For anyone to be really good at either sports or an art form like acting, you really need to have a passion for it. That was the case with Filipe Valle Costa whose blood ran thick with passion for acting early on. At just 17, Portugal native Costa told his parents he wanted to come to the United States to become an actor… And they fully supported the plan.
Written by Jason Bowers
Photo by JSquared Photography
Costa immersed himself in New York City theatre (even starting his own theatre company), with credits including Lilia (Rising Circle Theater Collective), Good Grief (Intar), Henry V (The Shakespeare Forum), and End Days (Hippodrome). But it’s Costa’s newest role on John Singleton’s 80’s-set FX drama series Snowfall that brought him to California.
Costa has never actually been to South Central, the backdrop of his show, but that’s only because South Central isn’t called South Central anymore (it’s now South L.A. thanks to gentrification… or rebranding… or both). Costa also didn’t grow up in a country where drugs are illegal (Portugal decriminalized possession back in 2001), but in Snowfall he plays the son of a drug kingpin. Even his past TV credits on Gotham and Blue Bloods had him on the other side of the law playing cops.
Though South Central and the war on drugs have taken new shapes in the past three decades, Costa was still ready for everything Singleton needed him to do thanks to all that he’s learned from his family, his barber, and YouTube. He also learned so much from tennis that you’re gonna want to start a vision board just so you can post his feelings about the sport.
So let’s get inspired by our sit down with Mr. Filipe Valle Costa.
From your perspective, what do you think it takes for a man to become a gentleman?
A gentleman is just that: a GENTLE man. Someone disarming, loving, curious and humble. But, at the same time, a man who lives and fights for a higher purpose, respecting everyone equally.
What inspired you to become an actor?
My dad’s cousin is the founder and artistic director of a very important theatre company in Portugal. My dad used to take me to see his plays from a very young age. I understood very little about his work back then but I remember responding to the energy in a really visceral way. He was my first inspiration. His work was filled with passion, play, and poetry. It was contagious and I was hooked.
You came to the U.S. on a tennis scholarship. What have you learned from tennis that’s helped you in your acting career?
Discipline. Building inner stability. Relaxed concentration. Trusting the self. Learning to live without judgment. Yielding control. Learning that failure is actually the most important part of the journey. Persistence. Persistence. Persistence.
What can you tell us about your character in Snowfall, Pedro Nava?
Pedro is the heir apparent of the Navas, one of the Mexican crime families that sells marijuana throughout Los Angeles. On the surface, Pedro is the bravado-filled, traditionally cocky and entitled young man. But as the story progresses, we begin to see another side of Pedro – his ambiguity and vulnerability. I loved exploring what was underneath; his insecurities, ambitions and ultimately questionable actions, are all rooted in his relationship with his dad. He does everything he can to feel loved, to prove himself, to belong. But the tragedy is that he can never meet his dad’s expectations. The idea of failure begins to haunt him and he ends up compensating… perhaps in all the wrong ways.
Can you share the experience of working on Snowfall?
As far as dreams go, it was everything I have ever wanted. And it had so much to do with the people involved. The three actors I got to play with the most – Emily, Sergio and José – became my family on set. I learned so much from them. They helped me feel less overwhelmed and more centered; they helped me to see what is worth sweating and what is not. And when we were filming, they demanded my presence with their presence. Their work ethic, their ease, their warmth, it all meant so much.
In your own words, tell our readers why they must give Snowfall a try?
What moves me about Snowfall is that it is just as much about family ties as it is about the crack cocaine epidemic. These characters are not in any way aware that they are responsible for this huge shift in society. They are simply doing what they have to do to prove themselves, provide for their families, and achieve their own versions of the American Dream.
Can you tell us how your barber helped you prepare to play Pedro?
Once I moved from NYC to LA, it became very clear to me, from engaging with some LA natives, that the presence of this drug really shook the city in a very personal way. My barber lived through it and so sometimes I would just go visit and hear about some of his experiences. This was so important in helping me become aware of how the crack cocaine epidemic affected families in a major, long-lasting way.
You spent a lot of time preparing for your role by watching videos on YouTube showing L.A. in the 80’s. What other skills have you learned from watching YouTube?
YouTube is responsible for teaching me how to tie a tie.
When you were a teenager, you were introduced to John Singleton’s Boyz in the Hood by your uncle. Can you tell us about your first day on set collaborating with John?
John is such a gentle, warm soul. There is an ease about him that makes it easy for you to trust him. He is so knowledgeable of the story we are telling (it is his story in so many ways, too) but at the same time he is able to maintain this childlike innocent energy. It is remarkable to just sit back and observe him at work. Especially in the season finale, being directed by him, the excitement on his part was so palpable. Every moment meant the world to him. It then became easy for me to connect and make the moment count.
In New York, you started The Saudade Theatre which supports the Portuguese voice in the arts. What are your plans to expand beyond New York and the theatre community?
For now, we are sticking to theatre in NYC. But there have been many conversations about extending the company to LA. Ideally, our goal is to create a sister branch that would be named Saudade Productions, through which we could produce films and digital media dedicated to giving the Portuguese consciousness a voice in the US.
You’ve lived in both New York and L.A. What’s your favorite thing about each city?
My favorite thing about New York City is the feeling of community. My favorite thing about L.A. is the ability to engage with the outdoors, and also, very important – I love driving.
Where else in the U.S. would you like to visit and what do you plan to see/do there?
I am in love with California. I want to get on the road and just drive North, spend some time in wine country.
Do you have any particular inspirations or mentors that inspire you?
The actor who plays my father on Snowfall, José Zúñiga, is now a dear friend of mine. He has been in the game for a long time. His mentorship has been fundamental and so inspirational to me. He has reminded me of how important it is, especially now, to take it all slowly, be gentle with oneself and remember to continue to find the ease in the work.
What’s next for Filipe Valle Costa?
Three years ago, I started a theatre company called Saudade Theatre. Our mission is to celebrate the Portuguese voice and experience in the US. We are the first Portuguese Theatre Company in the U.S. and we have our first full production this year. It goes up in NYC from August 31 – September 10. The play is called “The Constitution” and it is the story of four actors who are called to write a new constitution during troublesome political times. The actors are locked away by the government and are given six days to finish it. I will be producing it as well as acting in it.