Being featured on the new NBC Television action reality show Stars Earn Stripes brings together the best of both worlds for New York/New Jersey based actor J.W. Cortes., who, in addition to his acting experience, was in the U.S. Marines Corps for 13 years, during which time he rose to the level of Gunnery Sergeant, is an Iraq war veteran, having served in the beginning phases of the war in 2003 and currently serves as an officer with the New York MTA Police Department.
After serving in the Marine Corps, JW Cortes traded in his weapons and uniforms to pursue his childhood dreams of acting and performing, only to find out later that his military background would come to serve him well in these endeavors as well. Along with his role on Stars Earn Stripes, Cortes has also logged in some impressive acting credits…… playing a cop in the 2010 film As Good as Dead (with Cary Elwes & Andie McDowell), was featured in the 2009 independent film A Kiss Of Chaos with Adam Rodriquez (Magic Mike, CSI: Miami) and is in the soon-to-be-released Blue Caprice (Joey Lauren Adams, Isaiah Washington), a narrative feature film inspired by the events known as the Beltway sniper attacks. In addition, he stars in, wrote and directed the acclaimed short film Conscientious Objector, a film inspired by his 2003 tour of duty in Iraq www.co-themovie.com and appeared in an episode of the NBC show Mercy a couple years back. He also continues to push his artistic boundaries with plans for writing and producing films based on his unusual upbringing on the colorful Brooklyn, New York street known as “Little Vietnam”. Various aspects of his past certainly came into play when he starred in the New York Off-Broadway production of the romantic musical Soldier’s Song, directed by highly acclaimed actress/director Angelica Page. The show also put the spotlight on Cortes’ considerable singing talents and he found himself in a project where “art imitates life”. The Brooklyn born Puerto Rican actor had lead an ironically similar life to that of his Soldier’s Song character “Jose”.
In addition to his career and work, J.W. Cortes, as an activist, contributes much of his time and talents to supporting causes close to his heart like Domestic Violence, Disabled Veterans and Self-Defense for Women, while his most important role is that of father and husband. He aspires to be the type of father he himself grew up admiring and loving, throughout his strong Latino upbringing.
1. Share the greatest impact of your childhood.
I believe that so much of what I’ve been able to accomplish has been in large part due to the surroundings I was brought up in. I’m not completely sold that growing up in New York City means we had it harder than other parts of the United States, especially other parts of the world, but I do believe that it does force upon you a need to adapt and overcome. Doing so, your spirit grows and your vision expands. I find myself constantly thinking about where I came from and how I so want to go back there and show our community that I represent you in everything that I do. I understand that where you’re living isn’t easy. I fully understand your concerns and that it takes a strong will to resist the easy way out and an even stronger will to get others to follow your lead. I always fall back on my testimony by sharing that if you dare to dream then your daring to live and you’ve already made it out.
2. Define your experience growing up being Latino? And being Latino in today’s world.
As a child growing up during the 1980s it really did feel like New York City was Puerto Rico’s biggest “pueblo.” On every stoop that lined my block were incredibly strong, poignant depictions of what I believed my culture was comprised of, especially during the summertime. The sounds of El Gran Combo mixed in with the smells of Puerto Rican cuisine and coupled in with the wisdom of white domino spinning legends. Growing up in Sunset Park, Brooklyn were some of the best times and some of the worst. The good times didn’t last, the drug epidemic ravished those very stoops and subsequently angels were lost. I find myself thankful to my parents for keeping me safe, if not safer than most. Today we don’t usually see this as abundantly as we once did. Instead the world is less connected. Our stories and good times are transported to us via our fingers and devices. The new era of what being “Latino” is defined today is something that we’re now able to describe better for everyone else but what has been incredibly clear to us. Those of us born and raised here in the United States are American, we are inevitably fans of American music, movies, celebrities, etc, and yet we are proud of our ancestry. Proud that we can speak both languages and still maintain our presence here on American soil. Being Latino today is still being proud and being included in all things American. I miss the block parties but I am excited about what’s yet to come for Latino’s.
3. Tell us some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome.
I guess we have all, as human beings, been met with challenges in our lives. I am often asked that question and I attempt to find some singular experience which I could find uniquely my own but it is often difficult to do so. We have all, for example, experienced loss, defeat or a flailing spirit as well as victories and triumphs. Instead what I stand firmly with is in the HOW we overcome, inspire and teach others to do the same. I understand poverty because we came from that. I understand racism, sickness, drugs and gangs but the strength has come from not succumbing and fighting through. To overcome has meant—to me—facing my biggest fears and finding comfort outside of my comfort zone.
4. What would you say was the greatest positive influence on your career?
My greatest influence has been my relationship with God. I can attest to the fact that during the darkest, scariest, and the most magically inspiring moments of my life the first person I’ve always looked to and thanked has been God. That relationship was fostered in me very early through my mother who always explained that—above all—putting God first meant you could achieve anything in life.
5. As an honoree, what do you hope that being a trendsetter will inspire you to accomplish?
As an honoree I feel even more committed to taking further steps, creatively expanding how I approach my work within Autism Speaks and the Epilepsy Foundation. As my celebrity grows, so does my ability to reach out to those who have been afflicted by these diseases. I am a parent of a son with Autism and if I can share with other parents or loved ones I understand your concerns and provide some sort of relief, hope or help is what being a trendsetter means to me.