See also: 5 questions for a Costa Rican tattoo artist
Javier Leñero, 25, is a Costa Rican actor whose first experience onstage was dancing at his school’s talent show when he was in second grade. He went on to take the International Baccalaureate theater course at the Lincoln School, study Film Acting at the New York Film Academy, and earn his Bahelor of Arts at the New School, also in New York. Today, he appears in Costa Rica’s first web series, “Dele Viaje,” which recently won the government’s “El fondo del Fauno” grant to continue with a second season. He is also a musician and works as music programmer at the radio station Los 40 Principales.
The Tico Times visited Los 40 Principales’ studio to speak to the well-rounded artist, who seeks to live multiple invented lives besides his own. Excerpts follow.
Why did you choose to become an actor and musician?
I chose to be an actor because I’m fascinated by the idea of impersonating different personalities. It’s such a weird art. It’s about imitating or living things and telling stories. I’ve always enjoyed, not only telling stories, but also living them: you discover things about yourself. Sometimes I tell myself, “Wow, this character is a serial killer, and it has never occurred to me to kill someone or something. How do I create that connection? How do I generate that bridge so it’s believable?” Art is when you don’t notice that you’re working; returning to that simplicity is the hardest thing. The art is within you, and you don’t have to think about what you’re doing or what line comes next. It’s about making and living, not thinking. It’s delightful to discover and explore things about yourself.
Regarding the music side, I’ve got no words to describe it. It’s one thing to create music by yourself, which is fun, and I’ve done it for a long time, but when you collaborate with someone else it’s beautiful. It’s about conversing with another person through sound and creating something that makes sense – or not. It’s astounding and delicious. It’s a very introspective process. You make a musical piece and suddenly discover that you were feeling sad, or happy.
How did you end up participating in Dele Viaje?
I went to high school with José Pablo García, the director. Initially, the project was his thesis. He held the casting process because he was not going to choose someone just because he knew him or her; he knew I was into acting and asked me whether I was interested. I was studying in New York at the time, but I came back to Costa Rica for Christmas break and auditioned. He then told me he wanted to work with me and we began speaking about the character. We developed the story and what he was doing. We opened Facebook profiles for the characters and developed content for them. It was a very entertaining experience.
I never imagined that Dele Viaje would be as great as it is, not because I don’t believe in the project, but because you don’t have control over those things. Suddenly, I would be walking through the street and people would ask me if I was Macho from Dele Viaje. It was surreal. It’s not about someone wanting to take a picture with you; it’s about being capable of creating a difference for people who would tell me they identified with what we were communicating, and that they share the same fears. That, for me, is the most beautiful thing.
What about you? Do you identify with Macho’s character?
Yes, in a lot of ways. We wanted to break the fourth wall with how the web series developed and create real-life characters. Macho is a much more introverted person than I am in real life, so at first I did not see that much of myself in him, but now I do, because he wanted to do so many things and did not know how to achieve that. He was scared and had barriers, such as his father. He thinks he has to comply with certain things because there’s a family business. Doing something else implies with breaking with tradition. That’s what I identify with [in Macho]. I’ve had a lot of things I want to do but don’t know how, and fear to launch myself in the music and acting world. In the end, it’s about putting yourself out there.
One thing is to study, and another one is to work and be able to live from that. When you study, you have a certain security, because you’re given a path to follow: you have to get to your graduation. From then on, it’s you against the world. I fear that a lot and maybe I was not conscious about it [when I started the process].
Which are the roles you normally like to play?
I like the crazy ones. The psychology of a character is vital. I like characters that distance themselves from me; I like to submerge myself in those things that I’m not familiar with, and I’m a very intense person, so I like characters that go through many intense changes. There’s one particular character I’ve always wanted to play: Alan Strang from Peter Shaffer’s “Equus.” He’s a teenager who deals with religious and psychosexual problems.
The last character I played, in “El invierno de abril,” was a master of ceremonies who is a clown with a beard and a moustache. He was an extravagant character who spoke French despite not being French. He was eccentric, and [that type of character] always gets my attention. There have also been characters that I’ve had to play with a more “normal” perspective, and these characters provide you with a reflection about yourself, so that’s also beautiful.
Which is your favorite of the characters you have played?
There are two experiences: the first was a monologue I did for a friend for the International Baccalaureate theater class. My friend Nicolás had written it for me, and my character was like Hades, the god of death. He had multiple personalities, controlled everyone’s destiny, and had an internal conflict over the idea of killing people and making them suffer. I was doing a theater exercise in which I had to play that role, and after I finished, one of my classmates started playing a woman who was suffering. That was when I got into my character. I told my classmate it was me who had done all of that to her. I [realized what I was doing] and apologized, telling them, “That wasn’t me [talking].” That was the first time I got into character and was not thinking as Javier.
The other experience was similar. It was a combination of three characters: Macho (“Dele Viaje“), Carlo (“Cruces sobre el Niágara“) and another character who confronted his fears. I was speaking to a friend who is studying acting and analyzed the characters with him. While I was speaking to him I noticed I was speaking differently, and he told me that it was a combination of the three characters we were talking about. I was not conscious about it and didn’t know what I was doing. If I could always do that it would be amazing. Those are the characters that have truly touched me to the point of reaching the unconscious.
Read more Weekend Arts Spotlight interviews here.
Our “Weekend Arts Spotlight” presents Sunday interviews with artists who are from, working in, or inspired by Costa Rica, ranging from writers and actors to dancers and musicians. Do you know of an artist we should consider, whether a long-time favorite or an up-and-comer? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.