Jon Huertas is an actor, producer, and director who has left his mark on TV and film. You may recognize him as Detective Javier Esposito in Castle or as Miguel Rivas in This Is Us.
Beyond his storied acting career, Huertas is a talented singer and in more recent years has dived into the creation of media with production and directing with his company WestSide Stories. He continues to captivate fans on-screen and behind the camera.
With Huertas, we discuss his commitment to the arts and Hispanic community and navigating his entertainment career.
Symbonic: Tell us about your background and how you ended up in the industry?
Jon Huertas: From a young age, I wanted to be an actor. I was kind of forced into it because I was at a Catholic school and getting into trouble. I think the nuns were looking for a way to direct my energy. I thought I was going to finish an undergrad degree in theater, but some things happened while I was in school, and they asked me not to come back my sophomore year. I had to figure out how I was going to pay for school, so I went into the military, the United States Air Force, for eight years.
Once I finished out my last enlistment, I drove directly to LA without knowing a soul. One thing you learn in the military is that you have to adapt and overcome whatever situation you're in that is proving difficult. Adapt to it, overcome it. I used every tool that I had and found my way in front of the camera. Whatever stuck, I would do.
I signed a record deal with a vocal group. I was looking at jobs, but I didn't really see a path to success. So, I decided I had to focus on one thing and chose acting, knowing that with that I could lean into directing at some point. Developing content was another. To find success in one thing would allow me the opportunity to then branch out. Cut to 2001, I had done really well for a few years and then got a little bone dry. I was thinking about going back into the Air Force, but managed to get some writing gigs to get money in my bank account.
Then, I focused on my next thing, my next chapter. I'd been playing teenagers and doing lots of comedy, but wanted to change it up a bit. I felt a little stagnant. I felt the need to reinvent myself, which can be kind of tough. People know you for one thing and you start doing something else. I ended up in this limited series on HBO written by David Simon called Generation Kill as a lead. It was the most gratifying job because being a veteran, it was telling a true story about veterans. From there I slid into Castle. It was there that I started shadowing our producing director. As I started to get more into directing, people started coming to me about developing content, especially in the Latinx space, which is kind of the last frontier of diversity and inclusion.
I started my company back in 2016. We've got tons of stuff at various stages of development. We sold a show to E1 based on a book. We have a show that we sold to Happy Madison and the Village Road Show. We have films. We have a lot going on, but not doing much right now because of the strikes.
S: What do you make of the current representation of the Latinx community in entertainment?
JH: The Latinx space is kind of the last frontier of diversity and inclusion. I'm working towards making Latinx stories that aren't so stereotypical. Stereotypical, trope-y, one-dimensional. I think that because I've been on shows that are kind of general market, a lot of people thought, what are your thoughts on Latinx content if you've never done a Latinx show? My view is that all stories can be universal; a lot of Latinx people can experience the same love stories that people of other backgrounds experience.
S: How do you see AI impacting the creative process?
JH: It impacts every aspect of our industry, really. You can create performers with AI, you can create voices with AI. AI can then write scripts. We know that chat GPT can write books and things like that. AI can even be the director, if you will. It can create shots, can be the cinematographer because you don't have to film anything to create worlds. It's very important to get codified language with regards to our unions.
S: What tactics do you use to stay adaptable in this changing industry?
JH: It goes back to that hustle mentality. You have to adapt and find the thing you can use to your advantage, gain momentum, and move your career forward.
S: How does being part of the Latinx community motivate your daily work and your future goals?
JH: I would say that my stories aren't necessarily Latinx stories. They're just stories, but they're going to feature very prominent Latinx character in some way, because I think we should just be part of the United States. I don't want to just tell Latinx stories because I don't want to isolate anybody. I don't want people to not know the Latinx experience or how Latinx individual experiences a story because they're not being targeted by the project that I'm a part of.
What's important, and the main reason I'm directing really, is I've done over 500 episodes of television, and I've only been directed by one adult male Latino, one person who looks like me and who might understand why I'm making the choices I'm making as an artist, as an actor. I've only had one opportunity to experience that. I decided it's my responsibility to be that director for other Latinx actors on the other side of the camera, but also to help in the casting process. If we're casting an episode of television or a movie, I can say, nowhere in the script does it say that this character is a particular race, so it could be Latinx, let's try to find that actor, let's lean into that for this character.
The number one movie going audience is the Latinx audience. They're the most loyal audience to what they like and they go out to opening weekends in mass more than any other group. They're not watching Latinx movies because there aren't any really. They're watching movies like Top Gun and the other big blockbusters. I don't want to turn Top Gun into a Latinx movie. I want Top Gun to have a very prominent Latinx character, if you know what I mean. So someone can see their reflection on screen in some way or in some character. I want Latinos to imagine a character as themselves or as your mom, as your dad, as your aunt, your uncle, brother, sister, kid.
It's the story first, then finding ways to bring Latinos into the conversation.