Audiences will flock to theaters to see “Despicable Me 2” in order to get their fill of adorable, bright yellow minions (after all, it’s been three whole years since the original film was released!) but they’ll be getting loads of laugh-out-loud thanks in part to Moisés Arias, who voices the character of Antonio Perez, a teen whose flirtatious ways will surely help make the movie a box office hit.
Arias, who at 19 is already a bonafide teen star thanks to his memorable role as Rico opposite Miley Cyrus on tween-friendly sitcom “Hanna Montana,” brings his characteristic tongue-in-cheek fun to the film as Perez, the teenage son of villain El Macho (voiced by Benjamin Bratt). His romantic interest in young Margo (“iCarly” star Miranda Cosgrove) threatens to derail – or at the very least, cause some serious distraction – to the “save the world” mission that protective dad and newly-minted good guy Steve Carell’s Gru embarks on.
“I know how just about everyone is a huge fan of the first movie,” says Arias, whose parents are both Colombian. “So when the opportunity arose, I thought it would be a great project to be a part of. It’s a new character and I think he’s part of a new storyline that people will be excited to see.”
New character, new story line… and new accents? Arias says he channeled his parents when it came to executing the perfect Latin lover accent, adding some decided flavor to the family comedy.
“I’m not going to say it’s the best accent ever, but because I use to act as a translator for my parents growing up, I have their accent down,” explains Arias, who counts Spanish as his first language. “After all these years in this country, their accent is really strong and I learned what I know from them.”
Accents and cute animated characters aside, Arias says he enjoys embracing his Latino both on-camera and off. He’s played Italian, white and Hispanic characters throughout his career (Arias began acting when he was just a pre-teen) and as long as “it’s not anything that’s degrading or derogatory,” Arias says affecting an accent is just a part of the job.
“In real life, people have accents,” notes Arias, who flies back home to Atlanta from Los Angeles to spend time with his extended family whenever he can. “There’s a truth to that and I think if anything, it makes my character even more relatable.”
And if there’s one thing that Arias wants to be known for, it’s the fact that when he’s not on the job, he’s just a normal – if extremely creative – teen. He directs his own YouTube videos with best friend Jaden Smith and has appeared in music videos for bands as wildly different as the Jonas Brothers and Pearl Jam. He’s also currently working on a contemporary men’s clothing line with brother Mateo and is pursuing grown-up roles as he outgrows the “child actor” label and works towards his goal of becoming a full-fledged movie star.
“I’ve had to be very selective after ‘Hanna Montana’ and pick projects that will elevate me as an actor,” says Arias, who counts learning languages as one of his hobbies. “I want to show what I can do, which isn’t always an easy decision. I have several mentors that really help guide me and I think that’s the difference when it comes to making good choices.”
One of those mentors is BFF Jaden’s dad, Will Smith. The veteran blockbuster actor encouraged Arias to accept the role in “Kings of Summer,” an R-rated indie drama that opened at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. The coming-of-age story – in which Arias delivers one-liners in quick succession – has earned the actor serious acclaim and with the fall release of his next film “Ender’s Game,” completes a trilogy of films that the actor says shows different facets of his acting ability.
“Bonzo is a serious role and it was extremely challenging,” says Arias of “Ender’s Game,” a film adaptation of a young adult novel of the same name. “He has so much anger that I had to deliver – there were no gimmicks when it came to delivering that type of performance. Audiences might hate me as Bonzo, but I actually want that reaction because that would mean I delivered like I needed to. ‘Despicable’ was a lot of fun and ‘Kings of Summer’ was quirky, a comedy that forced me to grow in a way I hadn’t.”
Challenging roles in films – whether animated, comedy, or indie drama – are what keeps Arias interested in the industry and very much on a path that differs from troubled ingénues Amanda Bynes or, say, Lindsay Lohan.
“My parents have always been there for me and have always given me great advice on how to realize my dreams,” says Arias. “I grew up in a close family that has shown me so much love. My parents raised me with Colombian values – values that keep me grounded to things that don’t really go with the headlines you see from other child stars.”
“My parents have done a great job of letting me pursue what I love, while holding me back from anything that was too dangerous or too quick for my maturity level. For that, I’m very thankful.”