Art has always inspired Jaime Zevallos through the toughest of times and now he hopes his inaugural screen writing project – about the gratification that comes from overcoming obstacles – will encourage others.
Zevallos – a 34-year-old actor, screen writer and blossoming film director – is set to make a splash with his new film, “Knuckleheads.” The film will premiere this weekend at Action On Film International Film Festival in Monrovia, California. Entirely filmed in New York, the drama stars Steven Bauer (he played Manolo in “Scarface,” opposite actor Al Pacino) and Zevallos as disconnected strangers whose lives converge as they meet and ultimately develop a meaningful relationship that helps them reconcile the past while working towards a healthy, prosperous future.
The screenplay was written entirely by Zevallos; no easy feat (“I’ve written at least 15 full-length features that didn’t go anywhere” he says) for the Los Angeles-based actor. But with this film – inspired by his loving father – Zevallos successfully delves into a world that is deeply reminiscent of his own journey towards success.
“I took elements of my own life as the inspiration for this play, searching deep to confront all that’s ever happened to me,” says Zevallos, who dropped out of high school at 15-years-old and was heavily involved in New York City’s underground graffiti art scene before deciding to become an actor at just 18-years-old.
“I was at an age where being a mischievous kid wasn’t going to get me anywhere and somehow I convinced myself acting would be good for me,” recalls Zevallos.
Lacking any acting experience – or even a high school education – Zevallos nevertheless worked up the courage to walk into a New York City casting agency. He was signed on immediately and quickly began booking roles in independent films, television shows, and was even scooped up to appear in the MTV series, “I Spy Video.” With a renewed sense of self, Zevallos put himself through community college. While there, he discovered screenwriting. It’s a medium, he says, which allows him to fulfill his passion for creative self-expression.
“I didn’t care about the money – I wrote and wrote some more between acting gigs, bartending for cash, taking odd jobs through Craig’s List, working for my dad’s mortgage company,” says Zevallos. Countless drafts later, Zevallos had his big break. He sold a screen play – a short comedy sketch that was optioned by the National Lampoon – and moved to Los Angeles.
That was nearly 10 years ago, and while Zevallos continued to write and build a reputation, his parents were struggling back home in New York. His father’s mortgage company wasn’t able to withstand the recession and his mother moved to Miami for work, temporarily leaving her husband behind.
“My dad insisted on staying in the house, even without money to pay the bills or maintenance,” says Zevallos. “He bought a little heater and lived in one room of the house, all alone. He was depressed, angry and at a loss – with no way out.”
With the house in foreclosure and his parents separated by the sheer number of miles between them, Zevallos’ family was temporarily torn apart. But communication and faith, he says, brought them together and became the inspiration for a screenplay he considers his best work to date. A chance meeting with a movie producer at a local film festival two years ago gave him the opportunity to pitch him the script for “Knuckleheads” and weeks later, casting on the project began. With a talented cast headed by Steven Bauer, Seregon O’Dassey, Yerania Del Orbe and veteran actor Vinny Vella, the finished film projects a sense of authenticity and compassion.
“This movie is a real testament to my family, and creating it was one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life,” says Zevallos.