Hollywood isn’t always glamorous red carpet events, autograph signings and black-tie galas. In fact, landing a plum role as a Latino actor – much less a role that steers clear of stereotypes – can be a challenge. So much so, says Ricardo Chavira, that after more than 20 years as an actor, he’s occasionally tempted to leave Hollywood.
“I’m always thinking about leaving the industry. I have dreams of becoming a fisherman in Alaska or becoming a war correspondent,” says Chavira. So after “Desperate Housewives” ended in May 2012, Chavira decided to focus on family – and on finding a platform on which to find his voice as one of Latino Hollywood’s most prominent actors.
For more than a year, says Chavira, he coached his son’s basketball team and took his daughter to ballet. He even did chores around the house for his wife – all while reading countless scripts for shows he dismissed as being full of stereotypes about Latinos.
And then his agent sent him the script for “Welcome to the Family.”
“This script is the best writing that I’ve ever seen for a Latino family since I’ve been in Hollywood auditioning for material,” explains the 42-year-old of his new sitcom. There may be a “long road to go,” says Chavira, to when there’s a “wonderful storyline for every Latino character” on television, but with “Welcome to the Family,” Chavira believes “we’re getting there.”
“Welcome to the Family” features Chavira as a proud father whose brainy teen son is headed to Stanford University just as he finds out his white girlfriend is pregnant. The young couple decides to keep the baby and become engaged, bringing their families together in what becomes the ultimate family feud as cultures – and personalities – collide. And while Chavira’s character Miguel Hernandez has multiple tattoos and has served time in prison, he’s also the owner of a small business and a doting father who is counting on his son to achieve the American dream.
“You know, stereotypes, you can’t avoid them,” explains Chavira of his character’s rough edges. “I mean, they’re always going to be there. Like with my character on this show for instance, there are some stereotypical situations that my character is a part of. But the stereotype does not completely define the character. It’s my job as an actor and our job as a show to be able to find a way to make it three-dimensional.”
And the show is not only reflective of Chavira’s worldview about Latinos. It’s bolstered by the fact that “Welcome to the Family” has four Latino writers on staff, “the most I’ve ever seen,” says Chavira.
“I feel like I can voice my opinion when I like a storyline; if I don’t like a storyline,” the father of two explains. “If I feel that something’s derogatory, if I have a problem with it, I know that I can open my mouth, speak freely and I will be listened to and it will be discussed and we will find an alternative.”
So while the show may include a storyline about teen parenting, with plenty of jokes about Latino families, Chavira says he hopes audiences appreciate the humor.
“I think that we’ve got a really interesting perspective on the whole idea of families coming together and teenage pregnancy,” says Chavira, who shared that both Rita Moreno and Eva Longoria will guest star on the show this season.
In fact, divulges Chavira, he even shared the script with his 10 year old son. And his response?
“He said, ‘Man, I don’t want to date anybody until I’m 25. I don’t have the time for it,’” Chavira recalls his son saying.
But more than anything, says Chavira, he hopes fans appreciate his return to primetime TV.
“We need to be able to have entertainment that we want to tune into,” says Chavira.
“There’s an endless amount of storytelling that can be done.”
“Welcome to the Family” airs Thursdays at 8:30 e/7:30c on NBC. NBC Latino and NBC are both divisions of NBC Universal.