The young actor talks about his role on the hit Disney series Bunk’d, stories from the set of Jungle Cruise, and more!
If Raphael Alejandro were to write a book about his life up until now, it would be titled “How to Dominate Hollywood by 13”. Not yet a teenager, the young actor has already accrued credits for appearing in multiple hit television shows, starring alongside big names, and being in one of the most anticipated films of 2020.
Currently, fans can see Raphael starring as one of the campers in the Disney Channel hit spin-off series, Bunk’d. The show followed three of the Ross kids of Jessie as they spend a summer at the same camp that their parents met at. In the third season, audiences were introduced to a slew of new characters including Matteo, played by Raphael Alejandro, while the series prepared to say goodbye to the Ross kids as they sold the camp to friend and fellow counselor Lou [Miranda May] for just a dollar. With this, the leads of the show shifted to the most recent campers, like Matteo.
A show’s focus transitioning from beloved characters to brand new ones is never easy and a delicate process but Raphael felt no stress. “The writers really did a wonderful job in making the transition seamless,” he says. “In season three, I was spending most of my time with Finn [Will Buie Jr.] and Destiny [Mallory James Mahoney] and the only Ross that I had most of my interaction with was Ravi Ross [Karan Brar]. So I really did not feel a big gap when the Ross kids sold the camp to Lou.” That’s not to say that he doesn’t miss the actor. “I miss working with Karan, and I hope to work with him again someday.”
However, he is thrilled to have new castmates to work alongside as well. “I also like the addition of the new camper, Gwen [Scarlett Estevez], and two new counselors, Ava [Shelby Simmons] and Noah [Israel Johnson]. They give another flavor for the show.”’
For me, every project is a new adventure. Every project is special because I get to meet new people and explore a different character.
When viewers first met Matteo, he was a cautious kid, according to the actor. “[He’s] scared of pretty much everything – cows, in particular. He is a germ-freak, bug-lover, and he likes learning – especially about science,” describes Raphael. “At first he really didn’t enjoy spending time at summer camp. But Matteo’s character changed a little in season four. He is now a bit more brave; he is slowly learning how much fun it is to explore new adventures and he enjoys spending time with his friends at Camp Kikiwaka.”
The young star enjoys learning much like his character, science also being one of his favorite subjects. He even mentions, “And I have to confess that I’m a bit of a germ-freak myself.” There are still plenty of differences between himself and the character he portrays on television, though. “Matteo and I are different in the sense that I enjoy adventure. I’m a little daredevil when it comes to trying new things, and I’m kind of afraid of bugs.” One major difference? Raphael has never been to a sleep-away camp.
“I think that I would like to experience a sleep-away camp someday. It looks like a lot of fun,” he remarks. “I would hope to do sports [at the camp], especially basketball, go for scavenger hunts, and play lots of board games.”
Raphael does have a unique experience as an actor of getting to do something few others get the chance to – filming a wand ID for Disney Channel. So many kids grew up wishing of one day being able to say ‘I’m ____ and you’re watching Disney Channel!’ before pretending to draw the silhouette of Mickey Mouse’s head. Raphael was over the moon to be able to actually live that moment.
“Filming the wand ID was a magical experience,” the actor recalls. “This is a moment that many kids dream to do some day and I feel lucky and grateful that I got to do it twice. And to see it on TV,” he continues happily, “it was a very emotional moment for me and my family. I wish that every child could experience that.” He even tosses out an idea that Disney Parks & Resorts executives should definitely listen to: “Maybe they can do an attraction in one of the Disney Parks where the kids get to do the wand ID just for fun.”
Raphael is clearly knowledgeable about many fractions of The Walt Disney Company which makes sense as he is not only personally a fan but also Bunk’d wasn’t Raphael’s first time working with Disney, nor is it his last. He was first seen as Robin Hood’s [Sean Macguire] son Roland in ABC’s Once Upon a Time before joining the Bunk’d cast a few years later. Not only was the show renewed for a fifth season earlier this year, but he will also be seen in the highly anticipated Disney film Jungle Cruise, inspired by the theme park attraction of the same name.
When asked if he had ever been on the ride of the same name, he reveals that he has at Walt Disney World in Florida. “It was so much fun [to] go on the riverboat and explore the Amazon Jungle. Our skipper was awesome and made the ride very exciting.”
While he does love Jungle Cruise, it’s not his favorite attraction. That goes to Expedition Everest. “I enjoy this ride because it’s a ride for thrill seekers and when you reach the top of it, you have a fantastic view of nearly the whole park before dropping down.”
Jungle Cruise is surely going to attract plenty of thrill seekers when it does hit theaters, still anticipating a summer release of July 24th at this time. Although Raphael cannot share any details about the film or his character Zaqueu just yet, he still expresses his joy in shooting the movie.
“I would say that I enjoyed playing him a lot.” The actor gushes, “And working beside the amazing Jungle Cruise cast: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Emily Blunt, and Paul Giamatti was an unforgettable experience.” He goes on to say, “I had a great time filming with all my costars. They made me feel right at home and they all treated me with a lot of respect.” Was there one he wished he was able to share the screen with more? “I think that I would like to have had more scenes with Emily Blunt. She is so nice, she treated me so well, and she is an amazing actress.”
With details of the film being kept very secret still, Raphael was able to share a fun moment from the set. “My favorite moment on set was spending time with my costars.” He reveals, “On our breaks, we had many interesting conversations and sometimes we played some word games. An unforgettable moment was singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Paul Giamatti on set. I feel thankful to have shared Paul Giamatti’s birthday with him.”
The actor would love to share the screen with Paul Giamatti in the future as well. Detailing what a potential collaboration would look like, he thinks up, “The project could be about a dad who was always traveling for business and suddenly loses his wife in a car accident. Now he is a single dad struggling to juggle his work to make ends meet and at the same time attempting to take care of his autistic son, played by me.”
Raphael has worked with so many well-regarded and talented actors over the years on many projects he’s adored that it’s hard to pick a favorite. The actor calls the act of picking just one to be “really difficult”.
Because you are always meeting new people and playing different roles, I think that I became a more understanding and open-minded person.
“I loved working on all of them for different reasons,” he says of the films and shows that make up his extensive resume. “For me, every project is a new adventure. Every project is special because I get to meet new people and explore a different character.” He starts with one of his first roles.
“Once Upon a Time is very dear to me because it was my first recurring role that I booked at the age of five. How to be a Latin Lover was the first project that I booked as a main character. I also got to work with the amazing Eugenio Derbez and the super talented Salma Hayek. Jungle Cruise is a very special project because I went to Hawaii and to Atlanta to film it.” He adds, excitedly, “And I cannot forget to mention that it was amazing to work with The Rock, Emily Blunt and Paul Giamatti so closely.”
The young actor shares his fondness for his Disney Channel series, saying, “Last but not least, working on Bunk’d is awesome. I really enjoy spending time with all my costars doing all kinds of crazy adventures at Camp Kikiwaka.”
Raphael has plenty of adventures ahead for him in life, whether they are through acting or other venues.
Fluent in four languages – English, Spanish, Portuguese, and French – Raphael has the potential to reach a multitude of audiences. In his film How to be a Latin Lover, the script incorporated both English and Spanish. When asked if he would like to do a film entirely in a language other than English, he responded enthusiastically. “Yes, I would. I would love to do a project in either Portuguese or Spanish.”
Outside of acting, his passions vary. Raphael has a laser-eye focus on the environment and the issues plaguing it as well as environmental law, paleontology, and breast cancer research.
“Since I was very young, I went to play in the park and I hated to see all the litter on the ground, especially on the little lakes around some parks,” he begins to say of how he became so passionate about the environment. “Once, I went to the park with my dad and I got so angry when I saw how many plastic bags and other litter [were] in the lake. There were animals like ducks and turtles living in that lake. So, I decided to grab a stick and start cleaning up all that junk. From that moment on, I decided that I want to help the environment by cleaning up our lakes and oceans.” He expresses firmly, “Water is essential to all living animals’ survival, including ourselves. We should take the pollution of our lakes and oceans more seriously.”
Raphael also offers up some tips to fans that are curious about what they can do to help the environment. “My advice to my fans is to throw litter in the garbage bins, not on the ground or in the water. if you don’t find a garbage bin around, put it in your pocket, purse, or backpack until you find one. And don’t forget to recycle anything made of plastic or glass.”
His dedication to the environment is why he is interested in possibly getting into law. “As an environmental lawyer, I hope to create awareness about the pollution of our oceans, and I hope to protect our environment from being destroyed unnecessarily.”
Becoming a paleontologist is also a possibility for Raphael’s future. “If I would become a paleontologist, I would like to learn more about how we can use our knowledge of dinosaurs – their survival skills and their adaptation to new environments – and apply this knowledge to help protect the environment.”
With so much opportunity and potential in his future, the young star is not wasting one bit of it. In addition to shedding a spotlight on important environmental issues and his interests, Raphael is also using his time and influence by raising awareness for breast cancer research.
“What surprised me the most is to learn that a lot of people still are not aware of how common breast cancer is,” confesses Raphael when discussing his work in raising awareness. “One in eight women will get breast cancer in the US. That means that for every eight women, one will be diagnosed with breast cancer.” He gets candid as he says, “My mom was lucky to have caught it early by doing her breast exam every other week. Doing the breast exam regularly is very important in detecting possible breast cancer at the early stages and improving your chances of survival.”
Being an actor, gaining a wide sphere of influence and reach, and having the ability to make a change are all important aspects of Raphael’s career. But he also loves the way it has changed his perspective on life. “Because you are always meeting new people and playing different roles, I think that I became a more understanding and open-minded person. I learned to listen and to respect everyone because, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how big or small [of a] part you play, everybody’s jobs are important to make the machine work properly.”
Raphael has so much gratitude for his fans that have been supporting him all along the way.
He had a message for them, sharing, “What I would say to my fans is to never give up on your dreams. If you work hard enough, and most importantly believe in yourself, everything is possible. And when you achieve your dreams and you feel ‘powerful,’ remember where you came from and all the struggles that took you to get there. My favorite movie line is from a Spider-Man movie – ‘With great power, comes great responsibility.’ So don’t abuse your ‘power’, try to help others that want to accomplish their dreams like you. If everyone does this, the world would be a much better place.”
You can watch Bunk’d on Disney Channel and the DisneyNOW app!
***Above photo credit to Lilly K Photography