For our inaugural Local Spotlight, a series profiling artists working in varied fields and New York City neighborhoods, we sat down with actor and 21-year-old Washington Heights resident Jaime Arciniegas, who you may recognize from the pre-film Coca-Cola commercial at Regal Cinemas over the past year.
How did you get into acting?
I started acting when I was seventeen. It was a curiosity of mine after I had been tormented at school for a while. It was an escape from reality. You know, bullies. Kids are just mean for any reason. Because of my background — I had been born in Colombia, and moved to Texas, and then once again back to Colombia — kids didn't actually see me as their peer. They saw me as a foreigner, an outsider. I had lived in Texas for such a long time. All of these people who were trying to speak a second language had an accent, but I didn't. I think they always felt that I thought I was better than them just because I could speak English better.
I saw an escape through acting. I was in love with the idea of it — with the idea of not being me. I was going to become a geologist. I was going to study rocks for a living, because at the time I used to think that money equaled happiness. But I was just enthralled by this idea of pretending to be so many other people. At the same time it was an excuse to not be me, to not be myself, to not live the life that I was living. I believe acting is the truest form of storytelling — these characters, whether they're based on fiction or reality, in that moment, that's the truth. And nobody can deny it.
How much do you bring your own experiences to bear in your work?
The methods I learned in school were based off sense memory, experiences, and imagination. When I tackle a role, I try to do as much sense memory as possible. When I did Rabbithole for City Island Theater Group up in the Bronx, the character I played was a troubled teen who accidentally kills a child in a car accident. Obviously that's not something — I haven't done that before. But that's where imagination comes in play, where we try to connect the dots of something similar, and try to fathom what that feeling would be. We have the play in front of us. We read it, we understand it, we can take what the playwright is trying to tell us about this character. Beyond that, it's up to us to create the backstory, the foreground, the personality.
The first acting class I ever took in Colombia was with a bunch of children, which was only because I had made a mistake. It was the wrong class: it wasn't the adult's acting class, but I was seventeen so I could fit in to the children class. Kids, I think, are the best actors. Everything is real to them. Watching that and learning from them actually helped me in the future with things I came to do. You can tell them as much as you want what something is, but if they don't believe it, it won't be. Whatever they believe, that's their own truth. That's the power of what this craft is.
What New York has offered you as an environment to develop your practice?
Coming to New York was the best decision I ever made. After graduating, I found that there's this really vast pool of all these acting networks. There are so many opportunities that people overlook. They think Hollywood is the only place where you can do film or TV, but New York shoots so many pilots each year, so many movies come here all the time. It's beautiful to depict on camera. Obviously on stage we have Broadway, Off-Broadway, but there are also all these local makeshift theaters that produce plays 24/7, all the time, every week. Nearly every neighborhood you go, there's at least one place to go see theater, or one place to be a part of that experience. As an actor, it's been like another year of school — in school, you're in one building just rehearsing and performing on their stage. In the city, the whole city's your rehearsal space, and you've got to find what theater wants you to perform, and you've got to audition to keep going.