As I walked into the room, instantly spotting Ismael Cruz Cordova and his awesome hair, I knew I was in for a treat. Little did I know I would leave there inspired and so honored to have him represent the Latino community on the 44th season of “Sesame Street.” He is exactly what his character “Armando” represents. A person with a sense of expression that is priceless. He is energetic yet calm and cool, and radiates peace all at the same time.
Born and raised in rural Puerto Rico, the 26-year-old told me all about growing up and experiencing theater in high school, with the experience of being on stage captivating him for life. He felt more heard and empowered than he had ever felt before. He also spoke of being an athlete and how his initial vision was very far from anything related to the arts.
Coming from a socioeconomic status where at times it was tough to make it, he couldn’t be happier to have a voice, be able to express himself and honor Latinos by representing them on “Sesame Street.”
On the morning I interviewed Ismael, he had been awake since 5 a.m. for his interview on “Despierta America,” so I did my best to keep him from yawning. His love and passion for acting and the arts as a whole made it so that we could barely stop talking.
Check out my Q&A with the charismatic Boricua!
Q&A with Ismael Cruz Cordova of ‘Sesame Street’
Q: How did you first get into acting and realize that this is what you were meant to do?
A: I always wrote poetry because I was very shy growing up. I would draw also, so I had that self-expression, but it was very contained. The poetry wasn’t something that I had really defined as a goal for my life. I wanted to be the result of the quintessential goal that your family has, be a doctor, a lawyer and when you’re the first generation to go to college in your family they have these careers in mind and you just accept it.
So being an athlete and I knew I was going to get a scholarship and initially wanted to study pediatrics. But everything changed the first time I went to a drama meeting. It changed my whole perspective. It’s just that moment, it’s beyond words. It’s this feeling of empowerment. In that moment you matter. I get emotional because the fact that I can say something and people will listen? That’s awesome. For me, I was taught that things like better education, visibility and subjectivity were for special people, wealthy people, in my eyes. The arts made me realize that they all sustain you regardless of where you come from or what you have. As cliche as it sounds, it makes you realize that there is so much potential inside everybody.
Q: How proud are you to be able to represent Latinos in the 44th season of “Sesame Street”?
A: I honestly still haven’t found the words to describe how important I think this is and how it feels and my body just wants to react with tears. It’s epic, it’s monumental and it is a huge deal for the American community in general, not just Latinos. It’s a big honor, a great responsibility and I just feel like my family has grown with all the support I am getting.
Q: How did you end up at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts?
A: After high school, I applied to 13 schools but they all required me to travel to come to audition and I didn’t have the money to do that, so I basically received 13 letters of “que pena, bye.” That same year though, I won a big scholarship in Puerto Rico and it included $1000 and two tickets round trip to wherever. I knew when I won that I was going to use it to audition for NYU. The next year I used that for my audition and got in as a transfer student.
Q: Tell me about “Armando” and who he is.
A: Armando, Mando, is a very energetic, vibrant, smart but at the same time relaxed and cool writer. He loves to write anything, poetry, short films, songs and he’s all about expressing himself with what you have. He also welcomes technology, like the fact that you can make a short film from your phone. You can be your own master of expression regardless of who you are or where you come from.
Q: If you could work with any actor who would it be?
A: Ah what a tough question, don’t do this to me! If I had to narrow it down, it would probably be Zoe Saldaña, Benicio del Toro, and Gael Garcia Bernal. Oh yeah, and Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett and Tom Hanks.
Representing the diversity of Latinos
After graduating from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts in 2009, Ismael had to strive to make it and wasn’t going to give up. Managing about five jobs all at the same time, he was also working on his professional acting career and had the fortunate chance of landing a one-day guest star appearance on the well-known show “The Good Wife.”
The non-Hispanic character Ismael set out to play ended up being so liked that he was written into the show for more than just a guest appearance. Then later on he heard about the “Sesame Street” open casting call back in August 2012 and after about four call backs he was chosen to portray “Armando.”
Ismael Cruz Cordova will be able to bring awareness to the diversity of Latino people as a whole. “I represent a sector of the population that many times doesn’t get visibility. I also have a very big mix physically, which will bring awareness to the fact that Latinos are so diverse. Like for example, you don’t look like me but we’re still both Latinos,” Cordova said.
As far as his future, he is thrilled to be a part of “Sesame Street” and this is only the beginning. Apart from his debut on the show airing in September, Ismael will also be appearing in his first Hollywood film called “In The Blood” this fall. Stay updated with Ismael’s next step by following him on Twitter!
Originally published in VOXXI as ‘Sesame Street's' Ismael Cruz Cordova: Latino With A Voice To Be Heard