ATM sits down with actor Yancey Arias to talk about his recent play Confessions of a Cocaine Cowboy, film Canal Street and television series Queen of the South.
ATM: How is the element of ‘power’ seen throughout the play?
YA: My character in the show is very much dominant. A lot of the story takes place through the eyes and memories of my character Jorge Ayala “RIVI.” Also, in 2006, there was a documentary called Cocaine Cowboys, which interviewed the whole side of what was going on and the craziness of the politicians, police officers, agencies, as well as the players who ran the drug trade at the time. They interviewed a female leader of the cartel and people that wanted to kill her. ‘Power’ plays a dominant issue in the play. The documentary depicts that these people are chosen under these conditions. What would I do if I had such power? I would hide it under the spectrum. I would protect the whole situation. I would want to figure out the situation on the playing field while having this power at hand. We are dealing with real-world issues in this play.
ATM: Is there a weakness associated with a person of power?
YA: Ayala in the play shows there is a certain type of power one must have which is acting cold as ice under pressure. Unfortunately, for the people who are cold, once their nicer spots are exposed – they have a daughter or a son. When someone finds out about their personal lives this is when it turns into a bias with the person of power trying to hold a position. The bias is that they will become emotional and the circumstances can exceed their power. It is a challenge and a mystery. You have to use positive motivation and still have the sense of humanity without hurting people. We can go on and on about how our country is currently dealing with this very nuance of life.
ATM: What is the internal feeling of how power can affect a person?
YA: Power affects a human being in two ways. There are several, but with great power there comes responsibility and respect. This principle is also echoed in movies like Spiderman. It is true it goes back to the history of mankind. One is a good man who is a hardworking individual who is given the power of any given thing. On the good side of the perspective, they realize the responsibility to treat everyone as good as they can and get people behind the reason why we are running our group the way we are. But then you have people who do not have these experiences and come from other kinds of upbringings. On the other side of the spectrum, the person might take this power selfishly as a child. This kind of leader is dangerous, reckless and can cause great harm to the people they are leading.
ATM: What is in the heart of an assassin and how having heart influences humanity?
YA: People are going to understand that what is in the heart of an assassin is no different from two soldiers in the field fighting or shooting to bring honor to their family. These assassins are handpicked by people who are the so-called ‘bad guys’ in drugs. The bad guy on the spectrum is chosen with specific skills. They are given the sense that they are becoming a part of a family and now they have to be responsible for this family. It is like “you have to work for us, or you die.” “You have to take our money, or you are dead.” A lot of the powerful people who are lead characters do not have many options but to become part of the family. They feel like they are a part of something important. On the other spectrum, it is “Where ever they come from or grew up, they are going to grow up and go out there to kill.” They might be innocent by accident. “But make us proud and get it done. You are guilty by association. Get the job done.” Assassins from one look or another, everybody is under the same condition and stresses. They will need some good therapy after they retire. This play displays the both sides of the law enforcers and drug dealers. It shows you an understanding of how these guys work. At the end of the day, the audience walks away with “Let’s not be a hypocrite, but let’s be woke.” Let’s understand how history can repeat it’s self if we do not pay mind to our past and learn from it.
ATM: How has the stage direction with this play taught you patience?
YA: This is the responsibility of the director, crew, and everyone who is trying to show the visual end of the experience behind not just what we are saying, but in all beats of the play. Imagine you are given a playbook like in sports. You allow yourself to immerse into this playbook. If you put your whole heart into it and the time, then when the performance happens there is a celebration of all the preparation. It is a collaboration.
ATM: Do you believe the interviews are close to what is being figured out in the play or do you believe they are farther from gaining the truth?
YA: The writer and the director of the documentary is also the writer of this play, which is Billy Corben and Aurin Squire. These people are passionate Miamians that understand the history of Miami. They realize there are too many similarities and subject matters and questions that need answers. They are similarly happening today. It gives them an opportunity as creators to give a Miami look at this subject matter. Everything in this play will keep you asking. For me, it was a challenge, because I am not from Miami but New York. I had been in Miami a couple of times in my life and tried to immerse myself as much as I can in a month during this process. My goal was to immerse myself into Miami and respect the world of people in this story.
ATM: With the words cash, corruption, or coke, which gets more in the way of a kingpin’s job?
YA: You know the whole thing of “Do not get high on your supply.” A female character started using the coke, and everything went haywire. Once someone in power starts using their supply, this is when they are no longer themselves. All types of stuff start to happen. They are under the influence, and there is no control. There is no logic behind anything they do.
ATM: When have you showed the same boldness as seen in your film Canal Street with your child?
YA: I have a four-year-old and two-month year old. For my children, my only boldness is to make sure I do my best work every time I walk away from the job so I can continue working and to provide for my family. I pray every night that I never have an issue that would ever show harm to my family in any way, shape, or form. Obviously, as the kid grows older, they face things. I have lived long in my life. I felt it was better to wait to have children now. I am better prepared and want to give them the best possible life I can give them from my own experiences. I lived a nice long strong life with a lot of experiences that were not so funny or happy. I want to give them some of the tools to live a long prosperous life. My sense of protection and what I would do for my wife and kids are paramount in my life. Longevity is super important to me so I would like to share that with them in as many ways possible so they too can have that for themselves and their children someday.
ATM: I am not a father so, about the film Canal Street, can you express the father and son connection?
YA: I look back at my father. He made mistakes, but I will always love him. I have certain things in my personal life that I respect the hell out of him for – in terms of the love he has for me — also, on the flip side there were things about him that allow me to see the flaws in myself, and I am grateful to say that I put an end to most of the behavior that needed help so not to be enslaved by his life experience. I hope I can offer that to my son. The best possible me, and he can decide for himself what he wishes to carry on or not. No matter what, there is love and understanding. There is also a sense of pride you have when a man has a kid. I had a father figure in my life. Do you get what I am saying? There is a bond that is unbroken. Unfortunately, there are kids out there who never met their father. I feel for them. I think it’s important for men to be responsible for their children.
But hopefully God willing they find someone to help them find their way to what it is to be a real man. When I say a real man, I am talking about people with responsibility. Also, people who understand compassion, respect, loyalty, and bring some type of education to their children that give them hope. I had mentors. I had five or ten years where I did not have my father around. I had five precious years from the ages of 5-10. During this time, I spent the longest time with my dad. We did not see each other much. When we did, it was by passing. He was going to do his own thing. We are talking about the unbroken bond in having a parent connection with a son and father together. This is a huge topic on Canal Street. When reading the script for this movie for the first time, I just broke down and cried. It reminded me of certain aspects of my personal life.
I was supposed to play the father as a half black and Hispanic dad. They could not work out the schedule for Queen of the South and play the role in this movie. They scrambled to figure out who was available, and they were lucky to have Mykelti Williamson available. He jumped in head first in two days before shooting and got ready for this role. He did a magnificent job, and this was the way it was supposed to be.
ATM: How did you spend your first Father’s Day with your son?
YA: It was a joyous experience. I remember we had a great breakfast together. Every moment that morning was full of surprises. I let him play with my hair and step on me. I loved every minute of it. He can get angry and stubborn but being a dad finally – not just on the TV or Film screen but being a dad and helping him understand his emotions in real time. . . WOW! I’m just blown away at every second and very blessed. There are no words to describe your first birth. The connection and value for a human to hold their child. It is a huge honor. I remember every Father’s Day for the last four years, it has been this same thing. At four years old, well he turns five this month, they get pretty antsy. When I have to get his attention for some bad behavior, I give him a time out or put him in the corner. You cannot control noise from a child. It is stupid to think that you can. There are boundaries. I catch myself because these are the precious moments, so I must give him his best. He cannot cross the line of disrespect. It is hard now because I do not want to be this way to my kids. But you have to do it because there is another dynamic that plays out. All my friends with kids talk about it.
ATM: How does your character on Queen of the South exercise his leadership capabilities?
YA: He had a sense of loyalty to making sure the right people are in power of the cartel at the time. He works for the government. His job was to make sure if anybody mess with the superiors then they must be gone. He was an enforcer for the government to keep everything on the straight and narrow. He made his connections and ties to people with people that showed experience and logic. When he starts to see these things crumble, then he questions them. He decides based on their behavior and the things they are doing. It is a crazy world in the matter of the drug cartel of the CIA, FBI, Mexican government, and all governments all around the world. They all have the same problem. Corruption is corruption, and it can happen to everyone. Very few people are left innocent.
ATM: Do you believe loyalty is a sub section of love?
YA: Yes. There is a feeling of pride and being a part of something that is given to you in a certain way. For example, going back to General Cortez, we never got into this. One of our backstories was that his mother had passed on. She left him a wealth of knowledge behind. His father was a big politician at the time who wanted him to follow his political footsteps. He said, “No, I am going into the military. I want nothing to do with this kind of situation. I am a man of action, and not a man of thought.” In this respect, he had his mother’s image in this mind, but never was able to feel it or the sense of love. He found a family that gave him the drive. Camilla is this very powerful and smart woman that he respects for what she does. In an inadvertent way, she finally wants to take him out. “Oh, you want to take me out.” The end of the season 3, he starts to reveal his plans for her. Love does have a strong play with loyalty.
ATM: How do you become a man in action when the director yells action?
YA: I become a man in action 15 minutes prior to the call of action, I find a space away from the crew. I am already in it. When I hear “Okay we have five minutes to rolling.” I say, thank you so much to the stage manager or tech, or first assistant director. I am ready to go. I have my plan ready for playing out the situation and the moments before what happened in the scene before. Or the connection to the scene before. Sometimes when they call “action,” I am on set before they call it. Just before this, about 15 minutes before I spend time working around set. I am doing the things I need to do to be specific in this moment. I am in the moment and the story already. Action is not for me in what to do, but it is just for the camera. For me, I am already in it. For me, action started 15 minutes ago. So for example, if someone is shooting a documentary, they are going to pick up life or whatever is going on as it is happening in real time.
ATM: When did you pick up the true essence of life and take it seriously?
YA: Wow. I was probably about 25. This is when I met my wife and we started dating seriously. Any of the misunderstandings I had with my father or anything that grows out of your teenage years, I really grew to understand myself as a responsible man of understanding, respecting, and having perspective around 25-30. I have a great mentor named Allen Savage. He is an acting coach who was a real honest person, down to earth, and strong person. He is a family man who helped motivate me and he was like a father to me. He helped point me into the direction of understanding what it is to be whole. Also, my martial arts experience was able to work hand and hand with this inner growth. I had a great spiritual leader who also offered guidance to me- Risa Webber for a couple of years to understand and give me more perspective of life. Showing me how to lead my life as best as possible. “The Four Agreements” aspects of which are also is in the bible. It is a book that gave me more depth, and again perspective and understanding. I coupled this with all my good and bad experiences in my past. Also, being able to draw from these experiences in life and give the most human experience possible when working on a project for all audiences to experience.
ATM: How does being a night owl help you be prepared for what to expect the next morning?
YA: It is just a matter of the life I have currently, and it is a matter of necessity. Sometimes I have my little baby by me until 2 in the morning because she cannot sleep. I want to let my wife sleep as much as possible. I am going over my lines on my iPad while watching over my kids. Again, it is just a matter of necessity and the responsibility of a father.