Taking time out at a pivotal career point takes courage. But for the Netflix’s El Ganador actor, the benefits are undeniable: a renewed awareness, clarity and the realisation of his own creative power. 

Gilluis Pérez has been riding a wave of creativity throughout his performances. His standout role a few years ago in El Ganador put him on the industry radar and brought a bit of fresh attention to his strengths as an actor. Outside of the Netflix hit series directed by Jessy Terrero, the 33-year-old continues to build on his existing screen appeal, with previous roles in his directing debut SIN FILO, the 50’ Cent produced series The Oath, The Least Worst Man, Revolt and as well as an appearance in ABC’s The Baker and The Beauty during pandemic. 

But by far his most recognisable role is that of El Ganador’s layered bad boy, Chino, the fiercely protective childhood friend of Cuti, played by Nestor Rodulfo. That year, in the peak of pandemic the show broke Netflix viewership records on its way to becoming one of the biggest Spanish speaking shows in TV history, amassing millions of hours of streaming, worldwide. It also helped turn Pérez into a popular young Puerto Rican actor; gaining thousands of followers on social media.  How do you see your journey after the success of a hit series at that time?  “El Ganador gave me the room to play in, it was an amazing show, where I had an unforgettable time. It was beautiful to see everyone shine from the all latino cast to the dedicated crew, specially telling an important story culturally for Puerto Rico. Even though it came out during lockdown, it was very satisfying seeing audiences reaction throughout social media for the work we put in this project.” What has changed since for you?  “Since then, I think I have gone through a little bit of a crisis of creativity, prompting me to take some time away from the screen. Which is a tough call for someone pinned as demand or an upcoming figure. You know, when you’re in a show like this which is an isolated project in terms of representation, so meaningful and so important. There’s so much expectation from yourself and your work, that I had to concentrate in other things for a bit. And I would say coming out from a project like that while academically finishing my Actors Studio MFA preparation, at the same time. It totally makes you feel the extremely overwhelmed about what you should be doing. When you’ve studied in The Actors Studionot only you feel that you’ve understood acting as a craft and human behavior at its core but you also leave feeling like you have a tough acts to follow, you know the Bradley Coopers, the Al Pacinos, etc… Again, all these career expectations and pressure we put ourselves just because we care. From all that to going into lockdown…It felt a little bit like a creative hole and I think undergoing through it helped me be more protective of my time for personal growth.” Speaking of time, Do you have an idea of when is the right moment for you to step back into acting?  “I’ve understood I’m not on anyone else’s time but my own, I’m not chasing any fame or any wealth or anything like that. It’s not why I got into the industry, and I don’t see this career as a race. It’s funny you ask about a come back and in a way I feel I haven’t left from anywhere. If you mean while on lockdown…well I’ve kept myself busy with other projects, I’ve participated in music videos, photoshoots and collaborations with journalists and brands, that helped me stay active and open. Also I moving back to my homeland, Puerto Rico which was a shift with an immense toll on my career and mental health. It was a lot on my hands. I’ve been here all along and busy.” Not that you haven’t kept yourself busy in the meantime, but what has busy meant to you? 

“I started my own company that has allowed me to fall in love with the process of creating from a different angle and use other knowledge and skills, that many people don’t associate me with. Like creative direction to advertising executions. I am also a designer, I went to Architecture school way before The Actors Studio Drama School. I’m creatively staying afloat. I have that duality and it’s something I kind of put aside while working on my craft as an actor. For me, my growth has been about the refinement of my craft and going through another outlet in artistry.“

Where do you see your fulfilment as an artist?  “Lately I’ve found fulfilment in writing, which has been mostly screenwriting and plays, an area that is constantly a work in progress since the last scripts I wrote were for my film Sin Filo and Juan Y Julia. Now more so than just the story, I’m interested in tapping into the emotional side of things… That’s where my love of movies comes from: emotion.” During lockdown and this time, do you think having stepping back had a positive or negative impact in you? 

“Both. What happened was inevitable, none of us had control over it. So besides doing not much, I felt the conscious re-evaluation and reinvention of myself as an artist. I’ve changed a lot in the sense of clarity of where I want to go. Specially the perception people have of me as an actor and the roles I’m seen on. I’ve done the guest-starring roles, the co-stars, recurring, I’ve done the day players and still I can’t control what society sees me as, and which box they want to put me in. But, I can make some shifts to that judgement and evolve within my craft. I’m not just the rookie cop number one, the bald latino tough guy or the friendly/awkward guy number two. I’m even way more than just my sexuality and appearance. I have so much more vulnerability, and depth to offer than some directors and casting directors think. I’ve always worked on awareness and I’ve proven myself that is my strength. If only I’d had the chance to portray that inner work more often. Other than that, my values are the same, but my priorities have changed in my work and in my personal life.”

What do you see ahead for yourself in this industry?  “Fundamentally I understand, in this industry you cannot plan anything. You can’t plan your next step because it’s so uncertain what’s going to happen next. All I’ve done and can do is accept the place I am, what I’ve done, where I’ve been and again, accept that this state of flux is just another aspect of my career as an artist.”

Pérez is adamant that he’s going into his next acting chapters with a refreshed outlook and cleared head. He believes he’s more confident in preparation for upcoming roles. Pérez has signed with a new representative agency in Puerto Rico, is set to appear in an independent horror, Jekka and is currently working on his third self-written and self-produced film. “I’ve gained a more mature awareness of approaching art and have great people around me, I feel good now,” he says. “I feel like I have my head above water.” 

Photographed by Felipe “Miguel” Manuel