Bobby Soto on Loving David Ayer’s Movies and Starring in The Tax Collector [Exclusive Interview]

Bobby Soto
Bobby Soto in The Tax Collector

Bobby Soto grew up in the same neighborhoods as David Ayer.

Although different generations, the actor and the director became friends after meeting at a dojo. Ayer lived in South Central, in which he utilized his experiences to develop films like End of Watch, Training Day, and now The Tax Collector.

For Bobby Soto, this film becomes a definite highlight of his career as he performed alongside Shia LaBeouf in a David Ayer movie. The film rounds with other notable cast members, including George Lopez, Lana Parrilla, Chelsea Rendon, Noemi Gonzalez, and rapper Jose Conejo Martin.

Here’s the brief synopsis:

David (Soto) and Creeper (LaBeouf) are “tax collectors” for the crime lord Wizard, collecting his cut from the profits of local gangs’ illicit dealings. But when Wizard’s old rival returns to Los Angeles from Mexico, the business is upended, and David finds himself desperate to protect what matters more to him than anything else: his family.

LRM Online spoke to Bobby Soto exclusively last week over the phone. He talked about his relationships with David Ayer and Shia LaBeouf.

The Tax Collector is in select theaters, On Demand, and digital today.

ALSO READ: The Tax Collector Villain Jose ‘Conejo’ Martin On Getting The Role Made For Him [Exclusive Interview]

Read the interview below.

Gig Patta: What initially attracted you to something like The Tax Collector?

Bobby Soto: Actually, David [Ayer] and I became friends at a dojo.

Gig Patta: At a dojo?

Bobby Soto: Yeah. We became friends at a dojo in Echo Park about four years ago. At the dojo, I fought all the guys with these black belts. I come from the streets of Los Angeles. So I wasn’t trained in fighting with technique. Then when I joined his dojo four years ago, little by little, people were talking started talking about this kid, not letting himself down with all these black belts. So, I became friends with some dude in the gym. It was David, not knowing David myself. I knew him as somebody from the gym. We became friends and started hanging out. One day, he’s like, “You want to make a movie? I make movies.”

I said, “No way. What do you do?” He never talked about it for like eight months. He never even mentioned a day that he made a movie. Then he said, “You ever heard of Training Day?” Yeah. He’s like, “I wrote it.” Oh, shit! Then he’s like, “Have you ever seen End of Watch? That’s my movie.” I didn’t know who he was, man. That’s a true story. One day, he called me and said, “Hey, do you want to make a movie?” Yeah, let’s go for it. That’s how it happens.

I grew up in LA, man. I grew up in South Central, West Adams, near USC off of Vermont. My family is from both sides of the tracks. David grew up around the same area as myself and my family. It’s just different generations. Somehow our lives got entangled. Now we have this movie as a result of our friendship.

Gig Patta: Did David know you were an actor?

Bobby Soto: No, I didn’t tell him anything. We were homeys for awhile. We never talked about anything. We went into a dojo and hung out. We worked out in the backyard. We exercise. It turned out that he and the sensei were best friends since they were teenagers. He and the sensei were partners in the dojo. David was always there. So, we became homies for real. He even came to my family’s wedding. Then he came for like a few of our parties. Sometimes, I will go to his house and chill. We never talked about movies. We never talked about acting. Nothing.

One day, he asked me, “What do you do?” Well, I’m an aspiring actor, man. That’s when he told me he made movies. Oh, shit. We never bothered to ask about this for months. And we’re friends.

Gig Patta: That is pretty awesome. How is he as a sparring partner? Are you better than him, or he’s pretty good?

Bobby Soto: Wow, man. He’s been training his whole life. I love having fun and sparring with everybody. I wouldn’t say I’m better than him.

ALSO READ: Cinthya Carmona On How She Prepared For The Dark Scenes In The Tax Collector [Exclusive Interview]

Gig Patta: Absolutely. Now with David’s style of storytelling, he always writes stories about these great gritty neighborhoods of South Central. Do you enjoy these types of stories, especially the fact that it hits so close to home?

Bobby Soto: Oh, man. Love it. Everyone I know my whole life growing up loved David’s movies. I grew up in LA, so everybody knows David Ayer movies. They know Training Day. Here’s a thing–if you’re not involved in the film industry, then you don’t remember names. People are not looking at the actors’ names or not looking at the director’s names. They’re looking at a badass movie. If you mention Training Day, people are like, “Oh, fuck! That’s badass.” They’re not asking who wrote it or who directed it. Now, like myself, I’m in the acting world. You started asking these things about who’s the director. Who’s that director who made movies near where I grew up?

So when I found out he was involved, everyone I know had this as their favorite movie. My uncle’s favorite film. My dad’s favorite movie. Training Day is like the shit. Everyone talks about it all the time. End of Watch is another badass movie. No one investigates who made it. Those questions are never asked.

Gig Patta: What about the style that he uses? It’s this gritty, violent style, but sometimes it’s exaggerated. Is that the magic that comes across to you?

Bobby Soto: Yes, exactly what you just said. That’s the magical thing he has in that power. As a film director, he gets to create whatever influences and thoughts he came across in his life. He makes these experiences into a cinematic scenario. Of course, he adds a little bit of extra spice here and there. But, it’s the way movies are built. Everything he tells is pretty much authentic. We get it. When you watch the movie, you’ll get it. A lot of the lines in this movie, people might think it sounds like this or that. The truth is, people, talk like that.

Gig Patta: What special preparations did you do for a movie like this? There’s a lot of action in this film.

Bobby Soto: Well, we trained at the dojo like fucking four months every day. For four months, it was all of us, the whole cast. It gave us that connectivity. That gave us a community. We became that unit. It was like that with a football team or an Olympic team since we were always together every single day. Especially with sparring, you get to test out your scene partner, family member, or your opponent. Give and take. You’ll notice if he moves over here, then you’ll move this way. It’s working on the whole actor as an instrument. You work on the body. You’re working on your sentiments of like how far can I go with this person? How far can I not? All of that is with acting.

In boxing, that’s why you hear a lot of references that boxers as being like actors. Or baseball players being as actors. You have to feel what’s happening around you. Especially in a fight, you can’t lie. You either going to fight or run away. That builds your relationship there. That process itself is something that’s such a rare know to have that much time playing with your castmates on set. That’s amazing.

Gig Patta: Now, you also had a lot of gunplay on the production. Did you have training before, or were you familiar with all of this?

Bobby Soto: No, we all had to train for the guns. There was a very special gun handler for all the weapons. He handled everything on the movie Heat with [Al] Pachino and [Robert] DeNiro. So he knew exactly what he was talking about it. If you’ve seen Heat, then you’re familiar with the shootout scenes, especially the one in downtown LA.

The very same guy, who did Heat, worked with us on The Tax Collector. He knew exactly how dangerous this project is and taught us how to hold a weapon. Even if it’s a prop, there’s a lot of meaning and power behind it. He made sure that we never played around with that. You never know what can happen, and it’s about being safe. We had a master at that. So that was good.

Gig Patta: Like everybody, I have to bring up Shia [LaBeouf]. How is it working along with Shia? Was his tattoo real like everyone’s reporting?

Bobby Soto: [Laughs] Yeah, yeah. The tattoos are real. That’s all I can say about that. I can’t speak for him.

But, I’ll tell you what it means to work with him. For me, after we wrapped up the movie, we created a theater company called The Slauson Recreational Theater Company, off of 53rd and Compton in South Central. It’s just down the street from where I grew up. When we were filming The Tax Collector, we shot on this block, 53rd, and Compton in front of this recreational center. Shia got to know a lot of the people around them. I had told them about my struggles growing up as a kid and not having any kind of artistic endeavors in Los Angeles. You have to go all the way up North with an hour and a half drive to Hollywood to find an acting class or art class. So I was lucky and blessed, and my mother took me out to an acting class. I can invest my energy into something positive.

When we shot this movie, I discussed my dreams with Shia. I’ve seen I see him for the last two and a half years. People asking me what it was like working with him, it’s a real friendship. A true, authentic friendship. It is something I’ll cherish for the rest of our lives. We’re going to be in each other’s lives. That’s what a great human being he is to be a part of his atmosphere. He’s pretty much a big brother to me. I love that guy.

Gig Patta: I feel like his acting style is like a method on how he gets into the character.

Bobby Soto: Let me clarify the idea of the method. People don’t understand the method is a technique. There are no other means to call it. There’s this method.

What’s the method of making a milkshake? You’ve got the bananas, the milk, the ice, and blend it in the blender. Turn it on, then you pour it in a cup and add some whipped cream on it. A method is whatever an actor needs to do for themselves for the work and the story to propel it forward. I wouldn’t comment on his process or whatever he does. That’s his thing.

Gig Patta: Absolutely.

Bobby Soto: For me, the way David creates the set gives free range to do whatever you need to do. In a way, we react as if we’re in improv. You can have an excellent creative response and counteract with each other. In a sense, we have this kind of trust and love. The leader of the group, a director like David, he allows everyone to perform like this. This buildup of energy and process becomes something to be meaningful.

Gig Patta: One more question for me, I want to bring up George Lopez. He had a brief role in the movie. Always been known as a comedian, as of late, he’s been doing a lot of serious films. How was he on set? I only ask this now since he has done serious movies and he has done comedy.

Bobby Soto: He was amazing, man. I didn’t see George until the day that I filmed with him. For me, I was happy because I grew up watching the George Lopez Show. So, I had to put my little fangirl self away and compartmentalize. He’s funny. On the set, he brought the humor when things got dark. Sometimes, he pops out with laughter and makes jokes. Sometimes the shit works, dude. He said things that leave me at the moment. And he does that often. Overall, he’s a good guy, man. There’s going to be a lot more work in that range, which is excellent for his career.

Gig Patta: Well, I’m sure you’re going to get a lot more work too. Thank you, Bobby, for speaking with me.

Bobby Soto: Thank you.

Source: LRM Online Exclusive, RLJE

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Gig Patta

Gig Patta is a journalist and interviewer for LRM and Latino-Review since 2009. He was a writer for other entertainment sites in the past with Collider and IESB.net. He originally came from the world of print journalism with several years as a reporter with the San Diego Business Journal and California Review. He earned his MBA from the Keller Graduate School of Management and BA in Economics from UC San Diego. Follow him on Instagram @gigpatta or Facebook @officialgigpatta.

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