Jacob Vargas from 'Devil': "The devil manifests itself in many ways, like SB 1070"

For us, Jacob Vargas is a familiar and welcome (not to mention, cute) face, having been in several of Hollywood’s best-known movies about Latinos: Selena, My Family, American Me, and Mi Vida Loca. But you’re about to see him in a whole new light in the M. Night Shyamalan-produced thriller Devil, which pits a group of people stuck in an elevator against each other...And  the forces of evil. Jacob gave us some insights into his role, his long career and his next moves (a sitcom costarring Cheech Marin). We even found out that he’s about to become a father for the second time! 

Tell us about your character in this movie.
I play Ramirez, who is the narrator of the film. He’s a security guard working the video monitors in the office building. He is the spiritual person amongst the group, a man of faith. He may have the clues to help fight the devil. I loved his strength and his conviction.

What was the most challenging thing about filming a movie that takes place mostly in an elevator?
The most challenging thing was reacting to nothing but a green screen monitor. We had to really use our imaginations and create these moments of terror and fear. And the actors had to calculate them effectively so we’d be in sync. We really had to work together.

Do you believe in a devil or a supernatural negative force?
Of course! I grew up Catholic so my parents always instilled fear of the Devil in us (and la chancla). I don’t believe in a guy in a red cape and horns running around. The devil is an evil energy that manifests itself in many ways, such as an Arizona law called SB 1070.

As a father, how do you keep positive about raising a child in a world where evil exists?
I believe the only thing that can combat evil is good. I try to remain positive and have my daughter look at the positive side of life and the good things of life.

What is your favorite movie that you’ve done (closest to your heart) and why?
I’d have to say... Well, it’s really hard to pick a favorite, but I really enjoyed my experience on Traffic. That was movie-making at its best. From directing, to acting, to story. It was a great overall experience.

What’s next on your plate?
I’m focused on developing a television show with Cheech Marin. It’ll be a father/son situation comedy. I’m really looking forward to that. Cheech as my dad—it doesn’t really get any funnier than that.

The 200th anniversary of Mexico’s independence and 100th anniversary of its revolution are coming up. What does that mean to you?
I’m happy that we can still be American yet retain our rich culture by way of celebrating it here in the states. I also enjoy that it’s more than just a celebration by Mexicans, being here in the U.S. it is a celebration of an infusion of cultures. Plus it gives us an excuse to drink a lot of tequila. Latinos always love a reason to party.

Having been born in Mexico but raised in the U.S., how do you keep in touch with your heritage?
Most of my family is here in the U.S. But we grew up very Mexican. Our culture is still very ingrained in me. We still have menudo Sundays. We get together and still have carne asadas. I’ve also been working very hard to maintain my Spanish. It’s been challenging, but I have been making an effort to keep it a part of me. And when I get stressed, I beat the hell out of a piñata.

What kind, if any, discrimination have you experienced in Hollywood as a Latino? Have you ever turned down a role because you thought it was just too stereotypical?
The challenge of an actor is that we want to be seen as just an actor, period. Not labeled as a “Latino,” “Black,” “Asian,” etc actor. But it’s always an uphill battle. I just hope one day that will not be an issue. I have turned down roles that are stereotypical. I haven’t worn a bandana in years.

What do you do in your off time? Hobbies?
I love spending time with my family. With my wife and my daughter. We have another one on the way, so that’s exciting. I also like collecting vintage furniture, which I guess is odd. It’s mid-century modern furniture.