Arts & Culture

Fort Worth actor Julio Cedillo blazes own path to big screen

Julio Cedillo
Julio Cedillo

Sicario, the new thriller opening Friday starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro, is one of the major movies of the fall film season.

It’s directed by acclaimed French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, whose Incendies was nominated for Best Foreign Language film in 2010 and whose last project, Prisoners, starred Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal. A reboot of Blade Runner is next on his to-do list.

But when Fort Worth actor Julio Cedillo was offered a pivotal role as Mexican drug kingpin Fausto Alarcon in Sicario, he initially turned it down. Cedillo’s character only has a single scene, but it’s a critical one — one that the entire movie builds to — and the actor didn’t like the way it was handled.

“The reason I said no was because the original scene was a very brutal scene,” he said recently by phone. “We know he’s a monster, but this is ridiculous. … It was too much. And I just felt like, ‘I’m an actor. I’m not a punching bag. I can’t do this.’ 

Villeneuve didn’t just move on to his second choice. He called Cedillo and got him to reconsider.

“[He said] You gave a powerful read. ... We’ve seen your audition, and Benicio and I would like for you to do it,’ ” Cedillo recalls. “And when he said ‘Benicio,’ I was like, ‘What? Back up one second.’ 

Cedillo told Villeneuve his concerns, and the climactic scene that appears in the film — while still tense and violent — doesn’t go too far, says the actor.

“He laughed when I was explaining this to him,” Cedillo says. “He was, ‘That was why we want you. You are a thinking man.’ 

Beyond stereotypes

Sicario, about an FBI agent (Blunt) who joins a secret U.S. force to disrupt drug traffic along the U.S./Mexico border and bring Alarcon’s cartel to heel, covers familiar territory for the 45-year-old Cedillo.

He was in a handful of episodes of The Bridge, the now-canceled FX series about drug smuggling along the El Paso/Juarez border, and played a coyote — a man who helps smuggle undocumented workers into the country — in the 2014 film Frontera, starring Ed Harris and Eva Longoria.

But he’s not worried about being typecast.

“I have lots of friends who complain about being stereotyped, and those are all valid points,” he says. “But I don’t look at the world that way.

“Are there gang members in the world? Yeah, they’re around. … My job is to interpret something and make it real. These people exist. My job is to flesh that out …,” Cedillo says.

“Look at Benicio, he’s made a career out of that and in no way do [his roles] look stereotypical, even if it’s a drug lord or those typical roles that you think they are.”

Staying in Texas

The Durango, Mexico-born Cedillo — who moved to Texas with his parents at the age of 5, first living near Abilene and then Fort Worth — was intrigued by acting early.

“One of the first things I learned how to do was speak English by watching TV,” he remembers.

“But I gravitated to acting,” he says. “I couldn’t speak English as well, in elementary school, so I had a teacher who would give me these little one-act plays, and I would read them, and I’d start to memorize lines.”

By the time he reached Fort Worth’s Dunbar magnet high school, he knew he wanted to pursue acting as a career. At 19, he landed a part in a TV movie, Finding the Way Home, with George C. Scott.

He has worked consistently since then, appearing in Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket, Billy Bob Thornton’s All the Pretty Horses, and, of course, episodes of Walker, Texas Ranger.

His most notable role is as the title character in Tommy Lee Jones’ 2005 film The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. He has done this without packing up and moving to Los Angeles.

He says he considered relocating but likes the niche he has created for himself close to home.

“I’ve chosen to dictate where I live. I’m not saying it’s easy but when you tell people, ‘Look, you know the work I can do, I’m ready to serve your story and I’m ready to be part of that process. But I’m not moving to L.A. I live in Texas and this is where my sanity resides. You know where to find me,’ ” he says.

“Having said that, I have to go to L.A. two or three times a year and I’m there for weeks at a time. … But my kids and my family, they belong in a place that is a little less hectic.”

While Sicario is great exposure, he doesn’t see it as a breakthrough.

“I thought Three Burials was [going to be that],” Cedillo says. “I went to the Cannes Film Festival, the film won two awards. [But] people don’t care like you think they care …

“Is it a breakout role? It’s not for me to judge. I just do my job and go to the next thing.”

Cary Darling: 817-390-7571, @carydar