It’s difficult to know where to begin to talk about Benjamin Levy Aguilar, one of the stars of the new Kim Cattrall-led Fox drama Filthy Rich. Born in Guatemala, the actor spent years playing professional football in Milan, Italy, before returning home to work as a security guard during the presidential election. Back in his home country, Aguilar trained in fighting, picking up Krav Maga, and other styles before eventually venturing to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting. “It feels like it’s been different lives that I’ve lived, like all in different stages,” laughs Aguilar. “It’s so crazy.”
While Aguilar is now a lead on a major network television programme, “acting was actually never part of the dream,” he says. “Acting was like a different dimension… I didn’t even know you could make money out of it or have a career out of it. I didn’t know there was such a thing as acting classes.” Instead, his motivation to act came from a random moment of self-discovery that occurred while he was waiting in line to renew his driving licence.
“I was depressed and unhappy with my life. I was burnt out. I told my mom I was unhappy and she was looking at a TV screen and she just said, ‘Hey Ben, what about acting? Why don’t you try that?’ And I was like, ‘Oh. Oh shit. Okay. That sounds fun. I like movies. So how do I do that?’ And she said, ‘I guess you go to Hollywood, maybe?’ I was like, ‘Hollywood. Yeah. Okay. Let’s do it.’ Literally, a day later, I bought my ticket to L.A., and five days after that I arrived.”
Once he settled in Hollywood, Aguilar’s passion shifted full-time to acting. “I got obsessed with it,” he says. “At that point, it was so hard for me. I had so much stage fright, and I was so nervous. It was nothing compared to what I’d done with my body before, like soccer or fighting. It was so emotional, so challenging, and I fell in love with it.”
From there, the whirlwind continued. Aguilar poured his heart and soul into the craft, taking whatever gigs he could and committing as hard as possible. For one short, which Aguilar remembers paid about $300, he rediscovered his interest in fighting and lost over two stone (roughly 12 kgs) in 30 days. Agents and casting directors began to take notice, and soon, he was heading out for his first pilot season.
“[My manager] got me the audition for Filthy Rich two weeks after we had first shaken hands,” Aguilar recalls. “Then I got the callback, and I had a black eye for the callback. [Creator] Tate Taylor was like, ‘Is that a shiner?’” Aguilar laughs. “It was so fast. The first audition was on Thursday, the screen test was the next Wednesday morning, and I found out I booked it that Thursday. So there was a weekend and my whole life had changed.”
Playing Antonio on Filthy Rich took Aguilar to places he had never been before — both figuratively and literally. As his first television experience, the show taught him the ins and outs of the industry while filming on location in Louisiana, a part of the world Aguilar had never seen before. “It was like a different country,” he remembers. “New Orleans has such a beautiful, complex history, and you can see it in the streets and the people in you meet. Everyone’s really nice.”
Naturally, Aguilar also fell head over heels for the food — even if staying in shape for the role meant he couldn’t enjoy it as much as he would have liked. “The food in New Orleans has so much flavour! It’s ridiculous! It’s like every restaurant will give you the best kind of anything you ask for!” He chuckles. “There was a love-hate relationship with that because I knew I had to be in shape for the role. Maybe I can pitch to the creators that Antonio becomes a heavyweight in season two. Then I can just go all in.”
Aguilar shares some similarities with his character on Filthy Rich, which he says gives him a key insight into his character. “It’s just one of those things where life imitates art and vice versa,” he explains. “Antonio grew up without a father and with a single mother, and I grew up with a single mother. It was really kind of like a beautiful thing that they found me.”
Having that lived experience allowed him to understand the pitfalls that portraying the role might have. “I knew what the trap would be with his character at first, which would be playing him like this very tough, very aggressive type of person. He really isn’t that,” Aguilar notes. “I don’t want to generalise it, but speaking from personal experience, growing up without a father and with a single mother made me kind of seek approval and a need to be loved. You carry that with you in your tone, the way you talk.”
“[Antonio]’s actually very sensitive,” he continues. “He’s a father and has a two-year-old son to take care of, and then he has this completely different personality when he’s fighting. That’s where he can really let go of everything that he’s ever had to hold onto. He can take out all of his aggression, his resentment, his pain, his passion, his purpose, and just channel it toward his fighting and toward his career.”
As the show centres on religion — the family in the show earned their money from a Christian television network — the topic comes up in conversation naturally. While the show’s portrayal may be controversial, Aguilar emphasises that the programme’s true story, and heart, lies within its characters. “I think that religion is definitely one of the plots of the show,” says Aguilar, “but at the same time, I think the show’s real focus is this diverse group of people who come together around [Christianity] — and then find a way to coexist and accept each other despite their differences.”
“I think that’s something we as a community all need right now,” he concludes. “We need to understand that there are people who might just disagree with you and have a different point of view or a different upbringing, but we can still respect each other.”
‘Filthy Rich’ is currently airing on FOX. Watch the trailer here.
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