An Interview with Ismael Cruz Córdova (Esquire Spain)

Interviewed by Rafael Galán and photographed by Diego Merino, Puerto Rican actor Ismael Cruz Córdova is featured in the March 2023 edition of Esquire (Spain) and on its cover. Here are just a few translated excerpts of Galán’s article—“Ismael Cruz Córdova: ‘Ya se han contado las historias de superación, ahora toca recalcitrar’” [Ismael Cruz Córdova: “The stories of overcoming have already been told, now it’s time to persist”].

With four seasons still ahead of ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’ and with ‘Fineskind,’ the latest work by Brian Helgeland, with Jenna Ortega, about to be released in theaters, Ismael Cruz Córdova wonders aloud what he wants to do with his life next. This actor has the virtue of turning all his dreams into reality at a level that leaves Nostradamus at the level of the pavement. We caught up with him while shooting Season 2 of the Amazon Prime Video series in London.

Laura Pausini takes over the body of Ismael Cruz Córdova in a fraction of a second. It’s not something subtle. It is a musical-infernal possession. Yes rolled back to the whites, the neck stretched out like a stubborn racehorse, and the arms that rise, first like beacons and then wave hypnotically like those of haunting sky dancers. I would be unable to tell you what was playing before or what was played after. An old-style hip-hop? Latin urban hits? I have no idea, and who cares. Suddenly, “Víveme” starts playing on the set where we are photographing the actor for our cover and, kaboom, Ismael Cruz Córdova starts singing Pausini as if his life depended on it. He chews on the lyrics of the song. Or as Ismael would say with his musical phrasing: “Paalaadeeaa” [syllabizes] like this, lengthening the vowels as much as possible. And I think that if this 35-year-old Puerto Rican from the Sumidero neighborhood of Aguas Buenas considered changing his career right now and offering a concert at Madison Square Garden in—I don’t know, two or three years, a reasonable amount of time to change his life—in front of 20,789 people, he would give a concert at Madison Square Garden in front of 20,789 human beings; not one more, not one less. The stands would be packed. And I’m not saying that because he sings especially well, or especially badly. It has nothing to do with that. I will tell you why I have come to this conclusion. [. . .]

His father, Ismael—who accompanies him on the set with Maritza, his mother; adolescent parents who never thought that their son would end up becoming an actor and who did not particularly support him when he announced his decision (no, it is not that type of story, everyone here was very busy working in a complicated neighborhood where there was no time for much else)—came over to me a couple of minutes before Pausini took possession of his son’s body and told me , as if it were a great secret that he was proud to share: “He has taught me to think differently, to think for the long term.” He says so and stares at me. It’s something very concrete to drop to a stranger, which is exactly what I am. We were talking about the complexity of being a parent, how easy it is to mess up with your kids, at first without really talking about anything specific. We had stopped talking, both surprised by the degree of intimacy we were reaching. After Ismael, Jr., has finished singing, Ismael, Sr., approaches me again: “Whenever he says he’s going to do something, he does it,” he tells me and stares at me to see if it provokes in me the same perplexity that it provokes in him. “One day he told me that he wanted to work with Guillermo del Toro…”, he continues, reveling in the ellipsis. And again, he tells me this in the context of the stupefaction that it causes him. Ismael Cruz Córdova premiered on Netflix in October… Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities. And once, he had told him that someday he was going to be in a great science fiction franchise, and there he was. . . in Episode 6 of Season 1 of The Mandalorian. And before that, he said that he would be successful on stage, and stop.reset got his career off the ground in Los Angeles. And that he would be acting in a great period film, and Mary, Queen of Scots appeared… See the pattern? [. . .]

The A, B, Cs of Ismael Cruz Córdova

“That alphabet has been an incredibly difficult thing. I was told for years that I was crazy. ‘Look where you come from, kid.’ ‘You’re black, kid.’ ‘You’re ugly; look at your hair’… I had hair that made me look like Mufasa. When I was a teenager, it was the worst. I wore it as a protest. At school they threw chewing gum at my hair, they said nasty things to me… and I would leave it in there! I always had a fire in me. I think about things I did… and I can tell you that now, I don’t have as much fire as I did then. I look at the child I was, and I say to myself: ‘You’re tough, kid.’ And if I hadn’t had that determination, I wouldn’t have made it. I was bullied so much; I saw so much violence around me…,” he says. With his Mufasa hair he triumphed in the theater, with his Mufasa hair he reached Sesame Street, with his Mufasa hair he gave life to Héctor Campos in the Showtime series Ray Donovan… And in my view, the horns of Qin, his character in The Mandalorian, damn it, look like a full-fledged leonine mane to me, too. And don’t tell me it’s not ironic now that his elf character in The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power has short hair while everyone wants him to have long hair.

“I don’t swallow the myth/the story. [No me creo el cuento.] I only believe mine: that I come from the mountains; that we also have value. A lot of people think I’m talking about race. Being Afro-Latino in my culture is difficult. ‘Oh, what a lot of racism there is in the United States,’ they tell me. ‘This should be said about all places. Even when I go to Latin America,’” he insists. “They treat us like garbage in many places. And it makes me angry to say it like that. I’ve received a lot of love from Spain, but I’ve had bloggers from here who have been terrible to me. They have said some things… My flag is not the race flag, but rather, that of the margin, the periphery. And within Afro-Latinidad, within poverty, I am also a nut; I have always painted my nails, I have always defended another masculinity,” he says. “Many get upset. But, mijo! [he yells] If they don’t give us the space! We have to shout from down below because they won’t let us in. We have to climb on top of each other to reach higher ground and open windows, because they don’t open the doors for us. That’s how I am … [he laughs] … And that’s how I will be [he laughs more],” he declares. “Actually, I have fulfilled all the dreams that I wanted to have. All of them, all of them. Recently, I also attained the one I was missing,” he tells me and looks at me, smooth, protective of his intimacy. “[But] I can’t tell you. I can only tell you that I called my mother and told her: ‘I fulfilled this one too.’ So, I have now come to a moment of reflection: where can I be most useful? What is my next dream? I want to direct, I want to write, I want to produce, and I want to start creating spaces that promote tolerance. I want to tell stories that are not the usual ones…,” he tells me.

“And have you visualized it?” I interrupt him. “Muchaaaacho” [Maaan], he answers.

Ismael Cruz Córdova was recently on a film set. “I told a producer that I could see myself directing. And he laughed. He thought I was joking. So I let him laugh. ‘Laugh, mijo.’ And when I get there, I’ll say, ‘How’re ya’ doing? Do you need work? Do you want to leave me a resume… ? Uhhh, sir.’ He doesn’t know that he just kicked me to propel me even faster. And just in the direction that I wanted,” he tells me. With any other person, it is normal to think that this is nothing more than one more manifestation of the spirit of the ladder, the way that we human beings use to settle accounts in the past with a declaration of intent that sounds good, but that may arrive very late. But, of course, this is not just anyone. This is Ismael Cruz Córdova, preparing another alphabet. [. . .]

Excerpts translated by Ivette Romero. For full article (in Spanish), and a great photos of Cruz Córdova, see

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