Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Telenovela actors - famous in the United States

Famous Telenovela stars in the USA: the competition is fierce and no everyone with big dreams has a chance for success. I am going to look at some examples of male stars (Sorry females, but I have my weaknesses) and how they arrived where they are. 
Is there a „theme“?
Is it luck?
I think it is a combination of the three and most importantly, being at the right place at the right time. If you end up in a project that tanked due to factors outside of your control, that might be horrible for your career and it’s not even your fault. But you might not get another chance because you are associated with that project from that point on. So what I am interested in is to see, did these actors just get a chance to prove themselves in a big role at then their career took off? Or did they „work there way up“ with little roles? 

So who are we looking at?

Actors --> because their careers are easier to trace than writers or producers, although that’s a fascinating question as well
Telemundo and Televisa Stars --> because they have screen exposure in the United States on Telemundo and Univision
Ok, but which ones? --> Here we go. 
I googled „favorite telenovela actors and ended up with three lists (from a USA perspective, which makes sense for my endeavor). 

All of these contain a list of „hot“, „famous“, „loved“ Telenovela actors that „should be known“ form a perspective of these USA outlets. 

I chose a list of actors that appear on all three or at least two of the lists: 
So these actors are all successful in the USA via exposition on the TV screen. How did their careers start and ultimately take off?

The different career paths - themes that jumped out to me

Eugenio Siller and Sebastián Rulli both started their career studying at the „Centro de Education Artistica“ in Mexico. The entertainment educational institution is run by Televisa. According to Wikipedia (verification required), up to 5000 aspiring actors apply each year and 35-40 are chosen. The students receive training in acting and dance (connected to acting). It takes three years to graduate from CEA and after that a job at Televisa is basically assured for you. That is where Sebastián Rulli and Eugenio Siller started. While Sebastián stayed with small roles in the beginning until he really gained fame with Rubi (2004), Eugenio hit it big right with his first role in the absolute super success Rebelde (2006). 

Venevision Internacional

Especially with what we talked about in class, it seems very interesting to me that Venevision International in Miami helped two actors in this group, William Levy and David Zepeda, to the fame they have today. Remember this is the network of the Cisneros family that decided to produce more universally appealing telenovelas in order to comply with the Ley Resorte in Venezuela. This branch was originally a distributor for the successful pruduction giant that now is sadly, as we know, struggling to get one telenovela on the screen per year, Venevision Internacional works on the same rate with about one show a year but since 2010 it has only worked together with Univision Studios and has not taken on a production on its own. 
But back in 2007 they produced Acorralada with quite some success. David Zepeda, who had until then played some small roles at TV Azteca in Mexico and had a presence in American TV shows (for example Buffy!), got a lead part and William Levy, after having acted in two Venevision telenovelas already, also had a substantial part. Interestingly both the actors changed to Televisa right after and played together again in the same very successful telenovela Sortilegio (2009).That one made David Zepeda really famous, whereas William had already had its breakthrough at Televisa one year before with Cuidado con el ángel.

"Protagonistas de Novelas II“(Reality Show)

Funny enough, again two of the actors in the group started their careers in the SAME reality show by Telemundo, looking for Telenovela actors like the title says. Erick Elías won the program in 2002/03 and stayed on with Telemundo for a range of smaller supporting roles. He then got a big protagonist offer from Televisa, which brought him back to his home country, where he has stayed ever since, playing a range of important roles for Televisa. William Levy, yes the same one you just read about, actually also tried to win the show, but did not make it to the finale. Nonetheless Venevision gave him a big supporting role in Olvidarte Jamas (2005) which led him all the way to ALSO Televisa, as described above. So good job, Telemundo, you churned out to really famous Televisa actors in your reality show. 

Home Country fame

Another trajectory I found is: get some success in your home country before being picked up by Telemundo. David Chocarro had 8 smaller roles in Argentinean shows before he switched to Telemundo in 2010 and right from the start with Alguien te mira (2010) and Aurora (2012) he had big supporting roles and went on to protagonist roles, his latest success being En Otra Piel (2014). 
Similarly, Fabián Ríos first gained momentum in his home country Colombia, where he won an Award for one of his first roles. He went on to work for RCN, a Colombian network. In 2008/09 he was part of the cast of Telemundo’s Sin senas no hay paraíso but after that went back to RCN for one more project. In 2010 he signed exclusively with Telemundo. He has until this day never truly has had a protagonist role, but in Corazon Valiente (2012), where he was co-lead, he was definitely part of the love story that „stole the show“ together with Ximena Duque. He has also has played the lead-antagonist 3 times, which probably counts as a protagonist exposure. 

So the only one who is still missing is my beloved Jencarlos Canela, who is interestingly the only one in the group who actually was born in the United States. He started his career in Music. In his first televenola role, Pecados Ajenos (2008) he actually sang the theme song and he had a short appearance in Doña Barbara (2008), ring a bell? :) Well he then went on and hit a home run with Mas sabe el diablo (2009) where he was the protagonist and provided two of the musical themes that also helped his career as a singer immensely. He did two more telenovelas for Telemundo, providing theme songs for each one, but his last one Pasión Prohibida (2013) did not take off the way it was supposed to. He went to Univision as Judge on two reality programs, before returning to this „home“ Telemundo/NBC but now he is going to start in an NBC comedy which is going to be called Telenovela (2015) (Seriously???!!!) alongside Eva Longoria. 

Switching „Homes“

Another factor which I think shouldn’t stay unmentioned is the switch that actors have gone through. Like you can see in the table, Eugenio Siller switched from Televisa to Telemundo, which was actually hugely successful for him. He had great roles in Mexico, but after Mi Pecado (2009) (fun fact, first Telenovela I EVER saw) he suddenly switched over to Telemundo and man, it has worked out for him. Starting with Aurora (2012) where he was co-lead, he has had a protagonist role basically every year. He is just entering the Telemundo screen again with Quien es quien? (2015) after having successfully done Reina de Corazones (2014) last year.
Similarly successful has it been going of for Erick Elías, like I already wrote, he had small roles at Telemundo and got offered a big protagonist part at Televisa in 2007 and has been working successfully for them since then. 
Finally my Jencarlos also briefly left Telemundo to go work for Univision for two reality shows, but he is back at NBC now. 

What a long blog post... so what are we taking away from this?

I think it is fascinating that, although I selected 8 male telenovela stars famous in the United States basically at random, I was still able to find things they have in common. It seems that the CEA is a great starting point to make it at Televisa, which is probably the reason for their number of applicants. And who would have thought that reality programs can get you Telenovela fame, even if you don’t make it to the finale? 
Generally it seems to me both powerhouses like to go „shopping“. A lot of these actors had some kind of success (at school, in their countries, at Venevision, at the other giant) and then got picked up by Telemundo or Televisa to make their careers there. It seems Sebastian is the only one, who truly worked up the ranks. Let’s summarize:
Sebastián --> worked up the ranks

Jencarlos --> Music fame first and then boom Telemundo
David --> Tv Azteca, Veneivsion and boom Televisa
William --> Reality, Venevision and boom Televisa
David --> Argentina and boom Telemundo
Erick --> Reality and small Telemundo as a consequence and then boom Televisa
Eugenio --> school and as a consequence Televisa and then boom Telemundo
Fabián --> Colombia and then boom Telemundo

So it seems you should not go and just ask these two giants for a job. Go out, get work somewhere, get exposure and if you are lucky and in the right program at the right time, they will come and find you! And if you are not happy at one of them, let the other one know and they might be inclined to „ steal you“. 

At least that is what I take away from this. What do you think? 


  1. Total sidenote--but I find it interesting that they all happen to be brunette (or very dirty blond *cough Eugenio cough*). Sure, they all come from varied backgrounds, but I'm sure there are talented actors pushed aside for the "sellable" charming men. How much do racial and ethnic stereotypes play into the success of these actors?

    1. ^GREAT point Sophie! and oh Lisa, I should be bowing down to thank you for giving our beautiful hunks this incredibly detailed post. Sophie, I think the success of the men in roles that are for more latino americano audiences definitely depend if they actually look like the generations here. As far as the ethnic accuracy- I think those details are followed more closely in our home countries (so does an Argentinian actor have the right Colombian accent for a certain part etc etc) but in the US, I do not feel that the producers are sensitive enough to following closely with racial and ethnic stereotypes of specific Latin American countries. Now, in general, for any non-latino or non-hispanic audience, there can't be a strong basis for weight on the accuracy of these stereotypes and if the actors "fulfill" them.