How Mariano Gonzalez Became A Disney Channel Star
My name is Mariano Gonzalez, I’m 27 years old and I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I moved to Los Angeles with my family when I was 12 years old and pretty much lived there until I left to college. In high school, I went to Beverly Hills High and then for college I moved to Philadelphia. I went to the University of Pennsylvania where I played soccer and studied Political Science and Film.
While in college, I started thinking more about my interest and love for films. By my last year, I gathered the courage to take some theater classes and do some short films that were being produced by classmates. That was when I really realized my passion for Film and decided that it’s what I wanted to do full time.
Within 5 months of graduating, I was very fortunate to get an opportunity to audition for a Disney show in South America. It turned out that the show revolved around soccer, so when I found out I was like, “This is it...”The auditions were in Mexico City so I would have to fly down there to do it.
Looking back on it, I had a lot of fear at the time. I was really scared because I didn’t know what would happen, and I was spending money that I really didn’t have - my mom literally lent me the money to go and stay in a hotel for a few days. When I think about it, I still can’t believe it worked out. I’m very thankful. So yeah... these were just some of the things that I feel contributed to get me to where I am today in terms of work, but to tell you about myself would take a lot longer and things weren’t necessarily always this great.
It meant the world to me because we were in a situation with my family where we weren’t from here, and I was in no position to afford attending an American university. We knew many families here started saving for their kid’s education from a very early stage, so as immigrants that just wasn’t the case for us. Soccer was really the only way in for me. I had trained and played since I was very young so I knew that my only shot of going to a good school and trying to cover the expenses was going to be soccer - there was no other way.
I’m just very grateful that Penn and the coaches invited me to be a part of their program; it was like a dream opportunity for me. It combined all of the elements that I was looking for in a college - strong academics, strong athletic program, and a beautiful city where I could experience something new.
The coaches were really great and they knew I was not in a position where I could afford going to Penn. So I remember when I went for an official visit, my coach pulled me aside and handed me a piece of paper. He said, “we’re really excited to do this”, and I looked at the paper pretty much granting to cover most of the expenses. He told me this was one of the biggest scholarships they were giving out that year and I just thought to myself “Oh, my God. Is this real?” Another moment that I look back on, and just feel very thankful for.
I feel like we all have a why – a why we are doing what we are doing. Or at least we usually try to have one. And that’s a very personal thing. I always thought I’d first go to college and then figure out what I’m going to do. For me, college was just something I thought I had to do. Both of my parents went to college and I wanted to make sure that I did as well. I also thought that it would certainly give me a lot and open up many opportunities in my life. So, like most others, I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I knew this was the logical route to helping me figure that out.
While I was in college, I started to really ask myself some of these questions - what do I want to do with my life? Why do I want to do it? I had a very natural interest in film and performance that had been present all my life. When I took acting classes it felt like a break from everything else I was doing - and when you find yourself doing something that doesn’t feel like a burden, you just naturally gravitate towards it. Then I thought, what better way to make a living than pursuing something full-time that I knew at the end of the day I could truthfully say I enjoyed. So, my “why” is because it comes naturally to me, I really enjoy it, and I think that hopefully I can make a living doing it.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s work. And sometimes it’s a lot. But it’s so much easier to get up every day and deal with the challenges that come along with my work because I know that I could be doing something else that I just don’t like.
I feel that in my case there were various factors that allowed me to live what has been a great journey so far with Disney. Some perhaps might have been related to things that I did, but I’m certain that the greatest part of it was simply good fortune. From my end, I definitely did everything that I felt I needed to in order to take advantage of the opportunity when it presented itself. I had been taking theater classes, improv classes, getting a major in film, reading scripts, and watching as many movies as I could to prepare for the move to LA. I tried to meet as many people as I could that were connected to the industry to hear of their life stories and experiences.
I also made a profile on Actors Access, which is a recruiting site for actors. I used that tool to send as many tapes as I could for auditions that I felt fit my profile. I then made myself a reel and created a personal website where I could start promoting myself. I took headshots, created a brief bio and put together some reels and photoshoots that I had.
I created the website as an online résumé for myself. So instead of handing a card to somebody, I would just direct people to my website. So in other words, I was really proactive... constantly doing things that may open up opportunities. But then, I had a struck of crazy luck!
I posted my website on Facebook, and some family and friends shared it. Among them, my Mom shared it, and a friend of hers from high school, who was now a producer connected to Disney and just happened to see it. Turns out she forwarded it to Disney and that’s how the first contact was made.
Then I made the contact myself with the Casting department at Disney, and they invited me to audition in Argentina or Mexico. Mexico was a little closer for me, so I ended up flying there. Truth is I was really scared... I felt like I was staring at a huge opportunity that was almost too big to climb... But, also too big to let pass. I just felt that deep in my heart it was exactly what I had been waiting for. So, I just gathered all the courage and faith I could get and bought that flight.
For me, it was sort of spiritual. I remember thinking about how I could be sitting in another job doing something that I didn’t like, but instead I was here flying to another country in pursuit of my dreams. What better thing could I have possibly asked for? So to me it’s not about some day overcoming fear, it’s about being able to walk forward alongside the fear that I may have.
Once I made the decision to pursue acting, I started doing all of the practical things that I felt I needed to do to get myself out there. And it seems that for acting, just like in other professions, to most people it should probably entail the same few things. The first thing I did was get some headshots - every actor needs headshots. Second, was to make a résumé with my acting experience, which up until then had just been the school courses and shorts I’d been involved in. Then I made an actor’s reel, which is a brief video clip of acting scenes from the shorts that I had made.
The first one I did was in high school. This was a film that my uncle was producing and directing, which also happened to be about soccer – I know, always soccer right! - so he invited me to do it. Then, in college there were people doing shorts in the film department all the time. In film schools there are always people doing shorts. As a film major I met some of those students that wanted to be directors and producers and told them I wanted to be an actor. So, when they made short films, they would call me. I think that building positive professional relationships is also very important.
I would probably move to Los Angeles or New York, depending on what I was trying to get myself involved in, TV or theater. And then I would just commit to the path and city that I chose. Find some work to make a living and start taking the best acting classes around. Google can be a good resource to find them. What I’ve done with some of these classes is just gone and visited them before I enrolled. If it felt like a place that I thought would be beneficial to me I would just sign up.
I would also get involved with a site like Actors Access and just start submitting myself for as many auditions as I could.
Well, the truth is I haven’t gotten enough work to truly know what works or what doesn’t. But what worked for me for the TV series was probably the commitment to do anything to get the role. That meant traveling to another country, doing anything that was asked of me, and doing it with positive energy and determination.
I try to always stay humble and know that at the end of the day, I don’t really know any of the answers. The only thing that I have is my intuition. So, I try to stay as loyal to it as much as possible.
I was really lucky to get this big opportunity with Disney early on. Now I’m transitioning to Los Angeles, which is a whole other level of competition and intensity. I can already feel it. And now I’m back to redoing many of the things that I’ve shared with you and that I constantly find myself doing every time that I have to leave my comfort zone and push forward. It’s definitely scary and challenging psychologically not knowing where my next opportunity is going to come from. Not knowing if another great job will present itself and be the perfect fit for me. Or even if people will trust me to do it.
What I would share is that it seems that you never really get fully comfortable, you never really “make it”, or get to a place where you can be like “this is it.... I finally got here.” So, it seems that the best way to live then is to keep dreaming but also to be able to enjoy the present. To find happiness now, regardless of where you’re on the spectrum of your goals. Because there will always be more. More goals, more dreams, more wants. It seems that the best way of achieving anything is by being able to enjoy and value every little part of it.
I certainly don’t feel like I have done enough to say I’ve been successful in my profession. But what has worked for me in making certain things turn out successfully was making fear a friend, working very hard towards my objectives, and trying to be as intelligent as possible in the decisions that I make.
I think everybody is different and special. It’s not that I’m better or more special than other actors, it’s that I’m committed to being myself. By definition, that makes me unique. So being special to me is just committing to being myself. That’s what makes actors like Robert DeNiro, Dustin Hoffman, Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep so successful. I think all these great artists know that, and that’s what they do. They’ve had epic roles and what makes them special is just them being them.
My biggest accomplishment in life without a doubt was taking a chance on this whole acting thing. I just remember that it was such a huge life decision. Pursuing a career in acting was definitely a choice of potential instability. It still is!
I remember when I graduated there were really only two options. One option was to get the safest job that would start giving me money as soon as possible. The second option was to take the road of acting and have no idea where the heck it would lead me to. The only safe thing about the acting path was that I knew that if I could get the work, I would really enjoy it. But I think that looking back on it, to know that I picked the second option makes me proud.
I think my biggest challenge was actually during college - and I count that as part of my career. When I was a freshman at Penn, the team had one of the best incoming soccer recruits in the nation, and Penn was coming off a recent round NCAA loss to Maryland in the previous year. To make it to the second round of the NCAA for an Ivy League is insane. So as a freshman, I was coming into an amazing academic school with a strong soccer program.
A year later we had the single worst season in Penn’s most recent history. I think the last time Penn did that poorly was 25 or 30 years earlier. It was terrible.
Combining the season with the academic stress of going to an Ivy League where students are so exceptional and competitive - I found myself so overwhelmed. I wasn’t used to that level of intensity.
I remember my coach, Rudy Fuller, said something very wise at the end of the season. He said, “Go ahead and take the rest of our training days off this season, and when we come back next semester we’re going to see who wants to be on this team and who doesn’t.”
The next semester was just the biggest grind. We were waking up at 6 AM every day to go to the gym, we were taking fitness tests, and then we would train until 9 AM. I would then run straight to class, take a quick break for lunch, and try my hardest not to fall asleep during afternoon classes. I was just so tired. The classes were so hard and it was all so new to me. I sometimes dreamed of just quitting everything and moving to some random place. But thankfully, I just stuck through it.
Over time I became so accustomed to the suffering that it just became normal. I got used to the air. I realized that these were the moments in my life that not only tested my character, but also made me who I am today. I thought about everything the team was doing, everything my family had done for me, how incredible the opportunity was - and I did what I had to do to survive.
Coach Fuller pushed us to our limits and I thank him a lot for that. When you’re pushed to your limits it becomes more mental than anything else. It reminds me of something my friend Joe Cookson told me, “The race is long and hard. And in the end, it’s with yourself”. That sums up what I went through. It rocked me to my core.
I built such a strong mentality from this experience and I’m proud of that. Anything else I’ve gone through in my career has been easy in comparison.
By the way, the following year we won the Ivy League Championship and qualified for the NCAA tournament.
I am definitely motivated to continue on this path and journey. There’s no question that this is the right path for me, but with that said I’m also just as afraid as I’ve always been.
>Who knows when I’ll get my next opportunity? Who knows if I’m going to earn income from this when I need it. I’m scared about how this new city (Los Angeles) will react to and consider what I have to offer. With that said, I’m confident that it’s worked in the past and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t again.
My ultimate goal is to be a working actor, have a very close knit family, and become a father one day. For my work, I want to be a storyteller. I want to be in TV, films and theater and I want to do it in different countries and regions around the world. Lastly, I want to continue growing spiritually, which is something that I try to pay attention to and value more every day.
Before you have a manager or an agent I think you should definitely make use of Actors Access. Actors Access is an actor’s platform and database where people of all types can start auditioning for projects.
I created my personal website using Wix, which is essentially a website builder with a lot of templates that make it easy to create a website yourself.
As an artist, the best way to showcase yourself is through your work. So instead of a card or a resume, I show my website.
I am writing stories as well, and I think it’s important in my profession to be a good writer. For that I use Final Draft, which is pretty much the gold standard for screenwriting software.
Lastly, I use Twitter and Instagram to communicate with the public and Facebook & YouTube to publish my reels. In the case of Facebook I also created an actors page, which is similar to the website but just on Facebook.
I have a home studio kit which has a light (LED Round Light), a portable iPhone stand, a Rode iPhone Microphone and I have a grey backdrop. You can buy all of this online. I use these tools for self-tapes. So whenever I need to do a self-tape, I just mount this little studio in my house. I can put up the backdrop, turn on the light with the iPhone holder and plug in the Rode mic. And just like that it looks like I'm in a professional studio doing an audition.
I also always have a notebook with me. It’s just good to write things down, especially when I’m at acting classes, or a meeting or just have ideas.
Books: The Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, An Actor Prepares by Konstantin Stanislavski, and A Challenge For The Actor by Uta Hagen.
Podcasts: The Producers Guide: Todd Garner & Hollywoods Elite. I’ve listened to pretty much every episode and it’s insanely wonderful to hear influential producers, actors and directors talk of their life and careers. I’ve also recently been listening to Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations. Last night I listened to her full interview with Bradley Cooper. They’re all great. She is great. She just interviews great people and she’s also seems very kind and spiritual.
Resources: I use YouTube so resourcefully to watch countless interviews with actors, countless videos on acting, countless directors speaking behind the scenes of movies and more. I immerse myself in that world and it helps me learn so much. I highly recommend subscribing to The Hollywood Reporter and looking at the Actors Roundtable. Every few months they get the best actors and actresses in Hollywood to sit in a roundtable and just talk about their experiences. Two others I love are called Actors on Actors from Variety and The Actors Studio from James Lipton. Lipton was the director of a very prestigious studio called the Actor’s Studio in New York. He’s interviewed some of the greatest actors of all time.
Online I’ve used MasterClass and really liked the piece from Samuel L. Jackson.
In LA I took acting classes at Ivana Chubbuck acting studio, and I would highly recommend aspiring actors take two types of local classes: Scene study classes and Improv classes.
I’ve started writing and finished a draft of a first feature film. I collaborated with Augie, a close friend and colleague, to make a short and we shot it (Bombora - Coming soon). I’m constantly researching new acting schools locally. And like I said I’m on YouTube and listening to podcasts as much as I can.
Once you find the beautiful courage to commit to your dream remember three things: (1) have gratitude to be alive and be pursuing your passion, (2) be humble and remember that there’s always room to grow, and (3) stay positive in the relationships that you form, through the inevitable moments of difficulty and in the patience that the process requires.
I’ll leave you with this - Everything that you need to be the happiest that you can possibly be is in front of you right now. I personally think that Happiness is not a place that you get to. It’s a state of being and you can achieve it today and every day by turning to the right places of your spirit.