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Independent horror filmmaker David DeCoteau recently cast
actor/magician R.J. Cantu in his film SNOW WHITE: DEADLY SUMMER, and took the
opportunity to chat with the actor for Fango about his role on the hit MTV
series DEATH VALLEY, on which he plays Rico, a hot Latin vampire.
FANGORIA: How did you get hooked up with DEATH VALLEY?
R.J. CANTU: It was one of those things that just came out of
the blue. I read the script, and as an actor in Hollywood you read so much
material that you see a lot of recycled work. When I read DEATH VALLEY, it was
something fresh and unique, and I just wanted to be part of it. So I went in
for a read, and in a few days got the call from my agent and the rest is history.
FANG: You booked it on one audition?
CANTU: Luckily enough, yes; I was really shocked myself. I
guess it was just the right connection. You know, there are certain characters
you read and just know you can connect with. Rico is definitely a guy I knew
exactly how to play and exactly the direction I wanted to go with him. I guess
it just worked, and I was so thankful it did.
FANG: You came in to audition for one of my previous movies,
and I saw you had already had a recurring role on THE SECRET LIFE OF THE AMERICAN
TEENAGER, and I thought, “Why is he submitting? He’s already on a hit ABC
Family show.” Why would you want to be in a low-budget horror movie?
CANTU: I definitely wanted to branch off and try to look at
more lead characters. I felt when I read the script and the breakdown that this
was a good opportunity to read for the lead for the first time. And I’d always
wanted to do a horror film!
FANG: And you were great. We couldn’t make it work on that
movie, but we kept in touch, and I remember when you showed me your audition
tape for DEATH VALLEY, I saw a really cool, dark, likable, hot character. On
SECRET LIFE you were this sweet, innocent guy, but there I saw your dark side,
and I was so impressed.
CANTU: As an actor, you want to go in different directions,
and Rico is just that—a darker character I hadn’t had a chance to play. Getting
to work with this role has been such a blast, and working with [executive
producers] Eric Weinberg and Julie and Austin Reading has been really fun.
That’s the thing; with SECRET LIFE, you know what direction [creator] Brenda
Hampton was aiming for; it was definitely that ABC Family feel. But with MTV
you can go a little bit edgier and darker. That was a fun side to tap into with
Rico, and try a different direction with vampires. A lot has been done with
TRUE BLOOD and TWILIGHT. It was just about what I could bring differently to
this character, and hopefully the audience would connect to that.
FANG: How is making DEATH VALLEY different from SECRET LIFE?
CANTU: Well, with SECRET LIFE, it’s definitely doing what’s
there in the script. But with DEATH VALLEY, it’s a matter of finding the comedy
side as well as the horror side, which can be a little tricky with television.
It’s been done in films, but I’ve never seen it done on TV before. So it’s
tricky to find the right balance. With SECRET LIFE, you follow what the writer
has given you; on DEATH VALLEY, we have more freedom. You know you can come on
set with your ideas. You come with what you want to give to the character, and
the rest is just playing and having fun.
FANG: The show definitely has horrific moments; there are a
lot of people being shot in the head and blood and gore. Yet you have scenes
with Brian Callen that are hilarious. How do you find the appropriate balance?
Which side are they concerned with more—the humor or the horror?
CANTU: Definitely both sides; we do a lot of different takes
of each. We know in the end that the editor will do justice to it. We get great
direction and just have to run with that. So we try all different takes and do
it different ways. That’s one of things I love about this show: One minute
you’ve got the blood and guts and the edgy side, and the next there’s a
hilarious comedy bit. MTV just keeps reinventing itself; first with the JACKASS
series and the whole reality-show thing, and now this is one of the top shows
in its time slot. You never know what’s going to work; we were just trying new
things and hoping the audience would enjoy it. MTV has been so good about
letting us do what we do. Sometimes, people from the network would show up on
set and just be so excited to see what we were doing. Because we were breaking
new ground with this show, they just let us do our thing. I know
[creator/executive producer] Spider One had a certain vision for the show, and
we all just wanted to do it justice as much as we could.
FANG: Tell us a little bit about your co-stars. Is there a
particular actor you have a connection with who’s really funny? Or do you
connect more with your leading ladies? ’Cause there are a lot of scenes with
really hot girls…
CANTU: Oh, it was absolutely horrible [laughs]; I called my
agent a couple of times: “I need to get off this set. Rico is kissing way too
many chicks [laughs]!” We definitely wanted to go edgier with Rico; we wanted
him to be a little sexier. Working with Caity Lotz and the other cast, I’ve
learned so much. Caity is such a new, fresh face for TV, and she does an
amazing job. Bryan Callen has comedic timing that’s hilarious, and the
relationships between Charlie Sanders and Bryce Johnson, and Tania Raymonde and
Texas Battle, are the best.
FANG: What has been your favorite scene to shoot so far?
CANTU: I really enjoyed the turning scene. Rico transforms a
girl named Claire into a vamp, and doing that, I knew it was going to be
something different for television. Because here’s the thing about vampires:
There’s a whole exotic side that I love about it. There’s something really cool
and exotic about a girl letting a stranger in to take control and manipulate
her, and that really excited me about this scene. Because this was the first
time Rico was going to showcase his victim to everyone at the party. If you
haven’t seen that episode, it’s very funny, edgy and sexy. That really got me
excited when I read that script.
FANG: The show seems very freeform. Do you follow what’s
written exactly, or do they encourage you to go off script?
CANTU: It’s a little balance of both. [Writer/executive
producer] Eric Weinberg has helped us with that, and giving the show its tone.
We certainly try different things. We stick as closely to the script as
possible at first, but then, with the comedy side is where things get
unleashed, and we can improve. When you have Bryan Callen, Charlie Sanders and
Bryce Johnson on set, you know you’re definitely going to want to give them
some freedom of improv.
FANG: You wear red contact lenses in the show. Who handles
those—is that the makeup FX people, or is there a specialist?
CANTU: Definitely the makeup effects crew. I think it’s done
by Monster FX. From the molding of the teeth and fangs to the lenses and all
the zombie effects, they have done an insane job. If you watch the show, there
are a ton of creatures involved. Their team is just incredible.
FANG: For your fangs, did they have to do a cast of your
teeth, or did they just have regular fangs that you put on?
CANTU: No, they definitely had to mold my teeth. I went in
for a session and they injected this goo in my mouth—and it was quite fun, I
must say. It’s interesting to have these little fangs that fit right in; the
tricky part was trying to get the dialogue down while wearing them. Because I’m
supposed to be this hard-ass vampire, and then I slip on these fangs and I get
this lisp all of a sudden. You definitely have to get used to it. But by the
end of the day, wearing them for eight, nine, 10 hours, you just adapt to them.
The lenses are the hardest part, having them in for so many hours, and there’s
no taking them off when you’re eating lunch or going back and forth to the set.
They don’t come out until you leave for the day. So many hours, and a lot of
FANG: Can you see OK?
CANTU: It limits the view a tad. You only have the center
pupil to look out of. But you know, after hour four, you adapt. The craziest
part is taking them off, because you get this double vision for a while. Then
you’re driving home like that, which is probably not safe [laughs]. But you do
it for the character and the art, and the lenses add a different dimension for
FANG: You were gracious enough, in the middle of your season
on DEATH VALLEY, to come down and do my film SNOW WHITE: DEADLY SUMMER, with
Eric Roberts and Maureen McCormick. I thank you for coming in and doing a
little guest-star appearance for me.
CANTU: I had so much fun on set, and it was a pleasure.
Thank you. And if anyone wants to check out more of my stuff, go to www.rjcantu.com
and www.youtube.com/cantumagic; there are a lot of videos and my work there. Check
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