The indie boy king talks HBO, De Niro and coming full circle.
The masses may not recognize Victor Rasuk, but he’s worked with some serious Hollywood heavyweights, including Benicio del Toro, Steven Soderbergh and, most recently, Robert De Niro. Rasuk got his big break starring in the independent hit, Raising Victor Vargas, where he essentially played himself, a Dominican teenager coming of age on New York’s Lower East Side — even his real-life little brother Silvestre played himself in the film. Rasuk then found himself in a string of other critically-acclaimed but not widely-released independent films like Stop-Loss, Lords of Dogtown and the epic biopic Ché. His most visible role to date was a recurring part on the last season of the beloved NBC series E.R. Now Rasuk, 27, is reprising his role as “Cam Calderon” for a second season on the HBO series, How to Make It America, starring Brian Greenberg, Kid Cudi and the legendary Luis Guzman (you know, "Pachanga" from Carlito’s Way). Rasuk sat down with us to let us in on what to expect this season and what’s up next on his agenda.
You’ve come a long way since your first film, Raising Victor Vargas. Tell me about that journey.
It really is a full circle moment because I went through all these films and projects from Vargas to now. That film opened the door for many things. I’ve been able to work for nine years. And How to Make It is the closest thing to Vargas that I’ve done that I’m most proud of.
Your character Cam is a slick Dominican kid from the LES like Victor. In many ways, Cam is like "Victor, all grown up." Did you use that character to create this one?
I used a lot of the hustle and charm. Like, I know what it’s like being in the acting business, so I just had to put that energy to the fashion industry in this case, which I know nothing about. And when I got the part, I purposely didn’t want to know more about the fashion industry because that is what’s so funny about Cam. It doesn’t matter what industry he’s in as long as there’s money to be made. And I think that’s what makes it funny. He didn’t want to know about fashion except what Ben (Brian Greenberg) knew. He’s kinda the brains of the operation and I’m trying to get the money.
So what can we expect to see this season?
As a whole the second season has so much more significance and is more entertaining than the first season. It’s sexier and I think people are going to relate to it on levels that have nothing to do with just my character or Brian’s character. There are more characters from different ethnic backgrounds at different places in their lives that anybody could relate to. Cudi is in it a lot more this season. In the first season we didn’t utilize him. This season you’re going to know his name when it’s over.
What about your character Cam? Does he finally settle down a bit this season?
He does. He finally found somebody who keeps him on his toes. It’s a girl who is successful in the same business that he’s trying to be successful in, so you get to understand that dynamic when couples are in the same business — how does success shake up the relationship? Cam grows up a lot. He’s trying to get out of his grandmother’s apartment, but Crisp [the character’s fictional clothing line] isn’t paying that much so he has to find another hustle. But will it be legal? This season the stakes are raised.
The dynamic between Cam and Rene is hilarious. You and Luis Guzman have such a great rapport. What’s it like working with such a seasoned actor?
When Raising Victor Vargas came out, Luis was the first well-known actor to hit me up on my cell phone. He said, “I’m a big fan and I’d like to meet you.” So, we met and ever since then we’ve been mad tight. As a matter of fact, we already wanted Luis when the show first happened, but he wasn’t really sold on it in the beginning. It wasn’t until I called and begged him to do this that he came to do it.
Speaking of raised stakes, what was it like doing ER after so many independent film roles?
Well, it was cool alone being able to tell my mom she doesn’t have to take like a cab or maybe like 3 buses to get to like the nearest indie movie theater. She could see it, like, from the comforts of her home. [Laughs]. It was also a challenge because it was my first TV shoot and I was working with some major actors. We’re talking about people that have been in the game for years. The season I was on Angela Bassett was there, so I got to work with her, which was a great experience to watch her do her thing. She’s a beast. I learned so much and in one night ten times more people saw me than in any of my movies.
What motivated you to get into acting in the first place?
I saw John Leguizamo in his one-man show, Freak. It was one of those things for public school kids where they give discounted tickets to shows. So I saw it on a school field trip and I said, “Man I want to make people feel the way he made me feel.”
Well, you’ve definitely accomplished a lot in such a short period. What’s next for you?
I just finished doing a film with Robert De Niro and Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine). It’s called Welcome to Suck City. Robert De Niro plays an alcoholic who become homeless and finds himself living in a shelter where his estranged son works. I play a director at the shelter.
Catch the season two premiere of How To Make It In America this Sunday, October 2, at 10:30pm on HBO.
(Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)