What do you need to be a leader?
I've always felt that knowing who I was as a person along with what were my strengths and being completely honest as to what my weaknesses were, allowed me to communicate that more effectively and truthfully to whomever I was in charge of leading. It is also important to have a goal that you believe in because there will be times of challenge, frustration, doubt - but having a passion behind what you're doing that comes from within will help fuel the fire and keep you going.
In the Marine Corps we would tell young leaders, "always inspect what you expect" and that meant not just for their troops but ultimately for themselves. Leadership by example has always been at the bedrock of Marine Corps leadership which is where I learned how to be a leader myself and how I continue to lead my family and myself.
What inspired you in your life?
My parents were and still continue to be a tremendous influence in my life. When I think back on who the first heroes I ever meant I would have to say they were my parents who fought not only for a better way of life for us but who continued to improve themselves throughout the years. My dad is also a Vietnam veteran who taught me the value of service and of remembering those who have given us the freedoms we enjoy.
My elementary & junior high school teachers had a tremendous impact on me that quite honestly kept me from straying down the wrong path and allowed me to think of what my life could be and that also included a life in the arts.
The Marine Corps I have said many times before and I mean this with every fiber of my body, helped to form the man that I am today but it's saved my life in more ways than I can share here but will one day share in a book I imagine. My family, my bride and two sons are a constant reminder of why I do what I do and that the most critical part of all of my success is that they will draw from it, I hope whenever they question their own footing in this life.
Does being Hispanic/Latino have any influence on your business?
It has and will always have a tremendous influence. We are living in a time of
substantive change which can and should present substantial opportunity. But, if we look closely at the playing field we'll note that there is still very much
significant disparity and immobility for Latino actors.
A recent study done by Columbia University revealed the number of Latino actors in prime time television haven't changed in nearly 30 years and remains at a constant 4%.
Despite being the fastest growing demographic, spending over a trillion dollars a
year within this economic landscape and despite having the largest number of
America's youth. I believe the opportunity to increase sales numbers and to
accurately pretrade in our community is there and we need strong leadership to
ensure our place isn't set aside.
In the face of adversity, how do you decide to drive ahead?
Much of my success has come from having an incredibly supportive family who has respected my particular journey and what it means not only to me but to a much broader community. I do find myself at times reevaluating where I am and how we can improve but I find that to be a very natural process.
I think about how adversity changes depending where you stand at any particular stage of your life. For me it's a bit different every time, having gone from Brooklyn to Iraq to Hollywood.
What is the biggest challenge your business has faced?
Convincing Hollywood that we as Hispanics want and need to see ourselves portrayed as "Super" in respects to the superhero genre.
If you can change one thing about your business, what would it be?
There is a tremendous opportunity for Hollywood to incorporate more Latinos in the creation of its content, both in front of and behind the camera. If it were up to me I would create more mentorship programs for more of the crafts involved in creating content and I would drive that particular content a bit more aggressively. This year I have begun speaking at schools in my hometown sharing not only my success but also my frustrations on why I think things aren't professing as we believe they should but also, sharing my optimism that we can and will change that trajectory.
What was your childhood ambition?
As a child I always found the arts to be soothing and to have a transportive quality that helped me to escape a really tough situation growing up in Sunset Park Brooklyn. That continued to flourish in junior high school and in high school where I performed my first musicals. Many years later I pursued that dream again and continue to pursue it to this day and still find it to be incredibly therapeutic in many ways.
Tell us about three leaders that you admire.
Abraham Lincoln, retired Marine Corps General, General Mattis and artistically I
would have to say that Raul Julia and Ruben Blades have had a tremendous impact on my career.
What sacrifices in your personal life did you have to make in order to become successful in your business?
Most actors will tell you that much of what we do as artists takes place within
ourselves and in many respects, at least in the beginning stages of creativity, is
mostly a solo endeavor. That being said during this times there is a taking away of time from family that comes at a cost. That for me is never an easy pill to swallow. So for me, I would say the biggest sacrifice is time spent away from my family that I'll never get back.
What is your favorite quote?
When life knocks you down, and it will, try to land on your back -because if you can look up you can get up.
Is it difficult to be unconventional?
At first I think it is just because finding ones true voice takes time. We often
measure ourselves against other artists because I think it serves as a barometer. That lends itself to the question of "how am I doing with what I'm doing, with this material, with my approach?" But truth be told it's really about 'you' being as truthful as 'you' can be about who 'you' really are and that's something not everyone is willing to work for.
Biggest mistake made?
Not trusting myself enough and doubting something that I knew all along and that is that 'voice' that continues to talk to us - those who believe there are here on this earth for a much bigger reason. I don't do that anymore.
Do you consider yourself an innovator? Why?
I'm approached by young artists all the time who say that to me but I don't think I'm quite there yet. I do believe in time once I've been able to tell my story, with own unique voice I think I might be closer to what that idea represents. But I don't think about it in that way. I think for me it goes back to applying who I am to whatever the project at hand might be.
Brief description of artist:
J.W. Cortes, award-winning Marine-combat-veteran-turned-actor, singer, filmmaker and activist.