“Scarface” actor on why he changed his Latino name to “Steven Bauer”

Steven Bauer at Veselka in NYC in April 2011. (Photo/Kristina Puga)

Steven Bauer at Veselka in NYC in April 2011. (Photo/Kristina Puga)

At 54-years-old, Steven Bauer is as tall and good-looking as he was when he played “Manolo” in “Scarface” almost 30 years ago, but broader with a few added extra pounds, and his honey complexion slightly weathered. With his involuntary exuberant charm, and warm smile, the need melts away for any apology for being late to our brunch at Veselka in NYC.

“I was playing music last night with my son till really late in the Bowery,” he says.

Making sure to say “hi” to the two little kids at the adjacent table first, he then turns his attention to me. Although not currently married, he makes it known immediately that he is a family man, as something innately reminds him to make a quick, but heartfelt call in perfect Spanish to his father in Miami.

“Feliz cumpleaňos Papi!,” he says with his huge smile again, as he affectionately chit chats with his newly turned 80-year-old father.

Bauer has been in New York for the past week shooting the independent film, ‘Knuckleheads’, produced and directed by David Karges and written by Jaime Zevallos, set to release to film festivals this fall. In between filming, he also makes time to visit his two sons – the eldest (his son with first wife Melanie Griffith) a musician, and the younger a musical theater actor.

In two days, he’s off to Albuquerque to film some scenes for the cable series “Breaking Bad” on AMC, before he’s back to his home base in Hollywood, Calif.

According to the 2010 Census data, there are 12 million Hispanics between the ages of 20-24 today, and there will be an expected 30 million by 2050. What was it like starting out as a Latino actor in the U.S. in the 1970’s, and how do you think it has changed today?
When I was starting out as an actor, it was a very small restricted area for anyone with foreign names. Hollywood was famous for having people change their identities. When I started, Latinos were not counted. There were a lot of Latino art organizations that created theater and art programs, but for themselves.

The bilingual PBS sitcom, ‘¿Qué Pasa, USA?’, became popular because of the need in Miami. There were a lot of Latino kids in the public school district. I was 19, going to the University of Miami – I used to get lots of fan mail for it. One of the creators was my professor, Manny Mendoza. He wrote the grant to produce it. It was aimed as a language tool for bilingual education for kids and adults – kids who are Americanized, parents starting over, and grandparents living in the house too, but it’s too late for them to learn English. The show took off because it related to anyone who grew up in a three generation household – in New Jersey, California, Texas – anywhere there were Latinos.

In the 1960’s, my generation came to the U.S. I was so desperate to be an American that I didn’t hang with Cubans. I don’t dance salsa. When I was 13 and 14, I was playing Beatles, Stones, Bob Dylan and Sinatra…classical music, too, which made me a nerd to a lot of my friends.

The new generation can embrace both cultures. We weren’t allowed to. Nowadays, they can meet other Latinos, but that can be a fault because they never have to learn English.
You have to learn English – you have to make an effort. You can retain your culture, but learn the language of the land. Any ethnocentricity is wrong.

Today, there are more Latino roles, and they have gone way beyond the gang member or janitors of the piece. Now there are military heroes, mayors, and politicians.

Named Esteban Ernesto Echevarría Samson at birth, you used to be credited as Rocky Echevarría when you first started acting. What made you change your name to Steven Bauer?
Rocky was a gimmicky name. When I became an adult, it didn’t feel real, and no one could pronounce Echevarría. Thirty years later, people can attempt it, but it’s not Garcia or Perez. It was my father’s idea to use my mom’s German side, which is Bauer. In the early days, it also eliminated the problem of “he’s Latino”.

What do you love about acting? 
It lets me experience life that I might otherwise not experience. By taking on a character, you are already taking on a behavior that is not your own. I like to play characters that I haven’t experienced so that I can experience life that I don’t know. That’s fun. For me, it’s very therapeutic.

What was your favorite role and why?
My favorite role so far…’Scarface’ was very fun. EXHILARATING actually – working with Al Pacino. I also enjoyed the role of the young Israeli I played in ‘Sword of Gideon’ (1986), and more recently in ‘Session’ that’s coming out this year with Bar Refaeli.

My role as Manny in ‘Knuckleheads’ is one of my favorite roles I’ve ever played because it’s emotionally satisfying. I play a man trying to get on with his life when he feels there is nothing worth living for. My work in this film is as good as I’ve ever done. It has given me an opportunity to show my many colors.

Jaime Zevallos, the writer of the film, also co-stars with me. He told me that when he wrote the script, he had me in mind to play the role. I think it’s going to speak to a lot of hurting people. It’s not a Latino movie – it goes beyond any ethnic identity. It’s about hurt and healing – with a sense of humor.

Favorite place?
Miami. So many great memories there and the climate; my parents and my culture is there. I love Cuban culture. Even though I was only three-years-old when I came to the U.S., I retain a love and loyalty for where I came from.

As we leave, he makes sure to tell me to follow him on Twitter. I’m “thestevenbauer,” he says.

Originally published in AOL Latino.