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The Sentinel

Meet Manny Ureña: Tyros’ Alumni & Actor

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Manny Ureña is a McClancy Alumni, class of 2010. He was part of the McClancy play production “The Odd Couple” during his senior year. In “The Odd Couple,” Manny played the role of Oscar. Since his time at McClancy, he has gone on to act in various roles on TV shows including “Blue Bloods”, and Netflix’s “See You Yesterday.” Manny also starred in “Orange is the New Black,” appearing in five episodes, and has been in a notable theater role in the play “De Novo.”

Time At McClancy And Journey Into Acting

Manny was a student at McClancy from 2006-2010. While at McClancy, Manny took part in campus ministry. He recalled his time at campus ministry, expressing that he felt McClancy emphasized the importance of service and he loved being a part of that. He also had peers who were in campus ministry as well, making the experience all that more memorable. 

In regards to his acting journey, Manny started to think about acting during his sophomore year of high school. He inquired the knowledge of people like Mr. Pinto (and later Ms. Smith) about this. Mr. Pinto was in a student’s project and Manny went to Mr. Pinto  for advice. In junior year, he took acting classes, and later in senior year he starred in the Tyro’s production of “The Odd Couple” where he played Oscar Madison, a sportswriter who shared an NYC apartment with Felix Unger. This show was then turned into a play and later became known as a sitcom which had five seasons.

He looks back on this time and credits it as one of his first times experiencing a theater community. In this play, he worked with Ms. Smith and stated she worked on songs with him, even if he couldn’t sing. He was very grateful that Ms. Smith did this for him and is happy to still be in contact with her to this day. She was one of the first people who believed in him and allowed him to get an in-depth view of acting. Following his graduation from McClancy, Manny studied acting at the prestigious William Esper Studio, a drama school in New York City. This is one of the top acting training studios in the United States that trains its students in film, theater, and television. He felt like an “18-year-old in a new world” and called this school the “bootcamp of acting.” This allowed him to open his eyes to what being an artist is truly like. He credits this as a big part of his acting career/journey. He made good connections and had good influences to guide him.  He also spoke about the classes he took at this school. In particular, he spoke about his technique and movement class. The technique was all about listening and collaborating with a scene partner. Movement class taught you how to be in your body, be energized, and be present in the moment. For him, it would be ideal to have a movement class and then a technique class as this made him feel prepared and excited to do a scene. Most importantly, he spoke on how dedicated the teachers are, and how they focus on developing the artist. They stress working on one’s craft and how it is not just about being a star.

This school provided a good foundation and gave tools for someone to be able to use later in their life. Manny reflected and said that he was around so much community, support, and love. He met actors who cared about being well-rounded. He does admit that he has had moments of chasing stardom and wishing to get an Oscar. He says there is nothing wrong with this, but it shouldn’t be the main focus. Manny also credits Ms. Smith for inspiring him and how she was there at the very beginning of his journey. He stated, “Ms. Smith wanted to see if he could hold a note.” She was always encouraging him to keep going. He also says his mom was very supportive of his journey. She paid for his first acting class and that meant a lot to him, as he didn’t come from an artistic family. His sister is also a supporter and continues to drive him. 

He has been able to find representatives and managers who advocated him for the acting passion he has. Other acting moments that made him want to be an actor include recalling a moment while watching the movie “Bad Boys” by Michael Bay. There is one scene where Will Smith is chasing the bad guy and where the guy in the car (the carjacker) is looking so cool. Manny wanted to be that cool. He remembered this as a “cool reaction,” sparking his passion in acting. He also mentioned the film “No Country for Old Men,” taking inspiration from the character Javier Bardem as an influence.

Playing Various Characters: Roles In His Acting Career 

Manny has starred in films and played in various productions post-graduation at the William Esper Studio. One of them includes being an associate producer and actor in the short film “Abuela’s Luck.” Melania asked him what this experience was like. He stated it was nice to get hands-on experience in this role. This included working on the fundraising process and getting actors involved via networking. Being a producer allowed him to see this film from a different perspective. He stated that his role came through early on in the process when changes to the script were still being made and the acting was being critiqued. He loved the story but it was really the team behind this story (such as the director and writer) that drew him in. He recalled how he loved this team of creative individuals. Manny explained the story behind the film stating

”Raymond, the guy I play, goes to the store and wants to buy liquor underage, tries to get past the person at the counter, someone comes in and tries to rob him and the store.” Manny stated “It was a nice surprise to the audience” when a person comes in and tries to rob them. He emphasized how this film shared values like family, love, and culture. He felt connected to the filmmakers as they were from DR (the Dominican Republic) and Manny is as well. The neighborhood where the story is set is similar to the neighborhood where Manny grew up which is in Corona, Queens. This made him feel close to home. Manny believes this is a story that a lot of people in New York can relate to. Furthermore,  Melania inquired how Manny had starred in the play, De Novo, which is based on a true story about a teenager from Guatemala named Edgar Chocoy who faced deportation when he fled to the US to escape the MS-13 gang. The film uses real court transcripts, interviews, and letters to craft its story. Melania asked “Given that this is based on true events, tell us how this is different from other projects you have done. How has this impacted you as an actor? Has it changed your perspective of certain subjects?” Manny stated that the role was new to Manny as he mostly did film and TV, not plays.  He used words and phrases such as  “very powerful” and “deep and heartbreaking” when describing this film.  He felt so lucky to have been a part of this story. This was his first play in a long time (since “The Odd Couple ” in 2010). To him, playing a real-life person was interesting. He did this play in 2017 with the theater company Houses on the Moon (though this play was up and running before his involvement). Manny believed this was also a very educational and prevalent experience as people still talk about immigration and immigration laws. He stated that he even learned a lot more about the United States immigration system and its laws through this experience. He even performed this in schools where students have the same story, making them feel seen. 

Since Manny has played different characters throughout his career thus far, Melania asked, “What has been your favorite role and why?” Manny quickly responded by saying, “Doing the play (De Novo) was one of my favorite roles.” He was the lead of this play and stated that he loved working with those people.  There was a lot of community and encouragement on set. In terms of television and film, he was excited when he got a recurring role for the first time (in season 2 of The Punisher) as a Jimbo who was an army vet who left service classified as “being other than honorably discharged.” Manny recalled watching the first season of this show and desperately wanting to be on the second season. He got the part and was so excited. This was a big part of Manny’s career as this series was part of the Marvel company. Additionally, he was in a movie executive produced with Spike Lee called “See You Yesterday” which was also exciting for him. In the midst of all of these roles, Manny maintains his gratitude as he acknowledges that not a lot of people get to do acting and that it’s a tough business. He is grateful for every milestone and opportunity he gets. He hopes to do more opportunities with television, film, and other plays.

Manny’s Favorite Parts About Acting 

Manny believes the creative process is “everything” as he is not a fan of the business side. 

When there is an interesting role and a role that “gets the creative juices going,” there is nothing like it.  He recalls an audition he had a couple of days prior to this interview and how, when he read the script, he had so many ideas flowing and enjoyed them. Manny feels the more he is free in the creative process, the more fun he has and the better the overall experience is. His favorite thing about acting is as he says, “Doing this thing.”  He recalls his time playing in De Novo and how it was a different audience every night, and he never played his role the same way twice. He finds it so interesting when people say a line differently or respond differently than before (Including himself). He also compared his time acting on television versus in a play. He stated, “On television, there is not much rehearsal. Some may have to be ready to act the next day with minimal rehearsal. You have to show up and be prepared ready to go. You  have to be loose and flexible, especially if it doesn’t go the way you want.” The most important thing he says is to be present and listen. Manny elaborated, “Listening is huge. One can really take everything in and listen if they are present at the moment and open to receiving comments and criticisms from others.”  He recalls his time at McClancy working on The Odd Couple explaining, “The Odd Couple was similar to De Novo, as sometimes there were only a couple days to get everything finalized together.” However, he notes that the production process may be different at McClancy because of the music and its rehearsals. Overall, no matter whether on television or film, Manny stresses that one has to learn their lines, prepare, get to rehearsal, and be very collaborative. 

Future Plans 

Manny has done a lot with his career in the last 14 years since graduating high school. Melania wondered, “Moving forward with your career, what do you hope to accomplish? What acting part would you consider your “Ideal role?” Manny responded by stating he hopes to continue to work as an actor. He would love to be a series regular on a show.  He finds that the more time he is on a set, the more he observes the cool dynamic between the cast and the good professionalism he would like to be a part of. 

 

Final Remarks

Manny’s final words for those who wish to pursue acting are “If you will pursue acting make sure you enjoy it and enjoy the work you do. The industry can be hard. You have to enjoy it.” He feels it is more important to be process-oriented than focus only on results or about being “a star.”  It is easy to get caught up in the rigid structure of this industry and compare yourself to what others are doing.  He says “We are just playing” Remember to “play.” 

 

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