Wise Guy: Smart Moves And Sharp Instincts Landed Jordi Vilasuso In THE GUIDING LIGHT Mafia
“Here’s a fun fact for you,” GUIDING LIGHT’s Jordi Vilasuso (Tony) begins, chuckling. “My dad, who’s a doctor, delivered me in the hospital. He was studying to be an ob/gyn. I came along and he ended up delivering me, on purpose.” Afterward (and probably for unrelated reasons), dad turned to anesthesiology, but he still maintained his attendance at the important milestones in Vilasuso’s life, like a grade-school production of The Little Shop of Horrors spin-off: Pete’s Little Luncheonette of Terror.
“That was my first play,” recalls the actor, who was in the sixth grade at the time. “And I had never taken any acting classes or sang before. I just auditioned for fun and wound up playing Pete, the main role.” The experience gave the 12-year-old a new sense of direction. “Suddenly, I was telling my parents, ‘I want to act,’ and they thought it was a phase, so I thought to myself, ‘I have to prove it to them.’ And after I finally did, they were like, ‘Okay.’ So, they took me to get pictures taken, took me to agencies.” Soon afterward, he started booking commercials. (In his first one, he was a messy kid with tomato sauce on his shirt: “We had to clean it out with Tide.”)
Alas, that momentum was soon lost, thanks to vicissitudes of peer pressure. “I went to a different high school than all my friends,” Vilasuso sighs, “and that was tough. It’s hard when you’re, like, the king of junior high, and then you go to high school and you’re at the bottom again, having to deal with all these new people, and all you want is to fit in. It’s sad, but true.”
To that end, he found new hobbies, new habits. “The kids in the theater program weren’t necessarily the cool kids. The jocks were the cool kids. So, I kind of detached myself [from drama] and tried acting really tough, like some bad-ass kid because I wanted to be cool.”
The plan backfired. “I ended up being kind of unhappy, and my parents could see right through me. They were like, ‘What’s going on, why are you being like this?’” Finally, in his junior year, the actor decided to go with his gut. “I figured, ‘This is what I love to do, and I really don’t care what people think of me.’ And, you know, some guys did crack jokes — ‘Jordi’s a thespian; drama’s for sissies’ — stupid things like that. But I was like, ‘What the hell? You do your thing, I’ll do my thing; get over it.’” With that declaration came the popularity he had almost ditched acting to gain: Vilasuso spent his senior year as the drama club’s president.
Upon graduating, he left the Miami area to splash around in the L.A. talent pool. “I was only supposed to be out there for two weeks, just to check things out, but then once I was there, my agent sent me out on a bunch of auditions, and I got great feedback,” he says. “So she was like, ‘You’re young right now, your age range is booming out here, your look is good. Why don’t you just stay?’ And I really didn’t think about it. I went for it. I went with my instincts.”
That snap decision led to a major life reorganization. “I had been planning to go to the University of Miami for their B.F.A. program. I had a scholarship and everything. I had a girlfriend, who I was madly in love with at the time, and she was gonna stay in Miami. For a while, we tried to do the long-distance thing, but I was so young,” sighs the actor, more sagacious at 19. “I couldn’t do it. And I felt so bad. We were crying on the phone all the time. It was really tough to be young and in love in those circumstances. Eventually, we decided that if it’s meant to be, it’ll work out, so let’s stop for now.”
Meanwhile, back in Miami, the drama continued. “My father was very supportive [of the cross-country move], but my mother was a little freaked out,” Vilasuso laughs. “I guess all mothers are worriers. But she would call me three times a day, every day, to make sure I was okay.” She needn’t have worried: Her boy had his L.A.-based cousin (and his cousin’s Oscar-nominated husband!) nearby in case of emergencies, spent his free time taking basic courses at Glendale Community College and got some work, as well, including the independent film Angels Don’t Sleep Here and an episode of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. (“Buffy kicked my ass, and I wasn’t even a vampire.”)
“I also did ARREST & TRIAL for UPN,” he continues. “It’s this [reality-based] show, true stories, and I played this kind of loser mechanic who meets this girl who’s an extra on BAYWATCH. He falls in love with her and ends up spending all his parents’ money on her, and when they freak out, he kills them.” In a strange twist of fate, that meant that Vilasuso had to off his real-life father.
“My parents were visiting the set, and the director saw my dad and he was like, ‘You’re going to be an extra on the show’ because the extra who was playing my dad looked nothing like me. So my dad was on the show, and then I basically killed him.” It was all rather ironic, given that Vilasuso’s dad had delivered him into the world in the first place. “I know, right? What a jerk I was.”
Next up was a screen test for GL. “They told me, ‘Look, if you want this part, you can get it.’ And I was like, ‘Okay — I’ve heard that before,’” says the actor who, who came close to playing Juan on GENERAL HOSPITAL, Miguel on PASSIONS and “some kind of conniving prep school kid” on AS THE WORLD TURNS. He and five other potential Tonys were flown out to the East Coast for chemistry tests with Laura Bell Bundy (Marah}; Vilasuso, though jet lagged and sleep deprived, nabbed the role as wannabe mobster Tony Santos.
“I like Tony, but some of the things he says are so ridiculous,” the actor admits. “Sometimes, I think of him as a guy who’s watched way too many mob movies — and I’m not talking about Goodfellas. I’m talking about those old-school mob movies from the 1950s. He’ll use lingo like … well, he speaks in the third person a lot, which I think is funny. He’s like, ‘Tony Santos does not do that,’ or whatever. I think it’s funny because he puts himself on such a pedestal when he says things like that.”
That said, he appreciates the dramatic license that playing Tony necessitates. “My friends watch the show, and they’re all like, ‘Man, you could kick Danny’s ass! Why [did] you take so much crap from him!?’ And I’m like, ‘I know, but he was the head of the family,’” Vilasuso laughs. “I gotta respect that.”
If you’re heading to Hollywood and you only know two people out there, one of them might as well be Godfather III star Andy Garcia. “He’s married to my cousin, Marivi. They were basically my family out there,” says Vilasuso, who regularly joined them for home-cooked meals — but not for career guidance. “I didn’t go out there thinking Andy was gonna help me,” the actor states. “And when my parents spoke with him, they were like, ‘Look, we don’t want you to pull any strings; we just want you to be there if he needs someone to go to, and that’s it.’ Eventually, I did audition for one of Andy’s projects — FOR LOVE OR COUNTRY [THE ARTURO SANDOVAL STORY], which [came] out on HBO — but I went through the whole process. The director liked my tape, so I got to test with Andy. And it didn’t work out, I think because of my height, but it was still cool that Andy got to see that I was serious about what I was doing, that I’m not some kid who doesn’t know how to act. And he saw something in me. He told my father, ‘The kid is good.’”
JUST THE FACTS
Born On: June 15
Hails From: Coral Gables, FL
Last Movie Seen: “Blair Witch II. What a terrible film.”
Music Taste: Hip-hop
Now Reading: “A book on meditation — I just finished Tuesdays with Morrie.”
Favorite Actor: Robert De Niro
Ethnicity: “Cuban, but I’m actually a mutt. I’ve got Spanish, French and Italian in me.”
Britney Or Christina: “They’re both hot, but I like Britney better.”
Magazine Subscriptions: None. “But I used to get Maxim.”
Siblings: An older brother in med school and a younger sister in high school
This interview appeared in our April 10, 2001 issue.