Since the early 1980s, Miguel A. Nunez, Jr. has been hard at work breaking down barriers and carving out his own unique career in Hollywood. With roles in cult classics like “Return of the Living Dead” and “Friday The 13th Part V: A New Beginning” to award-winning roles in dramas like CBS’s war drama, “Tour of Duty” and comedies like “Juwanna Mann” and his own series “Sparks,” he has continued to test himself creatively at every turn. His journey has been challenging and anything but conventional, yet he continues to defy the odds. Through it all he’s remained passionate about his craft, dedicated to every project he takes on, and laser-focused when it comes to his goals. Most importantly, he is living proof that dreams do come true! Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with the iconic actor to discuss his inspiring story. In this interview Miguel offers an inside look at his stuggles as a young actor, his triumphs along the way, and what he has in store for fans in both the long and short term.
You’re a familiar face on television and film. How did the journey begin?
Ever since I could speak, I was saying that I was going to be an actor. My mom told me that when I was 3 or 4 years old, she spanked me, and I said, “When I become a movie star, I’m not going to buy you nothin’!” [laughs] Acting is all I’ve ever wanted to do since I was born! I absolutely, 100%, without a doubt knew it from 3 or 4 years old that I would be where I am today. I grew up in a small town in North Carolina and I would tell anyone who would listen that I was going to Hollywood to be in TV and movies. They all told me I was crazy! There was no doubt about it, I always knew it! Every single person in my entire life told me it was impossible. Not one single person ever said to me, “Go for it! You can do it!” Everybody told me I was just a little black man living in North Carolina, tall, skinny and black, so it was impossible. They told me there were thousands of actors in the world with agents, managers, college and acting schools, so how was it possible for my poor little black ass in the middle of nowhere to do it. Despite all that, I kept telling everybody, “I don’t know how it’s going to happen, I just know it is going to happen. I promise you!” I said that every day of my life. From the first grade to the 12th grade my nickname was “Hollywood Nune,” which was short for Nunez. I had a jean jacket with “Hollywood” written on the back of it! It was all I ever said I was going to do.
As soon as I graduated, I made three bologna sandwiches, wrote a note and ran away from home to Hollywood. I graduated and four months later I was on that bus. I didn’t have any money, relatives or nothing! I never once thought about what I was going to do when I got here, other than knowing I was going to become a star. Lo and behold, when I got here it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. I thought you had to be an actor to get into Hollywood because the man at the bus station said I couldn’t get a ticket to Hollywood. What I didn’t know at the time was that I was at a Trailways station and Trailways always went downtown and Greyhound went to Hollywood. That led me to spending too much time in downtown Los Angeles, which is the worst part of the city. I ate out of the trash, I slept behind the bus station, would wake up with lice on me and I’d have to go to the mission to get sprayed and I’d go weeks without eating. Even through all of that, I was 100% damn sure I was going to do what I set out to do! I used to sell my blood plasma to eat! You’d get $7 and if you did it twice in the same week, you’d get $14 the second time! I would sleep in movie theaters. I would get attacked by people and pull out knives. People don’t know about a lot of that stuff but, again, even living on the streets of L.A., there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to be successful. I didn’t need anyone to believe in my but me. If you put it in your mind that you’re going to be successful, there is nothing that can stop you!
That’s incredible! When did things break for you as an actor?
What happened was that one day I was on a bus and some guy was doing his lines and studying. I was like, “What are you doing?” He said, “I’m an actor. I’m going to an audition.” I said, “I want to be an actor! That’s what I came here for.” He said he was getting ready to go on a cattle call, which is where anybody can audition. He had some papers with him and I said, “So what is that?” He said, “That’s a resume. Take it. You’re going to need a resume and a headshot to get started.” When he got off, I saw there were all these people in the park with cameras. I got off at the next stop, went into a copy place, whited his name out and put my name on his resume. I walked back to the park and got in line. I ended up getting the lead in that commercial! I told the guy I didn’t have an agent, so he took me to his agency and his agent signed me. He said, “You can have all that money.” I didn’t even know how much it was at the time, I was still homeless, but it was a lot. I said, “I want you to send me on more of those cattle things!” He said, “Oh, auditions? OK.” That’s when he signed me. I think the next 50 auditions he sent me on, I got 47 of them. That was back in 1980.
You made the jump to movies and television. At what point did you come into your own as an actor?
In 1987, I was in a series on CBS called “Tour of Duty,” which was a hit show, so I felt I had definitely made it then. However, before that, when I finally got a place to stay was the moment I felt I was on my way to becoming a star. I got it because I was on welfare and there was a hotel where you sign a voucher and get three meals a day at a restaurant. I can’t remember what they called the program, but I called it welfare at the time. Once I did that, I felt I was on my way. I didn’t know all the stuff that other people knew. To be honest, I didn’t know what to think. The only thing going through my head was that every day I was getting closer; even though I wasn’t but that’s what I thought at the time. I’ve always been in it for a career. I didn’t want to get in, blow up, become this huge star and then fall off like everybody else. All I wanted to do was make this a career and I have been blessed to be able to do that!
You are part of a new series on UMC called “Bronx SIU.” How did it come onto your radar and what made you want to be a part of it?
Someone sent me the script and told me about the show. I was excited because I love to play all types of different roles. I mean, I’ve played a woman, a bad guy, a lawyer, a killer, a cop and everything in between. That is the joy of this business; being able to play all these roles. This character was something so different from what I have done in the past. The script was good, and I loved all the different offbeat ways they had us doing it. When they offered me the role of The Captain, I said, “Yeah! I definitely want to be a part of this!” The script was good, the cast was good and the stories were interesting. That’s the thing about this series, you never know where the stories are going to go! Those are all things I really like!
What is your process for bringing a new character to life?
First you have to dissect the script and find out who your character is at every state of the movie or show because you don’t always shoot in order. Here’s a tip for other actors — it’s just as important to know what you don’t know as it is to know what you do know. What happens is most actors read the entire script. Then they will give them the scenes for the next day and they will study those scenes. So, for example, they already know that in the end if they break up or if he gets her back. If you know you’re gonna get the girl back or lose her, you are going to play it a different way. What I do is, whatever scenes I get in the script, I will read only from the beginning to the part we are doing the next day. The next day, I will read from the beginning to only up until the next part. That way I can keep in my mind only the things I do know and not past that point and the things I don’t know. I’ve just picked up all these little things along the way. It also depends on the role that I’m going to play. If I’m playing a police chief, I’m going to look at as many chief roles as I can possibly look, read up on what they do and look at the news. I want to see how they speak and how the other people act around them. You always do your research and you never try to wing it!
This series has a great cast. What do these other people bring out in you creatively?
They don’t bring out anything in me; I go and bring it out in myself and I hope that they can keep up! [laughs] I don’t expect anything out of it. I’m going to bring it and if you aren’t bringing it I’m going to make it look like you’re bringing it! I’m going to be bringing it so tough that they are going to say, “That was a hell of a scene!” [laughs] But, if you are bringing and I’m bringing it, it’s just going to make it better!
Your resume grows more eclectic with each passing year. What do you look for in the roles you take on? Has your approach changed as a seasoned veteran as opposed to a young actor just starting out?
You know what’s weird? It hasn’t changed one single bit. In the beginning, all I wanted to do was good projects and do a good job with everything I did. That’s the same principle I live by right now! Listen, I was just talking about this the other day. I do private teaching, and someone said to me, “I don’t know if I want that role because it’s too little.” I said, “Let me explain something to you. I have gotten major films from one scene in a TV show. I’ve gotten a TV series from one scene in a movie. I’ve been in at least five or six movies where I had a very minor role and there was another black actor in there who was a lead. When you leave the theater, everybody was talking about the one scene. The lead actor had 100 scenes, but everybody was talking about my one scene.” It’s like one of the old greats said, “There are no little parts only little actors.” It doesn’t matter what or how much you have in a movie; it all depends on the job you do in that particular role. You could do one scene and some producer or director might say, “Wow! That guy was good!” Further down the road, they might say, “Hey, remember that guy who did that movie … ” That’s how it happens!
You have a positive attitude and outlook. Where do you look for inspiration?
I look for inspiration with the Bible and spirituality. That is 100% key! I don’t care if you’re Christian, Buddhist or whatever it is! You want to try to get everything right and do right, even if you don’t succeed all the time. If you’re seriously trying, I can guarantee that everything you set out to do is going to succeed.
What are the biggest challenges you faced over the course of your career?
Honestly, I think the biggest challenges I faced were myself. When I was on top, I was doing it, but I started partying too much. I think the biggest challenge any actor is going to face is himself and his own discipline. It doesn’t matter how much money you make in this business, it’s how much you save. There’re actors who made millions and millions of dollars but end up broke. You see it all the time!
Which of your past projects impacted you the most?
The one that had the biggest impact on my life was “SPARKS.” That was a TV show that I was on with Terrence Howard, James Avery and Robin Givens. It was only UPN Network and I was the lead in this series. Honestly, I think that show got me more stuff after that than any other project. That was because I was able to show more versatility. I got to do everything that I love to do, and it showed off everything that I can do. I definitely think that one did the most.
What are the keys to longevity in the entertainment industry?
The keys are never giving up, never taking no for an answer and not expecting or looking for anyone to help you do anything for yourself. I’ve had two TV shows that I sold! These are network shows that got a whole season on a network. I was told by everybody, “Ain’t nobody gonna buy a show from you! You ain’t nobody! You’ve got to know this person or do that.” Again, everything people told me I couldn’t do, I found a way to do! So, never take no for answer. Be your biggest supporter and your biggest backer. Don’t let anyone come in and tell you that you can’t do something just because they couldn’t figure out a way to do it, period! You will absolutely, 100% succeed in anything that you do if you don’t take no for an answer. Like I said, I was homeless, living on the streets and eating out of the trash and I conquered the most incredibly difficult business that there is. Look at Oprah Winfrey, she’s not the most beautiful woman in the world, was overweight at one point and had the odds against her but she became the most successful talk show host in the world. How many people do you think told her that couldn’t happen? Look at Obama! How many people do you think told him he would never be president. Those are examples that there is nothing you can’t achieve. All this, “The white man this … ” or “The white man that … ,” those days are over! The only person that can stop you from succeeding is you! When you start compromising your morals or principles, that is going to come back to affect you later. If you lose something because you don’t want to compromise your morals, you didn’t really lose it. You only gained something and didn’t get something you are supposed to have in the first place. Never compromise your morals, stay true to yourself and keep pushing forward! I didn’t care if the front door was closed, I would go around the back. If the back door was closed, I’d look for the window. If the window was locked, I will wait till somebody came to open the door and sneak in behind them! I used to sneak into studios! I used to walk in when the security guard was checking other people’s IDs. I even put on construction worker clothes and walked through the gate and waved my hand at the guy as I was going through, just like I was working there. He would just wave me on! [laughs] A couple times I got kicked out, but I never took no for an answer! I knew I was going to get in there! That’s the thing, when somebody said no to me, I looked at it as a challenge! No never meant no to me and now I have achieved the results of not accepting no. I see so many people every day saying, “I wish I could do this … ” Why can’t you? Who says you can’t! Get out there and do it!
There is never a dull moment in your world! You have a unique story. Will you ever pen an autobiography?
That’s exactly what I’ve been doing! You have no clue! It will be the most mesmerizing book you’ve ever, ever read. Honestly, I could probably do a second book because coming up I was best friends with every major agent. The stuff I could tell you would blow your mind. I’m not the type of person to do something. If I was ever to be that type of person, the stories I could tell would amaze you. There’s nobody else on this planet that knows the stuff I know about as many A-listers as I do. It’s stuff that nobody on this planet would ever believe! But that’s not my book, that’s my second book! [laughs]
You have many creative years left. What does the future hold for you?
I’m currently shooting a project called “The Family Business,” which is by an incredible New York Times bestselling authors, Carl Weber. The books have sold more than 3.5 million copies; it’s a trilogy. It’s kind of like “Empire.” It’s about a very wealthy family that’s into murdering and anything it takes! We just shot the first film and are about to shoot the second one in New York. I’ve got “Bronx SIU” coming out and we’re gonna be doing a “Juwanna Man 2.” I can’t talk about the sequel too much because we’re still getting the story together and the rights. The studio owned the rights and sold them, so that’s what we’re working on right now, but Lionsgate has agreed to do it. We just need the right story and put it together because there is a huge following for it! I also have a huge TV show that we’re going to be shooting called “Singing with The Stars.” That’s what’s happening at the moment and I’m looking forward to all of that!
Thanks so much for your time today, Miguel! It’s been a pleasure and I’m sure we’ll cross paths again in the future. I wish you continued success!
Thanks so much, brother. God bless you and I appreciate you!
Follow the continuing adventures of Miguel A. Nunez, Jr. on social media via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Catch him on the premiere season of “Bronx SIU” on UMC (Urban Movie Channel) starting July 19th.