Danny Pino of 'Law & Order: SVU': I still make black beans from grandma's recipe (VIDEO)
With the warmth and intensity that characterizes Latinos, Danny Pino, the American actor with Cuban roots who for years has been distinguished in Hollywood, now faces a new challenge: He's the newest addition to 'Law & Order: SVU,' the NBC spinoff of the original, which is now in its 12th season and broadcasts on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. (EST).
Danny plays Nick Amaro, a detective who lives with his daughter while his wife is on tour of duty in Iraq. Pino speaks to AOL Latino exclusively about what it's like to take on the role, moving with his family to New York, how he reacts to roles calling for Latinos because of his features and, above all, he tells us how happy he is that together with his wife, he instills Hispanic tradition in his kids. "I still make black beans using my grandmother's recipe."
AOL Latino: How do you feel about joining the SVU cast in this latest step in your career?
Danny Pino: I feel really enthusiastic. It's a very respected series, very developed, now in it's 12th season. It's been [running for] 13 years. It's an honor to work with these actors and producers who show this level of professionalism and have strong support from fans of the series. I'm very satisfied to have landed this opportunity.
AOL Latino: Were you a fan of the original show?
Danny Pino: No, with two kids I don't have the time to watch television. My only chance to watch is [kids' television series] 'Go, Diego, Go' and 'The Backyardigans' (laughing), but watching television for adults is difficult when you're working.
AOL Latino: You come from 'Cold Case' to 'Law & Order: SVU,' the competition. What does this go-round represent for your career?
Danny Pino: I think it's a new era, a new chapter. All experiences are unique and now I'm working in New York, a city I like a great deal -- very upbeat, alive and active. I lived here about 10 years ago, those five were to study acting and I really love the city, the energy. I think this is a very interesting role because it's that of a detective, a different one from Scotty Valens of 'Cold Case.'
AOL Latino: How do both detectives differ?
Danny Pino: Scotty was a bachelor. My new detective is Nick Amaro, who has a daughter. Nick is married but his wife is in the military in Iraq, so he is sort of a single father whose mom helps him out with his daughter while he's at work. I find it interesting because it's something that's very common, only not so much in television as in the movies. I think the life of a single father is very interesting.
AOL Latino: You moved the whole family to New York?
Danny Pino: Yeah, we moved the gang to New York. My profession is very important, and to act is vital for me, but my family is the main thing -- it comes first for me, so it's not an option to separate from them.
AOL Latino: Did your kids adapt to this big change?
Danny Pino: They're still in the process. The first place I took the kids was a famous toy store that has an enormous piano. When you take the kids from the airport to a toy store and it's the first impression they get of New York, it's a positive thing. That's how the transition began. They ask me every day when we're going back [to the toy store] (laughing). We live next to Central Park and they're getting used to it little by little. Kids tend to adapt quickly to anything, and mine are very intelligent and curious. I think this is the perfect city to raise a family. It's difficult, particularly in the winter, but since we haven't gotten there yet, we've got a few months to prepare.
AOL Latino: Detectives seem to follow your life. Are you the type of person to investigate things in real life?
Danny Pino: At times yes. My brother is a detective in Miami, and we talk a lot. He tells me about cases he is investigating and I educate myself from there as to a detective's real life. When he [my brother] watches an episode he calls and says "that wouldn't happen in real life." He's my worst critic, but at the same time he supports me a great deal and gives me advice on how to make the role of a detective more authentic.
AOL Latino: Your heritage is Cuban but you were born in the United States. Does it bother you that all of your roles are Latino characters because of your features?
Danny Pino: An actor can change. He doesn't always have to be the same. But I've had a Latino look since I was little, however, that doesn't necessarily have to do with my real life. When I've done Latino roles it's always been because of my physicality. However, if your skin is Latino or not it doesn't matter to me. I think it's fine to be a Latino actor, or whatever. The nationality, race, religion all have an opportunity to play a role, too. But I think to be an actor on set in the forum and be able to act because of my ability to change is the opportunity, not for any other reason.
AOL Latino: What makes you feel most Latino?
Danny Pino: When I'm in Miami I feel American because Cubans there say I'm not one of them. But when I'm in Los Angeles or New York everyone says I'm Latino, that I'm Cuban. It all depends. Here in New York, for example, they say I have an accent and I say that I'm Cuban American. But Puerto Ricans and Dominicans tell me, "no, man, you're Cuban." (Laughs)
AOL Latino: What Latino customs do you have?
Danny Pino: We speak to our kids in Spanish. My wife is Colombian and we dance salsa in the house with the kids. We read to them in Spanish. They watch Spanish-language TV shows. We cook 'arroz con pollo.' I still make black beans from my grandmother's recipe. The faith. The language. We try to educate our kids in both Colombian and Cuban culture.
Do you think Danny's a good fit for 'Law & Order: SVU'?
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