Man in Control: San Antonio Actor Jesse Borrego Discusses His New Indie Comedy Phoenix, Oregon 

click to enlarge COURTESY OF CINEFESTIVAL
  • Courtesy of CineFestival

Actor and San Antonio native Jesse Borrego of Blood In Blood Out, Con Air and Fear the Walking Dead fame is back at CineFestival this year for the Texas Premiere of his latest film, Phoenix, Oregon.

The midlife-reinvention comedy screens on Saturday, July 13 at 8:30 p.m., and Borrego will also be around for an encore screening of the 2016 documentary Las Tesoros de San Antonio: A Westside Story, which he and his brother James Borrego produced under their nonprofit Cine Studio San Antonio. The documentary will screen at Friday, July 12, at 10 a.m.

Gary Lundgren wrote, directed and edited Phoenix, Oregon. What was it like to collaborate on a project that’s driven by such a unified vision? And how does it compare to the more fragmentary but collaborative process of working in TV, where different episodes often have different writers and directors?
You know, I’ve been really lucky in that the work that I’ve done in television, because I hold out for interesting characters — i.e. not stereotypical Latino characters — that I get to work with people who have a unified vision. It was more about looking at the character as a whole, and it’s, in reality, kind of a non-stereotypical personification of an American Latino. Gary [Lundgren], being that kind of all-around visionary — because he does edit his own stuff, you know, he writes it and his wife Annie [Lundgren] is his producer — they have this already kind of holistic idea of what a film, a theme and especially a character is like. That’s what drew me first to the project — looking at a character that I could just be an actor in, and not really worry about, as I always do, how is this impacting the image of Latinos in cinema, and what am I saying to my fanbase, which to me are my people, and what kind of legacy I leave behind as an actor?

On that note, the movie is a real Who’s Who of American character actors.
What a fabulous cast.

Scene-stealing performances by Diedrich Baader as Kyle, Kevin Corrigan as Al.
And then James [Le Gros] is so solid, you know.

click to enlarge jesse_borrego.jpg

It’s kept grounded, in my opinion, by you and James Le Gros’ performances. Your character Carlos is very upbeat and gregarious, and has an uplifting energy that counters Le Gros’ downtrodden introversion as Bobby. How did you dial into that, and how does it compare to the more intense work that you’ve done in recent years on shows like Dexter, American Crime and Fear the Walking Dead?
I’ve been lucky in those types of commercial shows to have worked with the best of the best. I mean, if you’re talking about Dexter, you’re talking about Michael [C. Hall], in 24 you’re talking about Kiefer [Sutherland], so I’m always lucky to work with the best even in those genre shows. But I think in independent cinema and especially, you know, James is friends with the Lundgrens and has worked with them before. And so, being a fan of his work, and us knowing each other’s work, the minute I knew that he was the lead I already knew what I could do. When you grow up with your peers and you respect each other’s work, you already know, “Man, I’d love to work with that guy.” I’ve watched the film about five or six times and I’m still inspired every time I watch it with this cast’s work, and I think that’s the most beautiful thing about the film. Not only was it a good script and well directed, great production — Patrick [Neary, the director of photography] just did a great job. The music was so hot, it was wonderful. You’ve got to give it to the Oregon film crew: they’ve been working with the Lundgrens together as a team for about five, six years, some of them for over 10 years, and that impressed us as a cast coming from everywhere, from LA to New York.

Another thing that gave Carlos’ character so much depth is the natural inclusion of his Hispanic heritage and familial ties, not to mention the smoothest use of “pinche” I’ve heard in an English-language film. Were the Spanish dialogue and the other touches that you included baked into the script from the start, or did you have input into that aspect of Carlos and his heritage?
So, the guy who played my nephew, Rudy, is actually … one of the producers, Louis Rodriguez. He’s a partner of Gary’s on a couple of projects. Louis is a big influence on Gary and especially the character of Carlos, because it’s their friendship and the big family unit that Louis has there in Oregon. He actually lives in Phoenix, Oregon, which is hilarious. But it’s their friendship over the last few years of working together as filmmakers that inspired the whole relationship between Carlos and Bobby. [Lundgren] wanted to pay homage to the culture that created the character of Carlos. It’s one of the reasons that I really wanted to do this project — how he portrayed the Latino culture. That went on into the development of the narrative, and the respect for the Latino culture that Gary showed not only in the writing but in allowing me to kind of feel Carlos, because I’m usually in control of how I develop the character, especially in terms of dialogue. Writers are very generous with me in terms of allowing me to be able to make a character sound authentic. The joy of being able to do this character is just to be able to do that without necessarily you know “Latin-ing him up,” so to speak.

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