DTL: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your story so far? Noel: Speaking of labels, if you believe Google and search “that Mexican guy in every movie,” you find me. Looking back on a 25-year career in the entertainment business, I’ve worked alongside some of the best in: Fast and Furious, Training Day, Bruce Almighty, Purge Anarchy, The Dark Knight Rises, Fresh Off the Boat, CSI Miami, Bones, The Walking Dead and literally hundreds more.
My acting life started in my teens. Raised in a classic middle-class Los Angeles home, my life took three sharp turns early on.
First, when I was about 13, my dad took a job offer to travel and to take my mum and they left me behind. Then, young and homeless, I gravitated to people who offered a sense of belonging; they were gang members. Next, I met a girl who took me to an acting class that led to a role in a commercial. Money soon followed along with more roles and opportunities that would ultimately see me enjoy a 25-year career and the life I have today.
In the shortest span of time I went from a normal life, to abandonment and homelessness, to a criminal life, and then to an actor’s life.
“I went from a normal life, to abandonment and homelessness, to a criminal life, and then to an actor’s life”
Now, I extend my work day in other ways. I connect with young people in schools and communities locally in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and nationally to try and make a positive difference. I draw on my own experiences – from fatherhood to prison to celebrity life – to help young people face issues. My hope is they benefit from hearing about my struggles and triumphs in relatable ways. Google me in the future and I hope some of this outreach comes up there, too.
DTL: Have you ever experienced bullying, cyberbullying or trolling? Noel: I have experienced both sides — I have been both the target and the person doing the bullying.
Young and muscling through the worst of my awkward stage, I was targeted and beaten up a lot. With growth, I got better looking, gained confidence, developed an attitude and got in trouble. I hung out with a crowd that accepted me like family. They were gangsters, but made me feel I had people who cared for me. From being bullied, I became the one who bullied. I battled the sympathy I felt for people against the pressure to be bad in front of bad friends. I knew what it was to be picked on, but I picked on others.
“I knew what it was to be picked on, but I picked on others”
I’ve always had a heart and it didn’t feel right to hurt other people. Over time, through work in acting, I found myself better able to help people. I made peace with my past, and now use my position of leadership to help others overcome their own struggles. That includes being the one who bullies, being bullied or both.
DTL: What advice would you give to those who are being bullied? Noel: I would tell them that we were not made to fit in, we were made to stand out.
What makes you different is what can attract people to you. Learning to love, respect and be kind to yourself and others avoids these situations and prevents problems.
If you happen to be an onlooker, don’t look away because it’s not happening to you.
In all circumstances – bullying, bullied or bystander — help is available. We all have a responsibility to help and lift each other up out of bad situations.
“If you happen to be an onlooker, don’t look away because it’s not happening to you”
DTL: Why do you think people bully? Noel: I think some people bully because they see it as an easy way of gaining acceptance, like I did. Some people have no self-confidence, so they pick on others to convince themselves they have worth. Some have insecurities so they play on other’s insecurities to try and make themselves feel better.
DTL: What are the best and worst things about being an actor? Noel: The best are the opportunities I’m given to meet different people and see new things. If it was not for acting, I wouldn’t have met as many people or travelled to the places I have. The worst is having to memorise a lot of scripts — which isn’t really all that bad – so I’m very lucky.
DTL: If you could go back in time, what one thing would you tell your younger self? Noel: Think before you speak, Noel. And think before you act. Don’t be so quick to respond to situations – ignorantly — like you have in the past. Be slower to speak, quicker to listen and slower to act before doing something that can end up with bad consequences.
“Never perfect, we can only strive to be the best version of ourselves”
DTL: What does the future hold for Noel? Noel: Making movies and living the life. I want to make movies that are good for people, that encourage and inspire. Give the hopeless hope. Turning hearts around. Inspiring people to treat others as they would want to be treated.
DTL: What would you be doing if you weren’t acting? Noel: I’d be dead or in jail. I was on the wrong path before I started acting. It helped save me.
DTL: What motto do you live by? Noel: God first and the rest later.
DTL: Is there anything that you would like to add? Noel: Never perfect, we can only strive to be the best version of ourselves. While it’s easy to disappoint ourselves, we don’t want to let down those we love. So keep in mind that we are not alone and are meant to lift each other up when things get tough. It takes confidence, courage and boldness to be a champion and stay in the game. So be your own biggest cheerleader.