Juan Pablo Raba is no stranger to the action genre having played Diego Garcia in Peppermint, Ricky ‘Buddha’ Ortiz in the TV Series SIX and many more. His latest role has him play the antagonist Mauricio in Liam Neeson’s action thriller The Marksman. Juan Pablo stopped by the other day to discuss his role with us.
Today we’re going to be talking about your new action thriller, The Marksman. In the movie you play Mauricio and what I loved is that he’s not just a one-dimensional villain; he sees himself more as a soldier. Is that what drew you to him?
Yes, exactly. That is it. That is exactly what it did. When I first read the script, I turned it down. I didn’t want to have any part of it. Then my agents told me that Robert wanted to have a conversation with me. We had a conversation and he told me “listen, I know there’s a lot more to Latino culture than just bad guys and narco-terrorists, but I would really, really like you to help me bring this character to life and create a multidimensional character”. Then he got me and it was the opportunity of working with one of my favourites which is Liam of course. So what I did basically was I did some research on the new militias in the way they trained their soldiers and I came across very interesting information that I cannot share with you right now because I would like to actually create a project about it, specifically about it. But it’s really interesting because they are being trained by highly trained professionals from the US, from Great Britain and from special forces. So they’re basically soldiers. What I decided was, OK, the way that I can create a character that equals Liam (who is a soldier in the movies) is if he’s also a soldier. That’s when I decided to go full on this. This is not going to look like a Mexican cartel guy. This guy is a soldier and he has a mission. So I just thought it would be more and more interesting that way.
You also changed your look to play him as well. You shaved your head so can you talk about getting the look right for him?
Well, that’s kind of a funny story, because what happened with the shaved head was that the director wanted me to do the role, but he told me “listen, the producers are still not sold on you. They don’t know if you can really play it so I’m going to need you to audition for the movie”. I just put myself in their shoes and producers, they don’t necessarily have the same vision that a director has. The director knows that he can work with an actor, but a producer needs to see things as black or white. I just figure out if I kind of scare them a little bit and give a certain look then I think they’re going to buy it. So that’s what I did. I shaved my head and I created kind of this whole persona and I went into the audition acting like Mauricio already and they were a little scared by it. Then I got the call telling me that they wanted me to do the role and then Robert told me “hey, can you keep the shaved head because it looks it looks nasty”.
Yeah, it’s always a great look. Had you finished filming before the world fell apart from Covid?
Yeah. It was my last finished project before the world changed because then I started shooting Coyote in Tijuana and we got interrupted by Covid and we never came back. We never came back to finish the season actually. So yeah, that is that is my last project before Covid.
So there is no word on continuing with Coyote then?
Well, unfortunately, we got news last week that we’re not continuing.
Ah that’s too bad…
Yeah, it’s too bad because I really enjoy that story and there was a lot more to it to be told.
How did you find working with Robert Lorenz as a director?
He is a very, very gentle, kind man but he also knows what he wants. He comes from the Eastwood school so he’s very clear. He’s very honest. It’s very honest filmmaking and I like that. There’s something I really like about this movie and it’s not pretentious. It’s just very grounded. Liam’s character is very grounded. The action is very grounded and I really enjoy that and he is a very open minded and open spirited guy who really is open for collaboration. That’s the best thing that can happen to an actor, is to have a director who knows what he wants but is also open for everybody kind of creating the project together.
There’s one scene which I’ve been wanting to actually speak to you about and it’s the scene when you’re standing staring at a woman; you just come out of the shop and she gets into the car and her man bumps past you and gets into the car. You look like you’re a thousand miles away; what’s Mauricio thinking in that scene?
He’s thinking “that could have been me” and just as he starts, kind of road tripping through the US he just starts thinking “wow, there’s another world”. There’s also this scene where he’s looking out a window. There’s a father playing catch with his son and I’m just thinking, “wow, that could have been me”. In the final scene, when he tells Jim, he says, “do you think we have a chance?” You think “who do you think you are, dude?”. That was my whole motivation to do this character is that sometimes people don’t have opportunities and sometimes especially down south of the border some people really have no other choice. That’s what they have and sometimes they’re kidnapped when they’re kids and they’re trained to be soldiers. So, of course, this is not a movie about Mauricio, but that is the whole universe I kind of wanted to create. It wasn’t just a uni-dimensional character, but there was a lot more to it.
Did you have to do any extra training for the movie? I know you’re familiar with firearms from SIX and several other roles…
I’m pretty well trained with the firearms. Actually, what happened is that in every project that I do after SIX, I have to untrain my mind because we had so much training for SIX and it was all very well done. So proper that I sometimes have to go a little bit raw in order to create to play other characters.
What is it that keeps drawing you back to the action genre?
It’s fun, man. It’s just fun. I like the physical part of it. For me, the best part of my job is 1) creating the character and 2) getting to play on set. Whatever happens after that it’s not that I don’t care, but I don’t care, you know? (laughs) So I’d rather have fun and there’s nothing more fun than action and driving and being in helicopters and that’s a lot of fun as long as my body can take it so why not?
Absolutely and do you like to do as many of your own stunts as possible?
As many as possible all the time, and I’ll tell you one thing about this movie, Liam does too. Liam has an amazing stunt coordinator, Mark Vanselow, who I call Mark Vanilla Slow (laughs). He’s an awesome stunt coordinator and he has been for years Liam’s personal stuntman. Liam is very physical and he knows how to do it very well and, man, he has a hard hand. He hits hard and I think except for one tumble roll or something we did all the fight ourselves. So yeah, if they would let me I would do everything on my own because I love it.
Of course, Liam used to be a boxer so you’ll feel it if he hits you…
Oh yeah. He connected a couple of hits here that I could feel for a couple of weeks (laughs).
Generally whenever you get a script, how would you describe your process for preparing for a role?
The first thing I do with the script, I just sit down and read it and if I can read it, start to finish, that already catches my attention. So because the first thing is not so much about what I’m going to do, but I want to know about the stories, I want to know if this is a film project that’s actually going to be interesting, because sometimes you can say “oh, the project is not that good, but the character is great”. I think filmmaking and TV making is more a joint effort. I like to kind of have that feeling that all the pieces fit together. Once that happens and if I get offered the role and everything goes on, I have a coach, a specific coach for character creation that works out of Colombia. So then we start creating all this, all that’s involved, the creation of the character and emotional past, a whole story for him and then things start changing. The way you talk, the way you walk. It’s very hard like an artisan process and it’s kind of different every time. But I really enjoy it because that’s what I really get to learn, not only about the character, but about myself, about humanity, about history and about different places. It’s really cool.
Following on from that is there a particular type of character that has to jump off a page for you to be interested in a role?
I’m just interested in human beings, you know? I’m just interested in the complex characters, but also I have had a good history with kind of secondary characters that I can make grow, characters that kind of start small. But then as we start working in them, we can start making them grow like that’s also a challenge that I really like. Sometimes you could say “oh, I just want to be a main character, principal character, because it’s on every single page”. I don’t know about that. Sometimes I like the smaller roles and making them more interesting than what everybody thought they could be.
The Marksman is a modern Western & Road movie. What do you think the enduring appeal is for audiences for these types of movies?
You definitely have Liam. Liam has a huge fan base in every country in the world. What I think is going to be interesting is that you have Liam from Taken and you have Liam from Schindler’s List. What we have here is kind of a mix of both of those acting skills. You have a little bit of the action but you also have a character who has a profound arc and who changes a lot. The cool thing about it is that there’s a great enemy that nobody talks about and it’s the government of the United States right now. You have a man who is a veteran who served his country, who literally is broke because he had to pay his wife’s medical bills. So that’s a medical broken down system. Now the government is going to take away his property. So you’re like, “wait a minute, this guy served his country and now nobody’s helping him?!” Then through him helping someone that he would never, ever help or he would consider kind of the enemy or the outsider, which is a brown kid, he rediscovers life and he finds a purpose of life. I think that’s a beautiful thing in this film. Liam is a magnificent actor and he delivers that arc.
Definitely. Do you have any interest in directing yourself someday?
Yes. Yes, I do. I love sets. Sets have become a very important part of my life after doing this for 20 something years. I think I understand very well the dynamic of the set. So in my mind, I know how things work and the only reason I have not still made that jump is that I have small children. Once you are directing, your life is done. I mean, that’s it. That’s all you do, right? Because actors, we are very privileged in the way that we don’t have every single scene every day. Once you finish the movie, that’s it. You’re done unless you’re producing or something else. But directors, the whole process of the movie starts months, maybe even years before you even shoot the movie. Then you have to do all the scouting or the pre-production and you have to do production, you have to do post-production and you’re not home. I need my kids to be a little older because I really love being a dad. That’s a big part of my life; I love my home and my home life. So that’s the only reason I still haven’t taken the plunge yet.