One of the things I do to not burn out is to make sure I have time for myself doing things that I enjoy like parkour, Ninja, playing video games and hanging out with friends. You have to have a balance between work, school, hobbies, friendships and family so you don’t get burned out.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Hunter Payton aka Hunter Payton Mendoza. Hunter is an award-winning actor who started acting at age 6, landing a role in Will Ferrell’s HBO “Funny or Die” and best known for his recurring role on NBC’s “AtoZ” with Ben Feldman. Coming this year you will see Hunter as Jordan on Disney Channel’s “Raven’s Home,” as Mouth in “LA’s Finest” and as Ryder in the upcoming film “A Genie’s Tail” with Laura Marano, The Farley Brothers, and Jake Paul. Hunter trains weekly in Parkour and Ninja and hopes someday to be on “American Ninja Warrior.”
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
That is a funny story! When I was little I would always dance, sing and perform on our wood coffee table while watching DVD’s of Grease, Mary Poppins, Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory and a ton of Wiggles. I literally had the entire scene down for Greased Lightnin’ but like Mike TVin Willy Wonka I wanted to be on TV. My mom just knew I was going to do something with acting but unfortunately, at the time we could not afford acting classes. A few years later we were at a street fair and while I was dancing to some performers on stage an acting school approached my mom about me. They interviewed me on the spot and offered me, free classes, to attend. The rest is history.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
I think the most interesting story that has happened to me since acting was when I realized how much I like doing my own stunts and what started me onto Parkour. At 10 years old, I first worked with a stunt coordinator on “AtoZ” and had a blast doing super fun stuff like karate and taking down a bully with my signature Spider Monkey Move as the script called it. That same year, I booked a role as young RJ Mitte with muscular dystrophy in a wheelchair in the film “Who’s Driving Doug” and again got to work with a stunt coordinator but this time some really scary stunts. I was asked if I could do it or if I would need a stunt double and I really felt I was up for it. One of the scenes, I had to deadfall from a wheelchair into the deep end of a swimming pool into an exact spot without the use of my arms or legs due to my role with muscular dystrophy. I had to sink slowly to the bottom while a camera filmed it all without hitting the camera or stunt coordinator. So many emotions were going through my head on how to do it exactly the way the director wanted without hitting the edge of the pool with my head or having the wheelchair fall on top of me after I fell in the water. Another stunt I got to do in the movie was to fly down a very steep hill while in a small wheelchair completely staying still while a camera followed me down. Three very strong guys had a cable attached to my wheelchair to keep the speed at a minimum. Literally one bad dip or rock in the road would have been bad for me. That was when I realized how much I like doing my own stunts like Jason Statham, Jackie Chan, Tom Cruise, and so many others. That is when I started training Parkour at Tempest Academy were a lot of the industry stuntmen train.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One of the funniest mistakes I made was thinking the script I was reading for was a drama and it was actually a comedy. Inside the room, they were so surprised to see such a serious actor at 7 years old and asked me to do it again but with comedy. I realized at that point that sometimes a script can be seen in different ways. I have learned to research roles and scripts so that I can find out everything I need to in order to properly prepare for a role so that would never happen again.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I just wrapped a role for season 2 on “LA’s Finest” with Jessica Alba and Gabrielle Union which will come out later this year. In this role, I was super excited because I got to work with a stunt coordinator and got to do my very first fight scene. My role in “Raven’s Home” that comes out in a few months is about peer pressure which is very common amongst teens my age. The episode centers around something that I have actually faced myself so I was happy to be a part of it and bring awareness, so definitely a must-see. The other cool thing I got to work on that comes out later this year is the film “A Genie’s Tail” where I got to play a bully and I learned how to skateboard for and I got to do some stunts on. One of the coolest things about working on this movie was getting to have a dog and work with several other dogs. One of the dogs was named Hero and he was on America’s Got Talent and holds the title of the most tricks a dog can do in a certain amount of minutes. This is a great family movie and everyone will love it!
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
One of the most interesting people I have worked with was my on-screen dad, deaf actor and director Troy Kotsur. I was 8 years old when I booked the role of Michael in the short Father’s Day Breakfast which is based on a true story about a boy in the 1950s growing up with a deaf father. There was a sign language interpreter on set for Troy that I also got to work with on the scenes I needed to learn sign language for. There was one moment where Troy and I sat in silence in between scenes on a break outdoors on a bench swing. We literally said nothing but a few small hand gestures but we bonded at that moment. It was definitely a film I will never forget working on because we all became family that day.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
One of the things I do to not burn out is to make sure I have time for myself doing things that I enjoy like parkour, Ninja, playing video games and hanging out with friends. You have to have a balance between work, school, hobbies, friendships, and family so you don’t get burned out. Every year my family plans a trip so we can just go away and relax somewhere. I always feel recharged and ready to go when I get back. One of the biggest things my mom taught me when I started was to not worry about the audition anymore afterward. Once I audition I just move on to the next and if I get a callback or booking it is super exciting and if not that is okay too because there will be many more. My mom always told me that when it is not fun anymore then maybe it is not the right path for you, so I remember to always have fun with it!
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
If I could start a movement to bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people it would be to motivate people to support and help others more often. I know a lot of people around the holidays tend to give back but what about the other 11 months of the year? There are so many people that need help and organizations that could use volunteers. I think if people could commit to once a month doing a good deed for someone that would be a start.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- I wish someone would have told me that Rejection is one of the most difficult things about acting and you will need to be able to accept rejection over and over even after you feel you gave 150% and the part would have been perfect for you. I remember doing an audition I really felt was perfect for me and I was super excited because I felt I was definitely going to book it and the call never came. I was literally so upset for weeks about it because I questioned myself what I could have done better. But when I saw who they chose and although similar he was older and taller, it made more sense they went that way for the role.
- Just go into an audition and have fun because when you stop enjoying what you do, then it is time to move on. One of the things I learned from my mom as well as an acting coach I was working with, is to remember to always have fun. For a while, I wasn’t having fun anymore so I had to find my way back to when I first started. You have to love what you do or don’t do it all.
- Make sure you make time for yourself When I was about 8 years old, I was so stressed out between school and auditions that I had no time to be a kid. I would actually cry in the car frustrated because I was so overwhelmed. My mom asked me if I was done and I decided to quit acting for a few months to do the things I wanted for me. My team at the time was totally understanding and I really needed the break. After a few months of figuring out how to balance my schedule better, I came back stronger and booked 3 national commercials back to back and a recurring role.
- Success does not happen overnight. There will be times where you don’t work or get auditions so you need to be patient. A few years back I wanted to quit because I hadn’t booked anything for a while and I wasn’t getting a lot of auditions. I was really feeling down on myself and I felt like I hit a point in my career where I needed to make a decision. At the time I felt my team had given up on me too since I hadn’t booked anything in a while. So, my mom had me do something else to get my mind off not getting auditions so I accepted a role on stage doing a play. This was completely out of my comfort zone and even though I had only 2 weeks to learn all my lines it was a really good experience. When I was done I realized how much I missed being on set so I kept going and didn’t give up. I booked a movie and another commercial shortly after. So, sometimes you need to step away to realize how much you really want it.
- Be unique in your work. Don’t try to be someone else. It is okay to take notes from amazing actors but not okay to copyright other person’s work. Find in the role a little bit of you and bring it out.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favorite quotes is “You are what you choose to be today. Not what you’ve chosen to be before” I like this quote because it shows that you need to have a positive outlook on life and that you CAN choose what kind of person you want to be. My mom has always taught me to be the “Best Version of myself” and be a reflection of the best you, be kind to others, and stay true to yourself and always stay humble.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I can tell you it is not just one person that has helped me along the way but several. I am truly blessed with parents that are very supportive and who have both made sacrifices to help me along the way. My dad works very hard so I can continue doing what I do because my mom quit her job of 17 years to school me from home, take me to auditions and sit with me on set. They keep me humble and appreciative of all the opportunities that come my way. I also have a solid support team in my friends who I lean on when I need to and keep me grounded. Besides having solid support from my parents and friends I have a lot of support from my team Cindy Schnoover at Eris Talent Agency, Sherry Kayne at The Green Room Management, Jeremy Apody at LA Talent and my publicist Jennifer Tinucci at Key Elements PR. It takes a village!
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
If I could meet anyone it would be The Rock, Dwayne Johnson as he is a huge inspiration to me. His story about what he went through and how no matter how difficult things got he continued to work hard and never gave up. Today he is still just as hard-working and continues to inspire others like me with positive words. I have been through so much and I just keep going and it is because of people like the Rock who inspire to be the best version of myself and to never give up. “Be Humble. Be Hungry. And always be the hardest worker in the room.” The Rock
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Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!