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– by Gig Patta

As the greatest nation and mightiest nation in the world, it is ashamed that the United States can barely take care of their returning veterans. Many veterans suffer from health problems, traumas, PTSD, suicides and even homelessness.

Max Martini starred, wrote and directed SGT. Will Gardner, a tale about a homeless Iraq War veteran who is struggling to back in society. He sets out a cross-country journey on a motorcycle in hopes to reunite with his young son.

The film also stars Omari Hardwick, Lily Rabe, Robert Patrick, Elisabeth Rohm, Dermot Mulroney, Gary Sinise, JoBeth Williams and Luis Bordonada.

LRM Online had an exclusive interview with actor Luis Bordonada, who plays Charlie Burroughs, another homeless veteran in the film. We had an extensive conversation about Bordonada’s veteran background, homelessness and joys of the production.

Bordonada is a Mexican-Puerto Rican, who joined the military after high school His father, Army Sergeant Alexander Bordonada, served three tours in Vietnam and Korea and was wounded twice in combat.

He started his career with The Book of Eli. He had reccuring roles on FX’s The Bridge, AMC’s Better Call Saul and guest starred on A&E’s Longmire. Currently, he plays Nelson Herrera on Starz’s critically acclaimed television series Vida.

SGT. Will Gardner is playing nationwide today in select theaters. Mona Vista Productions will donate a portion of the film’s proceeds to three charities which support veterans suffering from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), PTSD and veteran homelessness: Higher Ground, Warriors Heart and the Gary Sinise Foundation.

Read our exclusive interview below:

LRM: Thank you for speaking with me for this movie SGT. Will Gardner. I’ve checked it out myself, so it’s very fascinating.

Luis Bordonada: Oh, man. Thank you. Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

LRM: What initially attracted you to want to work on this project of SGT. Will Gardner?

Luis Bordonada: For me it, I’m a veteran myself. My father is a veteran. He did two tours in Vietnam. He was injured multiple times–wounded–he still had to go back to Korea. Retired. I was Navy Second Airborne Division. I’m a veteran myself. I got injured., I was paratrooper for the 82nd. To me, I have the love for the true spirit of the veterans. Not the politics and all that stuff. Just to meet struggles of the veteran deals with after coming home. When I read it, having that experience myself, I saw that they were being very honest and sincere with the material. That made me more inclined to be a part of it.

LRM: Talk about your character, Charlie Burroughs. What do you love about this character that you got to play for the movie?

Luis Bordonada: Thank God. I love everything about him. It was a no brainer. I’m a veteran. I’ve been homeless. I’ve been that young looking for help. Everything that he is, I’ve experienced in my life except for losing a leg in combat. I injured my back from parachuting. Dealing with the VA, their help after you get out of the military. I dealt with that as well with my injury. I fell in love with every one of those aspects of him. I fell in love with his drive in spite of the situation. There is his drive to that closure with his father. Even in all of this, he wants to look favorable in the eyes of his father and in the eyes of this new friend he’s met. I think was something inspiring to me and that I really wanted to dive into.

LRM: You said that you actually experienced all of this. The trauma. The homelessness. What was that really like?

Luis Bordonada: [Laughs] When I was young, my mother and I didn’t get along. I didn’t grow up with them from what I was about nine to when I was about 16 years. I was kicked out of my house and everything. I had to bounce around from couch to couch to friend’s house to friend’s house throughout my senior year of high school. I remember that feeling of not having things like this. I have friends who look out for me, thank God. But, that feeling is the same. It was like to sort of not know what was gonna happen for you that day.

I remembered in high school, my worries throughout the entire day at times was like, I got to find a fifty cents. [Laughs] So I can take a bus to get to my friend’s house where his mom was letting me stay. The whole day is like a journey. Where do I find 50 cents? I had to use the public phones. I was a little kid. I didn’t have a job. I was in school. We figured it out.

In that circumstance, he was still having the capacity to dream. He had this dream. He wanted to get to his father’s grave in D.C. To some people, it may be like a simple thing. Buy a flight and just go to D.C. Take a bus and go to D.C. This guy who had no resource. That’s just a dream. That really grabbed me.

LRM: Wow. This story really got to you then.

Luis Bordonada: Absolutely. Obviously, not only as a Latino actor, it was getting an opportunity to take something that’s not a stereotype or not a Latino. There’s no label on him. His name is Charlie Burroughs. We have no idea who comes from, except he’s from Louisiana. He has his journey. I thought that was beautiful. As an actor, I can play the substance of the character versus trying to portray a type. For Latinos, we’re always fighting for these opportunities. The minute that I saw it, I’ll do whatever I can to get in this movie.

LRM: Did you have to do any extra research to play this character?

Luis Bordonada: Well, absolutely. I had to talk to other people that have PTSD. I have friends and family that are dealing with PTSD. I had to explore that. I have to go back and find out how exactly they feel within their eyes. What would shifts they making their personality. The kind of nuance approaches they have that they’re not visible to the naked eye that deal with PTSD. I definitely have to research. I lost a lot of weight for it, because I didn’t want it to look like a healthy, homeless person in costume. [Laughs] There was a lot of work I have to go into creating him.

LRM: I noticed a drastic transformation after I looked up other pictures of you on the Internet.

Luis Bordonada: I appreciate that. It is a lot of work. It was beautiful. Credit goes to obviously to the makeup department, who were amazing. The wardrobe department was amazing. We collaborated to create this guy. It was just beautiful to be able to bring this guy of life. When I first saw him, I found myself in the mirror with wardrobe in costume and the makeup and I was like–this is pretty crazy. It was beautiful.

LRM: What was it like working with Max Martini, who was the director, the writer and the star of the movie?

Luis Bordonada: I would wish this on the world, the opportunity to work with Max Martini on every project. I hope to God that they had the blessing of working with someone so kind, sweet, caring, and talented. He has this vision. He’s like a machine. He’s like on the nonstop. I remembered we’d have these late nights, late days, late shoots traveling across the country, across the country on his bike. He’s driving by himself. He’s exhausted from that and still go home to review the script to be scheduled over the next day. Do the director’s stuff. Wake up early the next day. Go to the prep. It’s unbelievable. Then he still be present with you. You’re not dealing with a gimmick. You’re dealing with someone that’s true, honest and genuinely cares about the subject matter. He wants to be there with you in the scene. So that to me was a huge. The word “blessing” is an exaggeraton. It was a beautiful experience. It was a life changing experience for me for sure, because it taught me a lot from an actor’s perspective.

LRM: What was the funnest thing that you got to do on this project? What was it riding the motorcycle or pretending that you only had one leg?

Luis Bordonada: [Laughs] My God. It’s hard to single out one thing, because there was so many things about this whole experience I thought were amazing. The travel was amazing. Riding on this across the US from New Mexico all the way to, to, to D.C. Cruising around DC on the motorcycle was amazing. Obviously, the landscapes that we were able to see North Carolina, Tennessee in Memphis and then through Texas to Arkansas. It was just beautiful.

I think my favorite part I guess I would say is the in between moments. The between action and cut was something magical with Max and Elizabeth Rohm. I think that was my favorite moment. The entire experience was epic with me. [Laughs] It’s tough to pinpoint the one savored moment. It was just so many. So many things about making a movie where you have to travel the country on a motorcycle

LRM: That’s true.

Luis Bordonada: [Laughs] Then to a fake leg. [Laughs] People not knowing whether to serve you, because you look like this run down, beaten up from sleep and homeless. That was fun at times. Please serve me. I’m actually not homeless. [Laughs]

LRM: With the theme of veterans for this movie, what is it like to be a veteran today? What does it all mean?

Luis Bordonada: It’s interesting. It’s on an individual basis. There’s veterans who served in their duty, but didn’t get injured in combat or didn’t make it to combat. There’s veterans that went into combat, got injured and then came back to not be themselves. They are very different. I think being a veteran is tough for the most part, because there’s very little help for you or assistance to help you transition from military life to civilian life. I consider myself lucky to have served, gotten out and still had spirit to pursue something that was unlikely–to become an actor. The hardest thing being a veteran right now is not giving up. A lot of money allocated for the defense part of our system, but very little of that defense budget is actually allocated to the veterans, to their recovery and to their health.

LRM: Speaking of your journey, how did you manage to take the path from being a veteran to becoming an actor? How did that come about?

Luis Bordonada: I had this dream when I was a kid that I just had this idea of trying it out. I snuck out of my room one night and caught my dad watching this movie. It ended up being Platoon. It was the scene where they were on the phone with William Dafoe getting killed from behind by the Viet Cong. I caught my dad sort of flinching a little bit. He had a little bit of something he was feeling from watching this. He was having an emotional moment for wanting this scene. I just had the spark inside me. I wanted to be that someone. I want to cause that emotional in people. I want to help in that sense.

When I was going to get out of the military, I thought I could stay and do 15, 20 years, then retire and be fine with this. Or I could give this thing a try. I got out. I gave it a shot. I went to back to El Paso and then I started school. I started going to college. The GI Bill was helping me out with paying for my school. I ended up getting lucky in that my theater professor, he actually a trained with an actor’s studio in New York. He had founded a theater festival in El Paso that was already on the 27th run. Now it’s up to 35. I got to learn from him from one of the greatest theater minds in the nation. I just kept going and pushing, doing plays and theater.

One thing led to another. I had to hear about an audition. People will hear about my work and they let me know about things. I ended up booking my first role in Albuquerque, New Mexico. There’s a lot of film going on there. My first role was The Book of Eli with Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman and Ray Stevenson. That was my first time on camera. At that moment, I was like I’m just going to stay. I’m just going to stick it out.

LRM: Wow. That is an awesome journey. Let me wrap it up with one last question for you. Can you talk about any future projects that you may actually have?

Luis Bordonada: Yes, of course. I have a movie that I’m in that made it Sundance called Sister Aimee. It is premiering at Sundance this year. I’m on the second season of Vida on Starz. I play Nelson Herrera. He’s the villain of the story. I’m very excited about that, because it’s our second season. The first season of the show did really well. We’re excited at the prospects of our second season could take us. I have another film coming out called All The World Is Sleeping starring Jackie Cruz from Orange Is the New Black, Jorge Garcia from Lost and myself. I’m very excited about that one, because it’s a very personal. It deals with its way helping women tell their stories in women, in particular with abused women and women in need of help recovering from addiction. I’m very hopeful for that one as well. Also, I’m guest starring on an episode of S.W.A.T. On January 11th, which is the same day SGT. Will Gardner premieres, on CBS.

LRM: Thank you very much for this conversation. Thank you for your service. Thank you.

Luis Bordonada: I appreciate it. Thank you for you for the interview and thank you for the questions. Thank you for taking your time and listen to us.

SGT. Will Gardner is playing nationwide today in select theaters. Mona Vista Productions will donate a portion of the film’s proceeds to three charities which support veterans suffering from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), PTSD and veteran homelessness: Higher Ground, Warriors Heart and the Gary Sinise Foundation.

Source: LRM Online Exclusive

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.