Tell me a little bit about yourself. (Introduce yourself and where you’re from).
My name is Daniel Andres Blanco, and I'm a writer, actor, and director from Palmdale, California! I'm a recent graduate of the BFA Acting Program and Directing Program at UCSB. Shoutout to the Zoom Class of 2020!
Tell me something interesting about yourself, a fun fact!
I really, really, REALLY love to cook. I've mainly been trying to do my own takes on family recipes; I know for a fact that I'll never be able to crack what makes my mom's Ajiaco the most amazing thing in the world, but that doesn't mean I won't keep trying!
Have you always been creative? What did you want to be when you were young?
Honestly, I still don't know exactly how I got into the whole art world! I've always told my professors and my friends that I made it into Theater and Film by accident! My dad is an engineer, so there were a lot of expectations for me to do something STEM related. For a while I kind of convinced myself that I was gonna be a doctor or an engineer, I figured that I would try and do literally any job that I thought would impress my parents the most. But at the end of the day, none of that was really what I wanted to do, and I found my passion onstage, and behind the camera!
How did you get into film? Acting and directing?
I've always loved film, I got into it at a really young age when my dad would let me watch White Chicks and George Lopez and the Scary Movie series. Looking back, these are probably movies that I shouldn't have been watching as a toddler, but I wouldn't change those experiences I shared with my dad for the world. I would try and do impersonations of a lot of the scenes and characters to try and make my parents laugh, so that's where my love for acting came! Just imagine a 5 year old doing a KILLER George Lopez impersonation, and that was me! When I got older I started making a couple of friends, my best friend, Austen (still my homie for 10 years now!) started a YouTube channel and we started making a bunch of short films for fun. We got into making song parodies, action shorts, and horror skits with our friend group, and kept that going all the way until we graduated High School. We were those students who basically went all out when we were given video projects for class and we're all still really proud of that. I remember having so much fun making those videos, and I would always wonder if there was a real possibility for me to have a future in making movies with my friends, or maybe even acting!
When I got to UCSB, I came in wanting to be a Mechanical Engineer. That honestly didn't last for more than a couple of weeks and I became undeclared. One day, my friend Nick, who lived on the same floor as me in my dorm, asked me if I could help him with an audition for a play. I ended up going with him for the hell of it, and then I was called back for the show! I had no clue what I was even doing there! I didn't get the part in the end, but the director of the show just happened to be the head of the BFA Acting program and recommended that I look into auditioning for it. I found a Colombian-American monologue, rocked a bright orange Santana shirt and purple Donkey Kong shoes, walked into the audition with a whole bunch of white people who were super well-trained and bragging about their theater experience, and I actually got in! I felt like I was there by mistake and didn't fully accept my place there for a long time, since my class was a million times more talented than I was, but I decided to stick around in the program. Eventually, I got tired of playing the side characters and comedic relief, and I was bored of the plays that my school was doing, so that's when I decided to start writing and directing my own material. If I can't find a part that's suited for me, or a production that I want to be a part of, why not just make it myself, you know?
What is it you love most about it?
Acting and Directing are some of the most rewarding experiences I've ever had. When acting, I think the best part is literally opening night, when the late nights of work and all of the character study you've done finally lead up to the moment the stage lights go up. It's nerve-wracking, and the butterflies never really go away no matter how many times you've rehearsed, but it's exhilarating and so thrilling to be a part of. Being on stage with people that you've grown super close with and getting to share a whole experience with an audience, it's really something that never gets old.
Directing on the other hand, I think that's where my heart really is. You essentially see every side of the production; you know all of the characters and their stories, you know what the world is supposed to be like, you know how everything feels, looks, smells... you have the entire vision. I especially love getting to work with actors. My job when working with actors is to make sure that they reach their full potential. I believe everyone and anyone has the capacity to be incredible actors, but they have to see it for themselves first! You have to guide them, not drag them. Ultimately, just being able to see the growth of everyone involved in a production, seeing your whole vision, and the contributions of everyone in your team, come to life, is an incredible feeling.
What is your process like? (Take me through your creative process)
My process is always different depending on what a project requires. When acting, I dive straight into the basics of a character. Who am I? Where do I come from? Who do I trust? What do I want? I find all of the little details that people say about my character, I come up with backstories, and I find ways to personalize them for me. I make sure that it's not me becoming a character, I like to think that each character I take on is an extension of who I am.
When directing, I always think of music, that's always my way in. When looking at a script, I think, "wow, Black Magic Woman really fits the vibe of this piece..." or "Damn, I can totally picture a Mariachi Punk-Rock soundtrack for this." Color also helps too! "This world feels Green." First impressions say so much more than you think! From there, I think of the world that everyone lives in. Is it quiet? Is it loud? Is it cold? What time period is this? I believe environments have a great influence on shaping the people who live there. Then, I look at the characters, and go through each character as if I was playing them. That's where the acting training comes in, and that's why I think it's important for directors to take acting classes, and for actors to take directing classes, the more you understand each field, the better you can work! Once I lay that groundwork for myself, that's when you can start bringing people in and start collaborating to help bring your new vision to life.
Does being Hispanic influence your acting or directing at all? If so, how?
My Colombian roots most definitely influence the work that I do. Growing up in a very energetic environment filled with music and laughter, I tend to try and create projects that incorporate this sense of light, energy, and joy. I like creating work that has some sabor!! I'd say it most directly influences the projects that I write and direct; I feel like it's very rare that I see any work that features Colombian characters that aren't reduced to the stereotypical "Cocaine drug-dealer," or anything that has to do with Pablo Escobar. While I'm starting most of my projects with Salsa influences, I'm constantly looking for new ways to bring my Colombian culture into the mix. Most recently, one of my senior-projects centered around my dad's experience coming to the United States as a Colombian immigrant, and comparing that to my own experience in trying to find my place in the world as an artist, and as a person. I was able to incorporate many elements of live music, to create a live salsa band onstage, in a means to celebrate Latin immigrants all over the world. I also incorporated a vibrant soundtrack featuring the work of Fruko y sus Tesos, which is something I don't believe has ever been done on the UCSB campus. I know it's far from perfect, there's a lot more for me to learn, but I'm trying to lay the foundation for myself, and hopefully for others, to bring work that represents our own cultures and stories in ways that no one else can.
Who/what has inspired you the most in what you do?
I honestly have a lot of influences in my work. I always have to shout out my family, I always try to incorporate inside jokes, stories, moments, and characters that are based off of them. I owe so much of my career to my mom and dad. In terms of other influences, John Leguizamo is there without a doubt. I'm a huge Leguizamo fan, once I saw Latin History for Morons and Freak for the first time, I saw that it really was possible for someone that looked like me (and honestly, kind of acts like me too) to be successful in the industry. When I heard of Lin Manuel Miranda for the first time and listened to In the Heights, I saw that it was possible for a Salsa musical in the states to be one of the greatest musicals ever! When I saw Baby Driver from Edgar Wright for the first time, I finally saw exactly how I could pull off the types of movies I had envisioned in my head; it incorporated music that wasn't just in the story, it literally WAS the story! Also, I definitely can't forget Carlos Santana. I straight up had a spiritual awakening when I listened to Santana III. Needless to say, these people have helped mold the mind that is Daniel Andres Blanco.
What have you done that you’re most proud of?
I'm proud of all the work that I've done so far, but my first short film, "SORPRESAS: A Salsa Noir Film," is the one I'm the most proud of. It was my first idea for a film that I wouldn't be doing with my best friends from Palmdale, and it was the first film that I truly was able to say, "I have never seen anything like this before." Writing the script was easy, and I saw the entire project in my head perfectly. And I was so freaking excited about getting it done. It felt like everything was against me and my team to stop it from happening. We had a tiny crew, scheduling conflicts, an incredibly small budget from my Blaze Pizza salary, the demands of a play that I was acting in at the exact same time. But we beat all odds and made it into a film festival being held at our school. We pulled it off! Sorpresas was also the first time that I clearly saw a future for myself; I wanted to keep experimenting with classic Salsa songs, and reimagine them as films for a modern audience. I have a few projects in the works that re-envision salsa classics into a modern context in ways I don't think people have seen before. Sorpresas really ignited a passion in myself to keep creating work that I want to see more of.
Favorite actor or director?
My favorite actor, hands down, is John Leguizamo. This dude is hilarious, wild, sincere, intelligent, and is just an absolute pleasure to watch on screen and on stage. My favorite director is definitely Edgar Wright. He has directed in almost every genre. Because of how brilliant this man is, I now have a life goal to make a film in basically every genre out there, and find ways to keep it fresh and original.
What is your dream collaboration?
My dream collaboration... I have so many to think of right now!! A dream of mine is to make a FANIA salsa musical with Lin Manuel Miranda, another is to make a Carlos Santana biopic in the style of Rocketman, preferably with Carlos Santana onboard... another is just to work with John Leguizamo on literally anything... It doesn't even have to be any of these projects, I just want to work with Lin Manuel Miranda, Carlos Santana, and John Leguizamo!! SOMEONE HELP ME MAKE THIS HAPPEN!!
Any words of wisdom for young film enthusiasts? Tips?
If I could give young artists any word of advice, I'd say listen to your gut. Always! No one in this world has the potential, or the permission to create absolutely outrageous art more than YOU do. Stay true to yourself in your art, and always remember where you come from.