Patience, perseverance, and a measure of good luck prove to be winning combination for this actor
by Mary Denny
In 1983, Juan Carlos Cantu '79 moved to Los Angeles with only $900 in his pocket. Like so many Hollywood hopefuls, he worked a series of odd jobs while pursuing his acting career. Cantu found employment at an advertising agency, the marketing department of a Mexican food company, and as a court interpreter for the Los Angeles County Superior Court. With each new position, Cantu never abandoned his acting dream that formed as a speech and drama major at Trinity University.
Thirty-three years later, Cantu still calls the City of Angels home. A lot has changed since the '80s when he primarily appeared in commercials, films, and television roles with only two or three lines. Today, Cantu plays Gustavo, a "clueless, lecherous, and lovable old man" on NBC's Telenovela, a series created, produced by, and starring Eva Longoria. The show depicts the cast of a fictional soap opera and its leading lady Ana Sofia Calderón, played by Longoria. Cantu, a regular guest appearance on series such as Better Call Saul and Criminal Minds Beyond Borders, calls the role of Gustavo an exciting departure from previous characters.
"Telenovela is a hilarious and sometimes over-the-top comedy," Cantu says, adding how nice it is to work alongside a household name like Longoria. "She has a wonderful sense of humor and truly cares for the rest of the cast, writers, and production staff."
Throughout his career, Cantu has also acted with stars like George Clooney, Tom Hanks, and Nicholas Cage. During the two-season run of the FX series The Bridge, Cantu collaborated with Diane Kruger and Demián Bichir. Although the series ended in 2014, Cantu says his role and performance as the corrupt Captain Robles – "a real badass" – has allowed him to obtain new roles without having to audition.
Cantu calls himself one of the lucky ones, reflecting on the increasingly competitive state of the acting industry. A native of Monterrey, Mexico, Cantu learned of Trinity after he accompanied his father, a corporate pilot, on a trip to San Antonio as a teen. A worker in the airport terminal suggested that Cantu check out the "really good theater department" at Trinity and the seed was planted. Cantu recalls department chairs Paul Baker and Jim Symonds, as well as "incredible professors" like Diana Devereaux and Mary Ann Colias.
Heavily involved in campus life outside of his major, Cantu was a member of the Triniteers, played nearly every intramural sport, and served as a resident assistant during his senior year. He fondly reminisces about Peg Armstrong and Coleen Grissom, former deans whom he calls "extraordinary ladies" who are not easy to forget.
In between graduation and his big move to Los Angeles, Cantu taught theater at the Instituto Technológico de Monterrey and worked at KGNS-TV in Laredo, Texas. Cantu remembers landing a gig as a "day player" in a movie shooting in Laredo and joining the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) – "a big plus" - through that production.
Today, Cantu is satisfied with roles like Victor Ramirez on The Grinder or as a judge on the TV-movie Murder in Mexico: The Bruce Beresford-Redman Story. Regardless of the run of these current series, Cantu plans to "keep doing what I do for as long as I can." He is a proud father to two daughters, both involved in acting and singing, and a son who is a Ph.D. neurobiology candidate at the University of California, Los Angeles. Cantu says he is happy watching his children achieve success, but, like every actor, he still dreams of winning an Emmy or Oscar.
Juan Carlos Cantu can be reached at jccantu [at] hotmail.com.