Actor Victor Rasuk is on the phone, psyched about the fact that he’s being interviewed by an actual Dominican. “¿De la capital? Yo estaba en Santiago y de vacaciones en Punta Cana, en la playa de Bávaro,” he says in broken Spanish. “I just got back two weeks ago!” There’s a reason for the excitement: Rasuk’s parents are Dominican, and he was born and raised in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
The 26-year old is making his first starring shot at TV – damn, that’s what you call an entrance – with HBO’s new series How to Make it in America, which is being called the East Coast version of Entourage. Victor’s breakout role was in the 2002 critically acclaimed indie Raising Victor Vargas, and went on to star in Lords of Dogtown and Stop-Loss. In his new show, he plays Cam, a Dominican-American hustler who’s willing to do all it takes to make it big in New York City’s fashion industry. He’s joined by Bryan Greenberg, Lake Bell, Luis Guzman and even rapper Kid Cudi. He chatted with us about how the show is a truthful depiction of multicultural New York, where he gets his habichuelas con dulce, and his “poor” musical taste.
The main characters take every chance in the book in order to get their clothing line up and running. Do you think the show promotes a message of hope in times of recession?
It definitely touches on that, for sure. It also touches on “Don’t give up on your dreams, no matter what city you’re in or how difficult the times are.” Ben [Bryan Greenberg’s character] doesn’t really want to go forward with the idea, even if it’s his dream. But Cam is always pushing him to do it, and he becomes more confident the more breaks we get as it goes along.
Cam is a tíguere, in that sense.
A total tíguere. I love that word.
Jay-Z said that half of us in New York won’t make it. You grew up in the city; do you feel like you had an advantage over half of the population?
Totally. It’s funny, because we were shooting in my old neighborhood, and my trailer would be on Avenue C in the Lower East Side, and I was born and raised in 8th St and Avenue D. I was in my trailer going, “Oh my God, this is the building I used to play hooky in when I was in high school!”
You’re a friend of Zoe Saldaña. She’s been getting big breaks, but not necessarily in Latina roles. You fit more into the industry’s physical concept of a Hispanic. Do you think you’re being typecast because of this?
I’m Hispanic, and there’s nothing you can do about that, do you know what I mean? I don’t consider myself a Latin actor, just like no other actor would consider himself a Black actor. I’m an actor. But with all that said, yes, I’ve played Hispanic roles, but they were in films that didn’t portray Latinos in a bad light. I was in a political film, a war movie, talking about this war. I was also in a skate movie playing this Mexican dude who happened to revolutionize skating.
Abuelitas seem to chase you. Both in Raising Victor Vargas and in How to Make it in America, your characters live with their grandmas. What’s up with that?
(Laughs) I’m not saying it’s typical in any culture, but it happens. There are people still living with their parents in their late 20’s or even the rest of their lives. I couldn’t relate to that because I moved out when I was young, but I had friends growing up who still, to this day, live with their parents and their grandparents.
Will Cam’s backstory be explored further on?
It will, and it will also explain why I live with my grandmother. It wasn’t just to throw it in there.
How is it working with Kid Cudi?
This guy’s raw talent. When I started acting, people would say the same thing about me. So, to see Kid and to see him go from just, “Oh, I got a part on this show, I’m going to try to act” to really taking it seriously and flourishing and growing has been an amazing transition.
Now on to el español. What’s the most beautiful word in the language, in your opinion?
And your go-to word?
It’s nearly cuaresma. What’s the best place in New York to get habichuelas con dulce?
I go to El Castillo de Jagua, on Avenue D and 8th St, right across from where I grew up.
And what’s your favorite place to grab a bite here in NYC?
I love this place in the Lower East Side called Il Bagatto. It’s on 2nd St, between B and A. It’s an Italian restaurant owned by a Dominican guy.
How about a spot to chill or hang out?
The Eldridge. It’s on Eldridge between Houston and Stanton. I like how loungey it is; I like dark places when I hang out, and they have a really great DJ.
You’ve been living in Los Angeles for a while. Where do you go for comfort food?
There aren’t a lot of Latin restaurants in L.A., but Versailles is really good. It’s a Cuban spot in Hollywood.
And how about a good place to dance?
Yo! There’s a fuckin’ great salsa spot called Mama Juana’s in North Hollywood. Like the drink, mamajuana. Sometimes they have live merengue, but mostly salsa.
Speaking of music, what are the best songs to dance to dominicanamente?
You guys are going to hate me, but I’m into Aventura. I’m jumping on the bandwagon now.
Ewww. You might as well say you like Shakira.
My brother’s a huge fan; he’s been getting me hooked. I like that song with the girl, “son las cinco en la mañana.” I know, I suck.
How to Make it in America is broadcast on HBO on Sundays at 10pm, starting on February 14.