The actor talks about his hit Netflix show, social issues close to his heart, and how his journey began.
Anonymity is still a piece of Marcel Ruiz’s life. While people will recognize him, enthuse over his videos or the episodes of his television show, the young actor admits that the public and more specifically his fans don’t really know much about him.
He says most of the people that follow him or have seen him in Netflix’s “One Day at a Time” only know him from photos or just as Alex as a character. In an act to get closer to his fans and let them see who he is, Marcel created a YouTube channel.
Currently boasting videos like a room tour, a question & answer, and what a normal day at school is like for him, Marcel is already reaching tens of thousands of views.
“I feel like if I start putting videos out on YouTube, just for fun, they’ll see more of Marcel or they’ll learn more about me, which I feel is cool,” says the actor.
His friends would ask him what kind of channel it would be, what genre would it fit in. “I would say, ‘I feel like a lot.’” An athletic person in real life, he says the channel will feature sports in addition to his vlogs. Fans can expect shopping trips, pranks, and more Q & A videos as well. “Pretty simple stuff,” he sums up. “Comedy and things that I like.”
Much of Marcel’s life has been spent in front of or behind cameras. His parents own a production company and through that, his hobby of acting came about.
“Honestly, I really didn’t ever think, ‘Oh, I wanna become an actor!’” He recalls being raised on a set. “My parents made commercials and movies – they’re filmmakers – and I was used to that. I would do commercials for them or be in some of their projects,” he explains of how he first got involved. Moving from Puerto Rico to Los Angeles, he was put in an agency. “They knew I could do it,” says Marcel of his parents. However, he still treated acting as a hobby and nothing serious. It wasn’t until he started getting more serious parts that he began to consider it as more than just a hobby. “It’s more than just for fun,’” he remembers thinking.
“I just started taking it more seriously, but still, I even do it just for fun and as a hobby.” He acknowledges that he is working more. “It’s a lot of work but I have a lot of fun doing it.”
His parents, ever supportive of him, are who he turns to when it comes to advice or help on acting.
“I never took any acting classes or anything like that, so any time I have an audition, my parents will help me.” While the time he spent with his parents at their production company has helped, the influence for his acting comes from them as directors. “Instead of just going to a class, I’ll go to them and that’ll just help me a lot.”
Marcel brings all that his parents taught him, and his own charisma and talent, to the table when it comes to “One Day at a Time”. He portrays Alex, the youngest of the Alvarez family. The actor describes his character to be the person who, when everyone is sad or are fighting, wants to put a smile on everyone’s face. He adds, “[Alex is] there to sometimes be a little goofy, just pull pranks on people and stuff like that.” Athletic like himself, and just a year or two younger than he, one of Marcel’s favorite aspects of his character is, despite the pranks and goofiness, “At the same time, he has everyone’s back in the family. I feel like it’s just a nice touch to the family.”
Fans saw this first during season one when older sister Elena struggled to tell her family that she was gay. Not only is the relationship between Elena and Alex a favorite of Marcel’s, this episode in particular is the standout. “I feel like that’s a really cool episode and a really cool scene between me and her,” he says of his favorite episode from the first season. “We didn’t really, in season one, have a lot of scenes together as siblings and that was actually really cool; that scene where I hear her secret but I still have her back so I keep her secret.” While his favorite episode of season two is when Alex and Penelope go to the movies – something he admits through laughter after trying to decide – one of his favorite dynamics is one that has entertained audiences for two seasons.
“Honestly, me and Rita Moreno – Alex and Lydia. That’s a really funny dynamic,” begins Marcel. “It’s like Alex is just Lydia’s favorite grandson and Elena’s always jealous because Lydia doesn’t treat Elena the same way.” He also finds humor in the way that Alex’s persona changes around Lydia. “It’s funny how Alex, automatically when he is talking to his grandma or wants something from her, he just acts like a little boy, which his grandma sees him as a little boy through her eyes.”
The season two finale gave a more in-depth look to the special relationship the two share.
When Lydia is hospitalized, each character spends time alone with Lydia, reflecting on their relationship and their time together. Alex, the first of the family to have this time, spends it by telling Lydia all the church gossip she missed out on as he paints her nails for her. Later in the episode, when Lydia is given a choice, one of her reasons is that Alex gets her and she even calls him her “other half”.
“When she says I’m like her other half, it’s just real cool seeing that because, of course, Berto her husband died,” Marcel explains, saying that she doesn’t have a man close to her to put a smile on her face and that’s what Alex does now. “I’m the boy that’s always putting a smile on her face and we’re always playing around, and I’ll never make her mad which is something that is really cool.” That special relationship continues off-screen as Marcel even sees Rita as she were his real grandma. “We really get along.”
The tight-knit bonds between the cast members is what made that season two finale so hard. “It was stressful!” expresses Marcel. He explains that he reads the script in the car before each table read. “I was reading it and I saw a whole monologue [for myself] and I was like, ‘Oh! Oh! I’m ready!’ Then I was like, ‘Oh, everyone has monologues! This is a really cool style of episode!’” The mood changed at the table read.
“Everybody at the table read was like, ‘Get your tissues, because we’re about to cry!” says the actor. Grinning as he says he never cries, Marcel admits there was a moment where he almost did. “It was just really emotional,” he says. Following the table read, they began to learn the script and although it’s mostly monologues, he says they were doing the blocking and everything else for the episode in a short period of time. “We had to take time from the weekend to work on that – we went an extra day on Sunday and it really paid off, honestly.”
The hard work the cast and crew put into every episode shows from the care they handle it with.
In the beginning of season two, Alex has feelings of shame for his Cuban heritage and even asks his family to stop acting so loud and proud. The episode showcases many different points of view and how the comments and racism from strangers have evolved overtime, from using other words with every generation to the lack of care. Marcel himself drew partially on his own experiences, as his character grows frustrated with a stranger telling him to go back to Mexico after hearing Alex speak Spanish with a friend.
“What happened to Alex, I feel has happened to me in school at the same time. Here especially, because [Alex] coming from a Cuban family, and I’m from Puerto Rico, we’re kind of like cousins – Cuba and Puerto Rico.” Marcel says that both Cuba and Puerto Rico are countries that are most proud of where they’re from – of being Cuban or Puerto Rican. “They’re always proud of their flag and their heritage,” he expresses. “Once I got here – I moved here from Puerto Rico – I would go to school and everyone that didn’t know what Puerto Rico was, would think, ‘Oh, that’s just like Mexico!’ or every Latino country, they would think is Mexico.” He explains the justifiable anger and frustration that would follow. “That would get me mad because it’s like they don’t know the heritage of every Latino country and that they’re all really different, honestly. Especially Puerto Rico and Mexico or Cuba and Mexico.” Marcel drew on this as, “I could really feel it because it actually happened to me in real life and it made it easier.”
Racism isn’t the only topic that “One Day at a Time” has tackled. From ongoing storylines about PTSD, other mental illnesses, and LGBT+, Marcel hopes that, if a third season is ordered, the show would approach the topic of gun control.
“I feel like now, through what just happened, the gun control issue would be [one to cover] in a third season. That’d actually be pretty cool and something that everyone really wants to see and talk about, especially from what just happened.”
Marcel can relate as he is still a student. “After [Parkland], every student, I feel, is scared and they don’t know what’s really going on.” He even says that topic has been discussed at school as well.
Getting in touch with his roots, another issue close to heart is that of the state Puerto Rico is in following Hurricane Maria. Marcel got involved with Voices for Puerto, an organization co-founded by his parents. It is compiled of various celebrities and influencers looking to help out Puerto Rico from Los Angeles. “[Voices for Puerto Rico] helps raise money to send things that Puerto Rico needs,” he explains. “I felt like it was really cool and I wanted to be in it and part of it.”
He is proud, of the organization and of himself and his parents for getting involved, even if they can’t be in Puerto Rico at the moment. “From not being there, the impact that it made – it just shows you what people can do when they come together and it’s just really cool that we’re ready for when this next thing happens.”
For now, Marcel is waiting on an announcement for a third season of “One Day at a Time”. He is enthusiastic about the possibilities of what could happen.
“I hope to see all the characters keep growing and different issues that ‘One Day at a Time’ talks about, and, of course!” He pauses for a moment and the wide grin he is supporting is audible as he says, “A girlfriend for Alex!” Everyone else has been able to explore their love lives so time will only tell.
Until then, Marcel passes along a thank you to his fans. “It’s really cool that I even have fans!” he says, still in a state of awe over the fact. “I never thought I would have fans and this is really cool because all of them are super nice. I read all the comments and I comment back because honestly, everyone is super cool.” His hope for the future is to meet all of them. “Like do a meet and greet or a little event,” he suggests. There is no doubt his fans will keep their fingers crossed.
“One Day at a Time” is available for streaming on Netflix NOW!