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For most 21-year-olds it seems like everything there is to accomplish in life is entirely ahead of them. For Diego Tinoco, however, many of his biggest dreams have already come true. Thanks to his incredible family, his brilliant work ethic, and his towering motivation, Diego is quite literally on top of the world. His hit Netflix series, On My Block, is one of the network’s highest-watched and most critically acclaimed. Now with season two right around the corner, what better time to have Diego on the cover of our latest issue.

“It’s felt so surreal,” Diego tells us when describing his 2-year meteoric rise to fame since he moved to Los Angeles from Riverside, California. “When I first got the role on On My Block and had to start going to set, I couldn’t sleep–it felt so much like Christmas. You feel nervous, it’s your first big job, and it felt like a dream come true.” It might seem like overnight success, but Diego was busy working in the acting trenches for quite some time. “I’ve been acting since I was 16 though, and had to miss a lot of school, but by the time I was 18 I graduated with all my credits and on time, so I knew I had to move to L.A. and get a job and go to more auditions, but I had no idea it would take only seven months.”

It’s not everyday a series as critically acclaimed as On My Block comes along, and Diego knew it when he read the scripts for the first time. “When I first got the script I took it to my acting coach Aaron Speiser, who has taught Will Smith, Gerard Butler, and others, and when he read it he told me he would never lie to me–he said it was a great script and had the potential to blow up really big. I felt the same way but I had no idea it would blow up the way it did. It’s been great to see the show get the response it’s gotten.”

And what a response indeed. Diego’s performance earned him the Horizon Award for Outstanding Newcomer at the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts gala in Washington, DC. But it’s one encounter he had with a fan that was so profound he will cherish the memory for his entire life. “I was at the orthodontist and I had a moment with a kid who came up to me,” Diego tells us. “He said, ‘I just wanted to say that you are literally the biggest influence in my life. My brothers were in gangs, and I was on the verge of not going to college, and when I watched your show it was a wakeup call. I realized I needed to get out of this whole life and routine, and start having more grand plans for my life.’ I never thought I would have had an experience like that in my entire life.”

So what’s the secret sauce of a hit show like On My Block? “I think the audience is really connecting with the show’s truthfulness of growing up at that age in those circumstances,” Diego says. “It shows every aspect of life: love, loss, tragedy, friendship, adventure, and more. As human beings we all go through these things, and even though we all experience unfortunate moments in our lives we don’t have to stay in them forever. There’s always a way to get out, especially if you have your three best friends with you.”

When the show premiered it changed Diego’s life overnight. He was gaining upwards of 60,000 followers each day on Instagram, and he told us one story of how much he underestimated the power of such a huge fanbase in those early days. One evening his good friend Blondy Baruti was at Barnes & Noble at the Grove promoting a book he had written and Diego wanted to share news of the meet-and-greet with this fans. “It was two or three months after the show came out, and I had no idea the influence it had. So I tweeted about the event, saying, ‘Hey everybody, I’ll be at the Grove so come on out for a good time and let’s hang out. I thought maybe 10 or 20 people would show up, but we ended up getting a whole storm of people–maybe 300 or 400 girls showed up. And you couldn’t get into the meet-and-greet without buying the book, so all those girls bought the book!”

It’s that kind of passion that sent the show’s fans into a frenzy when On My Block made the final list of nominees for this year’s Best Breakout Show at the Teen Choice Awards. Needless to say, the show won and when Diego and his co-stars hit the stage to accept the award it was another surreal moment for the rising star. “It was so insane. I never would have thought I’d be in that position. You’re standing in front of Zac Efron, Chris Pratt, the Riverdale kids, and the Stranger Things kids.” He adds, “You just hope you don’t do anything crazy on stage, or pass out mid-sentence. It felt really great though, especially because it means our fans connect with the show so much.”

But Diego’s Hollywood dream does not end with On My Block. His greatest ambition is to model his career after the actor he looks up to the most. “I really admire Leonardo DiCaprio because of the roles and projects he’s chosen, and the way he presents himself. He studies his lines like crazy, he’s word-for-word for the dialogue, and if he’s not running a scene onscreen, he’s running it off-screen because he practices so intensely and is always in a state of getting better at what he does. Plus he’s an environmentalist and cares about the planet. I really admire him.”

In his newfound position as a TV star, naturally Diego is meeting countless movers and shakers, and he treasures those encounters. “I want to make the best of all my relationships in the business. I’m always nice to everybody, but for instance, you never know who you might meet who will be a director some day. And if I’m having a bad day I will never take it out on somebody. I try to treat everybody like my brother, my best friend, or my mom and dad. My ultimate dream is to book a superhero role, and also to say happy, healthy and strong.”

With Christmas and New Year’s right around the corner we wanted to ask him what his plans were. “This whole month I’m going to be back in Corona with my family, my dogs, my friends, watch a lot of Christmas movies, workout, get my ideas straight and my mind straight. I’d also like to write a play, and when I’m in between projects I’d like to put it on stage with my friends and co-stars. I’d also love to make some music with my brother.”

Photography: Arthur Galvao
Creative Direction: Alek and Steph
Styling: Shalev Lav’an
Grooming: Rachel Burney
Interview: Brent Lambert