CLEVELAND - His eyes burned with intensity as he stared into my face. He pointed his finger to within an inch of my nose and told me my life was in jeopardy because someone in the distance had me in his gunsight. "I want your life," growled the man who had me in his gaze with a deathly look.
It was almost real. ALMOST. Thank goodness we were just improvising.
It was a light moment in which an actor was giving a demonstration of how he gets into character. The man with the deep stare and the burning eyes was Kenny Santiago Marrero, who grew up in Lorain and is an actor sharpening his Hollywood chops for a film now in production just a few miles from his hometown.
Marrero, 35, plays a street-wise tough guy in "Criminal Activities," which will star Hollywood A-lister John Travolta. "It's an honor to be back here and be working on a production of this level," said Marrero, flashing a Hollywood smile. "It's exciting," he said with a laugh.
Marrero and I met in downtown Cleveland where we walked the streets he knew well from growing up in the vicinity. He had not filmed his part of the movie yet, but he was anxious to get into it. Other scenes of the movie are being filmed now. When Marrero is needed for his role as "Reynaldo," he will be sit through makeup, which will help transform the actor into a tough guy whose words will be peppered with profanity.
He said when he auditioned for the role of "Reynaldo," the movie and casting directors asked him to improvise with some tough street talk. "I went in a little thugged out," said Marrero, declining to recite what he said to get the part. He said he also made himself look the part.
Marrero admitted at the age of 17, he was in trouble with the law in Lorain. "I was lost for a long time and my best friends were all street guys," remembered Marrero. "They were guys that initially were involved in criminal activities," he said, telling his story and at the same time promoting the film where he will have a featured part.
Because of his activities in Lorain, he ended up in the juvenile justice system. It was there, with the help of his parents who operate a street ministry in Lorain, that he turned around his life. He graduated from a high school in the juvenile detention system and found his way to Lorain County Community College where he found his passion — acting.
"It struck a bug in me," he said recalling how he grew to love acting on stage and in front of whatever camera he could find. In California, he learned more of his craft at the San Francisco Academy of Arts. While on the West Coast, he met actress Diane Baker, who had made films from the 1960s. She helped him find his pace in life and in theater.
After about 100 films, most of them independent productions or short movies, he heard about "Criminal Activities" being filmed with a short distance from his ancestral home in Lorain. So he is back walking the streets of Northeast Ohio, but he is not running from the police or anyone else. He is running to the camera, ready for his close-up shots which the director will call.
When he utters his lines, they will be strong and piercing. He is playing a tough guy. Marrero has been bitten by the acting bug. The bite was deep and Marrero is loving every moment of it.