Wilmer Valderrama Says He Was 'Naïve' About Lack of Diversity Early On
Wilmer Valderrama had a unique entry into the entertainment business. The 41-year-old actor got his big break playing foreign exchange student Fez on That ’70s Show, and the standout role gave him the opportunity to feel like an equal to his peers.
“I was pretty naïve and innocent to the conversation about diversity, inclusion and representation,” Valderrama told Good Housekeeping. “Those first couple of years I was treated like an equal. I was treated like an actor who was delivering the funny. I felt like I was doing my part and I was doing it with the level of integrity that just made me, as a human being, feel good.”
Though he played the role for all eight seasons of the hit show, Valderrama admitted that he was unaware of the impact he was having at the time.
“I didn’t really understand the magnitude of what it all represented for the Latino community until a couple of years later when people realized I was Latino,” he shared.
The American actor, whose father is Venezuelan and whose mother is Colombian, expressed that he didn’t see himself as a minority in his industry.
“I never really saw myself as a minority. I just saw myself as an actor in a sea of actors, and I think that gave me the edge in knowing that if they did it, I could do it too,” he continued. “Supposedly, looking at all the statistics, what I did was almost impossible, and I think that’s the right perspective going into things — knowing that if you prepare the same, if you get up in the morning early like everybody else, why shouldn’t you have the same shot, right?”
The NCIS star is especially proud to see the next generation of upcoming Latinx stars.
“It’s beautiful. The new generation of Latinos can wake up knowing that they can play themselves with integrity — unlike some of their parents who were told that in America you only speak English or you have to be this or that,” he said. “I love seeing this new, young generation looking up at their grandparents and saying, ‘Wait a minute, I really identify with that. That’s who I am.'”
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Valderrama himself is doing his part to raise a new generation having just welcomed his baby girl, Nakano, with his fiancée, Amanda Pacheco. He shared what he most wants to teach his daughter.
“It’s not just OK, but it’s incredibly special to have the opportunity to speak out loud about your feelings, about what you are, about what you want to be,” the proud dad said. “I want her to understand that she’ll grow up in a generation that will be born with a mind that says all is possible because of the ancestors and the people that have been fighting the fight for her. And I really hope that she takes advantage of the idea that she’ll have a bigger platform than most of us did.”
Back in July 2020, Valderrama opened up to ET about the importance of working on a show that showcases diversity.
“We have a major responsibility at this moment in time to continue to create images that our younger generation can look up and say, ‘Hey, that’s like me. That looks like me,'” he told ET.
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