SKSM: Could you start with telling me a bit about yourself? Who are you and what do you do?
Chaz Mena: Chaz is a Freedoms’ Foundation Award winner (2014) for his PBS teleplay, Yo Solo… and is currently a “Revolutionary in Residence” at Colonial Williamsburg, VA (2017). Chaz plays “Vicente Cruz,” a recurring character in Netflix’s hit series Bloodline. He is a published poet in some leading poetry journals around the country and has written four, 1-person shows that he performs at any given time. Chaz is also a company member of Zoetic Stage, a regional theatre company housed at the Adrienne Arsht Performing Arts Center. Partnering with Vanguardia Films (San Juan, PR), Chaz has co-produced independent feature films in Puerto Rico. He is next preparing to shoot a horror film in Cuba.
SKSM: How did you become involved in The things they left behind Dollar Baby film?
Chaz Mena: I auditioned. Duba Leibell (producer) has seen my work and asked me to audition, which were held at the University of Miami School of Communications, where Duba teaches screenwriting and many other wonderful things to her students. She is devoted to them on par to her craft as a writer and developer of new work.
SKSM: What do you think it is in the story that attracts people so much?
Chaz Mena: Culturally and historically, 9/11 is the moment that changed everything. Not only has it changed our foreign policy forever, but in our very lives, I mean existentially, we’re affected. It the most cruel thing that we’ve witnessed since WW2 in size, planning and execution. It’s given voice, unfortunately, to the most reactionary in all our societies in the west. The rise of Nationalism and its unfortunate, hateful face can be linked to 9/11.
It’s more than a “where were you when it happened” chapter in our lives. It’s a central event that still affects us all.
My wife was in the towers the day before the tragedy. We lived in NY at the time. She works in finance. We’re all—all of us, even those unborn at the time of the attack—living with it.
SKSM: Did you have to audition for the part or was it written directly for you?
Chaz Mena: I did audition. It was not written for me as the script was finalized and “locked in” weeks if not months before. This was a well-crafted, well-thought-out written piece. Its recet success speaks to that.
SKSM: You worked with Sara Werner on this film, how was that?
Chaz Mena: Sara’s a delight. She believed in rehearsing the week before the shooting and it made all the difference. Now that I’ve been executice producer on some other projects, I’ve advocated for that.
Sara was very respectful, keenly sensitive to the theme of the work we were engaged in. Some of us had actually lost friends or aquaintences in the events we portrayed. We always, crew and actors kept that in mind. How you handle a subject informs how you portray it. Know what you’re handeling.
I’m not saying she was unduly sensitive or pedantic. She hit the right note—exceptional for so young a person.
SKSM: Was there any funny or special moment when they made the movie that you would like to tell me about?
Chaz Mena: Tom Frank and I are francophone. We were speaking French on the set, telling jokes aloud and people didn’t know what to make of us. My French is heavily accented, being a Spanish speaker, and he was kind enough to suffer through it without commenting on it. Tom is a friend. I think he’s wonderful.
SKSM: Do you still have any contact with the crew/cast from that time? If so with who?
Chaz Mena: I’ve talked to Tom Frank and Duba as well. Who I consider a good man, a friend.
I have to tell you that the Crew was the model of professional. They do a great job at the School of Communications, UM. For some in the crew, it was their first time working in anything other than in their assigned work in class. First time working with professional actors. You couldn’t tell. They were (are) remarkable. I hope to work with them again soon!
SKSM: What are you working nowadays?
Chaz Mena: I’m in pre-production with Phonograph Films (Juan Carlos Zaldivar) on a horror story that we’re planning to shoot in the Carribean… can’t tell you more yet!
I continue partnering with Van Guardia Films (Puerto Rico) on a sci-fi film that is in post now entitled “23 Hours.”
Writing two plays: one in development with Hannah Ryan (resident director, Hamilton) and I’m in the research phase for a play about the American revolution, being a “Revolutionary in Residence” for Colonial Williamsburg.
On top of all that, I’ve been hired as a lecturer at the University of Miami, Theatre Dept.
Lot’s to do!
SKSM: Are you a fan of Stephen King’s work?
Chaz Mena: Of course, just like everyone else. I follow him on Twitter. I love, love, love his short stories having read most of his short story collections. “Night Shift” is unparralled, in my view. I mean, up there with Le Fanu and M.R. James in craftsmenship.
SKSM: What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
Chaz Mena: I’m a fast reader. It mostly works against me. I curb my tendency to do it. You miss things. I have a degree in English Literature.
SKSM: Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. Is there anything else you want to say to the fans that read this interview?
Chaz Mena: Support women in film. One-half of Humanity is not being heard! We’re all the less for it.
SKSM: Do you like something to add?
Chaz Mena: Be a story teller. Stories are all we have. It’s all we do, in any field.