Make your own path. What works for the goose doesn’t always work for the gander. While it’s great to seek or extend advice, very often that gesture of help can have an adverse effect. In many areas and times in my career, I attempted to emulate someone I admired hoping that their path to success would also help show me the way to mine. But what I learned is very rarely do two people “make it” the same exact way. Carve your own destiny.
As a part of my series about leaders helping to make the entertainment industry more diverse and representative, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing multi-award-winning screenwriter, director, and Actor, Rob Alicea.
Rob Alicea was born and raised in Astoria, NY to a Sicilian mother and Puerto Rican father. While in elementary school Rob began engaging in after school reading programs at the local library that would introduce him to the world of storytelling.
Upon graduating from Xavier High School in New York City, Rob would go on to attend Hunter College where he would once again embrace his love for creating stories as an actor. Following several college courses in theater, followed by a stage debut with Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, Rob soon realized this passion would inevitably be his chosen career path.
Rob would later go on to expand his love for performing and further develop his role as a storyteller through writing, directing and producing. Now nearing his eighteenth year in the entertainment industry, Rob is now a celebrated filmmaker and performer with films and TV projects screened at many of the world’s top film festivals, including 2020’s SeriesFest with his newest pilot Couples Therapy.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thank you so much for having me. Like many performers and filmmakers, it all began with a love of movies and TV. According to my parents and grade school teachers, I was always way too energetic and had difficulty staying engaged in subjects that did not interest me. My teachers did, however, recognize a passion and skill for writing, and, of course, my consistent “performing” for my classmates. My parents would enroll me in my local library after school program which involved reading stories aloud and acting out the characters. It was then and there, for the very first time, that I had a place and something I could focus all that excited creative energy. I continued performing in college and then eventually began auditioning and also working as a production assistant for TV shows and movies. I would eventually grow to the point of helming my own projects as a producer, writer and director. If it’s a great story I want to be a part of it.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
So many stories, but on a personal, and I suppose professional, level, my former cancer diagnosis was life-altering. I was nineteen, in the prime of my life, and would discover I had non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The entire experience really helped me to see and appreciate just how resilient I actually could be. Though I would go on to lose my hair from chemotherapy, I never let it stop me from auditioning and pursuing my career. If ever I was questioned about my hair (or lack thereof) by a casting director I would simply say I’m in the process of preparing for a role as a cancer patient.
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?
Most of my stories are probably more embarrassing than anything else, but I have one about a TV show I used to work on (no I won’t say which one!). On one particular shoot day we were commuting via vans from Manhattan to outside the city and had met on the north west corner 96th street and Broadway. Anyone who works in the industry know it’s a very popular meeting spot for transportation vans leaving Manhattan. Apparently I didn’t do such a great job with roll call and attendance, because by the time we got to set I realized I had actually taken another production’s talent to OUR set.
Ok thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our discussion. Can you describe how you are helping to make popular culture more representative of the US population?
As a Latinx artist I am very cognizant of the need for more minority representation in all forms of media. As a filmmaker, my writing partner Scarlett Camargo and I always look for ways to fill out our characters and cast with diverse people who come from all walks of life. As a storyteller I am able to use my platform to tell socially relevant stories featuring people of color and others of varied backgrounds.
Wow! Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by the work you are doing?
My goal with anything I do or create is to inspire and help others know that if I can do it, you definitely can as well. I have, at various points in my life and career, served as a teacher and mentor. It has enabled me to give back, show others that you can achieve your definition of success, and, most importantly, realize that you can be a positive light in any and every thing that you do.
As an insider, this might be obvious to you, but I think it’s instructive to articulate this for the public who might not have the same inside knowledge. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why it’s really important to have diversity represented in Entertainment and its potential effects on our culture?
Building upon my thoughts before, life does not come in one color, shape or size. While I do think things are getting better, there was an extremely long period in cinema and television where diversity was not always a priority. And though many of those past movies and shows might have been a big part of our upbringing and adult lives, many truly did not represent the diverse nature of our world. It is important because it’s real life and that enables us to have content that more greatly reflects that.
Can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do to help address the root of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?
It might sound like oversimplifying, but we all have to start by opening our minds, our hearts and our eyes. When you don’t witness inclusion, demand it. If you’re not heard, then make your own noise by creating the things you want and we NEED to see. We all have the power to make a difference.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership to me is when someone leads by example and earns the respect of their peers rather than demanding it. In my profession being an effective leader is paramount to success. You have to always be looking at the bigger, overall picture and guide your people to the finish line safe, sound and better than when/where they started.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Make your own path. What works for the goose doesn’t always work for the gander. While it’s great to seek or extend advice, very often that gesture of help can have an adverse effect. In many areas and times in my career, I attempted to emulate someone I admired hoping that their path to success would also help show me the way to mine. But what I learned is very rarely do two people “make it” the same exact way. Carve your own destiny.
- Trust in your voice. As a creative at the beginning of their career, you may come across the advice, “Imitate before you innovate.” And I get that. But what I’ve learned is that everyone’s voice is unique to them. You can never know if there’s one or more people out there needing to hear that voice. The only way to know is to let it be heard.
- Save your money. This might seem like an obvious one, but as someone who is pretty much a full-time freelancer, saving and managing money is extremely important to me. The best advice I ever received was put 10% of any/everything you earn and throw that right into your savings account.
- Don’t sweat the small things. What may seem like a huge deal today, very often will appear trivial when in retrospect. It is so important to how and where you direct your energy and attention to. There are so many things you cannot control, and energy spent on worry and concern cannot be made back. There have been numerous times in my career where I found myself worrying about aspects of my career that were then, as they still are today, completely out of my control. They may have, indeed, built up resiliency in me, but they also gave me a few extra grey hairs I didn’t need!
- Have patience. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither were most successful careers. It takes time, but all you can do is take it one day and step at a time. You also cannot rush things you want to create and be great. You have to act and execute with urgency, sure, but also know, as I have learned, you can and will get to where you’re going if you churn out great work, but it won’t always be on your schedule.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire 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. 🙂
It is actually something I have in the works by way of a t-shirt line, but it’s a t-shirt line supporting the ‘Love EveryBody’ movement, which promotes appreciation, love and respect of all people regardless of age, race, sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression.
I was inspired by Adulthood the series I created, which is currently in development featuring a non-binary tween seeking out her father. While researching I have gotten to know many non-binary individuals who have openly shared their experiences, which very often include a basic lack of understanding in our society, and, unfortunately, persecution and even physical abuse.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“It’s hard to read the label while you’re inside the jar.” This was a quote shared with me while taking a positive psychology course. As a former bartender, I was regularly sought out for my advice. More difficult than watching people not heed advice and repeat the same mistakes is to hear them beat themselves up over it. I feel like that simple quote stops the judgement in its tracks and helps a person to realize that hindsight is 20/20 and that it is always easier to look back and think about how something could have gone better. That’s the gift of reflection, it enables us to learn and evolve.
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 just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Hands down, Kevin Smith. There is no one in the business that has influenced or inspired me more. I have often shared this story, but it was actually Smith’s 2016 New York Comic-Con talk-back that encouraged me to truly go full steam ahead into writing my own story and trusting in my voice.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I’m on Instagram and Twitter at @robalicea, and, of course, through my website www.robalicea.com.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!
Thank YOU so much.