By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Medina finally had his prayers answered. These days he's making his living as an actor and, surprise, a model. He's come a long way from the slaughterhouse.
Luis Moncada, a 25-year-old, hypergroomed former gangster, is the Jim Carrey of the Suspect stable. Big, bold letters spelling out the word Aztlan form a sort of Elizabethan collar around his neck. Sly and engaging, Moncada was recently released from prison and is an imposing presence. But as soon as he opens his mouth to speak, it's all fun and games. Like many Suspects, he didn't necessarily see himself embracing a career in the interpretive arts, per se.
"I grew up in L.A., and in prison. I got out in, like, March. I was working in some movie doing, like, security for this movie. I was working for, like, a month, eh? I used to look at Manny and these guys, like . . . eh, I'm a gang member. I used to mad-dog 'em. I thought, these fools, and I wouldn't even talk to 'em. And then, one day, he [Jimenez] came up and said, 'You wanna be in the movie?' And I said, 'No!' And he said, 'What?' I said, 'No.' And he just took off, and some other fool came and he said . . . 'Cash. We're gonna pay you cash.' I said, 'Let's go!' I been with this fool Manny, what? Five months? Six months? Something like that. I been working right now a lot. He gave me more jobs, more money. Hey, I been trying to stay out of jail. He helped me a lot. This is cool, being out."
I ask Moncada where he sees his acting career going.
"I wish I was I was the main man or the main gangster or the main lawyer," he says. "You want me to be a lawyer? I'll just cover this shit up." He's referring to the tattoos on his eyelids: fuck on the right, youon the left. "First time I stepped in front of a camera, I went, 'This shit is cool! This is for me.' In [the Damian Chapa film] El Padrino, I played Jennifer Tilly's bodyguard. That was fun. I was just shooting people left and right. Kicked down two doors. I was in heaven."
Of the Suspects I met, you'd bet Daniel Venegas would have a shot at being a bona fide movie star. Venegas is a strikingly handsome 25-year-old parolee with chiseled features. His practiced, steely-eyed prison-yard stare wavers only when interrupted by the ringing of his top-of-the-line, late-model Motorola cell phone. "Sorry. Business," he apologizes.
When I ask him where he's from, he says, "18th Street." I don't mention that I'm inquiring about where he grew up rather than his gang affiliation. Prominently featured in an intricate mosaic of tattooed images on Venegas' jail-honed pecs is "Yolanda," for Danny's mother.
Venegas heard about Suspect Entertainment shortly after his release and contacted Jimenez directly. He started booking for Suspect almost immediately. His acting credits include three episodes of the network TV series Robbery Homicide Division, a bunch of music videos and a recently completed national spot for Nike. He's also produced his own public-access TV show, the idea for which occurred to him while he was incarcerated.
"I put together my own show, called Latin Active," he says. "It's about Latin hip-hop and R&B that isn't getting recognized in the industry. When I was upstate [in prison], and I would watch TV all the time, I watched Caliente [a Spanish-language music show]. The women are fine, but the music sucks. Then you watch Soul Train, and the music's cool, but there ain't a lot of Latinos up in there. So I was, like, instead of complaining, why don't I just go out and do it?"
Then, Venegas caught a lucky break, of sorts. "A friend of mine . . . rest in peace, his mom had a show on public-access television. I got in touch with her, and he had told her about my idea, and she was like, 'You know what? When you get out I'll be ready for you.'"
Venegas copyrighted his ideas while in prison, and when he was released two and a half years later, his friend's mom was true to her word. "She was like, 'On this certain day, we're gonna start filming. So you have like three months to get everything together.' I was like, 'All right!' I held auditions and everything. I had dance auditions. I had rap auditions. Once you meet one rapper, you meet more and more and more. It's like dominoes. You go to clubs. You network. I did two episodes already. I got big producers from all over the country just to come and check out my show. Got big sponsors. I wanna be the next Latin Don Cornelius [he laughs]. I want to produce my own TV shows. I want to hit the national syndication with Latin Active. Then, after that, I want to produce, like, the Latin 90210-type show. A drama series. This is just the starting point. The acting thing? I wanna do that, too. I got a love for it."