Raoul Trujillo, a Native American from the Apache & Ute heritage, is an actor, dancer, and former soloist with the Nikolais Dance Theatre and the original choreographer and co-director for the American Indian Dance Theatre.
As an actor Raoul has performed in a number of award winning films and programs including his highly praised role in Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto,” “La Femme Nikita” “The New World” with Colin Ferrell and Christian Bale, and many more. His latest project is the SCI FI Channel miniseries “Tin Man” in which he plays Raw, the lion character in the Outer Zone (O.Z.). Unlike the cowardly lion of the 1939 feature film “The Wizard of OZ,” Raw is a powerful spiritual presence that gives depth and character to the series.
Before “Tin Man” premiered on Sunday our intrepid reporter and interviewer Linda Craddock was able to sit down with Raoul for this exclusive interview. We hope you enjoy it.
Linda Craddock (SoSF): Hello Raoul and welcome to Slice of SciFi. Thank you for joining me. Let’s get right to it. Tell us how this part for “Tin Man” came to you?
Raoul Trujillo (RT): Hi Linda. Well, it comes through the regular process of agents sending you scripts and the fact that they want to see me put myself on tape. I live in the boonies of New Mexico so everything I do I have to put myself on tape since Iâ€™m not in the city. They had been looking for this character for a really long time and they found all these really big, impressive looking black men, Indian men, but nobody was bringing in the element they were looking for and that element was the innocence of a 6 year old child and so my wife who helps me put all my auditions on tape and we have a 6 year old daughter and I said Iâ€™m going to do this as if I were Padme. I got the call and they said itâ€™s yours and then of course when I met Nick Willing, the director, thatâ€™s exactly what he said. You know we saw so many people and they were impressive looking but nobody had that quality and as soon as we saw it, we thought, Robert Halmi and I thought, there he is, thatâ€™s it and that was it, itâ€™s a deal.
SoSF: I understand that was based on your role in â€œApocalyptoâ€?
RT: Yeah, he saw â€œApocalyptoâ€ and knew that I fierceness and thatâ€™s what he wanted as well, he wanted that but he also wanted to see the other side of innocence and fearful and coward and so I think that was the part that everybody just didnâ€™t focus in on, the most important part. Yeah
SoSF: What were your first thoughts when you received the script and how much did you expect it to deviate from the original or did you?
RT: I was already prepared that it had nothing to do with the film. It had to do with being based on the book and that it was a complete reinvention and when I read it, first of all I was blown away by it, the caliber of the material and the writing was so good and I love the fact that they had really gone almost point by point but with the story but really, really reinvented it so cleverly and of course when I got to Vancouver and actually saw the drawings, it was clear they were completely reinventing this story and that was so exciting because you really feel if you are going to take on something so iconic, you know the â€œWizard of Ozâ€ youâ€™d better rise to the occasion and I feel like we went beyond, I really do I feel like we rose to the occasion and made it accessible to younger audiences I mean how many years later, I thing the original film was made in the 30â€™s or something, 39 and its just quite amazing. Yes, Iâ€™m very happy
SoSF: So what stands out the most to you, about the story and some of the characters?
RT: For me I have to say the real star of the movie is all the special effects, its so phenomenal, itâ€™s art and technology combined at itâ€™s absolute maximum and as an actor thatâ€™s the greatest challenge because youâ€™re playing on green screens and you have to completely imagine all of this based on these fantastic drawings and so putting it together, you really do, you see incredible art. It should have been a feature film, not for TV.
SoSF: You got the part of â€œRawâ€ you sat down and said to yourself, what am I going to do, how did you approach bringing your character to life?
RT: Well, interesting enough, thatâ€™s actually my nick name without the â€˜wâ€™, my name is Raoul but my nickname is â€˜Raâ€™ (laughter) after 11 years and so when I got it, we all got a huge chuckle when we were watching the screening every time they say my name, my friends chuckled. That was such a synchronistic thing. I kind of feel I was destined to play the lion because we reinvented him with a spiritual telepathic aspect to himself and it wasnâ€™t difficult for me to loose myself in that reinvention because I really felt like I could draw on indigenous knowledge and indigenous wisdom of spirituality and infusion with all this and really make him seem, not so much a victim but as an exploited spiritual being whose being used by the powers that be and you know thatâ€™s no different than today. It is its government, corporations that completely exploit indigenous people all over the planet so I feel I was just really playing out the pain body for the planet, indigenous people all over the planet. Once you put on the costume and the makeup you just become this whole other character, the same as â€œApocalyptoâ€. I dole all that apparel and I just cease to be me and the transformation is complete once you decide that this is what this character is about.
SoSF: Talk about the chemistry among this very talented ensemble of actors.
RT: Yes, itâ€™s true. With Alan Cummings it was instant. With Kathleen Robertson, we had no scenes with her as our three counter parts and DG but just watching her work was phenomenal. Zooey took a longer time. Zooey is one of those actresses that are busy in her own process so much. Neil then can along as we developed and heâ€™s enough in his character and he also has no heart and he is standoffish, he really embodies his character and because heâ€™s exactly the opposite, beyond the scenes we were able to establish an incredible rapport but with all of them we had this incredible humanity connection. Weâ€™re all deep thinking and very spiritual beings and off camera we were able to bond and it made it easier when we were on camera to completely inhabit our characters and use the fact that weâ€™re deficient to rely on that and bring us slowly together. Zooey from the very beginning was completely sympathetic to me and that came across right away. I remember our first scene together, really looking her in the eyes as she was telling me about her mother and father, and sheâ€™s almost weeping. Just really good actors and people and it was just so much fun and when you have those kinds of actors to work with who really loose themselves completely in their work it makes it so much easier.
SoSF: With the premiere of â€œTin Manâ€ coming Sunday
SoSF: And I am really looking forward to it.
RT: So you havenâ€™t seen any of it at all?
SoSF: No, just the previews at this point.
SoSF: What would you like the audience to take from the opening episode of this wonderful recreation of â€œOzâ€?
RT: Well I hope they take away â€œoh my God this is a completelyâ€¦â€ no, first that they would want to read the book, maybe even revisit the film and that they really would want to stay tuned to the rest of this reinvention but if they just take away the excitement about seeing the rest of it, that would be a really good thing. Also if they can take away from watching all 3 episodes the fact that life is a spiritual journey of replenishing our deficiencies with joining up with each other. Weâ€™re not in this thing alone. Weâ€™re in it with people we meet on our paths. The path is ours to find for ourselves and on that path we find all that we need to get complete in a spiritual life. Itâ€™s a very spiritual story, it always has been and I think that comes through even with the hi-tech in sci-fi aspect of it, itâ€™s still the same journey and that still comes across and I just hope that everybody walks away with it going â€œwowâ€. What a great story, still.
SoSF: Letâ€™s talk a little about your role as â€œZero Wolfâ€ in â€œApocalyptoâ€ which was nominated as a winner for a number of film awards. Now, I read in a review of your performance in â€œApocalyptoâ€ as stating how your character radiated power and was really great at projecting a ferocious, brutal warrior instinct coupled with a sense of moral honor.
RT: Wow, how come I didnâ€™t read that, thatâ€™s a good one (laughter) maybe I could have gotten a better agent (laughter).
SoSF: Where do you draw your energy and focus from for this role?
RT: You know, again, itsâ€™ another one of those things as an actor and itâ€™s funny because Iâ€™m really not a trained actor. I worked through it for a bit. I just remember my first teacher in NY he said you know Raoul you have such a naked instinct, donâ€™t even study but I think, you might think this is odd but I have a whole long career as a dancer and a choreographer creating movement and creating dances based on lifeâ€™s experiences and beyond that. Thereâ€™s something that I call genetic memory and I am really the antifascist of that character. Like last night I hosted a huge party in Santa Fe, it was filmmakers from all over the world and meeting people and they were like â€œoh my God, I wouldnâ€™t have even know it was you but now that Iâ€™m talking to you it like oh, it is you but Iâ€™m a really good guy, good natured, Iâ€™m happy and positive so in order to do a character like that you just have to completely withdraw yourself from who you are go into those darkest places of what it would be to do this without a soul, without a conscious. Itâ€™s not like you can really become that, but you can really just take on the sort of steps to get there and as you do it, more and more it getâ€™s realized that itâ€™s all about, for me, about the body. The more I can just create this armored body for myself, this impenetrable, fearless and Iâ€™m really big on the fact that you put on this costume and the makeup, you donâ€™t really have to think about it you just become it. Then if you loose yourself in the fact that back in those days, life was cheap, it was just about conquering. Itâ€™s happened all over the planet so you just have to do is put yourself in its place. You look at a little child on the set and go â€˜oh what a cuteyâ€™ then you say, no, no heâ€™s not cute heâ€™s dispensable and you put yourself in this really horrid energy and at the end of the day you have to like exorcize it. (laughter) . But itâ€™s really that kind of process for me but at the same time, it doesnâ€™t have to linger. The minute the scene is cut and youâ€™re having coffee and talking to somebody, itâ€™s gone. You just have to really know that in that moment you put it on, you just breathe it into you like a possession and then when youâ€™re done, let out and let it go. Itâ€™s hard to explain, but it happens and when you see the movie you say â€˜ooh, my Godâ€™ thatâ€™s guy is really nasty but at the same time I wanted to give him a humanity too. I think itâ€™s there because he has a son who is killed and all that you realize heâ€™s just doing what heâ€™s told he has no thoughts about it. When you can devoid your character from having his own thoughts about things it would be like C.I.A. going out and starting these whole military coos all over the planet and you donâ€™t think about whether itâ€™s right or wrong, itâ€™s just your job and you separate yourself from any kind of morality and thatâ€™s kind of what I do as an actor, just try not to let Raoul be a part of it what so ever, otherwise I wouldnâ€™t do those kind of movies (laughter) Iâ€™m too nice of a guy (laughter).
SoSF: Where exactly was this movie shot?
RT: We shot that in the southern Veracruz on the gulf coast of Mexico in the only little bit of rain forest left in that part of Mexico.
SoSF: Tell us about the experience working with Mel Gibson.
RT: You know, Iâ€™m probably one of those few people, I loved working with him. Heâ€™s a genius. We had an instant rapport. He had immediate respect for me as an actor and as a human being. Heâ€™s one of the kind of guys that when heâ€™s directing you, youâ€™re an actor and when youâ€™re not working, youâ€™re just talking about life. His knowledge about mysticism and spirituality and esoteric practices from chi- gong to whatever heâ€™s knowledgeable about it. I find him just a really fascinating human being. Heâ€™s difficult and never for me in the sense that as an actor, but being an actor working in his movies, heâ€™s incredibly difficult. We shot 18 â€“ 19 hours a day
RT: Heâ€™s the kind of director that wants his people ready at 7:30AM whether youâ€™re used or not and thatâ€™s because heâ€™s really hard and especially in with a film that was supposed to go for 4 months ended up going 10 months and at the end of 5 or 6 months, youâ€™re burnt out. And because of all the running, youâ€™re not resting, that was difficult but he puts himself through the same paces so you kind of look at him as a fearless leader in that way, itâ€™s like well, itâ€™s not like weâ€™re doing this on our own, heâ€™s in it with us, heâ€™s in the trenches with us. Heâ€™s staying up just as long, heâ€™s working more so you just kind of just say ok if he can do it, I can do it. Because you believe in him as a director and as an artist, more importantly, and the project because you walk on these sets and itâ€™s like oh my God, the detail so you just say to yourself, I can do this, I can rest when Iâ€™m dead (laughter). You just make yourself do it and itâ€™s not easy, itâ€™s very hard but you come out of it at the end of it watching it and going â€˜wowâ€™, that was worth it and the only thing that would change it is I would ask for more money (laughter) I would ask for a personal masseuse and a chiropractor, yeah all that stuff (laughter). Heâ€™s a genus and I completely admire the man and as an artist and I would work for him again at the drop of a hat but I would ask for more money (laughter)
SoSF: What kind of research did you have to do in preparation for the project?
RT: I had spent so much time down there, anyway over the last 30 years. Iâ€™ve spent amongst the Mayan, amongst every kind of indigenous group through Mt. Mexico with Shamanistic tribes so it really wasnâ€™t. All I had to do for myself is to create my own back story. Being that I was almost a foot taller than everybody else, I come from northern apache youth tribe and gave myself the fact that Iâ€™m a mercenary and I went down there and that was common. There were tribes for instance the Zapotecâ€™s would cross over with eastern Mayanâ€™s and the Mixtec would cross over and so I just said Iâ€™m a mercenary, Iâ€™ve come down there amongst the Mayanâ€™s and Iâ€™m going to be their war general. I donâ€™t look Mayan, even with the prosthetic nose, its too big, but I am going to say this is who I am so I gave myself a back story and thatâ€™s what I stuck with. In terms of all the other, I let the language come through me as I love speaking different languages but I think the last 30 years living down amongst those people and researching for the last 30 years just prepared me for the role and thank you to Terry Malick and Sarah Green for saying Mel, you gotta hire this guy (laughter).
SoSF: Tell us something about Raoul Trujillo that, obviously most people donâ€™t know and what do you want the fans to take with them at the conclusion of a movie based on your performance?
RT: Well, I think Raoul Trujillo is a human being whoâ€™s really excited today about the multicultural society thatâ€™s being created but I think I would really want people to embrace indigenous knowledge as being what is going to help propel us into the future and marry that with the technology weâ€™re learning and realize weâ€™re spiritual beings on this planet expecting divinity and we cannot loose sight of that, the future of our world is going to be even more exciting rather than being the dark, pessimistic world view we can have in the world as we are. Raoul Trujillo is grounded in the earth, heâ€™s ground in spiritual wisdom from our whole history on this planet and itâ€™s important to never loose sight of that if weâ€™re going to move forward and live in harmony with everything around us.
SoSF: Raoul I am so grateful that you called and thank you for taking the time to do the interview
RT: The pleasure was mine.