Thursday, May 8, 2014

ON SCREEN: Santiago Cirilo (September Issue 2013)

This is a story of a man who has had great sadness in his life.  It has not been easy.  It has been almost unbearable.  Yet, it is also a story of redemption and hope.

Santiago Cirilo was born in Puerto Rico but grew up on the shores of Lake Erie in Lorain, Ohio.  He lived with his parents, five brothers and one sister in a three bedroom duplex.  His mom worked nights to provide the only income.  They could not afford toys, so Santiago dug through dumpsters to find some.  He had to walk two miles to school, as early as nine years old.  It was difficult for Santiago to live in poverty but nothing compared to the difficulty of living with his abusive, alcoholic father.  Santiago remembers asking for church clothes and getting punched in the face.  He says he had to become a man earlier than most boys do. 

Santiago stayed focused in high school and was able to go to college.  It was a bit of a rebellion period for him because he had never really had fun.  He was going to have to leave college and go home, but he was approached by an Army recruiter and decided to join.  He was in the Army for six years, plus two years inactive.  During that time, he met his wife and became best friends with Ricky Van Shelton’s nephew, Jonathan, who got him into country music.  Santiago and Jonathan dreamed of starting a music and film company together.

After the Army, Santiago and his wife moved to Nashville.  He got a job sanding guitars for Gibson.  His fast work kept getting him moved up, until he was setting up guitars for artists like Keith Urban, Kid Rock, Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Lenny Kravitz and Toby Keith.  Santiago started seeing his guitars on television and decided he wanted to be the one on there.  He saw a commercial about acting courses and started doing research about how to get involved in the industry.  He took night classes earning degrees in Law and Dramatic Arts, while working at a law firm during the day.  Meanwhile, he contacted the top agents in LA, Atlanta, New Orleans and Nashville.  He ended up in LA for two months going to auditions, but he said there were 1000 just like him at every audition.  He ended up coming home and started doing local and national commercials and print modeling.  Eventually, he started getting emails from the agents in New Orleans and Atlanta with auditioning opportunities.  He landed his first big job on America’s Most Wanted, playing the villain on their anniversary show.  From then he started doing a lot of promotional videos and pilots, while basically living out of his car and keeping his day job at the law firm.

When Santiago’s acting career was really starting to take off, his grandmother passed away.  Soon after, his father passed away.  This really hit him hard.  For the last ten years of his life, he had stopped drinking and became a better man.  Santiago finally had a father.  After his death, Santiago broke down and felt empty.  He was depressed for two years, and his career was on hold.  His grandfather passed away during that time, as well.  One day, he asked God to just let him laugh.  He turned on the television and “Ellen” was on.  He said a lady called in to the show and said, “I love Jesus, but I drink a little.”  Santiago laughed for hours.  He says God gave him that moment, and he bounced back.  He began auditioning again and got a co-staring role along side Jason Lee on TNT’s Memphis Beat.

Santiago was beginning to get roles on shows on USA, The Discovery Channel, Lifetime and Fox.  Things were going well, and then his mother gets cancer.  Not long after that, he gets a call that his best friend, Jonathan, had taken his own life.  A month later, his mom passed away.  However, his says that God gave him the strength to deal with her death.  He was able to able to have time to say goodbye.  There was a moment before she died that they danced, and he will cherish it forever. 

Friends were worried about how Santiago was going to deal with more death, but he was able to keep his composure and continue acting.  He got more work in television and some films, including Country Strong, starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Tim McGraw.  Recently, he did two episodes of AMC’s The Walking Dead.  He plays the part of “Julio” in episodes four and eight with a possibility of more.

In addition to acting, Santiago has been writing scripts for movies.  He has a project called The Psalm that has gotten some interest from producers that want to get it in theaters by 2015.  He’s also involved in music, hosting shows and helping artists begin their careers.  His dream is to build a family entertainment company. 

Even though his life has not been an easy one, Santiago stays positive and focused on his career.  “Once God gives you a talent, you express it,” Santiago said.  “And people will see God’s gift more through what you do as a person.”

To find out more about Santiago Cirilo, go to

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