Interview: Embracing Artistry with ‘Russian Doll’ Actor Yul Vazquez.
Multi-talented actor Yul Vazquez continues to make his mark on the entertainment industry. With noteworthy roles in classic films like Captain Phillips, The A-Team, and Runaway Bride as well as hit TV series Seinfeld and The Sopranos under his belt, it is no surprise that he is part of Netflix’s latest binge-worthy blockbuster, Russian Doll. Fan Fest News had an opportunity to chat with Mr. Vazquez about his extensive acting career (including an upcoming role in an adaptation of Stephen King’s The Outsider), creative passions, social media pitfalls and more!
Linda Marie: Hi, Yul. How are you?
Yul: I’m good. I’m very good. How are you doing?
Linda Marie: I’m pretty good myself. I’m excited to speak with you and would like to start off by talking a little bit about your role in the Netflix hit, Russian Doll. Could you tell me a little bit about that?
Yul: Well, it’s one of those things that I went to the project because I was attracted to it and [am] friends with Natasha [Lyonne], and I really loved the character that she had brought to me. And we did it. No one could know what this show would become, but we just went with the story, and the pieces just fell together.
Linda Marie: I haven’t watched it yet but it’s definitely on my binge list! People compare it to Groundhog Day mixed with the supernatural. What is your feeling on that?
Yul: Well, the Groundhog Day reference is because she keeps coming back and dying. But, other than that, really, it’s pretty much its own sort of thing. It does have a supernatural element to it. I think it’s tough to explain it to you if you haven’t seen it. I think you need to see it-
Linda Marie: Oh, I absolutely will!
Yul: It’s really wild, and it’s shot in a very particular way, it’s beautifully shot, and it’s very New York. It really captures that Lower East Side.
“I tell you, I think people are reacting because it’s [Russian Doll] really its own thing in many, many ways. It has its own sort of beat.”
Linda Marie: Yeah, I mean it’s difficult to have a show that stands out. Are you guys surprised at its success?
Yul: You hope for the best. You hedge your bets, and you do the best you can, but you can never predict how something is going to be received. The reaction to this has been incredible. I mean, if you know somebody who can predict these things, then please, please, let me know.
Linda Marie: I’ll let you in on it. (laughs)
Yul: Yeah, fill me in on it Linda. (laughs) We knew we were making something that was really interesting, and we were all really happy to be making it and all that, and all the pieces were really, really great. Look at all the parties involved. But, one can never know. I’ve done things that had amazing components, and thought, “Oh this is going to be Gang Busters.” And it was not. So, again, just happy that it’s really worked out. I’m happy, really happy for Natasha who had a lot riding on this. They really put a lot into this. So I’m happy for them in a big way.
Linda Marie: Could you describe your on-screen relationship with Natasha?
Yul: I play her boyfriend, on and off. And he has a kid and he’s married. Or he was married. And it’s great. I mean, her and I have this really great ease. I’ve known her for a long time. We have this chemistry really, people have been talking about that. It sort of clicked. [It] was easy to play her boyfriend.
Linda Marie: It’s important to have that chemistry come across for people to buy into it.
Yul: Yeah. I mean who wouldn’t want to play Natasha Lyonne’s boyfriend.
Linda Marie: Nobody I could think of.
Yul: Exactly. It’s just a win-win, you know.
(Note: Shortly after our interview, I binge-watched Russian Doll. This stand-out series is a thrill ride of emotions and the stellar cinematography is only secondary to its swirling storyline. Bravo Ms. Lyonne!)
Linda Marie: That’s fantastic. Another project that piqued my interest is your involvement with The Outsider, one of Stephen King’s latest [stories].
Yul: Correct. I’m shooting that now.
Linda Marie: I read the book last year. Did you happen to read it?
Yul: Oh yeah.
Linda Marie: What did you think of it? How did this role come about?
Yul: Well the book is, you know, it’s Stephen King!
Linda Marie: Yeah.
Yul: So he’s pretty incredible. The book is great. The guy who’s writing the TV show adaptation is Richard Price, who is another genius. And again this is one of those situations where all the components are amazing. [It’s] Jason Bateman, it’s Ben Mendelsohn, it’s Bill Camp and Julianne Nicholson, Mare Winningham I mean it’s an unbelievable [cast] … it’s HBO. So again, you’re hoping for the best.
I got asked to read for it. Jason asked if I would make a tape. [So] I went into New York and made a tape, and then had a Skype with him and then he hired me. So, you know, one of those situations where you’re going to have to really compete if you wanted this one. You know what I mean?
Linda Marie: I feel like we’re in a bit of a Stephen King renaissance. As soon as he writes something, somebody wants to put it on the screen. And-
Yul: This is super cool. I mean who doesn’t want to do Stephen King stuff?! This show is so cool. I mean, you know the book… so you know. I don’t want to spoil it for anybody. But, it’s very dark.
Linda Marie: Yes it is.
Yul: I’m really excited to be doing this, I have to say. Jason Bateman is just the nicest dude in the world. Super talented, great, just a lovely man to work for.
“I’m very lucky. I always count my blessings. I have a reminder set on my phone every day at 3 o’clock. It’s a moment of gratitude.”
My phone goes off and it says, “Moment of gratitude.” And I just take a moment, and I stop, and I’m like, “All right.” No matter how the day is going. I mean if it’s going shitty, I’m like, “It’s all right, it’s all good. Grateful for everything.”
Linda Marie: That’s amazing. I don’t think enough people do that.
Yul: Sometimes I can’t take the moment right at 3 o’clock, but it does remind me. I mean it just forces you … it’s a grounding. It’s an interesting thing that happens with it. But, yeah, feel free to try it Linda.
Linda Marie: I will! I think we just get wrapped up in so much stuff that really doesn’t mean a whole lot. And yeah, I think to just sit back and take a look, and appreciate what you have, that’s important for sure.
Yul: Well you just hit the nail on the head. We get wrapped up in all this stuff, and all our nonsense. It’s all meaningless and nothing … it’s really all … at the end of the day, it’s all BS really.
Linda Marie: So true! Getting back to The Outsider though… is there a timeframe for when the series is coming out? I know you’re filming now.
Yul: We are literally 14 days into it.
Linda Marie: Oh, wow.
Yul: It is early … yeah, I mean it’s fresh. So, if I was guessing, you know, I think we shoot til July and then I would imagine some time in 2020 it’ll be out. Because obviously you know it takes a while to put together and all that sort of stuff. But I think it’s going to be, as they say, a humdinger.
Linda Marie: Awesome! I was looking online at your acting resume, I mean, it’s quite extensive. Is-
Yul: Well, you know, I try to stay out of trouble. (laughs)
Linda Marie: (laughs) Clearly you’re doing a good job. I don’t see your name being dragged through the muck anywhere on social media. So that’s a good thing.
Yul: It is. You know what … Yes you’re right, you’re right.
Linda Marie: I mean that was another thing I was going to bring up a little later because I see that you are on social media. It’s a dangerous space to be in sometimes.
Yul: You know, I’ve considered deleting all the social media accounts-
Linda Marie: Did you really?
Yul: Only because quite frankly sometimes it takes up too much of my time.
Linda Marie: It definitely can.
Yul: See I’m very visual … Instagram is a perfect thing for me because I think very much in pictures. I [also] have a website that you can feel free to go to. Nothing to do with acting, it’s my photography and my paintings.
Instagram for me is a thing where it’s a little window into my brain, with my paintings and photography, and guitar. I’ve been playing guitar since I was a kid. So I’m this sort of … I don’t know what you call it… multi hyphened kind of ball of insanity if you will, that just literally creates all the time. Do you know who Maynard James Keenan is?
Linda Marie: The name sounds familiar to me.
Yul: Maynard James Keenan is the singer for Tool, and for A Perfect Circle. He has a great quote that is,
“Life is too short to not create something with every breathe that we draw.”
I find that actually to be really true. So, if I’m not at work acting like I’m in the apartment painting, or I’m out walking around with a camera, or I’m playing guitar, or I’m developing a show. The hard drive spins pretty much all the time. Much to the chagrin of my reps, particularly my manager. (laughs)
Instagram is the perfect sort of vehicle because it’s so visually driven. But then I thought, “Man, I’m just gonna take it down. And I’m gonna take down the Twitter account.” The Twitter is more, you know, … sometimes you tweet live with fans. I love talking to fans. Fans are great. I’ve been lucky. Fans are nice to me. I don’t really make trouble, you know what I mean. Fans will write to me and I’m happy to respond to them. Some more than others. But it can really eat up like a good part of your day, I thought “I’m just going to get off … I’m just going to get rid of these things.” And then I thought, “Well, nah, maybe I’ll keep them.” So I don’t know, it’s up in the air.
You see what’s going on, on social media and all this, you can say something and it’s taken in the wrong way, it’s taken out of context. And suddenly you’re defending yourself. It’s like, “Wait a second, what just happened? Why am I defending myself now … ” I hate to explain myself to people. I don’t like to apologize for artistic decisions or things like that. So, you know, I think those things should be immune to [scrutiny] … whatever somebody does in their work, man that’s their work.
Linda Marie: Yes.
Yul: That’s their thing. Just don’t tune into their work. Like go see something else, you know. Well that’s my rant on social media.
Linda Marie: (laughs) I agree with you 100%. It can be a great way for you as an actor to connect with the fans. But like you said, anything can get misinterpreted.
Yul: For the most part, I think it’s a cool thing. A lot of my actor friends are opposed to social media, they’re just like, “No dude.” And then I see some people on Twitter that speak so freely. I mean a lot of people now are speaking really freely about things. And it’s very … We’re in an interesting time Linda-
Linda Marie: We are.
Yul: You’re a journalist.
Linda Marie: Yes.
Yul: You know.
Linda Marie: Yeah, and I’m very careful about what I post. I’d like to be a little freer. I’m envious of the people who speak as freely as the ones you’re talking about but then I see the repercussions. You know, looking at stuff right now, it’s insane, and I’ve debated, like you, getting rid of these accounts. But it’s tough. It’s tough.
Yul: It’s so nuts. It really is kind of nuts.
Linda Marie: Anyway lets-
Yul: … let’s talk about happier-
Linda Marie: You touched on your creative side. I did happen to go into the website with your photography and I found it fascinating. Music, photography, painting, obviously you’re a very creative person. I actually work a couple of artists myself. So, when I say-
Yul: Oh wow.
Linda Marie: Yeah, so when I saw this about you, it intrigued me. I feel like I end up interviewing people with these amazing artistic sides for a reason. I like to feature that aspect of a celebrity. I mean if you weren’t acting, is that [artwork] what you would be doing for a living?
Yul: Yeah, if I wasn’t acting I’d probably be in a band, or I would be painting, taking photographs. I mean I think it all connects.
“I mean to the keen observer, they will see in my acting, they will see elements of my paintings and my photography… to me it’s all connected.”
The more output that you have, and the more that you find avenues that you can express yourself, you will express yourself even more so in other areas. You know what I mean. It all feeds everything else.
Photo: Yul Vazquez
Yul: So, for me, I mean I’ve just done a … We’re not showing them yet. We’re going to show them soon. I don’t know if you know the actor Jordi Molla, an actor from Spain, he’s in a million things. We did a film together years ago. We did this film called Bad Boys two years ago and we became really, really good friends. He’s a very accomplished painter. So we just did this collaboration where we took my photographs … so we blew up 11 of my photos, four feet by three, and then he painted over them. So, literally I just got [them] yesterday the last six that were finished, and they’re pretty amazing.
Linda Marie: Wow.
Yul: We’re going to collect all those and do a show. And we don’t know where yet, but we’re going to do a show together. So it’ll be a combined thing. It’ll be me and him, and the show. And then we’ll go and we’ll maybe do it in L.A. and New York, and Miami, and whatever. Just take it around and like you know, just two artists collaborating, you know what I mean. It’s like two friends, artists, collaborating, producing this series, and sharing it. That’s all. It’s like-
Linda Marie: That sounds incredibly awesome! I’m in New Jersey. So if you have a show in New York I’ll definitely have to stop by and see that.
Yul: Well I’m sure after this we’ll follow each other on social media. And I’ll stay in touch with you. Absolutely! You come to the show.
Linda Marie: I would love to do that.
Linda Marie: Wow, I wanted to talk to you all about the TV series and we went off in a different direction.
Yul: It’s all connected.
Linda Marie: Getting back to the acting, is there anybody that has inspired you along the way? Is there somebody you’ve always wanted to work with?
Yul: Well, the people that inspired me are, there are people that continue to inspire me but my main influence was an actor called Montgomery Clift, who was a guy that I worshiped. I still do. The simplicity in his work. His ability to listen in scenes which to me is all … that’s another conversation, but that’s the guy. Peter Sellers is another genius that influenced me, inspired me tremendously. I was very, very close with Phil Hoffman. He was one of my best friends and he was a guy that I would always go to talk about things and advice. And we would sit and talk about a lot of stuff. I learned a lot from him and just how he sort of approached things. I’ve been fortunate to have worked with directors who really inspired me, and sort of guided me. And yeah. I don’t know if that answers your-
Linda Marie: It does.
Yul: J.T. Walsh, who also passed away. He was well known to actors. He was an actors actor. I mean he was a guy that pound for pound was just solid, an incredible actor, you know.
Who would I like to work with? I would love to work with Yorgos Lanthimos the Greek director, directed The Favourite. But I’ve been following his work for a long time. Carlos Reygadas, the Mexican director. I’ve been fortunate to have worked with some of the titans in our business. Steven Soderbergh, the guy I’ve made three movies with, I’d work with him again in a second. There’s another young director called Noah Buschel. Another young director called Brad Furman. Those two guys I’ve made three movies a piece with each one of them. You know, I’d love to work [with] Paul Greengrass… these are all artists. These are all people who really have cinematic voices. Like genuine cinematic voices. And that’s always interesting to me. Sam Rockwell and I have a project that we’ve been trying to make for a while. There are a million people that I would love to get in there again with them, you know what I mean, and shake it up.
Linda Marie: Yeah.
Yul: I mean I’m inspired by so many. This is going to sound insane to you, but I watch … Or maybe it won’t, maybe it-
Linda Marie: You know it might not. I’ve heard a lot of things. (laughs)
Yul: I’m obsessed with YouTube videos of people who restore things. Like I watched today… a guy takes an old scotch taped dispenser, I mean this thing is really old, and restores it. Like down to the last molecule. Like perfection. I’m obsessed with people, I’m obsessed with that level of detail. With people who think like that way and can do stuff that well, is fascinating to me. I could watch somebody who does something very well, I don’t care if it’s making tea like I can watch that because they’re doing it so well. Like there’s a tremendous amount of attention in what they’re doing.
Photo: Yul Vazquez
Linda Marie: That’s pretty funny. I was actually just going to ask you when you’re not busy filming, painting, or photography, or music… what do you like to do? What do you watch? Well, you pretty much just answered me, right?
Yul: I go down a YouTube rabbit hole. I go off on tangents. I remember I was in London doing a play and I went down this YouTube rabbit hole of Apnea spearfishing. Guys who go down like 150 feet on one breath. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I’m like, “This is just insane.” And I just couldn’t stop … I would watch it all the time. I was like, “How are they doing this.” I know, I know, It’s a ball of confusion I am.
Linda Marie: No, I think it’s amazing. I mean you … The friends that are in my life, like I said, most of them are artists and creators, so this is not unusual for me to hear at all. It’s normal in my world.
Yul: Well, I’m happy to hear that.
Linda Marie: You would get along very well with my group of friends.
Yul: Oh well that’s good. I’m happy to hear that-
Linda Marie: I love it.
Yul: And know, I will never forget your name because it’s my wife’s name. My wife is Linda Larkin.
Linda Marie: Well, I don’t want to take up too much of your time and would like to wrap up by asking what advice you would give to somebody trying to make their way in the entertainment industry? I mean you’ve seen and done a lot.
Yul: The thing that always helped me whether I was acting or playing guitar or taking a photograph or painting was [ I found] somebody that did that thing really well, that I admired. I would watch what they were doing, in any one of those disciplines. I would watch what they were doing and I would strive to … I would copy, I would steal, you know, I would steal from them… and I mean steal in the best possible way.
Linda Marie: I understand.
Yul: You know it’s going to come through you, in your own voice ultimately.
Linda Marie: Right.
Yul: But I think every great artist started as a great fan.
Linda Marie: Yes. Yes, yes, yes!
Yul: Yeah, you have to be a great fan, and then you go and you’re like, “God, how are they doing that. How are they doing that? I want to do that.” And then you work, and you work hard. So, if you have an understanding of hard work, and I mean really hard work. Like playing hours, and hours, and hours every day, all the while having a target. So [as] a young artist, have an idea of the career that you want to have. Identify that. Maybe it could be one or two people, three people, but whatever. Identify that, and say, “That’s my lighthouse, man. That’s my target.” And work as hard as you can to stay on that target, and to reach that. The winds will blow you off course because that’s just life. But in the clarity of having that target, you will arrive somewhere close to that.
Ultimately you have to have your own career. That’s another component to the equation, never compare yourself to anybody. The minute you do that you’re dead in the water.
You can’t look at the person next to you and be like, “Oh my god, that guy is doing this and that. It’s not easy to be an artist. It is a noble undertaking. And it is filled with pain and tears, and joy and everything, you know what I mean?
Linda Marie: Yes.
Yul: It runs a gamut. So I guess, have a target. Have a crystal clear target.
Linda Marie: That makes sense. That makes total sense. I appreciate your taking the time to talk about all of this.
Yul: It’s my pleasure Linda.
Many thanks to Mr. Vazquez for an enlightening conversation. Catch his performance in Russian Doll now streaming on Netflix and be sure to visit his website, yulvazquez.com to see more of his phenomenal photography. I wish him continued creative success!