Exclusive Interview with Get Shorty’s Goya Robles

Goya Robles is an emerging actor with a promising career. Currently, he can be seen as Yago on the EPIX hit show Get Shorty, based on the novel and the movie of the same name. I got the chance to talk to Goya about what we can expect from his character in season two, how he got involved with the project initially, his poetry, what he nerds out about and so much more. Keep reading to see what he had to say.

How did you first get involved with acting and the entertainment industry in general? 

It’s kind of funny. There was this girl that I really liked when I was doing my undergrad at the University of Bridgeport. I just wanted to find a way in [with her] and she was an actress. She had this play going on called Platanos and Collard Greens and I loved it. I went back to see it again and I had a different experience. I was so intrigued by the fact that I had such different experience watching the same show, so I decided, “You know what? I’ve never acted a day in my life, but I want to try this.” I got an audition for the grad school program at the [Actors] Studio Drama School [at Pace University] in New York and I asked a friend to help me with the audition. I got in. So that’s how it happened. Just all because of a girl.

That’s so funny. What were you studying in school at the time if it wasn’t acting? 

I was studying music, but, you know, I didn’t really take it too serious. I joined a fraternity. I partied a lot harder than I studied. I was really looking for, I guess, something that really I could consume myself with and that’s what this ended up being.

So would you credit that play or that girl… what made you know acting was what you wanted to do for a living? 

I guess it’s really about the work that I did with my teacher at the time – Elizabeth Kemp. She taught me how to dig as deep as I can within my own self to create a character and that every character has a wound that they hide from everyone. If you tap into that world within yourself then you can access any person’s livelihood. I knew that once I got the training, once I just had the willingness to be able to do that for myself, to trust those parts of myself, I was able to do that with characters that I created. Then it just kind of hit me like, “Wow. I’m willing to go to those places. I’m willing to go to those vulnerable places, to those dark places that most people avoid and I enjoy doing it.” I didn’t have anyone around me that told me I shouldn’t [pursue acting] and the people that did, I just kind of stopped hanging around them.

I want to talk about your current project, Get Shorty. Season two is premiering and we left off with your character and Bliz conspiring to have Miles gunned down as if it were an accident. But that never happened. Where do we find Yago in season 2? 

Well, without giving up too much of what ends up happening, because it does get crazy, he’s always just wanting to be seen as a man that his Aunt can respect. We start off this season at that juncture. I’m in Nevada, that’s kind of where we left off last season, but I’m still kind of disconnected from everything that’s happening in LA. There’s definitely this sense of betrayal and disregard that’s still present. Yago is attempting to try to fight through so that he can be seen as a legitimate part of this organization and legitimate part of the family. So that tension is still there. And the Yago and Miles relationship really takes a turn that most people just wouldn’t expect, so I’ll just kind of leave it at that. 

Interesting. I want to go back to the beginning of Get Shorty for a second. What did you initially think of this project when you first heard about it and what was your audition process like? 

Before I got the audition, I was working at Cheesecake Factory part-time. I was working as a part-time teacher at the Lee Strasberg Institute too and I had little hustles on the side. But I was still really struggling and really contemplating whether I had the strength to be involved in the industry anymore because it took quite the toll to keep hearing “no” over and over again. So one day, I came home tired from work and I was just about to give up and I had got an audition from my manager. She said “You can actually book this,” which she never says because I usually go to an audition just to try to get [in] good with the casting director, [even though] I might not necessarily be right for the project. After a while, I [didn’t] care [anymore]. But when she told me that, I was like, “Alright, well if that’s the case then I have to prepare differently than any other time I’ve ever prepared for an audition.” 

So I got three people that I respect tremendously, that had completely different takes on the work. I also did animal work, which is a big part of my training, where we do research on the animal, completely embody the animal, how it survives, how it is in situations [of being prey] versus being predator. So I did all that work, humanized the animal and just took what I [could] get from the feedback that I got with the people I’m close to it. I went in there and I never looked at my sides once. I just did my thing and I completely allowed every thought that was coming up in my mind to just live in the character, even thoughts that I thought were inappropriate, maybe thoughts that I thought were distracting or anything… I just somehow found a way to justify it to Yago. And I guess that’s what they liked. They loved that work. 

I remember walking into the audition space, just to give you an example, I walked into the audition waiting room and no one was around, except this one lady on the opposite side. I go to sign in and I sit down in this area where there are two chairs and this pillar kind of blocks everything off. So I’m literally isolated, I’m just by myself in my process and some guy walks in and I could tell he’s auditioning for Yago; he can sit anywhere else that he wanted, but he decided to sit right next to me in that second chair, just kind of as a way to throw me off. And I was judging him the whole time and I was just talking so much crap in my head about who this guy was and I let it live because that’s what Yago would do. Because of that, I walked into my audition and completely lost myself in it. It was cool. It was one of the few auditions that I could say, “I had a lot of fun.” 

Was the whole process callback after callback or did you know a week later you got the part?

After that initial audition, I got a call back on that same day. I think I went back three days later, or something like that. I met with the director, Allen Coulter, Davey Holmes, who is the creator, and the casting director. I went in and I did my thing. I kind of knew in the middle of the audition, after we did the first scene. I took a peek up and I saw Davey look at Allen Coulter, they were nodding to each other and that was just kind of a moment for me. I’m like, “Well, I know that shit and I’m going to be confident as hell that I’m going to take [it]. I’m going to keep that win, regardless of if I book it or not.” I just felt that they felt what was happening. I walked out and then a few days later I got an offer. They didn’t even have a screen test; it just went straight to an offer. It was nice. It was a nice win.

Since the show is based on the novel and movie, did you ever use that as source material? Were you familiar with either one beforehand? Or did you create Yago separate from that and know he was yours? 

It was kind of a combination of the two. I picked up the book and I started it but I didn’t finish it. The movie I was very familiar with. I don’t know, I just kind of wanted to do my own thing and see what happened. [In] the animal work I did, I worked on a spotted hyena; the mannerisms, everything that I picked up from doing that work, I don’t know, it just felt like I could start to create my own take on what this is and it just ended up working well. Yago is a dark character. He wants to be loved and accepted, but because he’s not getting it he’s willing to cause havoc until he gets acknowledged. I feel like that’s kind of something that I have access to in my own world.

Would you say Yago is similar or different to yourself? And how much of yourself do you put into that character, if any at all? 

For me, I tend to, whenever I’m dealing with any situation that is confronting, go inward. Eventually, if I don’t deal with it, it’ll blow up at some point, but I tend to just go inside. I don’t really reveal as much. With Yago, everything is externalized. Every part of his wound, he makes someone else pay for it. I think that’s probably the biggest difference. I mean, I got abandonment issues and so does Yago, we have similar wounds, but just how we deal with it is completely different.

Davey Holmes is the creator and showrunner. He has done, and continues to do, such a phenomenal job with this show. Talk a little bit about what it’s like working with him. 

Davey is probably one of the most creative people that I know. He likes to work with others around him and let that inform him of what direction he’s going to go in. He’s definitely invited me to the writers’ room, he’s invited other actors into the writers’ room and just get feedback from us as to who we think our characters are, what we think is going on, what ideas we have; he’s just that kind of guy. He’s just a cool ass dude, man. He’s a cool guy to hang out with and he knows how to bring people’s spirits up. He creates that kind of environment, whether it’s a creative environment or you’re just shooting the shit. I’m happy to know, that even with that level of success, someone can be so himself.

This show did such a good job with the ensemble cast. What is it like working with everybody? 

Well, [in] the first season everyone didn’t know each other, so we were all stuck in Albuquerque. I don’t want to stay stuck…

You were isolated there.

Yes, isolated, that’s a better word. We were isolated in Albuquerque; not my favorite place, but the crew and the cast made it such a great experience, which I think we really needed. I think that if we had done it in a place like LA for the first season, I don’t think we would have gotten as close as we did. The woman that plays Amara [Lidia Porto], I literally call her Tia because, personally, she just really feels like she’s my aunt. When we’re on break, it doesn’t matter, we find reasons to try to hang out with each other and really connect; because of that, it’s fed us on the screen, so much so where we don’t have to work nearly as hard to connect to each other versus being on a project where you don’t know anyone and you might have to do extra work on the meat so that you feel connected to the person. It wasn’t like that. We’ve managed to find this spot within our relationships that really feeds our work. So it’s nice to have that.

I know you’re also really big into poetry. How did you get into writing it? 

Well, it really started off as writing hip-hop lyrics when I was in high school my freshman year, [in] ’96. I wrote this verse and I said it to one of my people. After I said it, he was like, “That’s the worst thing I’ve ever heard.” He goes, “You’re just talking about beating people up and violence and all this stuff. Why don’t you write about something that actually matters?” I was kind of blown away by what he said, so I went back and I wrote something completely different. I went back and [read it to] him and it completely blew his mind. It was like a completely different light. So I just went on this track of like, “Oh, I got to write about things that actually matter.” And that’s how it started off.

But the poetry part happened… there was a girl. All of this stuff starts with a girl [laughs]. This girl, she kind of broke my heart in a sense. Well, I broke her heart too, but I wrote about it. I watched a lot of Def Jam poetry and I wanted to write something like that, so I just did it. Then, my work ended up developing into this hip-hop, lyrical, but poetic-type of style. After a while, there was a few years where I stopped performing completely, but I kept writing. And I kept writing really personal stuff. That’s why I stopped performing because my stuff got really personal. It wasn’t until an event I created, where I created a platform for me to share my personal work, that’s where it really transformed. Now my work tends to be a lot more personal. 

That’s awesome. I read you also teach slam poetry. Every kind of mentorship or teaching experience is rewarding in some kind of way, but what’s your most memorable or rewarding experience?

Well, I have quite a few. I think one of the moments that I remember was in class. Everybody created a piece of work that we were all attempting to transfer from the paper into the body, trying to find different ways to do that. There was this one girl, she started reading her piece and it was a deep piece; I believe it was a piece, juxtaposed against the church, but just [about] being shut down, sexually, emotionally abused, things like that. She’s saying it and she was kind of airy about it, just avoiding going deep. I started noticing that her feet kept going back and forth, so I had her start again from the top and as she started, I just went to her feet and I grabbed them and I placed them and I just grounded them, just so that she can feel that she’s connected to the ground, that she’s connected to herself. Just from that simple act, it just unleashed this huge flood of emotions from her and completely changed what that piece meant. It’s moments like that that just stay with me because you can write anything, but if you don’t give it what you haven’t done, then it’s never going to really have the depth that you were hoping it would have. So it’s moments like that that I remember. 

That’s incredible. Last question — our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have an inner nerd. What is something you nerd out? 

Something that I nerd out about… I mean I’m fascinated with quantum physics. I like to watch Ted Talks. I like to read little think [pieces] about space and black holes and sometimes I freak myself out [when] I watch these things on black holes and how big they are; it’s almost like I like to scare myself from knowing how finite we are and all these different things about dark matter and dark energy and stuff like that all while playing my guitar. I’m nerd out on my guitar big time. So those are the two things I would say. 

Do you ever wish you had studied quantum physics and all that stuff in college? Would you ever have any interest in getting a degree in it? 

I actually studied conceptual physics and I rocked it out, but there’s a point when the math gets a little too crazy. I would have loved, in another life, to have been an astrophysicist, someone like Neil deGrasse Tyson. I would have loved to be someone like him; he’s a genius. So yeah, in a secret life. 

Maybe you’ll just have to play a physicist on TV or in a movie or something. 

Oh man, I would love that [laughs]. 

Season 2 of Get Shorty premieres August 12 at 9/8c on EPIX. You can follow Goya on Instagram and Twitter.

This interview has been edited for clarity.
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