POPULAR GUY: BENJAMIN LEVY AGUILAR
Oct 19, 2020
FOX’s Filthy Rich can be described in three words: Religion, Power, and Wealth.
With Eugene Monreaux seemingly out of the picture (we’re trying not to give spoilers here), all of his half children Jason Conley, Ginger Sweet, and Antonio Rivera, played by Benjamin Levy Aguilar, are in for a treat. An established fighter who grew up in a small family, not too far from Benjamin’s own reality, Antonio Rivera is a single father working to provide comfort and security for his future. An exemplary soccer player trained in Krav Maga, tactical shooting, and defensive driving, it can sometimes seem like the actor lived many lives before turning to Hollywood at the age of 18 on the advice of his mother.
Similar to the way you fall in love with characters, Popular TV fell in love with Benjamin Levy Aguilar through talks about his new character, previous training, and most prized possessions. Keep reading to find out more about this young actor.
Congratulations on Filthy Rich! What can you tell me about Antonio Rivera?
I think he’s a very interesting character. Well, one in the sense of comparing himself to the other illegitimate kids. He comes in with a different mentality because obviously he’s there for the money but there’s also this aspect of family that he’s really interested in because he’s never had such a comfortable place or a safe place and he has a child to take care of unlike the other two kids. He’s trying to find a place where maybe he can give his son some security that he never really had when he was growing up. There’s also this interesting dynamic with him being a fighter growing up in a very tough environment but also being so sensitive and soft-spoken, and then the having that other kind of personality that comes out on the mat when he lets everything out and finds his power like he’s been taught to.
In pursuit of comfortability for his son, how far do you think he’s willing to go?
Oh, all in. Absolutely all in, especially because he has a mother that has taught him to do that. She basically molded him into being this fighter because in a way he’s like her meal ticket. He’s a very talented fighter and she knows that she has something special with him. Not to say she doesn’t love him, but she also has her own things and I think that she just really, truly wants the best for him, even though sometimes he doesn’t think that’s true.
What was the hardest part about exploring this character for you?
I think in a way, he’s very similar to me. Actually very similar. I’m the same person, but sometimes it’s hard, it’s hard to play someone very similar to you because there’s no separation. It’s also scary because then everything’s coming from a very real place instead of being able to play more of a character where it’s different than you and you know that it’s different than the choices that you make and the way he is. So I think that’s actually been the challenge is to allow myself to go into my own life to find the way he is.
I also realized that this show has this very soap opera, exaggerated style of personality. How do you bring a character like Antonio who’s living in this world to reality? How do you bring a realness to someone like that?
That’s such a good question. I think that it’s definitely about staying grounded in that sense in where does his pain really come from. No matter what is going on in the outside of the story and all the humor and stuff. I think also with Antonio’s stories specifically, it’s a very all heart type of story, and as long as I can find what is driving him on a day-to-day basis and what his deepest fears are and what does he want out of life? Obviously taking care of his little boy, but also what does he want selfishly because we all want selfish things at the end of the day, right?
I think he wants to feel special and he wants to feel loved and he wants to feel significant and as long as I would keep reminding myself of that, I think that it allowed me to come from a very grounded place.
How does this crazy family dynamic relate to your own?
I come from a very small family. I grew up with my mom and my older brother, so it’s definitely very similar to Antonio’s family, which is literally just his mom and his little boy. Now if I compare it to the whole Monreauxs, I guess there is this very similar aspect that is realized.
He’s a boxer and I know that you have a background in Krav Maga, a black belt, and have tactical shooting training. What was it like taking that into this character of being a boxer? What part of you did you get to see in that?
Well with Krav Maga, because it’s not a sport per se, it’s a self-defense and the number one goal is to make the maximum amount of damage in the least amount of time possible. It’s very aggressive because it’s survival, right? There’s no trophy at the end except for your life. So I think that I have learned how to access aggression at a very strong level throughout my childhood with that. So I think that, that always helps me in my acting and in my characters because it comes from a very easy, very accessible and very real place and I think that it gives Antonio this double personality type of thing. That he can actually be very sweet because I think that I am very sweet as a person but then him to access that. So, I think that emotionally, definitely his aggression has come from my experience in Krav Maga.
Is there a specific training that you would want to do for a project?
I was actually having the whole cast come after long days of shooting to my home in New Orleans to watch UFC fights with me because I was so obsessed and now, I know everything about every fighter. I’ve read up on them and everything. I think that I would love to do is to be able to actually use my Krav Maga in a character. So whether that’s some sort of soldier or some sort of CIA or you know Taken?
I used to love watching Taken because when I’d see Liam Neeson do all this stuff he does, that’s Krav Maga. Everything he’s doing is Krav Maga. I know how to do it. I wish that I could. Hopefully at some point, I can go to something more like maybe an action type of story or a good drama that involves my actual skills in Krav Maga or shooting. That would be great.
What made you go into acting?
I think it was from not knowing what I wanted to do with my life because I played soccer for a long time. I played and then I did martial arts. Really, I think it was a very naive challenge that I wanted to do. Like an adventure. I just didn’t know there was such a thing as acting, I didn’t know that there were acting classes. I didn’t know that when actors are… I know it sounds so stupid, I totally regret saying this but it’s just the truth. I had never thought of acting. So, when I would see movies, I would love what I would feel in my heart, but I didn’t know there was a writer behind the words.
I heard those stories. People go with 500 bucks in their beat up car and they just get there and then become actors. So I was like, “That sounds really fun.” But then when I came here, I understood that, “Wow, this is a craft.” And I would see these very powerful men that I would admire in class break down and show their heart in a way that I have never seen. And I was like, “That is very respectable.” And I think that’s when I got hooked.
Is there anything from your training that you see helps you in everyday life?
In the sense of life, it gives you a lot of a different type of confidence, a very specific type of confidence because it is grounded in I know how to defend myself but I also know that I am nothing because I can be a black belt that there’s always going to be someone better than me. That gives you some sort of humility as well, and in a sense of the craft, it allows you to express yourself with your body and to move in different ways and you start finding some power in that which I found very helpful with that.
What about your training as an actor?
Well one, I think that my first teacher, Anthony Gilardi, he said everyone has a story and what’s your pain, what is your deepest pain? He had so much respect for stories and for human behavior and for what makes us who we are, what’s the pain that really drives us. And that I think that going into different characters with him, even though it was in class, I would be doing them like they were $200 million budget sets and going all in and it allowed me to really understand that there’s so many different points of view and that everyone has a story and no matter what they’re portraying and their big smile behind their face. So, I think that’s what I get in acting out of life is to just be more empathetic to people.
As someone from Guatemala, especially because Latinx Heritage Month just passed, what kind of roles would you want to see shine a light on your culture or any stories from it that you would want to see?
Anything that is not the stereotypical story I would be so interested. That’s why I always admire Oscar Isaac. He’s always going into these roles that have nothing to do with him being Latin. They’re just normal people. I would love to be part of a romantic comedy that has nothing to do with me being Latin but I’m just Latin because I am. I have always been a fan of the underdog story. For me, doing this role is so close to home because I feel like an underdog and all the movies that I’ve always loved are that of an underdog like Cinderella Man or Rocky, or all of those beautiful stories. But I would also love to see more maybe just aspirational stories in different ways for Latinos. And I personally, I would love to play Batman one day as a Latin and doesn’t even have to be the first Latin Batman, just Batman because it’s Batman.
Just finding different ways to expand people’s minds into how diverse we are as a Latin culture because there are so many different types of Latins. I am Jewish and I’m Latin and some people maybe don’t know and fair enough. So, it’s important for us to tell those stories so that people know that there are so many different types of Latino.
What were the biggest differences that you saw when you eventually moved here and made that shift?
It’s very interesting because I was Jewish in a country where there is only 800 Jews. I always felt excluded in a way because my culture is also different than a Latin culture that is not Jewish per se. So in that sense, I felt a little bit different. But also, I always felt that Latin was the normal because I grew up in Latin America and then I come into the US and it was the first time that I’m like described as a minority, for example. And I’m like, “That is so interesting because in my country, I’m not a minority I’m just who I am and here I’m a minority.” And even the way people would describe me to other people, it took some time for me to adjust and understand how the people here perceived me, if that makes sense?
Is there another part of the industry that you think you’d want to explore?
You know, during this pandemic, I actually did start doing therapy and there’s a lot of things that I think everyone is broken in some way and we’re all healing in different parts of ourselves. And this has been a very productive time for me because I’ve been able to dig deep into my past traumas and understand what makes me who I am and all the things that maybe I just brushed stuff because yeah, growing up where I grew up, you don’t cry about your problems and you don’t feel this, you don’t feel that. You jus go with it, man up. And now I’m in a more sensitive career and journey. I’m like, “Oh, I get to feel. That’s cool.” So I started writing and it’s been so therapeutic. So I think that I would love to continue that and see where that takes me.
What is something that you’re looking forward to in your career?
I want to work consistently with good people. I definitely think that movies can change lives, absolutely. But I think in a more personal, more selfish aspect, I want to be able to find out more about myself the more opportunities I have to play very just beautiful characters. So I just want to be a part of something big.
Is there a character or movie or show that really had an impact on you?
I grew up watching Rocky and it’s such a beautiful love story, really of two very awkward people. And The way that he went on for his dream, I think that always connected with me and I always felt that, that was a possibility. Another movie that really impacted me was Scent of A Woman. That’s one of my favorite movies. And I’m trying to think because I know that once I hang up, I’m going to be like, “Ah, that was the one.” Cinderella man is one of my favorite movies.
You know which one really impacted me? Goodwill hunting. That is probably my favorite movie of all time. Yeah, that really put a lot of things into perspective for me in the sense of one, the fear of abandonment that he has and how he’s able to overcome, so I always connected to that. And I think that his courage to let go of everything to find love and what makes him happy. I always carry that. Maybe I’ve watched that movie more than any other movie.
Last Question: What is your most prized possession?
I guess my diplomas from when I won MVP because I was recruited to go to Italy. That was a big moment for me because I was going against maybe 1000s of kids in Guatemala that all wanted the same thing and it was the first time that I realized that I could be great at something if I put the work in. So I keep that with me all the time. And I have also this stuffed animal that my dad gave me that he actually had in his backpack when he passed away and he said he was always going to keep that with him and it was there the day he died. So I always keep that, those two things with me.
Keep up with the star in the making on Instagram @benjaminlevyaguilar and catch him as Antonio Rivera on FOX’s Filthy Rich on Monday nights.
- Photographer Chris Labadie @chrislabadie