By Michael Goldstein
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By LA Weekly
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Other services offered by this Eastside ICM include script and dialogue consultation, gangster-characteristic coaching, locations (neighborhoods and alleys), lowrider cars, lowrider bikes, vintage cars, artists, wardrobe, graffiti, temporary tattoos, murals, specialty casting, kids, seniors and, of course, their meat and potatoes, a ready supply of stigmaphiliac inmates and gangbangers.
Manny Jimenez may call the shots, but it was Stella who initially trained the troops. It is a job that is not without challenges: A significant percentage of Suspect Entertainment's talent has only recently been released from prison. Some are still on parole and are earning a legal living for the first time in their lives. Stella's upbringing, though, had her well-prepared for micromanaging the world's largest roster of camera-ready thugs. She is the youngest of 11 siblings, the rest of whom are all boys. Plus, she worked as a demolition engineer in her family's construction business for 17 years. When Stella speaks, the Suspects listen.
"When I was a demolition engineer, we would sit on the tailgates of the trucks and have safety meetings," Stella says. "We have these same tailgate meetings at Suspect, but here they're called etiquette meetings. Everything from don't spit on the set. Don't piss on the set. Don't drink from the orange-juice carton at the craft-services table and then put it back like you were at home in your underwear. Don't try to pick up on the wardrobe lady. Don't tell the script girl that she's hot. Don't double-dip at the catering line. We have to teach because we don't want people to think, 'Oh, here come the Mexicans. The dirty. The Suspects.'"
In addition to Stella's bad-boy charm-school basics, the curriculum also includes technical information a novice might require for his first day on the set. "We teach them the technical terms they need to know. They got to know what a mark is, what are the sides. What is first team, second team?"
Business is almost too good these days. It's hard to get Jimenez on the phone, but his homeboy, actor Noel Guglielmi (Training Day, The Fast and the Furious, crazy/beautiful, Road Dogs), remembers his and Jimenez's humble Hollywood beginnings.
"We snuck into the 2000 Academy Awards . . ." he snickers. "What we did was . . . you know, when they set up for the Academy Awards, they take one week to set up? Me, Jimenez and another friend of mine, Enrique, we went there like two days before, right? We pretended that we were, like, homies from the neighborhood. So we met this guy, and we were like, 'Eh, can we get a picture with you to prove to people we were here?' We were bullshitting him just to take a picture of his pass. And my friend, who was taking the picture, was just zooming in on the pass so we could counterfeit it at Kinko's, and shit. We got in suits and all dressed up and stuff. Just chillin' at the Academy Awards. Anyways, we snuck into the Academy Awards. We were just ghetto with it, you know? Then we ended up at the DreamWorks party with Steven Spielberg. We just did the damn thing."
Guglielmi's extensive body of work has transcended the day-player world of "gangstors," and in that respect he is a role model for young Suspects. He has managed to retain his street credibility while incorporating a sophisticated schmooze sensibility. When given the chance, he even passes on the opportunity to bust on the obviously more milquetoast co-star of Training Day (in the movie, Guglielmi's character participates in the notorious "Have you ever had your shit pushed in?" scene).
"Ethan Hawke is cool as fuck," he says. "I tripped out on that motherfucker. I accidentally cut his neck when I smashed a bottle over his head on the last take of a scene in Training Day. I was thinking to myself, 'Oh fuck. Now I'm gonna get fired.' I apologized like 15 times. He goes, 'Hey, man, calm down. I ain't trippin'. Don't worry about it. I ain't a little girl.' He was cool."
To fill out Suspect Entertainment's talent roster, Jimenez has tapped into a wide cross section of cholo culture, ranging from Young Turks bent on ruling the world to old-school veteranos who simply see Suspect as a bridge to a progressively better life.
Gabriel "Gabby" Medina is a mild-mannered, soft-spoken, leather-faced, 43-year-old native Angeleno who sits up straight with his hands folded in his lap. He speaks in hushed tones through a world-class mustache (currently put to good use in the Jack Daniel's Hard Cola print campaign). Medina approached Suspect Entertainment when they were working on a Mercedes-Benz commercial under the Fourth Street Bridge. He'd seen them filming Gregory Nava's film Mi Familia there in 1995 and knew it to be a popular filming location.
"It was like 3 o'clock in the morning," he recalls. "They were under the Fourth Street Bridge, filming. I seen like a bunch of lowrider cars and stuff. So I walked up and asked them, 'Hey, what are you people doing around here, eh?' Cuz they always film under the bridge right up the street where I live. So I figured, if Hollywood ever comes back to the bridge, I'm gonna keep comin' back to the bridge. I'm gonna keep hittin' up the bridge, and sooner or later, I'm gonna get hooked up with these people. It was like a prayer answered. I was kinda depressed. I had barely started working at Farmer John's. It's a slaughterhouse where they slaughter pigs. It was kinda like a dead-end job. They make bacon and ham and all that stuff, you know? I was depressed. I prayed to God."
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