your film, Water & Power, hit mainstream theaters this year. I know it premiered in L.A. last month, correct?
Yeah, it premiered, and we got it into about thirty theaters. It had a good run. Now it’s going into a few different theaters now. It’s on Hulu right now, and it’s going to come to Amazon next month. And it’ll also come out on DVD next month as well.
That’s so exciting.
Yeah, that’s really cool. I’m really proud of the piece. We did it with very little money, and those are kind of my favorite projects because there’s no money involved but there’s a lot of heart put into these films. There ain’t no time to mess around. People come to work, and they’re there to work.
It was a play first, right?
It was. We did a play about eight years ago, and I was also in the play, but not the same character. Now, I got to play the character that I had wanted to do since it was on stage. It was a full-circle kind of thing, and I’m really proud of it.
That must have been great – getting to change rolls for the film adaptation.
Exactly. That was the roll I had wanted originally, but it Water & Power was done by Culture Clash originally, and usually when they do stuff like that they play all the lead rolls. But for the film format they wanted actors who were screen actors.
Well, I hope everyone gets a chance to see it now that it’s out on Hulu. It’s a great film.
Ah, thank you for watching it. You know, me and Perlman, who plays Clay on Sons of Anarchy, we have a new show now. It’s in rehearsals right now – it’s a new show for Amazon called Hand of God. And Ron plays a judge in that one, and I play a police officer, so we totally changed our roles around this time. It’s pretty cool.
We’re definitely looking forward to that.
Now, you actually invest a lot of time and resources into humanitarian work, which is something we’re really into over here at Latin é.
Where do you get that drive to give back from?
You know, Man, I grew up without much. You dig what I’m saying? I did my best to come up okay. If you give from the heart it just feels good. You know, I have an eight-year-old son, and I’m teaching him this and it’s beautiful because he’s a very giving cat. It’s so cute, the things he does. He’s always trying to donate something. The other day, it was so funny, because he came in with his hands full of change and goes, “I need a bag, Dad.” And I asked, “What’s that for?” and he said, “It’s for the book club at my school.” So I took a little bit of his change and I put some real cash in too. It was just so cute. Then, the other day, my mom was getting a new refrigerator, so she had to empty out the old one, right? So we go to visit her – we visit my mom like four times a week – and he goes in the kitchen to get a juice. He walks in there, and he goes to the refrigerator and it’s bone dry, right? So, I always tell my son, “A man always carries cash in his pocket.” Even though we’ve got all these credit cards, you’ve got to have a little bit of cash too.
That’s good advice.
Right, so he always has a little cash in his pockets, so he goes in there and my mom jokes around with him and says, “I have no food, hijo.” You know what he did? He put down his three dollars and gives them to her and says, “Here, Grandma, go buy some groceries.” Without even asking – not even flinching – BAM. And that’s how we are. We give as much as we can to less fortunate, and we help out the animals as much as we can as well. You have to. If we all did our piece like that, we’d be in a lot better shape in this world. It doesn’t take much, you know what I’m saying? That’s really big in my life. At the end of the day, you can only have so much. You’ve got to spread it around, too. I’m not a church-going guy, but I am a God-fearing man. With me, church would be really simple: Be a good person. That’s it. That’s what you have to do. Life is good – I’m a family guy. This job that I have is good. I work a hundred or so days in the year and I get to spend the rest of my time with my family.
Now, do you have any advice for young Latinos who are wanting to get into acting?
The thing is this: study, study, and STUDY. Not just the books and stuff and the classes, but study life. When you go through something in your life, put that into our satchel. That’s a pearl, right there, you dig what I’m saying? Put that away for you to use one day. When they give you some lines, you’re going to take that and use it for the subtext. Don’t quit. If you’re going to do it, you’ve gotta do it all. Go to class, but don’t get stuck in class. I know some guys who’ve been going to class for eight years and have never done a job in their life. They do their best acting in that classroom, but that classroom is just the beginning. You’ve got to get out of your comfort zone and jump out into the real world and see where you’re at really. But the main thing is do not quit. I started 23 years ago, and now because of Facebook and all these other social media things, all these people who I started with who dropped out get ahold of me and say, “Man, I wish I had stuck it out. I wish I had stuck it out. I gave myself two years.” No, you don’t give yourself two years. You don’t give yourself twenty years. You don’t know when you’re going to make it. You may never make it, but you never know that either. Some people don’t make it until their older. I’m still looking for my big break. Whatever you do, you always want more, and you’ve got to have that drive. You’ve got to have the passion for it. When I got started, I was doing theater arts, I was dancing ballet, I was dancing jazz. I didn’t care, I just wanted to be a part of the arts. That wasn’t my jam, but I had to dive in feet first. I got a little bit of everything – you’ve gotta go hard.
We only have one more question. We like to ask a fun question, just to end it. Could you tell us the last great movie you saw?
Without even flinching, I’m going to tell you it’s Unbroken. The one Angelina Jolie directed. That movie is excellent. We had movie night one night one night back in December, so I saw American Sniper, which I loved, and then saw Unbroken right after it and it was like, wow. To see how much that guy endured, and still he was unbroken. What a title for that, right? Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong with that guy, and he still hung tough. I’ve never seen somebody with so much will. It was beautiful. It broke me down; it made me start crying.
I did too.
I cried like four times when I saw that movie.
That makes me feel better. It was really a punch in the gut.
Big time. I was so proud, Man, I was just so proud of who he was and what he did. He became an Olympic winner, and then goes and fights for his country. It was quite a movie. I’ve watched it twice already. You have to see it a second time because you pick up different things. It was well-cast. Just beautiful.
It was incredibly well done. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us.