'I didn't want Pedro to be a stereotype': Filipe Valle Costa on his character in FX's 'Snowfall'
In his depiction of the kid who is scared and is stuck amid the crack epidemic of the 80s LA, Costa is careful so as not to portray his character Pedro as just another stereotype
'Snowfall' marks Filipe Valle Costa's biggest project in the USA. In the FX show which deals with the cocaine-crack epidemic in 1983 Los Angeles, Costa's character, Pedro Nava, the heir apparent of one of the Mexican crime families involved heavily in the drug business, finds himself desperately trying to gain his father's attention and approval as he enters the cocaine mania of the 80s.
Born and raised in Lisbon, Portugal, Costa at the age of 17 told his parents that he wanted to go to the United States and further his chances of becoming an actor, and they encouraged him to apply for a tennis scholarship so he could study acting with a student visa.
He landed a scholarship with Graceland University in Lamoni, Iowa where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts in Theatre. He went on to attend the University of Florida, where he earned his Master of Fine Arts in Acting.
During his first year of school, he applied for the Diversity Visa Lottery, which was made available to 50,000 permanent resident visas annually and aims to diversify the immigrant population in the United States. He didn't hear back the first year, so he applied again in his second year of school and was selected. After many months of working alongside an immigration attorney, he was finally granted a Green Card and moved to New York City to pursue a career in acting full time.
In a conversation with Meaww, Costa talks about his journey from being a graduate to landing his role in 'Snowfall', and how his character finds himself in and out of the lunacy surrounding cocaine addiction.
Could you tell us about your role in 'Snowfall'?
I play Pedro Nava on 'Snowfall'; I am the son of one of the main Mexican families in Los Angeles. Yes, I am trying to get into the business of cocaine in Season 1 and sure enough, any drug comes into the town like cocaine I am trying to get on it with my cousin.
So how has the cocaine business been?
(Laughs) Uh.. it feels - for Pedro - it feels dangerous, it feels thrilling in a way, there's excitement in it. There's a little bit of lack of awareness as well, I am not sure he and his cousin know exactly what kind of trouble they are getting into. But then, they are in it and that's their life. You know, you get to see how this drug was affecting families on a really personal level in Los Angeles in that age.
Could you tell us a little about your struggle with attaining the green card?
I mean...there wasn't really any issues. But yeah, it was tough. After I was done with grad school, I applied for the Diversity Visa Lottery and I did not get it the first year. But I did in the second year that I applied for and then I was able to stay. This is the lottery, the same lottery that Donald Trump just got rid of. So, it was somewhat sad when that happened because I think for someone like me who's an actor and who just got out of grad school, it's very hard to find a job right away in the acting field. You are not given enough time to be able to stay in the country, so that lottery really allowed me to continue to pursue my dream, and it's what has allowed me to help me stay here. So, I am very thankful for it.
Why did you decide to move to the USA all of a sudden?
I was very young, I am not sure I was fully aware of the dimension of my decision but it was mostly grounded in my career as a tennis player. I have been playing my whole life, and I told my parents I wanted to become an actor and we were able to get a tennis scholarship to help me come and study in the United States. I studied theatre and acting in the United States, so at the age of 17 America was sort of the land of dreams and I grew up watching movies. So, I said yes, and I moved into the country at the age of 17.
What has your career been like so far?
Very good. Very good, I am very happy that I made this move and everything has been working exactly as I wanted it to, so I can't complain that I got this after grad school. I stayed for five years in New York City doing a lot of theatres and that was always a dream of mine. Now I am in Los Angeles pursuing a career in TV and film, and 'Snowfall' happens. So yeah, I am very very happy to be here. To be able to...to be working.
As your first big project in the USA, how are you feeling about it?
I have done a couple of big projects before; as far as TV and film go I have shot in several others. But this is sort of the biggest project that has come my way as far as the auditions go. Yes. It has been a dream. Truly. If you were to tell me 10 years ago I would be here talking to you about a TV show like 'Snowfall' which would be so much fun to be in. You know, it's about the age, the 80s, you get to wear these cool clothes. Beyond that, the show tells the story about how this drug has been affecting families in a really personal way, and those are the types of stories that I try to choose. So, it's been a dream, I really can't complain. It's been a dream of mine, and I am so happy to be living in it.
How would you say is your character Pedro placed in the epidemic?
Pedro was born into a Mexican-American drug family, you know, a family that has been involved in it. He has been in Los Angeles for a really long time, and this is the reality that he was born into, and in the 80s when cocaine and later crack cocaine started to come in, he is very much an example of those families who have the ability to make the drug move through the city. Through the connection that they already have. So Pedro is really going against the will of his father, and going into the world of cocaine and crack cocaine, and you know, I think he is one of those young people who are not fully aware of what they are doing, when they were getting into this new drug and they didn't know how it will affect people's lives. But that's the reality.
What challenges have you faced while playing the role of Pedro?
The most important thing for me is, I didn't want Pedro to be a stereotype. I really wanted him to be...he is the kid who is scared and who is getting into trouble, and of course the dimension of that struggle is much bigger than he would ever expect. But at the end of the day, he is just a kid navigating a world that is very dangerous. Yeah, so that was the challenge. I think the writers and the creators did a great job at grounding the story on the concepts of family and how it's affecting families in a really personal way, and I think Pedro is an example of that, and the challenge was with the creators to assure that Pedro is not a stereotype. He is a human being who is just getting by with the drugs in Los Angeles in the 80s.
Could you tell us what more is in store for the audience of 'Snowfall'?
So, this season is very exciting because the worlds that you were introduced to in Season 1 collides. They all start to come together and four months later we see the characters at a more successful point of their careers, of their endeavours and their projects. So, it's really exciting to just be able to get to the action and to see when and how these characters deal with success in this field. (laughs)