In our Alumni Q&A series, we caught up with Brian Jordan Alvarez BFA ’09 in which he shares about his best USC experience, how to prepare for the professional world and more.
About the alum
Brian Jordan Alvarez is an actor and creator born in New York City and raised in rural Tennessee. His mother is Colombian and his father is American. He speaks Spanish fluently, and has appeared in many TV shows including Will & Grace and Jane the Virgin. He will appear in the upcoming Blumhouse/Universal film M3gan. He has a substantial online following for his long and short form videos. Alvarez graduated from USC in 2009 with a BFA in acting and is repped by Creative Artists Agency.
Tell us a little bit about your professional background.
Alvarez: I was born in New York City; my mom is Colombian (from Barranquilla) and my dad is American. We moved to super rural Tennessee, a town called Winchester, when I was almost four. I was raised there, in the South. Pretty early on I was performing; acting in school plays, making movies with my parents Handicam and editing them on my mom’s work computer at the university she teaches at.
By high school, I was obsessed with acting, and was told about this one year acting program for high school seniors at the North Carolina School of the Arts (now called UNCSA). I asked my parents if I could go; thinking back on it, I’m amazed they said yes. I think they knew I had talent and needed a bigger place to stretch my wings. I got into the program after an audition and a callback. So I did my senior year of high school at this boarding school, which is just a high school section of a college (UNCSA).
We had all these brilliant teachers and we were busy with acting from like 8 a.m. to nighttime. One of the focuses of the program was to get us all into top BFA Acting programs at colleges. USC’s drama school was one of those top programs. I auditioned for Lora Zane and Jack Rowe in Chicago, and it felt like fate; I felt so connected to them even in the audition. A few months later, I found out I’d gotten in. I was elated.
I wasn’t able to perform in the USC acting showcase because of drug and alcohol problems my senior year of college. I had to go home and get sober. After school, it was hard for a while because I had to start from nothing. I had to get an agent and a manager; it took me a good while to really get my first couple of TV jobs. After you get one or two, it becomes easier. The system starts to trust you more; casting directors know who you are and they know you can show up to set and do a good job.
What are you currently working on professionally?
I’m an actor and creator. Some of my acting roles include a regular part on the Will & Grace reboot, a recurring role on Jane the Virgin, and I just finished playing a supporting role in a Universal Studios/Blumhouse movie that shot in New Zealand. I have also had a lot of success with viral internet videos, including a show I wrote, directed and starred in on YouTube called The Gay and Wondrous Life of Caleb Gallo. I have some creative projects in the works that I can’t discuss, but I’m very excited for all of them.
What was your best USC experience?
Doing the play Cloud 9, directed by Lora Zane. It’s great writing (Caryl Churchill), and we all got to play two different parts, because of the structure of the play. And we had to do British accents. I loved it.
What do you miss about college, SDA specifically?
I miss classes where we were getting in our bodies every day; movement and voice class. That’s a very rich experience.
Was there a class or professor that was particularly meaningful or influential during your time at the School?
Joseph Hacker’s on-camera auditioning class is the class I think about most frequently in my career as a professional actor. Hacker is brilliant and had decades of real-world acting experience. He prepared us for the grit of the job. I always remember he would put his hands up to his mouth like a megaphone and say “You WILL get an agent!” And he was right! I also remember Andrei Belgrader’s class, which I think I only had for one semester. But there was something I learned there where he told us not to “prepare” to be on camera. Don’t fix your hair, or your shirt, or your personality. The camera wants to see you exactly as you are, revealing yourself. I have tried to live by that teaching as well.
What (if any) productions did you work on?
Cloud 9 was my favorite. Also Machinal, directed by Lora Zane, was a lot of fun. Mad Forest, directed by Jack Rowe. And my first lead role was in The Voysey Inheritance, directed by my dear friend Tony Abatemarco, who I ended up having play my father in Caleb Gallo, as well as a film I made called Grandmother’s Gold.
What was your favorite theatre at SDA? Why?
The Massman, since my favorite productions were there. My friends Peter Vack, Troian Bellisario and Tommy Bertelsen did an amazing production of Red Light Winter in that theater. And we did Cloud 9 in that theater as well. Lots of good memories.
What can students do during their training to prepare themselves for the professional world?
That’s a great question. I’d say prepare yourself for times when you don’t have a job, emotionally speaking. I think learning to trust that the next job is coming is one of the most difficult things about being a real actor out in the world. But then you always find yourself on set again, with a camera on you, under all those lights and you think, “here I am again.” Apparently, Anne Hathaway didn’t work for a year after she won the Oscar. Even when you fully “make it” as an actor, which you will if you just stay determined and consistent, you still have these periods where you don’t know where the next job is coming from. I have actually come to consider this a sacred space. All you have is faith, trust; you’re living off the money from your last few jobs. But the job will come, it always does. Joe Hacker’s class prepared me for this experience.
What lessons from your SDA training have you applied to your professional life?
Trust that what’s meant for you is coming, as long as you’re doing your work.