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NYC subway conductor reflects on ‘Raising Victor Vargas’ role 20 years later

His profession took a unique observe — however subway conductor Kevin Rivera nonetheless has fond recollections of his scene-stealing flip within the 2002 film “Elevating Victor Vargas,” which is celebrating its twentieth anniversary with a screening on the New York Latino Movie Pageant on Wednesday.

Rivera, now 39, made headlines in The Publish earlier this summer time when he survived an assault by an “unhinged” straphanger threatening MTA staff — so he’s glad to be revisiting a happier reminiscence now.

He had zero appearing roles earlier than his cult basic and scored just a few extra after its launch — however he nonetheless counts his efficiency as Harold, the eponymous fundamental character’s finest buddy, amongst his “greatest accomplishments.”

“I watch it again and again. Over 2,000 to three,000 instances,” he advised The Publish forward of the 8 p.m. screening, which is able to mark 20 years because the film was shot on the Decrease East Facet in the course of the week of of Sept. 11, 2001.

“Elevating Victor Vargas” tells the story of a younger, swagger-filled Dominican American teen (Victor Rasuk) coming of age along with his two siblings and grandmother on the Decrease East Facet.

The movie acquired near-universal acclaim upon launch in 2002. The Publish’s Megan Lehmann on the time praised it as “a love letter to a New York neighborhood that’s quickly disappearing – a tight-knit Dominican group of rooster runs, secluded gardens and social golf equipment.”

Rivera was a 21-year-old finding out at Queensborough Neighborhood Faculty when his cousin reached out about a possibility to check out for the position of Victor’s caring wingman. A lot of the solid, like him, had little to no appearing expertise.

“At first I used to be hesitant. I used to be solid with no portfolio, with no image, with no resumé. I simply went in there and acted energetic. I by no means acted earlier than in my life,” Rivera mentioned.

Kevin Rivera and Melonie Diaz in "Raising Victor Vargas."
Kevin Rivera and Melonie Diaz within the acclaimed 2002 indie movie “Elevating Victor Vargas,” which is obtainable to stream on Amazon Prime. Wednesday’s reunion screening takes place “drive-in” model in a car parking zone at Gerard Avenue and 151st Road within the Bronx. Tickets can be found on the NYLFF Pageant web site.
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Within the movie, Rivera’s character offers a distinction to the protagonist’s foibles. Whereas Victor makes an attempt and fails to impress Judy “Juicy Judy” Ramirez for a lot of the movie, Harold rapidly wins the belief — and romantic affection — of her finest buddy.

Director Peter Sollett (“Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist”) inspired the actors to play their roles as near their precise selves as doable.

“All the things was improvised,” Rivera mentioned. “He gave us a script, however it was like, ‘How would you say it? What would you do in that scenario?’”

“It was from the center. It was so real,” he mentioned of the appearing within the movie. “We simply acquired alongside. It was simply the best individuals, the best actors. All of us simply clicked.”

“The lesson of the film is how Latino households are introduced up in New York Metropolis, how shut they’re,” he mentioned. “So many individuals might relate to the film — you already know, the struggles, the happiness. Cash actually doesn’t make you cheerful. I believe it’s household. It’s the individuals you hang around with, your pals.”

The movie was shot in the course of the week of 9/11 — mere miles from the World Commerce Heart. The Twin Towers will be seen within the foreground in no less than one shot.

“It was an impartial film that didn’t have a complete bunch of cash to make it appear genuine,” Rivera mentioned. “To inform you the reality, I actually haven’t seen a film like ‘Elevating Victor Vargas.’ “

David Rivera, actor and MTA employee, who starred in "Raising Victor Vargas" in 2001, met with the Post in Queens, NY at the 7 subway station at Court Square on September 13, 2021, to discuss the movie and being attacked while off duty from the MTA by an emotionally disturbed person.
Rivera’s former castmates tracked him down this summer time after discovering a Publish article from Could a couple of harrowing assault Rivera confronted on his manner dwelling from work.
James Messerschmidt for NY Publish

Different solid members moved to Hollywood to change into full-time actors. Rivera, who grew up because the son of Colombian immigrants in Kew Gardens, Queens, nailed just a few extra appearing gigs — however the work quickly dried up.

“I did a Coca Cola business, I did a film and ‘Legislation & Order,’ then I wasn’t getting gigs. However I used to be pleased. I used to be simply so proud,” he mentioned. “I wasn’t in it to be an actor.”

Rivera joined the MTA a decade in the past as a visitors checker — “the underside of the underside,” he says — and has since moved as much as the position of conductor on the subway’s 7 line. He acquired married and now has two children, ages one and three.

“Each time going to high school, I used to see transit staff working. I used to be like, ‘Wow, they acquired a superb pension, they acquired a superb job, it’s a very good gig, man,’” he mentioned. “I noticed individuals capable of deal with their households, and I wished that.”

His former castmates, in the meantime, tracked him down this summer time after discovering a Publish article from Could a couple of harrowing assault Rivera confronted on his manner dwelling from work.

He’s anticipating tonight’s reunion, when the movie will likely be screened “drive-in” model in a car parking zone at Gerard Avenue and 151st Road within the Bronx. Tickets can be found on the New York Latino Movie Pageant web site.

“I felt like all of us had lots in widespread, since all of us grew up and was raised in New York,” he mentioned. “I noticed them a pair instances after the film, however most of them went to LA and LA’s not for me. I’m a New Yorker. I need to be me.”

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