“The movement is bigger than me”

photographer / Andrew Morales
stylist / Marissa Pelly
grooming / Cassandra Suarez
stylist assistant / Sebastien Day
digi tech /  Dante Corbett
sweater WINNIE NEW YORK, earring LATASHA LAMAR, top necklace LATASHA LAMAR, bottom necklace DAVID YURMAN

Thank you for the handwritten, personal card after our shoot. It was very thoughtful, and I appreciate it. 

You are welcome. I had a great time. 



I notice your t-shirt. (Ismael is wearing a black t-shirt with an image of Madonna on the front). It’s very iconic. Sex-era Madonna. 

Hell, yeah. (Ismael shows the front and back of his shirt.)



Nice. The iconic quote, “I’ll teach you how to fuck” (is on the back). That’s epic. Do people get it? 

Not all the time. That’s why you have to push the creative forward. I wear this because I hate racism and ageism in art. I like the shirt, but I also like what it symbolizes. Plus, I feel that you have to give people space to evolve. 



I think it’s about “audacity.” She expressed it, and you have it too. I’ve learned that in life, you have to try things. It may be messy. It may make you feel stupid, but trying something is essential. 

Yes. There is always a certain amount of vulnerability when being yourself. 



It’s also about risks, and you take risks. I see the energy you dedicate to your actions. Not just in acting, even in the images of this shoot. You move. You go there. Every performance puts you in a vulnerable position, and we, the audience, see that. Where did that originate?

I think there is an evolution in life, and you stop giving a fuck about what people think at a certain point. You also have to break your personal fears too. I had to override those thoughts. Even if there is a risk of looking foolish, I must try. It’s about trying. 


Yes, the audacity to try. 




I am sure I am not the first person to say your eyes are very striking, but that’s not the whole story. It’s about your portrayal of self. You have such intensity and intention with your eyes in your work. I saw that on set, and I see that with every role you take on. 

Thank you. That means a lot to me.  



You also seem to have an almost a 3-dimensional sense of self, like a dancer. Was that always there?

I think I always wanted to be that. I would study it. When I was younger, I looked up the Encyclopedia Britannica for dance positions when my parents were not home. As a child, I was very sensitive and held back some things about myself. Finally, I am outside of that. 


I see that.

I observe people a lot, and I scan people a lot. I have a learning disability, and I take my time reading. Therefore, I have learned to absorb the world differently, and I am OK with that. It helps me see a lot of shit that other people miss. 


There is a conversation around how we must nature who we are and how we engage in the world—especially people of color. I also have difficulties with reading and spelling, and how the world treats that information is racially loaded. So, you are correct in your approach to nurture it and use it to your advantage.



When was the first time that you fell in love with performance?

I was always obsessed with any form of expression, language, performances, and life happening. I was obsessed with magazines. They showed me that there was a bigger world that I could be a part of. 



What magazines did you read?





Yes. I was not allowed to read it, and I snuck it into the bathroom at my aunt’s house. 



It was an iconic time: sharp photography and sexy articles. 

It was so raunchy, and it blew my mind. Then I also fell in love with photography through National Geographic. Eventually, I would save up for a magazine subscription—everything from V to Interview



Did this serve your need to be seen in a certain way?

Absolutely. I needed the magazines to help me see the bigger picture in life.



I see that. It takes balls and authenticity to tell the world about who you are and what you want. Amazingly, you saw that through publications. 

I needed to see the larger world and see myself there. I came to artistic expressions and acting because I was silenced so much as a child. I was bullied. I almost became a mute through the anti-blackness and the religious conformity I experienced. At that time, I was almost completely reprogrammed. I taught myself to limit my physical movements. I tried to take up less space. The world made me smaller, and I needed to find my voice. Acting gave me that voice. 



How did this inform your approach to acting? 

I just focus on creating my art. I have my creative path, and it’s up to me to pursue it. Even now, if others ask me about specific people in the entertainment industry or the “cool club” in the industry, I don’t pay much attention to that. I am more interested in my path. 



Is your acting somewhat therapy? 

Yes, it’s my therapy, and it’s how I apply my politics. I have to re-learn my craft every year as I am learning and growing every year. I have to be willing to be open and honest. As a proud Afro-Latino, I keep being vulnerable while trying to break new ways people see identities. 



You help to reprogram. 

Absolutely, I show different sides of what it means to be Black, Latino, Taino, and an artist. 



That is a very selfless approach to your art. I see you performing in 3-dimensional space while healing and informing yourself and healing and informing the next generation. Your work is going to the next kid that feels silenced. 

I know how lonely it can feel when you feel disconnected from the world. When you are so far away from the world you want to be in, there are no words to describe it, but I connect to that emotion and want to help it. 



How do you deal with that pressure when also breaking the rules of what people expect from you?

It gets tough. The racism on social media is unbelievable. The volume can get to you. It’s horrifying. 



That shows that you are going in the right direction. You are disrupting the expectation. 

Yes, I am blessed to break that boundary. I’m hitting a nerve. It’s good, but the noise can get loud at the times. It dehumanizes, but nothing will make me stop. 



That’s the negative side, but there are kids you have never met that see your work. They are the ones that matter. 

For sure. I fought to have this. I wrote letters and advocated for this role. (Ismael plays Arondir in the upcoming TV series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power) I visualized it and told everyone I would play an elf one day. People laughed at me. Now years later, I am a fucking elf. I am disrupting. 



This is a big moment for you!

Yes, the movement is bigger than me, and I am bigger than the negativity. I have always made it work. As long as I have my integrity and health, I’m good. 


total look PAUL SMITH
jacket and pants CALVIN KLEIN JEANS, track jacket ALL SAINTS, sneakers AMIRI, ring DAVID YURMAN
outer jacket WINNIE NEW YORK
suit, shirt and tie PAUL SMITH