Richard Cabral on Leaving His Gang Life Behind and Starring in a Hollywood Film

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Growing up in East Los Angeles with a single mom wasn’t easy. By the time Richard Cabral was 13 years old he was in a gang. His teenage years were spent in and out of jail. His first arrest came at 14 and at 15 he was addicted to crack cocaine. A few years down the road at the age of 20, Cabral was charged with attempted murder and would spend a year in jail while he awaited trial. If convicted he was facing a sentence of 35 years to life. Making a plea deal gave him a reduced sentence of 5 years and ending up serving 27 months. Upon release he found a support system in Homeboy Industries, Father Gregory “G-Dog” Boyle’s charity, where ex-gang members are provided jobs as an alternative to their former life provided they stay clean. It was his involvement with the non-profit organization that led to Cabral being cast as an extra in CSI: Miami. Earlier this month, came the release of Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones featuring Cabral in the supporting role of Arturo. We got to hear from Cabral about transitioning from gang life to acting.

You are from East LA and joined a gang at 13 years old. What was it about that time and place that left you feeling like it was your only option?

Cabral: I feel that in all kids that I’ve came across, the age of 12-13 is a big transition. They begin forming the young adult they’re going to become. I can’t put a “name” on it but it’s something. You’re trying to find yourself, we’re getting ready to go to high school and as this world teaches you, you must “belong” to something.

How important was Homeboy Industries to your spiritual evolution? Why are organizations like these always in jeopardy of losing funds despite changing so many lives?

Cabral: Homeboy Industries is a great organization but beyond that, it is Father Greg. He is the reason why I was given this second chance. Of course other things play a factor on this amazing journey I’ve gone through, but if there was no Father Greg there would be nothing. I believe organizations like these are always in jeopardy because what we are taught in this sickening world is greed. The majority of minds are warped into the belief that the only person worth helping is their own self. People think others that come from gangs, poverty, drugs are below them. Which is bullshit because the whole world is going through problems. We’re all suffering together. People are just too blind to see that.

It’s sort of crazy to think that you’re a part of this huge blockbuster film franchise when not that long ago you were facing 35 years to life.

Cabral: Ha! It’s ludicrous to even say it in the same line. Well, that’s what we are taught to believe and that’s what I would have stated when I was sitting in a cell. But the power of belief, of God is beyond what mere mortals can imagine. There is no restrictions in my life. If I do what I love, work night and day, and I’m open to the spirits that’s when the “greats” take over.

How important is Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones for Latino filmmaking?

Cabral: HUGE! This is the first time in history that Latinos have done it and made the studios this amount of money and signed to a franchise. There is a wave of seasoned and young Latino actors right now! We’re making money for the studios and were bringing the NOISE, there’s no stopping it.

What moment of being an artist impacted you the most?

Cabral: The true meaning of an artist/actor is opening my heart to the audience and at the same time opening their heart. Through sharing my pain I can possibly heal your pain. There is no other feeling like it, money doesn’t compare. This is the true meaning of art. I will attempt to do it till my dying day. The theater is the church and when I’m on that stage I am the priest/pastor. It is a pure spiritual journey for me.

You’ve cited Miguel Piñero and Stephen Adly Guirgis as writers that understood your world. What was it about both of them, who are very much New Yorkers, that made you feel that way?

Cabral: Learning the craft as an actor in Los Angeles is a very hard thing to do, in my opinion. We all come from a certain world and when you start learning the craft you need material to read/study that you can relate to. We do not have too many Latino writers on the West Coast that I was able to relate to (or at least, I didn’t know at the time). I came from the streets so the most published authors had no relation to my world. As soon as I picked up Piñero & Guirgis, it was all over. It was my world just in a different location. They cracked me open inside and out. They talked about the “inside” of the barrio, the emotions, the stories that people know are happening but were too scared to talk about. “Sun Always Shines for The Cool” and “Den of Thieves” will always be my favorites/breakthroughs.

What do you want to leave behind when it’s all said and done?

Cabral: When I die I want a child that never met me, to hear where I came from and what I accomplished and for him or her to live their life to the fullest and do what they were put on this world to do. No limitations, blowing past everybody’s expectations. Screw what everbody thinks!

This interview originally appeared on LatinoBuzz, a weekly feature on Indiewire that highlights Latino indie talent and upcoming trends in Latino film.