Wilmer Valderrama is a busy man but he says he’s just getting started.
“I look at it this way– If I’m awake, I need to be doing something,” the 32-year-old says, “I honestly don’t feel like I’ve done anything yet. If anything I’ve just introduced myself for the first time and said nice to meet you to my fans and audiences.”
He first caught the audience’s attention with his memorable turn as Fez on “That Seventies Show.” The 32-year-old parlayed that success into new roles: producer, director, activist, and social media dynamo. That last one is a natural fit for Valderrama, who loves sharing his adventures with his fans through Twitter and Instagram. With more than 250, 000 followers, it’s clearly his fans appreciate his accessibility, a connection he uses to generate buzz for the causes and projects he cares about.
“Thanks to technology you can really truly find the people who can share the same interests and that share the same journey.”
Valderrama’s journey began in Miami, where he was born to Venezuelan and Colombian parents. The family moved to Venezuela when he was 3 years old, moving back to the U.S. when he was 13 to give their children a shot at the American dream.
“I think it’s, to me, that struggle and that drive that my dad had when I was growing up that really made me understand that we were here to do one thing. And that was to work and to maximize the opportunities that we had.”
Their lean times powered the incredible passion to succeed that drives Valderrama in all of his pursuits, starting with his commitment to serve and give back, starting with the shirt on his back. It’s part of the “This Shirt Helps” apparel line, the brainchild of his longtime buddy, Joe Huff. Valderrama says the point of “This Shirt Helps” Is as simple as it gets, “you’re already going to buy a shirt– why not get one that helps?” Each sales allows the consumer to direct their dollars to a cause close to their heart.
Huff explains: “For instance, one shirt equals a year of clean water. Or one shirt equals three trees planted. Or one shirt equals an animal saved.”
Valderrama says he was moved to champion the company because it speaks directly to the younger generation’s affinity for transparency and making a difference.
“It makes everyone feel like they’re actually truly helping,” he says. “I think that I really believe that human kind really, truly wants to help one another.”
Helping Latinos become politically active and aware is also a huge priority for him. He’s testified on Congressional panels and visited the White House, on behalf of several causes. This election year, Valderrama’s worked behind the camera, directing PSA’s for Voto Latino, an organization created by his good friend, actress Rosario Dawson.
He says, “I think a lot of it comes from the frustration of seeing that we’re 50-million Latinos In the United States but such a small percentage of us show up to vote. And that is a shame.”
Despite his political and social activism, don’t expect Valderrama’s entertainment endeavors to take a back seat. He created and produced a new YouTube series, “King of the Floor,” where break dancers battle it out in front of an audience. Most recently, he starred as a detective in the NBC series, “Awake.”
One of the most high-profile Latinos In Hollywood, Valderrama’s friends say it hasn’t got to his head.
“The reason he and I are so close is he has an amazing perspective on life and on how lucky we all are and how fortunate we all are,” says Huff.
“It’s pretty fun to be able to look back at the nights where you used to eat dinner every other night and I used to go to the 99 cent store, which I still do, I still go to the 99 cent store,” he says, “But go to those days and remember the struggle, makes me appreciate so much more, makes me even more hungry to do more.”
A hunger that will keep him working for years to come.
Diana Alvear is an NBC News Correspondent who is passionate about telling stories that touch the heart. She was born in Bogota, Colombia to Chilean parents and raised in Miami. She attended University of Florida and received her Master’s in journalism from University of Maryland. She honed her reporting in the Midwest and is now happy to call Los Angeles home. Her most memorable assignment was reporting live from Copiapo, Chile during the rescue of the 33 miners.