Wilmer Valderrama, star of new movie 'The Dry Land'
In the film, he shares traumatic experiences with the main character, James (Ryan O'Nan) who is having a hard time readjusting to life in his Texas hometown. America Ferrera and Mexican actress Ana Claudia Talancón also co-star in the movie, the debut of director Ryan Piers Williams. We chatted with Wilmer about his challenging role, doing a more serious movie, his non-profit work and he even gave us the scoop on his new musical venture.
What attracted you to this role? Did you get involved through America Ferrera, who's also an executive producer of the film?
"America and I have been friends for many, many years, so that was a really fun coincidence. I've been traveling the world visiting the troops, and the more I traveled and met the soldiers, the more I wanted to play one of them in a movie. This movie didn't have a political agenda, I wanted to do a movie that talked about the human side, and the script was amazing. That was important to me because there are so many movies that just alienate out the humanity of the soldiers, and the problems they encounter when they come home. I wanted to be a part of it. I met with the director, and it all worked out, and now we have an amazing, beautiful film that I think Is very effective, and it starts the conversation, specifically the conversation of post-traumatic stress disorder and the dynamics of the family and that to me is also very vital."
How long have you been visiting military bases and why did you start doing that?
"Through the years, when I'm traveling, soldiers come up to me at airports and say "Hey I just want to say every time I'm in Iraq or Afghanistan and I watch episodes of 'That 70's Show', it relieves the tension and I appreciate that, you make me laugh". And the more stories that I kept hearing, the more people I kept meeting on that level, the more I felt "Wow, man, it would be great if I could go visit them over there. If they like 'That 70's Show', it would be kind of funny to go over there and tell them how much I appreciate them". So I called USO and I started traveling 3 and a half years ago. I've been to 9 different countries, and it's been great. "
How is 'The Dry Land' different from other war movies?
"The big difference is that we really talk about the dynamics of the family. We really show the wife's perspective, the friend's perspective, and the entire family as a whole. The struggles when they come back, and going back to your army buddy, going back to your best friend from the war. [The war experience] is the one thing that you have in common now. It's a really beautiful story about overcoming fears, overcoming this problem and understanding post-traumatic stress disorder and understanding that there's nothing shameful about admitting that you need help. Our soldiers go through a really dark place and they feel there's no room for them to admit defeat. This is not admitting defeat, this is admitting that we have to do something to become normal again. We need to embrace a program that can help us re-adapt to our new environment, which is home in this situation. The movie truly talks about the human behind the soldier and not the soldier behind the cause."
There's a great scene where James, the main character, tells your character "I wanted to become a soldier to be a hero" and you say "I just wanted to become a soldier to get my citizenship".
"I love that too because it really shows you that everyone that enlists has a different reason. Some people enlist because they need education money, some because they need a job, some just want an adventure, and some people want to serve their country. I thought that it was exciting that the director wanted to show the side that a lot of Latinos, when we come to the US, we embrace this country, and we'll fight on behalf of this country as well. We earn our part in America with hard work, we're just as a big part of this community as everybody else, and we go and become soldiers to be able to stay in this country and become citizens of this great country too."
Your character, Raymond, provides comic relief but also shows a very serious side. As an actor, how did you balance that?
"I love doing comedy, I love humor, but I also knew that this was the type of movie that you really need to understand the subject matter. One of my first dramatic movies was 'Fast Food Nation', where I played a Mexican immigrant, an illegal immigrant that crosses the border to take a job at a slaughterhouse. And that gave me a perspective of the type of roles I wanted to play in movies, the type of movies that I wanted to do. For me to do a performance like in this movie, which was very raw, was talking about a very scary subject matter. What I wanted to do was bring in a little bit of fresh air, at some point, and also show that my character specifically, coped with the exact same situation that James' character was going through, but in a completely different way. James wanted to confront it, and understand it, and know it, and I wanted to ignore it. And I was coping with post-traumatic stress by not addressing it, which is the worst kind, because being in denial, is a deeper hole than actually seeking truth."
Do you have more serious roles coming up?
"In October, I have a new movie coming out called 'From Prada to Nada'. It's a romantic dramedy with Camilla Belle, Alexa Vega and Adriana Barraza, like a 'Sense and Sensibility' with an East-LA touch, and we talk about heritage. Also, I just finished 'Larry Crowne', a romantic comedy written and directed by Tom Hanks, and starring Julia Roberts. I play the leader of a scooter gang. [laughs] It's not just another fun comedy but it also talks about a man finding his place in a society, where if you're a middle-aged guy and you don't have college education, you're going to get laid off from your work. So he goes back to college to find his groove back. I'm really proud and excited to be part of a movie and work with one of my idols, Tom Hanks."
This is your third movie working with Ana Claudia Talancón, right?
"Yes, we did another movie called 'Days of Wrath', I think it's supposed to come out in November. It's based in a gang war between two gangs in East LA. It's a really hardcore movie. That's another serious movie I did with Laurence Fishburne and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. It's really funny, in one movie, 'Fast Food Nation', she played my wife's sister. In 'The Dry Land' she plays my wife, and in 'Days of Wrath' she plays my ex-girlfriend. I love her to death. Es super simpática, una increíble mujer. (She's super friendly, an incredible woman)."
You're also involved with 'Voto Latino' and have your own production company.
"I think as producers, as directors, as writers, we should lend our talents so organizations and all these things get some recognition, resources, funding, and we should make it an organic extension of what we do. Everything has worked out really great, I'm producing a bunch of things. I'm launching a toy company and a portion of the toys that we sell are going to go towards charity. And then I also have a contract with Disney, with Fox, I have a deal with Relativity to produce through my production company, and we're doing a lot of fun projects that we're going to announce in a couple of weeks."
You just presented an award to Shakira at Premios Juventud and have had cameos in videos by Fanny Lu and Wisin y Yandel... Do you have any other music-related appearances coming up?
"Its funny, I don't want to say, but there are some things I'm playing with in that world. Wisin y Yandel are good friends of mine, Shakira and I know each other for a while, and it was really cool that I got to go to 'Premios Juventud' to give her the award. I've been singing and dancing since I was 6 years old and acting somehow took off before my singing. I love music and I'm definitely playing around and I'm having fun with some friends. I cannot disclose which friends I'm playing around yet! But it's cool, this would be a project for Latin America because I'd love to do something in Spanish."
This is the trailer for 'The Dry Land'
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