Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez
Hemky Madera is a character and face you never forget. You’ve seen him in such primetime shows as The Shield and Law and Order: Criminal Intent. He’s had a recurring role in HBO’s short-lived Luck, which starred Dustin Hoffman; and is fondly remembered (in a twisted kind of way) as the killer thug ‘Ignacio’ on Showtime’s Weeds. In film he has worked alongside heavyweights like Harvey Keitel, Gael Garcia Bernal, Andy Garcia, Bill Murray and Johnny Depp
Madera was born in Queens, New York to Dominican parents Luis and Gisela Madera. They moved to Santiago, Dominican Republic when Madera was just two months old. After graduating from a Catholic college, and a series of different jobs, Hemky decided to pursue his long-standing desire to act. He took an acting class with renowned Dominican director Alfonso Rodriguez, promptly landing his first acting gig on Grandes Series Dominicanas. He continued working in some of the DR’s top TV shows, then decided it was time to take his acting career to the U.S.
In New York he worked at the Inverse Theatre, took acting workshops at The Actor’s Studio and Gene Frankel Theatre where he was cast in Life is a Dream, The Mistress of the Inn, Chronicles of a Death Foretold, Blood Weddings, and many other theater classics.
Madera considers himself a “leading man who does character work” driven to act and always “there to entertain”, and that he has surely done.
Contributing Editor Al Carlos Hernandez recently had the opportunity to interview Hemky.
Al Carlos Hernandez: I am told you were born in Queens, NY then moved to the Dominican Republic. Why did your parents leave the U.S.?
Hemky Madera: Actually my parents were living in the Dominican Republic when I was born. My mother came to New York to visit her sisters when she was seven months pregnant. There were some complications and she had to have me prematurely — two months early.
ACH: How was life growing up in Santiago? What kind of family did you come from and how did your community inspire you?
HM: Growing up in Santiago was amazing!!! It was a small town but mentality it seemed a big city. I come from a very supporting, caring, loving, grounded, hardworking family. My community inspired me to be all that I can be! I know it sounds like the Army 🙂 But what I mean is that I saw people around me with nothing yet striving to have everything.
ACH: What attracted you to the arts and who were your greatest supporters? Detractors?
HM: Movies and television attracted me to the arts. I am an only child so when I was a kid I watched television for hours and hours, and then go to the movies (well I still do). I had a very active imagination so I reenacted scenes for my parents from whatever I watched. You can say that was my first performance.
I remember being five years old watching On the Waterfront in English with my parents (I didn’t speak English at the time). When I saw the famous scene with Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint (Brando try to put her glove on so she couldn’t leave) I turn to my parents and said, “When I grow up I’m going to do what he does. I’m going to be an actor.” My greatest supporters were my parents. I have never let anybody or anything be a detractor to me. Just the opposite – anybody or anything that tried to detract me just fueled me to go forward.
AC: Did attending Christian school help inform some of the characters you have developed over the years?
HM: HAHAHA oh yes!!! I Attended nine different schools, most of them Catholic, not counting college which was also Catholic. And somewhere in between I went to military school as well. So to answer your question, attending Christian schools help inform some of the characters by observation.
AC: Where did the desire to act come from and who were some of the actors you admired then? Whom do you admire now?
HM: My desire to act comes from wanting to express my self, entertain, tell stories. Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro were my favorites, among others. Now I love Johnny Depp, Robert Downey Jr, Joaquin Phoenix and of course Daniel Day-Lewis.
AC: You had a series of jobs before landing your first part. What were some of the jobs and what kind of vocation do you think you would have had if acting didn’t work out?
HM: I did, I’ve worked as a waiter, bartender, office clerk, data entry clerk in a bank, numerous temp jobs, driver, window dresser assistant, and in college I went into a public fossil site to get skulls and bones for anatomy class and got $20 bucks for each. I think I would’ve being a great lawyer if I wasn’t an actor.
AC: Isn’t it non-traditional for a macho-looking male to pursue acting? What did your father think of this vocation?
HM: My father loves it!! Look, after I told my parents that I wanted to be an actor at the age of five I never brought it up again until the end of my second year of college. I changed majors for four times. I went from physical therapy, medicine, business administration, and ended up in marketing. By the end of the run I spoke with my father and I told him that I wanted to be an actor. His response was, “FINALLY!! Finally you tell me something that I always knew.” So I asked him why he never said anything. His response was simple: “If I would’ve said something, you would have not done it.”
AC: At a certain point you decided to give acting a go. What was the process? Did you experience rejection? How did you cope?
HM: After I told my parents that I wanted to be an actor I just went for it. A friend of mine, Frank Perozo, came to me saying that he knew about this director by the name of Alfonso Rodriguez who was giving an acting class. We went and auditioned for him. We both got accepted to be part of his class.
I did experience rejection, especially when I went to New York. I would go to audition after audition and get nothing; I just kept going. What else could I do? This was the life I chose so no excuses. I always had my eye on the ball – you know, the big prize. I guess that was my way of coping. Now that I have a family, my family gives me strength to keep going.
AC: How long did it take to book your first role on Grandes Series Dominicanas and what was the part?
HM: My first role, part of Alfonso Rodriguez’s six weeks workshop was that he was going to select actors from his class to be part of his next project En la Olla (Being Broke). Three weeks into the workshop Frank was told that he got one of the leads in the project. So we go out and celebrate. I don’t hear anything about me but I’m like, well we still have three more weeks. Those last three weeks came and went and nothing. So at this point I’m telling myself maybe I’m not good for this, I don’t have what it takes to be an actor. So I went to the beach for the weekend with some of my friends. Back then I had a pager – hardly anybody had a cell phone back then. I remember that I left the pager back at the house and we spent the whole day just enjoying the beach.
By the time I got back to the house it was already evening time and I see that I had 18 pages from a number that I didn’t know. So I was like wow this must be important. When I called the number the first thing I hear is, “Where are you?” And I was like, who is this? “It’s Alfonso. We’re going into production the day after tomorrow. Where are you?” I was like WHAT? What do you mean we’re going to production the day after tomorrow? And that’s when he told me that he picked me from the audition for his workshop and he thought that the producer told me. The producer thought that Alfonso had told me, so they all believed that I knew. But I didn’t. I still laugh out loud when I remember that story. The character’s name was Luis.
I remember my first scene, the first scene I ever did. We go through the scene and I say all my lines perfectly. I do not forget one single line. I’m feeling good, you know, confidant. Alfonso comes up to me and says, “That was great Hemky, really good, very pro. Now BREATHE!!!!” After that, I just wanted more and more.
AC: After your success in Dominican TV, you turned to stage work. Tell us about those experiences. Tell us about the Actors’ Studio.
HM: My first stage work was in Pantallas (Screens). Wow, was that a lot of work. I loved it!!! It was the first time that I got the response from the audience immediately. It was a very humbling experience. I did an internship at the Actors’ Studio.
AC: Why did you return to the states to do English projects? What was the US film industry like for Latino males at that time?
HM: I dreamed of Hollywood ever since I was a kid so I had to come back to the states and work in English projects. The industry has opened a lot for Latinos in general. Now we have more Latino lawyers, doctors, etc. – not just gardeners, drug dealers, maids and nannies. In my case, I’ve been blessed. I work a lot.
AC: You’re probably best known for your work on Weeds as a drug associate.
HM: I am. It was a great gig!!!! Ignacio was a huge goofball, a tough guy but he was just a goofball!!! So that was it – it was just fun to play him.
AC: Do you feel that you are reinforcing negative Latino stereotypes with that role?
HM: It’s just a gig. Would you say the same about a white person playing a trailer trash character? So they don’t become a joke, the best thing I could bring to the role is not just dignity, but to be honest when I portrayed the role.
AC: Is there any danger of you becoming the “drug enforcer” go-to guy?
HM: I guess I’ve done a very good job when people still want me to do this kind of role. Yes, it can be a little bit limiting but I’ve also played doctors, lawyers, and cops. So you tell me.
AC: Any aspiration to write, direct, and/or produce?
HM: Yes. There are a lot of stories out there. I want to do the story of Jack Veneno – he was a Dominican wrestler.
AC: What are some of the projects you are working on now?
HM: I am starting work on the script of a pilot that is loosely based on my wife and our families.
AC: How do you feel about social media — Twitter, Facebook . . . do they help keep you in touch with fans?
HM: Ha ha hah! I’m so bad tweeting and posting stuff on Facebook. I don’t know what I should or shouldn’t tweet or share. But I promise to my fans that I will get better at it.
AC: In the end, when it’s all said and done, how would you like to be remembered and what would you like your legacy to be?
HM: I want to be remembered as a great man! To know that when people hear my name they just smile.
AC: How can people know more about you?