Rafael de la Fuente isn’t lucky. He’s tremendously lucky. The Venezuelan actor is on one of the hottest new TV shows of the year, FOX’s hip-hop drama Empire. He portrays Michael Sanchez, boyfriend to Jamal Lyons (Jussie Smollett), the son of the Empire Entertainment founder Lucious (Terrence Howard), who doesn’t accept his lifestyle. Juicy enough for ya? Well, according to De La Fuente each episode gets more intense.
Congrats on the new gig. Tell me a little about your character on the show.
My character is Michael Sanchez and he is Jamal Lyons’ live-in boyfriend. I’m just really, really happy to be playing this role because I feel like through Jamal and Michael’s story we’re addressing several important issues like homophobia, and so I’m very happy.
It’s like an update on the Omar/Renaldo relationship from The Wire.
Yes. And it’s a topic that within Latino and black communities, especially the hip-hop world, it’s really important to be addressed. And the show is incredibly entertaining but it also has a purpose and that is to address certain subject matters like that one.
Outside of the show are you a hip-hop fan?
I am, and I’m a singer, as well, so I love music in general. I just love music; it’s my first love. I actually started singing and then I got into acting, but I love hip-hop, I love R&B, I love soul, I love blues. I think R&B and soul are the genres that influence me the most as a singer, and that I connect with the most. So this show has been amazing because to even be around that and also meet amazing artists. Like the ones in the show, of course, and all of the guest stars, too. But we have amazing guest stars like Mary J. Blige and Jennifer Hudson.
Tell me about your beginnings as a singer.
It started when I was very young, when I was about nine, because I’ve always been surrounded by music because my dad’s a musician—he’s a guitar player—and I’ve just always loved music. I started singing when I was nine and I used to sing with my dad when he had a band. I also got into the church choir and I discovered musical theater, and then started studying more classical forms of singing, like opera and all that. I went to school for singing and got my music degree and I started pursuing acting because everything started happening rather quickly in acting but I’m starting to sing again because I’ve been inspired by the show.
What type of music would you want to create?
I have to get in the studio and start creating and writing. I haven’t actually been writing music and writing songs and doing my own personal stuff for so long but I think it would be a mix: some R&B soul, some Latin influence, because that’s who I am. But I’m planning on going back in the studio and working on it. I worked on a film last year called The One I Wrote For You and that was a musical and I got to sing and I had two musical numbers in it. And it was full on blues, like full on R&B stuff so that was fun so I think probably something along those lines.
How has it been to work with immensely talented veterans like Lee Daniels and Terrence Howard?
Well, I moved to L.A. a year and 8 months ago, and I had worked a lot in the Hispanic industry in Florida, and I moved to Hollywood and all of a sudden I’m on the set of Empire and working with the amazing Lee Daniels and Danny Strong and Terrence Howard. I was just on cloud nine. First of all, because its so exciting and I’m a fan of these people and I’ve seen them on the big screen, and I respect their work. But also because of how huge of a learning experience it was—working with people who have been nominated for an Oscar is just another level in my career. And I could definitely learn from them. And it was great because they always made me feel really comfortable and just relax and create, and it was just amazing. Lee Daniels is the most nurturing, approachable, open artist and creator that I’ve met so far, he’s an outstanding talent, but more so an incredible human being. I’m so blessed to work with him. He’s really cool.
What can you share about your character for the rest of the season?
I can’t share much, but things might or might not get a little sour. You got to prepare for some sharp left turns out of nowhere! The season is definitely full of drama and sexiness and amazing music, so you should definitely tune in every Wednesday.
Any plans for Valentine’s Day?
Well, it’s pilot season here in L.A., so I will definitely be studying some scripts and reading some scripts for movies and stuff and working hard. Maybe I’ll get lucky and go out on a little date, but I’ll probably be learning lines.
Watch Empire on FOX on Wednesdays at 9 pm EST.