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Luis Guzmán on Being ‘the Puerto Rican Land Baron of Vermont’

How to Make It in America, the new HBO show about the adventures of a group of Brooklyn hipsters that starts Sunday night, is elevated by the steely presence of character actor Luis Guzmán, a Soderbergh and Paul Thomas Anderson favorite who has appeared in Traffic, Boogie Nights, Out of Sight, and Magnolia. In How to Make It in America, Guzmán (who grew up on the Lower East Side) plays Rene, a fresh-out-of jail cousin of one of the main characters. Vulture caught up with Guzmán at the show’s premiere, and spoke to him about his modeling aspirations, horseback riding, and what he learned by playing Grand Theft Auto.

Did you study street hoods in order to get into this character?
You know, honestly, I didn’t have to. I grew up with all of them. I grew up with characters like my character, so it was pretty easy, you know. It was, like, for me, true to life. It’s what I do. It’s what I know.

The main characters on the show start a denim line. Could you see yourself in the clothing business in any way?
No. No way. I have no clue. I don’t even know how to shop for clothes. I gotta take people with me: How does this look? How does that look? Of course they all lie, they tell me it looks good so I can buy it.

If you were to have some kind of job in the fashion world, what would it be?
I’d be a model.

You’re from New York, but where do you live now?
I live in Vermont, on a farm. I do lamb, I do chickens, and I’ve got a bunch of horses.

Do you feed them yourself?
I do it all, man. You want to know what you’re eating nowadays. You want to know where it comes from, so I took on raising my own stuff and gardening, yeah.

Do you ride horses?
I ride horses, man. I’m the Puerto Rican land baron of Vermont. I got like 700 acres of land, dude.

You did voices on a couple of Grand Theft Auto games. Do you ever play?
Dude, let me tell you what happened. My experience of playing Grand Theft Auto, like, lasted five minutes. I tried to hijack this car with two little old ladies in it, they came out with umbrellas and they beat me to death. I never played again. I learned my lesson: never try to carjack a car with two old ladies in it. It does not work.

Photo: Patrick McMullan