“I never wanted to be a lawyer – I just wanted to play one,” said actor and activist Tony Plana ’75 to an overflowing audience of Loyola Marymount University theatre arts students for the latest installment of “CFA Conversations With …”, a speaker series that features successful alumni from the LMU College of Communication and Fine Arts returning to campus for intimate conversations and Q&As with students and faculty.
The Cuban American actor and LMU Theatre Arts major returned to the bluff to offer fundamental advice for the aspiring actors and performers in the audience, and related illuminating anecdotes about his experience as a minority actor in Hollywood. Plana has played majors roles in numerous television shows and major motion pictures, including ABC’s “Ugly Betty” and “Desperate Housewives,” HBO’s “The Young Pope,” as well as his appearances movies, including the recent films “Pain & Gain” and “Bombshell.”
But success didn’t always come so easily to him. When Plana first entered the acting sphere, there were barely any roles that Latino actors could play outside of predictable tropes. He joked to the audience, “I’ve played every Latino stereotype except for the pregnant teenager” when referring to the acting opportunities he had, particularly early in his career. Still, perhaps because of the challenges he faced, Plana went on to spend his career committed to equitable representations in entertainment.
In fact, racism he faced in his career motivated him to create Arts in Play, an acting company solely consisting of actors of color, so that people of all colors and orientations could see themselves represented in classical acting productions, such as in Shakespeare plays. One highlight for the company was presenting a production of “Much Ado About Nothing,” featuring Mariachi music. He also brings his acting company to schools that do not have much funding for the arts, impassioned by a goal to validate the necessity of the performing arts as a valuable curriculum component in public schools.
Additionally, Plana offered some practical advice for aspiring actors. He emphasized that young actors must understand the value that theater acting has and that it is a critical part of the development of an actor’s work ethic and talent development. According to Plana, theater roles should always come first, as it gives actors more job opportunities for career longevity.
At the end of the day, Plana is passionate about education, and loved being a student at LMU, a place where he could study theatre arts in the context of a broader liberal arts education. He encouraged the student audience to stay open minded and to study multiple subjects. A variety of experiences helps create a truly multidimensional human, which makes anyone a better actor. “With a good education, you can become anything, and play anyone!” Sound advice from a fellow lion who has found incredible professional success and has dedicated his career and life to expanding theatre opportunities for all.