On a cold night at Rhodes Field, Mariano Gonzalez-Guerineau took the field for one final game with Penn men’s soccer. It was the end of a successful career, but the beginning of a new opportunity for the senior.
Soccer had been the focus of Gonzalez’s life for the past four years. After all, it’s why he’d come to Penn in the first place. Born in Argentina, the sport had been a part of his life from a young age, and in high school in Beverly Hills, Calif., it became apparent that he would continue into college.
But just before he came to Philadelphia, Gonzalez stumbled upon another passion: acting.
“It’s definitely something that came to me. I was fortunate enough and it came out of nowhere,” Gonzalez said of how he got into acting.
“I wasn’t looking for it. In the process, I really found something that ignited a little spark in me.”
The Perfect Role
During Gonzalez’s senior year of high school, he was cast in the short film “Underprivileged.” In it, he played a young man who receives a scholarship to play soccer in the United States but learns he’s an illegal immigrant.
Gonzalez’s uncle, Rafael Lanus, produced the film as part of a directing program at UCLA and built the story somewhat around his nephew’s life.
“I was thinking about how things were going in his life and then I take my car to this mechanic [...] and he’s telling me about his daughter — who was deported [for living in the country illegally],” Lanus, who works primarily as a photographer, said.
“I was listening to his story [...] and I thought well maybe I should combine both stories.“
With the parallels between Gonzalez and the fictional character in the film, the Argentinian auditioned and was selected for the role. He had little acting experience at the time, but had previously expressed interest in acting before the role.
The 15-minute film made its rounds through various film festivals and received positive reviews.
"I was born and raised in Buenos Aires, so the people developing the story found a few parallels between my story and this kid’s,” Gonzalez said. “So they asked me ‘Hey, why don’t you come audition for it?‘
“I went to them [...] and it worked out.”
For Lanus, it was an interesting experience working on a project with his nephew, but the two kept family matters out of the workplace. The family connection helped bring the young actor onto the set, but his “natural talent” kept him around.
With the story built somewhat around his life, Gonzalez was able to thrive on the set despite his limited prior training.
For Gonzalez, it was an opportunity that opened his eyes to the world of acting.
A Stroke of Luck
Sometimes all it takes for someone to find his or her passion is a fortunate coincidence, a stroke of luck. That was certainly the case for Gonzalez.
He was never involved in acting clubs or activities in high school or college. It just so happened that his uncle was making a film and the role fit him perfectly.
After finishing “Underprivileged,” he knew that acting was something he wanted to pursue, but his future was already set for the next four years.
“It was such an amazing experience. It sounds corny, but I felt so natural doing it,” he said. “I was feeling a fire inside of me. At the same time, I took it as a project.”
A project was all it could be for Gonzalez. The 22-year-old had already decided to dedicate the next four years to play soccer at Penn. In addition, as an international student without a work permit, he was unable to get paid for acting while in college.
Before he knew it, Gonzalez was off to college, and his focus shifted back towards soccer and academics. Acting would rise again later.
Playing the Field
At Penn, the athlete focused on his double major in Political Science and Film, as well as his role on the soccer team. Acting played second fiddle, but still remained a part of the Argentinian’s identity.
“I knew for the next four years at least I was committed to the school, to the team. As time went on, I realized I loved [acting],” Gonzalez said.
“I took a few acting classes. A few friends here or there needed actors and I showed up and I was like, ‘Wow, man, I love this.’”
Off the field, he took classes in the Penn Theatre Arts department, including a pair with professor Marcia Ferguson, whom he views as an influence.
“He’s attentive and respectful of the process,” Ferguson said of Gonzalez’s demeanor. “He’s very respectful of what goes into acting and how difficult it is and how much focus and concentration it takes to do well. He likes a challenge.“
Last year, he was involved in a residency with the Pig Iron Theatre Company — an ensemble based out of Philadelphia — as part of an improvisation class taught by Ferguson.
On the field, Gonzalez served as one of the team’s primary forwards for his four years. He started 19 games during his career and scored two goals, both during his junior season.
The senior views coach Rudy Fuller as one of his mentors, particularly in terms of the values that he instilled through years of practice with the program. But even more importantly, Fuller helped set up Gonzalez with another resource — one intimately familiar with the film industry.
The Soccer Connection
Penn Athletics runs a program that connects current Penn athletes to former-athlete alumni in their field of work.
What are the chances that another soccer player has gone into acting in recent years, you ask? Well, surprisingly, Gonzalez isn’t the only one.
Enter Alex Petrovitch.
A 2001 College graduate who was a member of Penn soccer during his time in Philadelphia, Petrovitch has gone on to act in 26 different films and TV programs while also founding his own production company, Markwood Films.
Petrovitch had some early advice for Gonzalez on his transition into the film industry.
“[I told him] what he could expect out here. I had taken a similar path,” Petrovitch said of his prior conversations with Gonzalez. “Just what to expect experience-wise out here and how to navigate Los Angeles business-wise.”
While it may seem strange to see a soccer player transitioning into the field of acting, the two disciplines share more similarities than meet the eye.
Long hours of preparation. Coordinated physical actions. An overall physical performance viewed by hundreds of people.
“As an athlete, you’re a performer. It’s a physical performance that requires training and preparation,” Gonzalez said. “In acting, you can draw parallels in it being a physical form of work.”
In acting classes, it’s recommended that you’re involved in physical activity outside of class. Ferguson was quick to explain the advantages of being an athlete in the industry.
In Ferguson’s eyes, athletes have an advantage in their ability to exhibit body control and “express emotions through the body”.
For Petrovitch, the preparation and discipline in practice was more the focus.
“You have to have a lot of endurance and have a discipline to go after it every single day even if you’re not having results that you like,” he said. “Having discipline and commitment and mental fortitude is very useful in the entertainment industry.”
Regardless, Gonzalez’s experience as a soccer player at Penn shaped his college experience.
Eyes on the Future
With the soccer phase of his life complete, Gonzalez has his eyes firmly planted on the future.
“I felt soccer as this one stage, that’s why I didn’t try to conflict the two things,” he said. “I knew in some way [acting and soccer] weren’t going to complement each other [during college].”
Now entering the next stage of his life, the senior is ready to dedicate his full focus to his acting passion. It’s rarely an easy road into the film industry, but Gonzalez is well aware of the challenges ahead.
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