Introducing E.J. Bonilla

Melissa Hamburg

E.J. Bonilla has a busy week ahead!  The Puerto Rican actor stars in three films premiering at the New York International Latino Film Festival, running from August 15-21st. 22-year-old Bonilla seems humbled by all of the attention. Bonilla spoke to Latina.com recently about being the star of the film festival.  “It’s really exciting and it’s a little weird,” he said. Bonilla is starring in Musical Chairs (screening Aug. 17), Mamitas (premiering Aug. 19 and 20), and the short Crazy Beats Strong Every Time (screening Aug. 19).

He’s probably so calm, cool and collected because this isn’t his first time in the spotlight. In 2009, Bonilla earned a Daytime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Younger Actor in a Drama Series for his contract role in Guiding Light.  That same year he starred in Don’t Let Me Drown, a film about two urban Latino teens who find common ground with each other after the September 11 attacks.  Directed by Cruz Angeles, the film premiered at Sundance and was nominated for a Grand Jury Award.

Here’s what he had to say about being on the acting fast track:

You have three films premiering at the NY International Latino Film Festival— congratulations! How does it feel?

It’s really exciting and it’s a little weird – but I do love what I do and any chance to get people to know who I am, which broadens the chances of me getting better parts in the future – I’ll take it.

Tell us about Mamitas.

It’s a coming-of-age story about a kid from Echo Park, L.A. – and about the relationships between him and the women in his life.  His mother passed away giving birth to him and he never had that female role model and so he thinks he’s a little papi chulo.  Women don’t really hold his respect until this girl comes along and doesn’t take his s*** - for lack of a better term.  What’s beautiful about it [the film] to me is it’s not this over-dramatic love story.  It’s more like the story before the love story.  It’s about these two kids getting to know each other as friends and then you start to see things spark between them.

What role do you play? 

My character’s name is Jordin Juarez – he’s half Mexican, half Cuban.  He’s the kind of kid that spends most of his time outside –partially because he doesn’t want to have to deal with his family.  His mother died when he was born, so for him, every big event is a moment where she’s not there.  Every birthday is literally an anniversary of her death and it’s funny how he has this obsession with women. 

You were also in Don’t Let Me Drown, which was a bit of a love story.  Are you drawn to these romantic roles? 

Apparently, I book them!  I think a big reason why I do is because I consider myself a kid and a lot of these stories are kids trying to find their way into manhood.  They’re good films and I got really lucky.

Who are some of your Latino role models?

Willie Colón!  I love salsa.  You remember that song, ‘El Gran Varon’?  He’s a fantastic writer and for me, that’s a big song because at the time, many people didn’t know about AIDS.  They just called it the monster or whatever they called it.  Colón wrote a song about a boy whose father thinks he’s going to be this great man and he teaches him all the things he can teach him, the way a father should.  And then the son leaves home and forgets everything the father taught him and the next time he sees his father, his father doesn’t recognize him because he’s dressed like a woman.  It’s beautifully written.  I respect him for his art.

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