Interview by Paul Salfen
For Bobby Soto, The Tax Collector wasn’t just a role in a film – the experience changed his life. Having made friends by chance with writer-director David Ayer (Suicide Squad, End of Watch), the young actor was given the opportunity to headline a movie with Shia LaBeouf, who later became his best friend and partner in a theater company.
The gritty film follows a “tax collector,” a person that works for a crime lord to collect debts, that finds his world turned upside down when the rival of his boss turns up and changes everything. With his family’s safety in danger, he has to resort to anything necessary to save them from certain death.
Having been seen this year in The Quarry and “Narcos: Mexico,” Soto hopes to expand his reach on stage and in more TV and film, but for now is happy to promote a movie that’s so special to him that everyone can enjoy at home.
Here’s more from Soto:
AMFM Magazine: This movie was quite striking and kept us on the edge of our seats. We needed a distraction like that this year while we’re stuck at home.
Bobby Soto: Thanks, man. I thought the same thing. A movie like this is not educational nor is it shoving any information down your throat or trying to change who you are. It’s something where you can go, “Ooh, that was delightful” or you can walk away going, “Ooh, I like that.” The takeaway during quarantine is it’s a good way to put stuff on pause and turn to a film that’s a fun ride.
AMFM: David Ayer’s work is always striking. What is it that made you gravitate towards him and his work?
BS: I’ll tell you the truth: David and I met at a jojo in Echo Park. I was training at this dojo and made friends with this guy David, but at the time, I didn’t know who he was in the entertainment world. We hit it off and became friends and went to a couple of movies, went to family members’ weddings, him and I hung out and one day he asked me after we were buddies for a few months, “Yo, what do you do?” I was like, “I’m an actor. What do you do?” And he’s like, “I make movies.” I was like, “You make movies?” And he said, “Yeah, you even seen Training Day? I’m the one who wrote it.” I was like, “What the fuck?” He said, “You remember End of Watch? I made that.” We had been friends for a long time and he finally one day said, “You want to make a movie?” And I said, “Yeah, of course.” That’s how it happened. I grew up in South Los Angeles in the same neighborhood that David Ayer grew up in. We hit it off real easy. You know when you meet someone that understands you and you don’t have to explain yourself because you come from a similar sandbox? That’s what happened with David and I and when he asked to make a movie, I was all for it. Who wouldn’t?
AMFM: And you got to work alongside Shia LaBeouf, who many people are appreciating more and more now. He’s been so good lately.
BS: Yeah, Shia and I are best friends. He’s my best friend right now literally. We opened up a theater company together about two and a half years ago after we opened the movie and he and I got into it. We didn’t want to separate for real for real and stop working with each other and building and collaborating so we built this place called Slauson Rec. Theater School on 53rd and Compton in South Los Angeles where I grew up. Over there in that neighborhood, there is no theater, there is no art program, no place to put your frustrated anxieties and energy into something positive. Over there it’s a lot of doding this and that and trying to figure out the best thing to do in a situation as opposed to having a place to go and express and open up. It can get very congested and turn into an outburst of any reaction because of the way the community and society functions over there. Think about the educational systems pulling out the art programs from the schools and now you have all of these teenagers that are going through puberty that may have one parent at home or whatever the situation may be. They’re fighting for their lives. They’re in survival mode. I was blessed that my mother took me out every once in a while to an acting class and dropped me off and went about her day working. Shia and I shared stories about how we grew up and we connected on a majority of things and when we went to film The Tax Collector, it was three blocks from where I was born and raised. We got to know the people there and had aspirations of bringing art down to the hood and Shia was like, “Man, let’s do this.” So we kept going and continue to collaborate. I saw him today. That’s how close him and I became over the course of making this movie. He’s a really great guy, a great human being.
AMFM: That’s great to hear. He’s a great actor and after seeing the movie, I can’t say I understand the controversy about him playing that character.
BS: Yeah, man. That controversy is a cheap, cheap controversy. Man, it’s whack. I don’t care about it.
AMFM: But that was dedication to get all of those tattoos. Were you there for that?
BS: Yeah, man. I was there with him. We got tattoos together. I can’t speak on him, but it’s a beautiful piece.
AMFM: This was a great showcase of your talent – you got the lead and knocked it out of the park. You must have felt like this was a golden opportunity.
BS: Yeah, man. For sure. When David and I got to know each other at the dojo and became friends and he asked me if I wanted to make a movie, it was more to me than oh, I get to make a movie with David and Shia. For me it was, “Oh, I get to make a movie with my friends. I get to work with people I love, trust, and people that understand.” We’re artists and we connect and we’re all opening up and showing parts of ourselves to one another and we can create something together.” Personally, man, after seeing the movie, cool man, it’s dope. But my time on the set, I felt like I was on top of the world. That was my time. It’s sad when a movie ends and everyone goes their separate ways and hopefully you see each other again for press, but now Shia and I have created something where we see each other every day, so it’s beautiful. So we now get to learn and play every day and that’s my golden ticket, the journey.
AMFM: You came from an interesting background and made it in this business. What advice would you give to kids that want to get into it?
BS: The advice I would give to other actors is perseverance. There are a lot of cliches, but cliches have some truths. They are repeated so much that they are cliches, but it is about perseverance: turning your life circumstances into fuel, into energy to continue your journey if you truly believe in yourself. You have to believe in yourself. Everyone has a story, everyone has tragedy, everybody goes through shit – everyone. So we’re all human on that level, we all connect. Turn all of your shit into fuel. Even though you didn’t get this audition, but maybe you’ll get the tenth one. My mom is the definition of a survivor. She grew up in South LA with no parents and she taught me that it’s mind over matter. Don’t let your circumstances define you. You define them. Life will throw you curveballs – it’s what you do with those curveballs. Just don’t give up if you love what you’re doing.
AMFM: We always ask people their Hail Mary Moment, the moment in their life or career where they just had to go for it and it worked out for them. What do you suppose that was for you?
BS; Damn, dude. Back in 2012, both of my parents went to jail and I was 17. I lived on the streets for a few years until I got myself together. I didn’t stop doing what I believed in and didn’t stop doing what I needed to do and what I saw I needed to do to be where I am today. So my Hail Mary is my life, every day. Every day I meet challenges and I have to overcome them. It’s up to me if I allow them to tear me down or not. So I feel like it’s up to me to have these great things happen, but I owe it to God for the life He has given me. The parts I have been handed, it’s what I’m going to do with them. I don’t look at one specific moment or career choice, I look at it as a whole. Every day starts with a challenge, but how do I continue my journey? It’s mind over matter and persevering.”
AMFM: What was the first movie you saw where you looked at the screen and thought this is what you want to do?
BS: Man, that’s a good one. You got me in a pickle. I grew up watching Scarface, Belly with DMX, Pay It Forward, The Godfather – there were so many movies I saw where I thought, “That looks fun. I want to do that.” It’s hard to pick one.
AMFM: After seeing this, we can’t wait to see what you do next. What will that be?
BS: Right now it’s a play with the theater company that Shia and I created. We’re looking forward to performing maybe late September/early October. Every day I wake up excited to rehearse for this play, so look forward to that!