WKI Magazine Entertainment Article #17

Orestes Matacena


Question #1. How long have you been acting for?

The first time I acted in my life, and in a movie, was when I was six years old.  We shot The Life of Billy the Kid with the entire cast composed of kids in a sugar mill named Mercedes where I lived in Matanzas province in Cuba. Isn’t that amazing? LOL. Then many years passed until I started acting professionally in 1966 in Miami, Florida. I turned the living room of my apartment into a theater. The ticket price was three bucks. We had a lot of fun. After many months using my apartment as a theater, I decided that it was time to rent a place and build a theater. My girlfriend at the time, Phyllis Redden, who lived with me was very pleased with my decision! LOL. I bought 50 theater seats, built platforms to put the seats on, built a stage, rehearsed a play with the same group of actors that worked in my apartment, named it, “Theater 66” and had a great opening night. I kept the theater until 1968 when I moved to New York City. I gave “Theater 66” to a couple of actor friends of mine that kept it for many years putting on all kind of plays. Four months after I was in New York, I raised $25,000 and produced an Off-Broadway play called The Grab Bag.  Then, a year later I built a theater that I called “The New York Theater of the Americas” where I produced 18 plays. I also built the “Cuban Cultural Center.” I started getting parts in movies and landed a couple of starring roles in two movies about the Cuban revolution that I wrote, and we shot in the Dominican Republic. In 1980, I decided to try directing a movie to make sure I could do it. It’s one thing to say I can direct and another to have the chops to do it. So, I wrote, produced and directed Fatal Encounter, where I also played a psycho killer. I shot it in 35 mm with a Panavision camera. The whole nine yards!  I realized that I could write, produce and direct movies so after that I wrote a thriller called Tainted that I produced and directed and shot in Hendersonville, North Carolina. Then, in 1987 I finally moved to Hollywood and began working as an actor and over the years I wrote, produced and directed a few movies. I’m putting together another movie now that I wrote and want to produce, direct and act in.

Question #2. What inspired you to start acting?

In Cuba, I lived on a sugar mill called Mercedes in the Matanzas province. I was a cowboy and used to do rodeos, break mustangs, move cattle. I mean, I had an amazing time doing all that.  Don’t get me wrong, I was going to school, too! It was a military school named Loyola Military Academy.  When the Castro tyranny took over in 1959, a year later, 1960, they confiscated the sugar mill, so my dad moved to Havana. That meant that my cowboy days were over. I started to go to cabarets and night clubs. When I saw the singers at those places having such a great time I said, that’s what I’m going to do. So, I began to take singing classes. Opera. One day a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to take acting classes. Clearly, I was not cut out for opera singing. And there were breathtaking girls taking acting classes at that school. When I realized that I could be hanging out with those gorgeous actresses it inspired me to get into acting. I immediately enrolled! This was 1962. 

Question #3. Who are some of your biggest influences in acting? 

There are many great actors that I’ve been influenced by, like Marlon Brando, Peter O’Toole, Robert De Niro, Richard Burton. These actors are the first ones to come to mind, but there are many more. In the movie Becket, Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton are brilliant and Burton also in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf? and Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire. These exceptional actors created magic in every character they played. The more depth the character had, the more interesting their performance was.

Question #4. What was it like working on Diggstown with such a great cast with James Woods, Platt, Bruce Dern and Louis Gossett Jr.?

Well, these are all amazing actors. Imagine to be acting with the cream of the crop! James Woods was a delight to work with and an inspiration because there is one thing you must understand, the better the actor you are doing a scene with, the better your performance will be. It’s a give and take. James Woods and I connected and Victor Corsini was born!  LOL.

Question #5. What was it like Working on The Mask with Peter Greene?

First, I’m going to tell you a couple of anecdotes that might interest you.  When I got the script of The Mask, I was not able to read it all the way to the end. I thought it was terrible. There was so much going on I could barely follow it. What did I know! LOL. My first day of shooting I walked into makeup and a makeup artist was working on Jim Carrey. When Jim saw me the moment I walked in he said, “I heard you’re a great actor.” “Thank you so much,” I said. I had NO idea who the hell he was. I never watched TV, so I didn’t know he was a big television star from the show In Living Color. He was not yet a huge movie star at that moment. Peter Green and I became buddies while shooting the movie. He was great to work with. He IS great! An amazing actor. One day he came to my trailer to ask me what he should do about a movie that had been offered to him. Pulp Fiction. “A black guy is going to bang me in the ass, and I don’t know if I should do it.” I told him: “Do it.  The banging is not going to be for real, just make believe. Quentin Tarantino is a great director and the movie is going to be a huge success.” Peter said, “What about the public?” I answered, “What about it? You think they don’t know it’s all acting?” And Peter answered, “Yeah, I guess you are right.” So, Peter ended up working in Pulp Fiction and the rest is history.

Question #6. What was it like working on the film Wild Wild West? 

I auditioned for the movie and never heard from them again. Six months later my agent called me on the phone and ringed a bell. He had a little bell that he always rang each time one of his actors would get a part in a movie. I thought that the movie I had been hired for was one that I had auditioned a couple of days before. “No, it is for Wild Wild West!” “WHAT?!?”  I had completely forgot about auditioning for that movie. LOL. I worked for six weeks on Wild Wild West.  One thing I must say, Will Smith is a perfect gentleman and a very nice guy. One day I walked in the room were the production had a monitor for actors to see the scenes that were being shot at that moment. All the seats were taken. I just stood next to one and started to watch on the monitor a scene being shot.  Suddenly, the guy who was sitting in the seat next to where I was standing got up and said, “Sir, please, sit down.” It was Will Smith. I felt so old!!! LOL. But that gesture was very kind, he seemed to have a way of elevating others. 


Question # 7. What's it like being a producer in Hollywood? 

It has its perks. No one tells you what to do and you tell everyone what they have to do! LOL.

Of course, the responsibility is overwhelming because you have to raise the funds, tell the investors that they might make lots of money, walk the red carpet, mingle with the stars and end up with a DVD of the movie to proudly show their friends, if the movie is any good and brag that thanks to them the movie was made. LOL.

You have to plan everything with extreme precision. The shooting schedule, the right stars to play the characters in the screenplay, be the movie stars’ babysitter, deal with everyone’s egos, rule with an iron fist. In other words, a producer must be a benevolent dictator and that is exactly what I am when I produce. A benevolent dictator.

Question #8. Do you have any upcoming projects you'd like to talk about and promote?

Right now, my producing partner, Orna Rachovitsky, and I are raising the funds to produce our next movie, SWASTIKA, about the Jewish Resistance fighting in the streets of Warsaw, Poland, during the Nazi occupation. Why this subject? Since I was a little boy, about 10 years old, I’ve been going to see movies about World War II, and, throughout my life, each time I came out of the theater smoke was coming out my ears. The Jews were ALWAYS shown scared and rightly so. Who wouldn’t be in that situation they were in? BUT, I always said that there had to be Jews that would stand up against their oppressors no matter how powerful and evil they may be. This happened repeatedly when I would see this genre of film. One time, I walked out of the theater and I started to talk to myself. “You’re always complaining each time you come out of a theater after seeing a World War II movie about Jews being terrified of Nazis. Stop complaining and do something about it. You’re a screenwriter for God’s sake! Write a movie about Jews that stand up against oppression!” So, I did and wrote SWASTIKA. I was going to shoot it in 2011, but I was working on another movie called TWO DE FORCE, about the clash of two superpowers: the US vs. China. The movie takes place one year ahead of the 2012 presidential election. In all my movies I like to use all the bells and whistles that audiences like to see like shoot outs, car crashes, running around, combined with food for thought. I like audiences to have fun and think at the same time. I want them to say, “Hmm, I never thought of that, or that’s an interesting way of seeing things.” You might disagree with what I am saying, but I make you think. If your readers want to see TWO DE FORCE they can go to TrueIndieMovies.com and stream it. I guarantee you that they won’t fall asleep as I sometimes do when I see other movies! LOL. Going back to SWASTIKA, you see, I was part of the Cuban Resistance fighting the Castro tyranny for five years until I escaped on an airplane to Mexico City with false documents. After I told the US Ambassador in Mexico that the Resistance falsified my American visa in order to be able to get the Mexican visa, he said that he would have done the same thing. And in order to get the Mexican visa you had to show that your intention is to go to a third country, I wasn’t allowed to stay in Mexico indefinitely it was temporary. Thanks to him I came legally to America, the greatest country in the world! Anyway, I know one thing or two about being in the resistance fighting a tyranny. All the people that have been in the resistance no matter in which country, they are cut from the same cloth. In other words, their brains work the same way. You have to be a little cuckoo and young! LOL. So, I applied my knowledge and many things that happened to me in the script to make the story powerful and believable. SWASTIKA is geared towards young people, so they can see through powerful images what happened in that terrible time in history during World War II. Unfortunately, if you talk to an 18-20-year-old dude about that era, the Jews, the Nazis, they think you’re talking about extra-terrestrials. Even many older people don’t know much history. But the young people really have no idea what you’re talking about. That is why the lead characters in the movie are 18 and 20 years old so they can relate, have fun watching the movie with all the bells and whistles and most importantly learn. SWASTIKA will accomplish two things, make money for the investors and teach the young people about what happened at that time so that history does not repeat itself.