Brooklyn actor Juan Ayala talks industry representation in 100 episodes of ‘Actors with Issues’

Juan Ayala_headshot1_photo credit_Molly Gazay Photography
Juan Ayala interviews film, TV and theater actors from around the world on his podcast ‘Actors with issues.’
Molly Gazay Photography

Next time you watch a show, mind the people in the back, too.

Most actors go through years of hustling through auditions with no callbacks, mental health struggles and bad-paying jobs with no lines before they catch their big break on Broadway or TV. But when they do, Flatbush-based actor Juan Ayala brings them on his podcast, so everyone can hear how fun — but tough — the industry can be.

Best known for his roll as lab tech Woods in Blindspot, Ayala started “Actors with Issues,” by interviewing co-stars and fellow actors. Two years later, the one-on-one audio show that exposes the most vulnerable sides of people’s favorite stars released its 100th episode on April 25.

In his first 100 episodes, Ayala has interviewed a range of talent from across the entertainment arena including cast members of Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story, Broadway’s Pippin, HBO and CBS stars and Golden Globe nominee Elsie Fisher.

Brooklyn Paper spoke with the local creative about his vision, and what comes next for “Actors With Issues:”

Brooklyn Paper: You are an actor and you are also a producer. Which one would you say is more difficult as a career?

Juan Ayala: My main focus is still acting, but the podcast producing pays the bills. That definitely consumes most of my time. When it comes to acting, I’ll do one class a week just to keep the skill sharp, and if I get an audition, I’ll work on that for several hours before I get to it.

Lots of auditions are for small rolls, like for a soccer coach with one line in an episode of ‘Law and Order,’ those are very easy to film. February and March is pilot season, when networks decide what new shows to produce. I had like 20 auditions or maybe 25 auditions within those two months. Then, sometimes, you’ll get auditions for a much larger role, especially for musical theater when you have two scenes, two songs and you have to record a dance combination. As an actor, you can be a well-oiled machine: you have your technique down, so you get your script, you break it down, you use techniques to memorize your lines and then you do your tape or you do your performance.

The podcasts is really a conversation, it’s not heavily scripted, but I’m a one-man team over here. I have to call people back and forth, deal with timezones because a lot of the guests are actors from Los Angeles or they’re in Canada. I’ve called people from Australia. The schedule is kind of crazy. Some of the interviews are time sensitive because they want it to go out while there’s buzz around the show my guest is acting on.

BP: What is the best part of speaking with accomplished actors as a job?

JA: The conversation gets pretty in-depth. Early on the show, these were actors that were friends of mine, that I had worked with or knew through other people. Then, as the show grew, we got a bigger audience and I am working with publicists who are sending me their clients. I’m talking with actors who are starring in TV shows or doing film or are on Broadway. It has been great getting both perspectives and also seeing that they deal with the same stuff

BP: What are these actors’ main issues?

JA: They have to deal with mental health and deal with being type-casted. The job can take a lot of money away from you before you can make any. How to navigate the industry as an actor-of-color and how to stand against stereotypes is a struggle. You might have a ton of experiences that make you perfect for a role, but TV writers or the producer or the director, or the casting director have a specific vision in mind, but if you don’t look the part, because you might not be dark enough or you are too tall or whatever, you might not fit that stereotype.

The guests on my show coincide on how, as much as we talk about diversity and inclusion in entertainment, there’s still a long way to go. Also, a lot of actors are bad at taking care of themselves, but it is crucial to do so in this industry. They don’t eat well, they don’t take time to do self-care, they don’t check in with themselves or go to therapy. They get obsessed with the hustle and the grind and all that nonsense that some people tell you every actor must do. I completely disagree. You can’t be a good actor if you show up to your audition looking like a zombie because you worked late last, you stayed up all night rehearsing your materials. You are going to walk in with red eyes from not sleeping and everyone is going to notice.

It is a very frustrating job. Acting is not something that you wake up knowing you’re going through that day. Some very successful actors’ careers started late. Some had to do a lot of other stuff first, like Brad Pitt. One of his jobs was wearing a chicken costume and then, he became a movie star fairly early at 30. I’m not 30 yet.

Gil Perez-Abraham who plays Officer Martinez in The Batman speaks about his struggles in ‘Actors with Issues.’Screenshot

BP: What is the take away of Actors with issues?

JA: ‘Don’t stress so much about overcoming most of your struggles right now because everyone deals with them,’ is one. It’s very eye-opening to realize you’re not alone in your struggle. Every other actor is dealing with this, whether they’re working as a waiter, a bartender and running to auditions. It’s important for actors to find a little support group with their fellow actors and be able to talk about all of these things that they’re going through to celebrate victories, but also, talk about the bad stuff.

People think that it’s very competitive and it is. That doesn’t mean you can’t have friends or actors who can help you navigate at all. ‘Just play,’ is really my favorite.

BP: Is dealing with these issues worth it?

JA: Knowing that you’re entertaining people is great. If I am in something that either entertains or makes people laugh or makes them cry or enjoy, it can be very cool.

BP: What should we expect for the 100th episode with Eddie Liu, from CW’s Kung Fu and Netflix’s Never Have I Ever as your guest?

JA: Eddie went through a long audition process and got casted for a show that got shut down 5 days in because of the pandemic. He talks about what was going through his head at the time, the ‘this is my first main cast role’ shock, the ‘are we going to do this someday?’ constant worry. Through one year, he had been the second choice for three different roles and he didn’t get any of them, but he had to learn not to take it personally and remind himself it was not his decision to make.

BP: What will be the goal for the next 100 episodes of Actors with issues?

JA: To share what the industry is really like through funny and honest conversations. People think acting is glamorous. Nope, there’s a lot behind it. When I was working on ‘Blindspot,’ I was part of this cool fight and shootout scene with fake explosions going off everywhere. It took eight hours to film a one-minute action sequence. That’s what people in the industry mean when they say they must cut out a show or characters from it because they don’t have the budget.

BP: Who is your next dream interviewee?

JA: Oscar Isaac. He is a Latino actor and he is in some of the biggest franchises that I grew up watching. We never saw other Latinos in them. Getting to see him in ‘Star Wars’ movies and in a Marvel show is huge for me. There are like no young Latino movie stars. We have people like Tom Holland, Jennifer Lawrence and Timothée Chalamet, but no Latino counterparts of that size, unfortunately. I want to hopefully be part of that change. I would love to about what it feels like being part of that change.

I want ‘Actors with Issues’ to be what people search to hear from their favorite actors and I want it to be the podcast everyone knows. I am working towards that.

“Actors With Issues” is available to stream on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music and YouTube.