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Monday, January 31, 2005

Man of action Fabian Carrillo has been kicking at the door for
years to bring a Latin action hero to the silver screen.

, The Orange County Register

Fabian Carrillo made up his mind about a decade ago: He wanted to be the first big-screen Latin action hero.

So he went into a producer's Beverly Hills office, walked past the secretary and pushed open the door.

"Make me a star," Carrillo said.

"You mean you want to be an actor?" the producer asked.

"No, I want to be a star."

Immediately, laughter filled the room.

But Carrillo was determined to use his background in business and martial arts to become famous. He set out on a 10-year journey to make a movie. Along the way there were frustrations and lessons about the movie industry, experiences that Carrillo says made him more knowledgeable and stronger.

Now the San Juan Capistrano resident, a former executive in the health-insurance industry, is banking that a decade's worth of networking, hard work and hard-learned lessons will lead him to stardom.

After years of bit parts, he took a big step toward his dream with his starring role in "Latin Dragon," released directly to the home video market in September. The $2 million movie, co-produced and co-written by Carrillo and also starring Lorenzo Lamas, Gary Busey and Pepe Serna, is about a war veteran working as an undercover agent for the government whoreturns to his native East Los Angeles.

"Latin Dragon" has sold about 40,000 copies so far and recently debuted as a pay-per view movie through Time Warner Cable.

For Carrillo, who graduated from the State University of New York in Albany with dual degrees in marketing and Spanish, making and starring in "Latin Dragon" was only the start. The Ecuadorian- born Bronx-raised actor, who holds a fifth-degree black belt in karate, plans to star in two more films this year. He's also in talks to appear on a television program.

In the past few years he's stopped working in health-care insurance to focus on acting and spending time with family. If the celebrity life doesn't work out, Carrillo said, he'll go back to being an executive making a healthy six-figure salary. In addition, he's an investor in a marketing technology company and a benefits consulting firm in Laguna Hills.

"The truth is that this (entertainment) business is brutal," said Carrillo, who will only say that he's in his mid-30s. "I tell acting students to study something else that will give them some financial stability. They don't have to suffer. They can study acting at night, especially in California when you have the best acting schools in the world."

Historically there have never been any major Latin action heroes in English-language cinema. Typically, martial-arts stars have been Asian, such as Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan, or white, like Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme.

A tongue-in-cheek Latin action hero emerged in the late 1990s in a film shown at the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. The "Harry Knuckles" movie, directed by Lee Demarbre of Canada, featured actor Phil Caracas, a real- life movie theater manager, in a hybrid genre movie described as a "kung fu-action-comedy-horror musical."

"A Latin action movie hero would certainly work in an underground level," said Demarbre, whose films are featured on "It remains to be seen what happens on the mainstream level, but I'm hopeful."

Raised on the mean streets

Carrillo's upbringing could easily be made into a movie, too. It's a story about a 3-year-old who moved with his family to the United States from Ecuador for a better life.

They lived in Florida, then California. Once his parents divorced, his mom moved her children to New York, where she worked as a seamstress. Her son was inevitably exposed to neighborhood gangs and violence.

Because Carrillo knew the neighborhood kids were tough, he decided to take karate training when he was 8. Gang members regularly challenged him to fights, which he tried to avoid.

"One day I got tired of running," Carrillo said. "There were three guys and I kicked their butts. The next day 20 of them showed up."

His mother encouraged her son to stand up for himself, even if that meant fighting. Carrillo eventually was made a member of the gang, which he stuck with for three months before quitting. Still, he had proved his toughness and the gang members never bothered him again. After that, he could walk home.

hard-charging role model

Carrillo could have easily gone in the wrong direction as a young man. These days he speaks to youth and other organizations about his life and ambitions for a movie career.

"He's a very family-oriented guy," said David Dye, Carrillo's martial-arts trainer in Costa Mesa. "He has two beautiful children and a lovely wife. His family comes first."

Since the release of "Latin Dragon," Carrillo has been fielding calls for more films, scripts and TV interviews.

One story Carrillo likes to tell in interviews is about the time he was making "Latin Dragon." He injured himself on the first day of filming, tearing the main tendon in his leg.

The pain was extreme and the production was likely going to shut down. As Carrillo walked back to his trailer, he recalled, somebody told him a child wanted his autograph. As he walked over to see a young boy in a wheelchair, a quadriplegic, something clicked. Suddenly, making the film was the only choice.

"How could I not complete the film?" Carrillo said. "I was collapsing, but when your will is there, it's amazing what you can do."

The production's staff was surprised to see Carrillo make the film, which required action sequences. Eventually he had surgery to repair the injury.

"He's kicked me a couple of times," said Howard Caldwell, Carrillo's acting coach, chuckling. "He used to be a body builder so he has a lot of power."

Filmmaker Art Camacho, who will work with Carrillo on his next film, celebrates the actor's Latin action-hero approach, but he's cautious about making broad, sweeping statements.

Camacho wants to see action heroes that happen to be Latin. That way stories can be universal and the ethnic background secondary, but still prominent.

"When you think of Arnold Schwarzenegger you don't think Austrian action hero," Camacho said. "These characters shouldn't be defined by their race."

Carrillo agrees. He wants to tackle roles that have nothing to do with the martial arts so he can show his versatility as an actor. He also wants to inspire others.

"I want to be able to open doors for young people," Carrillo said. "I'd like them to know they can dream and make it. They don't have to give up. It doesn't matter where you come from or what color you are. Just dream."

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