Role: Simon Valdez
Project: ‘Sneakers and Soul,’ a nonunion feature film

Juan Salvati

Juan Salvati

Most actors would consider 20 years in the theatre a successful career. So why would Juan Salvati want to leave his native Buenos Aires, Argentina, to start over in the United States? “I challenge myself,” he says. “And there’s another reason that’s perhaps the most important: I grew up with the best side of American culture – namely, the movies and music.”

Salvati loved reading Spanish translations of English-language books and plays. Eventually, though, he realized he needed to experience Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams in their original language. And while a period of hope emerged in Argentina after democracy replaced dictatorship in the 1980s, by the mid-’90s the actor felt he had reached an artistic dead end. “At a certain point I had to say, ‘It’s now or never,’ and I decided to burn the bridges and start from scratch again,” he says. “I was totally nuts!”

Salvati moved to Albany, N.Y., in 1995. After taking English classes, he relocated to New York City to renew his acting career. His accent remains, but Salvati says he has learned to control and manipulate it so that people “cannot really grasp where I’m from.” For the past decade, he has been touring his new country, doing regional theatre in Iowa, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and other locales.

Recently Salvati returned to New York, where this summer he was cast in a project he learned about through a casting notice in Back Stage: the independent feature film Sneakers and Soul, in which he plays Simon Valdez. Salvati’s Latino heritage, however, was less important in winning the role than his approach to the character, a warm-hearted man who must help his deceased friend’s son come to terms with his father’s death and legacy.

Everyone in the audition room told him “they forgot the audition, they forgot who was reading, and they just saw the character,” Salvati says. Adds Jonathan Zelenak, the film’s director, “Juan was a very unique individual at his audition. His energy filled the room and had everyone laughing. Sometimes he felt very theatre-based, which originally worked against him, but his range and his overall cheerfulness brought him back for a second audition.”

Salvati acknowledges that theatre is still his home, but he’s also looking to expand his horizons with onscreen work. Between acting jobs, he works as a translator. He hopes eventually to start his own company translating legal, medical, and corporate documents, and maybe even theatre and film writing.

“The main goal is to work,” he says. “We have a saying in Spanish: ‘Don’t get caught in your belly button.’ As an artist, you’ve got to move your ass, man!”

This “Who Got the Part?” column was published in the Oct. 16-22, 2008 issue of Back Stage and online at