TV and film veteran, Yancey Arias is a talent you remember. Whether you saw him you’re your favorite TV show such as The Shield, Castle, Revenge, American Family or are a lifetime fan since you saw him in the title role of Miguel Cadena in Kingpin, Arias is memorable in any role he plays.
On March 28th fans and audiences around the country will once again see Arias in one of those memorable roles in the film Cesar Chavez. This time he plays Gilbert Padilla, a co-worker and close friend to civil rights activist and union leader Cesar Chavez, the subject of the biopic. Arias worked alongside a stellar cast which includes Michael Pena as Cesar Chavez, America Ferrera as Cesar’s wife, Rosario Dawson as Dolores Huerta, and Jacob Vargas as Richard Chavez, Cesar’s brother. The long overdue film about Cesar Chavez also delves into the lives of many of the other persons whose commitment helping improve the working conditions of U.S. farmworkers through the organizing of the United Farm Workers union.
Gilbert Padilla and Cesar Chavez met working at the Community Service Organization along with Dolores Huerta. Chavez who was the executive director of the CSO at that time proposed the non-profit organization approve a farmworker program. When that failed to happen all three made the decision that if they were going to help the farmworkers they needed to work among them and left the CSO. For Cesar it was a return to backbreaking work he was quite familiar with.
Originally up for the role of Cesar, Arias immersed himself in the research of the Untied Farm Workers union, co-founded by Chavez and Huerta. “I read a lot about the movement and the union, the history the people involved and all their efforts,” Arias recounted. “During all this and the audition process, I fell in love with the whole mission especially of getting kids off the field.”
Although the role of Cesar would eventually go to Michael Pena, director Diego Luna, felt Arias’ passion and demeanor was a perfect fit for the role of Gilbert Padilla. Arias immediately found out Padilla lived in Northern California and was soon on his way to meet him in person. Padilla was gracious and welcoming and spent hours telling Arias about the historical background on the Mexican farmworker in the Southwest and eventually the road to the union. “He was so giving and gave me the history between 1895 all the way to his involvement in the UFW – the history in terms of the culture and what Latinos experienced during 1940’s and 50’s.”
The cast is a mix of U.S. and Mexican actors as well as a Mexican crew. “Seventy percent of the cast was from the U.S. and thirty percent are Mexican actors,” Arias said. He gave Diego props for not casting the film with only Mexican or Chicano actors. “I thought it was really wonderful and responsible of Diego to include actors who were not necessarily Mexican or from California, particularly me. I’m PR and Columbian from NY, and I am playing a Chicano,” and added. “That he opened up to all Latinos and that he allowed actors to give humanity and their respect to the story.”
That is when research plays an important part in an actor’s work. In this case, when doing a film about such a revered figure to Latinos and anyone who care about civil rights, it was of utmost importance for everyone to get it right. That was on the minds of all when the cast finally came together for the first table read of the script.
“First of all the table read was electric. Once we all sat down and saw who was in the movie we were like wow!” Director Luna set the tone. He told he cast he wanted to do this story as honestly as possible and respect to all the homework that was done by all, but that at the end of the day he wanted to make sure that this was a universal story about a man against a giant. The cast signed on, committing to Diego’s vision. “What we were able to give to the piece was a beautiful community and I think you’ll really see it on the screen.”
Cesar Chavez was filmed in 2012 over the course of four months beginning in April with production wrapping in July. The initial idea for the film was much bigger in scope but after the first edit the production realized they wanted to focus more on just Cesar. That prompted more scenes to be shot late December of 2012, which would be able to connect the new focus of the film. A lot of the work shot by some actors did not make it into the final cut. Richard Chavez, Cesar’s brother was one of the storylines that was left on the cutting room floor. But the final results say Arias “cut together nicely.”
“It’s a beautiful story, a touching story. And it became the vision and drive of what Diego wanted to tell,” Arias proudly says. “Diego wanted to tell the story of a man, the myth and the legend and how he passes on the baton to his son. It’s going to play for years and years.”