Let’s hear more from Tobit and his journey in this exclusive Jeepney Hub interview. He answers questions about the entertainment industry, what it’s like to be a Filipino-American actor, and his advice in pursuing a career in acting and entertainment.
JC: Tell us your story and what propelled you to do what you do now.
TR: I now professionally work as an actor since graduating from college. Acting was something that I started in middle school just for fun. It was all about me taking an interest in a hobby, and turning that into something that I wanted to dedicate my life to.
The thing about drama is that it’s not something that a lot of other Filipino-Americans do. So acting was an interesting way to define myself, especially outside of my family and my immediate circle of friends. It became something that I got to explore on my own. I didn’t really have that much guidance, so it was very empowering to discover what I liked for myself.
JC: At Jeepney Hub, we’re big about personal visions. What’s the vision that you have for yourself and your career?
TR: My hope is that I can keep working as an actor, be recognized, get into places where I can make really good work, and make a living off of that. I’m not necessarily asking for fame, I think that’s completely different.
Speaking as an actor, you tend to compare yourself. “This person did this commercial, someone got some lines on this show,” and you think you should also be there. But what I’ve realized is that it’s all about your own journey. It’s not so much about the job, but about what you’re directing your life towards and where you’re concentrating your energy.
TR: One thing that Filipino immigrant parents want their children to have is a career or college major that points towards a model of success in our community, like having a stable job and having a family, so it was really surprising that my parents let me go into theater. An acting career isn’t one of those stereotypically stable jobs that Filipino immigrant parents usually encourage their children to pursue.
Looking back, they really supported my high school theater days. I decided to pursue theater in college because I applied myself and saw an opportunity. I wanted to dive in and have fun with it, and not care about what anybody thought. A lot of students go through school trying to get those A’s, and when they get those A’s, they’re like “Okay, great I’m a good student,” but in more creative fields, that mentality can be very negative because you expect too much right or wrong from yourself. Not everything in life is in these absolute terms.
Outside of college, I realized that education continues, since I constantly find myself needing to improve and refine my work. No matter what your career is, always try to improve yourself -- that’s you educating yourself in the real world. Be a life-long student.
JC: Can you recall a particular moment in your life where you knew that being in entertainment and acting was your passion and life’s calling?
TR: It was a comedic play during my junior year of high school. I remember hearing the laughter when we opened the show, and that moment was like nothing else. I felt so proud, happy, and fulfilled. Every once in a while, you feel a moment where you feel so alive. That was such a rewarding and fulfilling experience, and that’s when I decided I wanted to make it my life.
JC: What’s it like to be a Filipino-American in the entertainment industry?
What’s amazing for me is that when I booked my first major role in The Internship, the description said Asian, but the last name of the character was Chang, which was assumed to be Chinese. During the audition process, the producers and directors try to get to know you when they meet you. In this case, they found out I was Filipino-American, so they actually changed the last name of the character from Chang to Santos to fit that. I thought that was awesome because it felt like a sense of recognition. However, that’s not something you get to have a lot.
I’ve come across a lot of different roles in my auditions, mostly stereotypical Asians, and you wish those weren’t the only kinds of roles you could go for. As an Asian-American actor, you don’t get many audition opportunities because a lot of roles are not casting people who look like us. That’s just the reality of the industry right now, but that’s not to say there’s no possibility it will change in the future.
JC: Tell us more about your projects, what you’ve done, and what you’re working on.
TR: I was so fortunate to have been given the opportunity to have a pretty nice-sized role in The Internship. It’s a dream come true. It was one of those moments where I saw the opportunity, thought it wasn’t going to happen, and then all of a sudden, the pieces fell together. With that, I was able to further my career, get an agent, and have a team. Actors, on the business side of things, are a product and have people on their side to help endorse and promote them for different projects. After The Internship, I was able to start working on a couple of TV projects. I was lucky enough to act in a pilot in New York for a show called Assistance. The fate of that show is still undetermined, so that’s something to be aware of in the entertainment industry. So much is outside of your control. Recently, I was able to book a recurring role on a new TV series for FX called Saint George featuring George Lopez, which will be out this January. I’m still new to television, so it’s great getting to expose myself in a new, different space.
JC: How did you find the resources to help you realize a lot of your goals?
TR: I’m very much a 21st century young adult because I utilize the Internet. When I graduated from college, I used online forums to figure out which agents I should connect to, how to get an agent, and how to get work in general.
Another thing that helped me out was my internship with a theater-casting director in Los Angeles. The casting director taught a class for seniors in the theater program at UCLA, which helped me secure the internship. It was awesome getting to see the other side of things, because as an actor you’re always worried about how you’re performing, and don’t think of the other side of the production process. The internship helped me understand the business behind the industry.
Using your network to move forward is important, but make sure that the work you do is good too, so that people actually believe in you. For someone to remember you, do something they’ll remember you for. It’s so helpful to find people in the professional world that believe in you, and it’s important to have them at your side.
JC: What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned so far as it relates to your career?
TR: Letting go of the notion of right or wrong. Learn to let go of people’s opinions, because that’s all they really are at the end of the day. Take them with a grain of salt.
I learned not to beat myself up. It takes a lot of time to build up your life – practically, personally, and emotionally. I realized folks are always thinking they need a marriage, a top paying position, this kind of residence, this kind of car, but that doesn’t do you any good because you’re just comparing yourself and trying to live someone else’s life. Count your blessings, and know what you have, because one day it’ll all be gone.
I also see regrets and mistakes adding to the person that I am today. If you regret anything, regret something that you didn’t do. Mistakes are just another step to get to where you’re going. I had an acting teacher that would say, “Wherever you’re at is where you need to be.” I took that to heart, and applied that to the concept of regrets.
JC: What’s your advice for folks who are looking to enter the entertainment industry?
TR: If it feels hard, it’s because it is. Understand that it’s a business, and it’s an art too. That’s an important factor to know. You can’t take things personally. As an Asian-American actor, I remembered when I was in school, I constantly thought about what was going to happen to me. “Are there going to be opportunities? Are people just going to laugh at me? Are people going to be openly prejudiced against me?” Recognize there is adversity, and there are glass ceilings to break, but be determined.
JC: What are other additional pieces of advice you would give to Filipino-American youth and young professionals?
TR: I’d say go through life being grateful. Don’t sweat the little things. Accomplish your goals. There’s always a possibility that one day it could just all be gone.
If you can’t identify with your Filipino-American culture, return to that. You grow up with a different perspective if you’re an immigrant in America. The history of our country is filled with immigrants and children of immigrants; it’s all part of the American story. I learned so much from my relatives, and I think about how hard they work, and I think that’s such a great aspect of our Filipino community. Whenever I have physical labor to do, and want to complain, I think about my relatives, and those that came to this country, how much work they had to do, and it teaches me so much about how tough one can be.
Name: Tobit Raphael
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Favorite Filipino Dish: Kare Kare
IMDB Profile: Tobit Raphael