The Wind Beneath His Wings
Rick and Susie Najera - Hollywood's newest power couple
Al Carlos Hernandez, Contributing Editor
Rick and Susie Najera represent a new Hollywood power team which affords Rick, the artist, to function at his highest level. It also offers wife Susie Albin-Najera, a seasoned public relations executive, the opportunity to pursue her many projects while they both raise a young family of three small children.
Published on LatinoLA: October 24, 2009
The path they are forging together is a rugged one.
It is difficult, if not close to impossible, for a Latino writer to make a living in Hollywood. There are many obstacles, but two heads are better than one. It is said, "Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fail, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls for he has no one to help him up."
Rick Najera is an entertainer, entrepreneur, mentor, author and award-winning actor/writer/director/producer who has credits in film, television, theatre and Broadway. Najera is undeniably one of the most sought after comedic talents in the industry. Honored twice by Hispanic Business Magazine as one of the '100 Most Influential Latinos in America,' Najera is also one of the most powerful voices in the Latino world today.
"Poet and producer, actor and comedian, award-winning TV writer, denizen of the Latin quarter, Hollywood Hills and Great White Way, Rick Najera is the embodiment of diversity." ‘«Ű Writers Guild of America
With an extensive range of talent, Najera has enjoyed working in many forms of entertainment, from writing for television or film to theatrical stage and performance. Most recently, Najera penned the holiday feature film "Nothing Like The Holidays" starring Debra Messing, Alfred Molina, John Leguizamo and Freddy Rodriguez. His writing/acting credits also include the critically acclaimed award-winning stage comedies LATINOLOGUES (Broadway) which celebrates its 15th year of performance this year, Sweet 15 Quincea??era (an interactive musical) and DADDY DIARIES, a new one-man show. He has also written for groundbreaking television comedies such as MAD TV and In Living Color.
As one of only three Latinos in history to write and star in his own show on Broadway, Najera made his Broadway debut in 2005 with his self-written, created, and award-winning sketch comedy show LATINOLOGUES. The show triumphed on Broadway at the historic Helen Hayes Theatre on W. 44th Street for a four-month run (137 performances with an extension), a historical achievement for a Latino-oriented show.
Susie Albin-Najera is a public relations, marketing and media professional. Specializing in the Latino market, with experience in entertainment, consumer, healthcare, and non-profit practices, she is also a professional freelance writer in the field of travel, tourism, arts, entertainment, community and culture. She has been published in several magazines including Latin Star Magazine, Latin Style, Baja Traveler and Sister Cities Magazine. Currently she is a senior editor for Latin Star Magazine, contributing writer with LatinoLA and the editor of her own professional blog, The Mexico Report: www.themexicoreport.blogspot.com.
She has written cover articles and features on celebrities such as comic legend Cheech Marin, Latin hip hop artist Chingo Bling, professional world champion boxer Oscar De La Hoya, actress-singer Maria Conchita Alonso, singer-songwriter Sammy Hagar and many more. In addition to editorial content, she also contributed her expertise in public relations and marketing. She has conducted in-depth interviews with celebrities, film directors, artists, authors, comedians, writers and producers. She has written reviews and features on world-class resorts, gourmet restaurants, destination spas, sporting events, language schools, award shows, entertainment news, border issues, and philanthropic community stories.
LatinoLA contributing editor Al Carlos Hernandez had an opportunity to get an insider view on how this power couple is becoming a archetype force in New Hollywood.
AC: How did you two meet?
Susie: Rick and I met at a New Years Eve party in San Diego. I had this feeling that I needed to go to this party for some reason. I met Rick that night and he made me laugh when I met him. I gave him my card, he called me the next day and that was it.
RICK: A New Year's party and I had no date - that was a miracle .I was alone for once. I was visiting San Diego on a fluke and there she was. It really was chance. People always say you meet that one person when you are not looking.
AC: How did her family react?
RICK: they really liked me until I tried to marry their daughter. But seriously, they loved me.
AC: Why did Susie decide to amend her full time career and become a mom?
SUSIE: I was raised with strong family values and I was excited to become a mom myself. I just didn't know it would happen so quickly. I actually didn't give up a career to become a mom, I just added it to all the other things I do. I was lucky enough to be able to continue my career at home while raising the kids. I think women have to remember, though, that spending quality time with your husband is the most important. Then the kids. A happier marriage makes for happier kids.
Rick: I think Susie has the hardest job truly. She has to look after three kids plus me, so that is really four kids. I just have to figure out from where the money is coming to do this. The constant hustle is hard. But taking care of a big kid like me is the hardest thing.
AC: Is it hard to be married to a comedian?
SUSIE: Being married to a comedian is awesome because we have so much fun together. We laugh a lot and I think that makes our marriage very healthy. I joke a lot with Rick and I think it actually helps give him material for his writing. I told Rick I think we should all wear Snuggies for our Christmas photo. Anyway, Rick's not just a comedian or just a writer or an actor; he has so many talents to offer this business. If someone needs a script, Rick can write it. If someone needs an actor, Rick can play it. If someone needs a TV show, Rick can create it. It's hard what he does, but Rick's a master at it. The irony is, Rick is a professional industry writer yet he is dyslexic and is grammatically challenged. People get mad when he can't remember their name or spell it correctly, but this is why.
Rick: I can't spell, or do proper grammar, so my characters read like how people talk. I won't be an English professor but I can make a reader laugh and cry.
AC: How did Rick feel about being the sole bread winner in a town where the jobs for Latino writers are few and far between?
RICK: Under stress, but that's life. I chose this life and it chose me. It's never been about the money. It's been about good work. I have been lucky to have been able to provide for my family. There are so few jobs but still I keep doing it. The hard part is you can't just be good. You have to be great every time and keep doing it again every time.
SUSIE: I can't believe we've survived in the business this long. It is beyond hard. There are so few jobs for writers, let alone Latino writers. Rick has exceeded my expectations in every way. He has provided for our family and made sure we are always taken care of. It's a huge stress for a man to take care of his family, so we try to do fun, stress-relieving things all together, even if it's just running over to watch the sunset at the beach.
AC: What factors did you consider when you decided to do Rick's PR? Would Susie would become the de facto wind beneath the wings? Any doubts or second thoughts?
SUSIE: It was an easy decision to do Rick's PR. I wanted to do it. I remember right after I met Rick I entered him for an ALMA Award. A few months later when we were traveling in Spain, we stopped to check our email at a little internet caf?ģ. Rick found all these emails congratulating him on being nominated! It was such an exciting moment for him and I was happy. I wouldn't say I'm the wind beneath Rick's wings ‘«Ű we support each other in every way, Rick supports me and I support him.
RICK: She is a great publicist. I read about myself and sometimes think,"Who is this guy? He sounds great." Case in point : she entered me for an ALMA award when we first started dating. Then I got the ALMA nomination so I'm walking down the red carpet and next to me is Antonio Banderas. I think I would not be here without her. And the best part is she's free and she can't sue me for sexual harassment‘«™ever.
AC: What was the first major career success you enjoyed together?
RICK: Broadway for sure. On opening night, I got her a necklace at Tiffany's on 5th Avenue before the performance. And I had to fight traffic to get it to her. I took a bike cab in the rain and went through Times Square and was almost late for the opening. I could not have done Broadway without her.
SUSIE: Rick's greatest joy in life is making people laugh, no matter if he is on stage or at the grocery store. Wherever we go, Rick always makes somebody's day better. When Rick's show went to Broadway, I flew out with the kids during previews. The first time I walked down 44th street, I saw the bright lights of Broadway, The Phantom of the Opera, Spam-a-lot, The Producers, Lennon and Latinologues all together on the same Great White Way. Seeing Rick on Broadway was the most amazing thing because he was living out his dream. We will never forget all those nights at Sardi's after the shows, or bumping into Matthew Broderick at his restaurant. They even included Rick's caricature at Sardi's famous Wall of Fame. When we look back on the experience, it still seems surreal.
AC: What has been the biggest disappointment?
RICK: Being at LATV network as vice president and seeing them go Spanish because it was cheaper programming and forgetting the bilingual mandate we had in the beginning. I think we gave our air waves to Mexico and gave up on the forty-five million Latinos and others who would enjoy Latin programming in English. BET has it , why not us? I had Homies and flash animation with Cesar and Chuy and another show at LATV. I thought LATV could have been the beginning of a Comedy Central for Latinos. But they were convinced that Latinos would not understand good programming. In their own words: 'We cannot compete against English television so let's just go Spanish. It's cheaper."
Ironically I got the first DVD deal for them, Best Of Homies, that secured me a deal with Polychrome. I still believe in programming for Latinos. I see comedy as the future.
SUSIE: What is disappointing to see in Hollywood is how people can take advantage of you. I see Rick so humble and honest, and then I see some duplicitous people come around and try to take advantage of him. Greed is a terrible thing and there is plenty of it in Hollywood. The entertainment business can be hard. You have to have thick skin ‘«Ű it isn't for me - but I'll support Rick wherever work takes him (or us) .
AC: How did business change when the kids came along?
RICK: It focused me like a laser. Three kids, a wife, a house, and nanny will get even a comedian very serious.
AC: How is raising a family in Hollywood difficult? Does the volatility of the industry cause financial worry at times?
RICK: Yes and yes. It is nonstop financial worries. Sometimes my single friends will say, "Why are you writing that show?" and all I'm saying in my head is, "Montessori school is not cheap." There is always a bill to be paid but that's life. And so far it's been a good adventure.
AC: With all of his successes do you think Rick would be doing more A-List projects by now were he not Latino? Has being Latino and doing art that addresses the Latino perspective caused Rick to be type-casted?
SUSIE: Rick is proud of being Latino, but there are times where he is frustrated by the issue of race and work. He sees that when Latinos do get their own shows, they seldom hire Latino writers. Carlos Mencia once told Rick that he didn't want to hire him for his show because he is Latino. For me, this is disheartening when all Rick wants to do it work and provide for his family. I just see that there is so much competition here among Latinos ... and everywhere for that matter. I've always said this: Rick is a job creator ‘«Ű he creates work and gives people jobs. We've been lucky to have a few amazing and dedicated guys working with Rick the last few years.
AC: What is the hardest thing about what you do, Susie? Rick? What is the greatest thing?
RICK: I make people laugh either on stage or in film or in television. It's a great feeling. The hardest thing is sometimes people have no vision to see their own potential. I'm an optimist. I have a vision of humanity and how great we all can be. I see things that others cannot. As artists, we see what others may not and we want to share what we see or feel with the world.
SUSIE: The hardest thing about being a mom is that you have to wear so many hats: counselor, nurse, referee, chef, maid, teacher, therapist, entertainer, chauffer‘«™ and you have to try to do it all with patience. The good thing is that our kids understand how hard we work, and I think seeing this will instill good work values in them. We sacrifice a lot, but it's all worth it.
AC: How do you react to the statement that you two are one of Hollywood's newest power couples?
RICK: I'd rather say we are more about love than power. We love each other and our community. I have never once considered us powerful, but I do see us involved in a lot of lives on a lot of levels.
SUSIE: I'd say that Rick and I are setting a good example. Marriages can survive and thrive in Hollywood. We are respectful of each other and encourage each others work.
AC: What is your ultimate goal as individuals? As a couple?
RICK: For me to develop and create a bigger pipeline to the underserved Latino market . But it's together we truly work on everything. I think Yareli Arizmendi and Sergio Arau and other couples like Jay Torres and his wife are working together. There are other examples in Hollywood of couples working together. Our ultimate goal is staying together, loving each other, and raising our family. Hollywood is secondary.
SUSIE: Rick and I have so many projects going on and we manage them all from our home office. We are a great team and have great people around us. He'll write and I'll edit. He'll put up a show and I'll do the PR.
Every day we come up with new projects to do together, but right now we just have to focus on paying our mortgage and keeping our kids fed. One day I was reading the news online and I read a story about a guy who won a contest for a 'Dream Job.' He was selected out of thousands of people to blog from a tropical location somewhere off the coast of Australia, and does these great activities like snorkel, scuba dive, etc. That day, I realized that I should start a blog about the place I love so much: Mexico. So I did, and it's called The Mexico Report.
My ultimate goal is to buy a place in Puerto Vallarta, to live and work in Puerto Vallarta with my family. That's not just some far-fetched dream. It is the truth. I have always felt connected to that area in deeper ways; more than as just a visitor or traveler. Also, I would like to start my online magazine, The Mexico Report ,and author a children's book. My dad always told me, "You can do whatever you want, as long as you're happy." And now I say this to my kids.
AC: What projects are you working on now, individually and as couple?
RICK: We are working on a film version of my play Sweet 15 and raising capital for my film projects. Alfredo de Villa and I are developing another film together and I'm also working on an animated film project with Nuyorican Productions (Jennifer Lopez's company) for Daddy Diaries, my one man show, and www.kartoontv.com. I am also working with a stage production company, Mexicohen, with Gary Blumsack and Najera and associates with Rafeal Augustine and Oskar Toruno. Susie is with me in all of this. We are very busy, but in Hollywood it's always about doing many things and seeing what works.
SUSIE: I'd say my main job is being a good wife and mom. Secondary is public relations and freelance writing. I'm writing my new blog now and doing some freelance writing for a few different magazines.
AC: Rick, what do you want your legacy to be? Susie what will be your legacy? What are the hopes you have for your children?
RICK: My family and children are my legacy. Nothing more. That's my greatest production. I was doing Latinologues this weekend and Julian, my son, was backstage with me. He said, "Could I go on and take a bow with you?" and I said, "Sure!" So I was with him on stage and we were getting applause together. That was a great memory for me and that's my legacy: my family. It's that simple.
SUSIE: I have always donated my time to many organizations and been an advocate for social justice. I've marched to make a point, I've held a child who needed to be loved, and I've collected food for those who don't have any. I want to help people learn, I want to inspire people to find passion. I hope my children grow up to be smart, respectful, kind and culturally aware citizens. I hope my children are worldly and know how much their mom and dad loved and respected other cultures and languages. This is what I tell my kids all the time: "If I showed you how much I loved you, my arms would break off."
Find out more about Rick Najera, www.ricknajera.com
Al Carlos Hernandez, Contributing Editor:
Edited by Susan Aceves
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