The American Dream. Many are familiar with the gritty tale of those in search of a better life through hard work, plain luck - or both. For Victor Rasuk, that dream is very familiar and always in progress. Born and raised in NYC’s Lower East Side neighborhood to Dominican parents, the 26-year-old actor is one of the stars of HBO’s hit series, “How to Make It in America.” Rasuk began acting as a teen when he appeared in NYU graduate student Peter Sollett’s 2000 short film Five Feet High and Rising. He also starred as the lead actor in Raising Victor Vargas, also directed by Sollett, several years later, which took Sundance by storm, and Rasuk’s acting career, along with it. Picture him with frayed golden locks and you can see him in 2005’s Lords of Dogtown. Rasuk also starred in Che: Part One, directed by Steven Soderbergh. Recently, nocheLatina had the chance to talk to Rasuk. He shares with us his stumble into stardom, his passion for helping inner-city youth, and ultimate goal in life.
nocheLatina: I understand you began acting at age 14 when you starred in Five Feet High and Rising. What was your experience like acting for the first time?
Victor Rasuk: You know, it’s a funny story. When I first did that short film, he (Sollett) kind of just found me. I didn’t really know what I was doing. He would ask me, ‘How would you do this Victor?’ and I’d say, ‘This is how I would do it’ and then he’d say ‘Action!’ That was kind of how it went. I didn’t even want to be an actor. I think at that point, I wanted to do something in law enforcement. If the acting thing didn’t work out, I would have been a teacher.
nocheLatina: Did you always know this is something you wanted to do?
Victor Rasuk: As I got older, I started becoming more serious about it. I’d see plays and I would be inspired without realizing it. I saw John Leguizamo’s Spic-o-Rama and that’s when I started really asking myself, ‘Could I do this?’ At that point, I was 16. From when I was 14 to 17 years old, Peter was already writing a movie called Raising Victor Vargas. I was a teenager getting into mischievous shit and by the time I was 17, I was enrolled in high school with Judy Marte and Melonie Diaz. We had already been a year into school when Pete came back with a script and said ‘I want you guys to do this.’ We had to fight for the roles.
nocheLatina: You eventually got the part and starred in Raising Victor Vargas, which was a huge hit at Sundance. What was it like being a part of such a successful independent film?
Victor Rasuk: For me, it was a huge learning experience when we shot the first film. Now, I was 17 and was taking notes as we made this movie. By no means did we think that it would become what it became - we just thought, ‘Oh, it’ll be on DVD so we can show people’. Obviously it was a shock for Pete, me, and Judy. It became a shock when we would walk down the street and people would go, ‘Holy shit, you’re in that movie!’ Looking back at it now, I’m so thankful for the blessing that movie has created for me. I was very overwhelmed because not only were people accepting the movie, but you’re an 18-year-old getting all of this attention. That was definitely exciting.
nocheLatina: What was the most difficult role you have portrayed and why?
Victor Rasuk: I did a movie called Stop-Loss – that was one of the hardest roles because I played someone who had lost their limbs. I think it was really hard. When I did research for that part, I met real veterans who were my age and had lost their limbs. It was hard because I was trying to separate Victor the actor from Victor the character. I felt like I got really, fully immersed in it - the repercussion of what war does.
nocheLatina: Have you had any obstacles since your start in this industry?
Victor Rasuk: I don’t want to set myself apart from any other actors - I think there’s always going to be an obstacle because of any ethnicity. I know my struggle and obstacles because I’m in it and it’s me. There are always roles that we want, but because of a power beyond you, you don’t get them. It’s easy to just quit and say, ‘I’m tired of being rejected constantly.’ This is a business. That’s how the strongest survive.
nocheLatina: You’re now in 'How To Make It In America,' which has won a lot of media attention. What do you think attracts viewers to the show?
Victor Rasuk: What I really love about the show is that people relate to it. Each character wants different things and people can relate to that. Being in New York, which is the epicenter of such a melting pot of different cultures, it has a majestic look where dreams come true and where opportunities are abundant. People are really googly-eyed about the hustle, no matter what age they are - I think that’s what got people into it.
nocheLatina: Do you feel you have made it in America?
Victor Rasuk: I think that I’ve been really fortunate to be where I’m at. I think it’s really selfish to say that I can kick it and just chill. It’s a constant challenge to always find myself as an artist.
nocheLatina: What goes on in your mind when you look back at everything you have starred in thus far and all the films you’ve been in?
Victor Rasuk: I was born and raised in the Lower East Side. In the 80’s and 90’s, it was still pretty bad around my neighborhood. I didn’t grow up with money, so to see the things that I’ve done, I go ‘Wow, thank God that I was blessed with these opportunities. What’s the next thing that’s going to challenge me?’
nocheLatina: Do you have an ultimate goal in life?
Victor Rasuk: Yeah, I do. There’s a program called Grand Street Settlement. They take inner-city youth and help them with their homework and get jobs. They raise money to give kids stipends just to get them working. The program is still going on, but they haven’t gotten enough funding. I’m becoming a board member and my ultimate goal is to have a Grand Street-like program, not only in NY, but maybe in LA.