AFTER winning plaudits on the festival circuit, Marc Fusco’s film The Samuel Project is set for theatrical release later this month. Close-up Culture caught up with one of the film’s lead stars, Ryan Ochoa, to chat about the film and much more.
Q: The Samuel Project coming to theatres. How proud and excited are you for audiences to see this film?
A: THIS journey has been a very special one for myself and everyone involved in the film! I can’t wait for everyone to see The Samuel Project, a movie for the whole family.
Q: Your character, Eli, is an aspiring artist who is given doubts about making a career from his artwork. How was the experience of playing Eli? Could you relate to him as a fellow creative person?
A: I was able to really connect and relate to Eli on many levels. He is passionate and believes in his artistic ability, but even the people closest to him doubt that he can make something out of it. Ever since I started acting as a boy, there have been many people who tried to bring me down and said I was crazy to think acting was a future. Even family! Eli and Ryan both do not take no for an answer.
Q: It seems this film has many positive messages about the power of art to bond people, to embolden and connect with the past. How important has art and performing been to your life?
A: SOMETIMES it scares me actually because I don’t know what I would do without the arts (laughs). Being in front of the camera, now behind the camera, and performing with my brothers is so important to me. I love creating, being able to inspire through my work, and I can express myself through art.
Q: The Samuel Project gave you the opportunity to work with the legendary Hal Linden. What was the dynamic like between you two and how did it develop during the filming?
A: YOU got the “legendary” part right! Hal is still working hard too, and making sure that title never goes away! I believe our dynamic was truly special and it definitely shows on screen. One thing we realized after we finished filming was that Hal and I were building our relationship throughout the production, just like Eli and Samuel. I think that comes across in the movie.
Q: What was the most important lesson you learnt from Hal?
A: NEVER stop working (laughs)! Oh there is not enough time here, but one thing I will not forget from him is how important it is to do stage. There are many reasons why, but he wants me to do a play. So maybe one day I will for Hal.
Q: On the flip side, do you feel you taught Hal anything over the course of the project?
A: FOR sure! I taught him how to navigate through his social media (laughs)! I do not want to say anything that sounds self-centered, because that is so not me, but I think he saw how much I care about what I do and that the generation coming up do more than just play video games.
Q: This film also gave you the opportunity to work with director Marc Fusco, who was a longtime assistant to Steven Spielberg. What was Marc like to work with?
A: GET ready for a long answer! The question everyone should ask is “is there anything Marc Fusco can’t do?” He is a true visionary who has so much knowledge about film and filmmaking. I have to mention it just in case no one else does, but Marc edited the movie too!
He made my experience, and the entire crew I’m sure, on this film amazing. Every day was filled with fun on set, but he made sure we were making a great film at the same time. We share so much in common too including the love for film and music, so you better believe we had awesome talks! He has become a true friend and I know we will be working together again someday.
Q: Young artist Bella Riboni did a lot of the sketches for the film and was on set everyday. Did you get to spend much time with Bella?
A: FIRST off, Bella deserves a lot more credit as well. She brought Eli’s visions to life and I needed her. Our time together varied upon the necessity of her artistic talent for a new sketch or even me simply picking the brain of an artist.
Q: The Ochoa Boyz – a band you are in with your three brothers – are also heard on the film. How special for you was it to have your music and your siblings involved in the project in some way?
A: IT is one of the coolest things that I got the opportunity to incorporate both of my passions in the same project. This is my first film where our music is actually featured in the movie and the audience will see what I mean by that.
My brothers are my best friends, so anytime I can include them in whatever I am doing is a given. Not too many people know yet, but one of my brothers may have a cameo in the film too! That is almost as cool as me singing the song in it. Almost (laughs)!
Q: Nickelodeon and Disney are a big part of your upbringing in the entertainment industry. How have those experiences helped shape you as a performer?
A: I am thankful for every project I have been a part of. All the shows on Nick and Disney were a big part of my teenage years and I made awesome memories. I grew a lot as an actor during those times, but what I appreciate the most about them is that I was learning the flow of these major productions and how to control the craziness of the workflow.
Q: I heard you recently met Dwayne Johnson who you cite as one of your biggest inspirations. What do you love about Dwayne and is it your dream to work with him one day?
A: ONE of the best days! I have been following Dwayne’s career since before I could even talk (laughs)! I have so much respect for him and it definitely multiplied after meeting him. I really took to his presence on social media, the way he interacts with his fans, and I saw him one time at a premiere and he was genuine with everyone. I never got to meet him until the other day.
DJ is hands down the best celebrity and he sure does live by his saying “it’s nice to be important, but more important to be nice.” He is changing the game as we speak and it would literally be a dream come true if I got to work with him. I am waiting for that day. Did I mention that he followed me on Insta (smiles)?
Q: You have done so much at a young age. What direction do you want to take your career in?
A: I have been blessed to do what I love for so many years, and I am so excited for what is to come. All I want is to keep inspiring people with my work, challenge myself with new roles, create content for the world to enjoy whether it’s acting, writing, directing, making music, and even on social media with my posts. My connection with my Ryanators is important to me and I want us to keep growing together!
Q: Lastly, please let audiences know why they should get a ticket to see The Samuel Project?
A: THIS is a feel good movie that has so much heart with the relationship between the grandfather and grandson. It is going to bring families together and inspire kids to pursue their dreams no matter the struggles.
Audiences are going to love how art can be more powerful than we thought, and I am proud to say that our film will be one that family generations can go see together and appreciate in their own way. I hope grandparents, parents, and kids will walk out of the theatre saying “we need more films like The Samuel Project.”