Making his own luck

At that point in your career you're like, "Dude, just put me in a movie." You're not really picky about the script.
— Armando Riesco

'National Treasure' star Armando Riesco is building a career one small role at a time

Call him lucky or call him blessed. The only thing actor Armando Riesco knows for sure is that he is happy about where his career has taken him and excited about what's down the road. Born in Puerto Rico in 1977, Riesco, 26, landed his first film role, albeit a small one, in Spike Lee's 2002 joint 25th Hour. The following year, his second film, Pieces of April, became a well-received sleeper comedy.

In 2003, Riesco played Jesse, a young entrepreneur who strikes it rich after inventing "silent Velcro" in director/writer Zach Braff's first film, Garden State. He now portrays a bumbling FBI agent in National Treasure, the action movie starring Nicolas Cage, Harvey Keitel, and Diane Kruger.

"I feel totally blessed," Riesco told the Current during a phone interview. "My career could be better and bigger, but it could also be much, much, much worse. A lot of actors are in that category. It's really hard in this business. I got really lucky, leaving school and getting an agent that works for me."

After moving from his homeland at the age of 17, Riesco landed in Evanston, Illinois, to major in theater at Northwestern University. Although it was a dream of his to study acting in the United States, he found it difficult at first to acclimate from his island paradise to an unsympathetic winter climate.

"I wanted to transfer and get out of there," Riesco said. "It was the 130 degrees Fahrenheit of change that I had to endure. It was so freaking cold, dark, and depressing."

Although he also missed his family and friends, Riesco managed to work his way through his collegiate career and graduate with a bachelor's degree in theater. "College was actually a good experience," Riesco said. "You like certain things and you glue onto them. That gets you through the rest of the nightmare."

Auditioning left and right for all roles that came his way, Riesco said that because he was new to the game, nothing else mattered other than being cast. "At that point in your career you're like, 'Dude, just put me in a movie.' You're not really picky about the script."

Riesco moved to New York in 2000 and, although farther from his family than ever before, he felt comfortable because, "Puerto Rico is a big part of New York" despite the 1,600-mile gap on the map. "I can go down and get arroz con habichuelas (rice with kidney beans) on every corner in New York," Riesco said, remembering one of his favorite Puerto Rican dishes. "I can go dance salsa every night if I wanted. And I can still have professional opportunities that I, unfortunately, can't have in Puerto Rico."

With opportunities continuing to find their way into his hands, Riesco doesn't even have time to be star struck by anyone with whom he has worked, including Academy Award-winning actors. Not that he would be awed anyway.

"You can't worry about who you are working with," Riesco said. "I personally don't get intimidated. Some actors seem larger than life because they are on the big screen, but then you meet them and they're regular people. I am very respectful and honored to be working with them, but I'm not going to not look them in the eye because, 'Oh my God, it's Nick Cage!'"

Although he is still looking for his break-out role, he is content with the idea that not everyone knows his face just yet. "It's not easy to walk around and people are like, 'Ahhh,'" Riesco said imitating an eager fan. "You might think that it's cool for like, five minutes, but then after you're like, 'Yo, let me eat my hamburger.'"

Currently, Riesco is filming Fever Pitch, a Farrelly brothers romantic comedy starring Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon, about a girl who finds out her boyfriend is obsessed with the Boston Red Sox. And again, for Riesco, it's a small role - a role he knows will lead him into new experiences.

"I feel like if I keep working and knocking on doors and just persevering through all the hardships that an actor has to go through, I'll be fine," Riesco said. "Even if it's not the leading role."

By Kiko Martinez

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