JAVIER NUNEZ MAKES IT IN AMERICA BY LELAND WARE
Javier Nunez has been a staple in skateboarding since he was eleven years old. After he began venturing into New York City from New Jersey as an adolescent, he was taken under the wing of some of the East Coast's most infamous skaters. Under their tutelage he would develop undeniable skills on his board that would ultimately lead to a career as a professional, but Javier's path to success would not only involve skateboarding. When he was still a pre-teen Nunez was cast in the cult classic movie Kids which would be his first exposure to the world of acting. From there he did commercial work as well as minor film roles - all of which paved the way for future theatrical endeavors, but Jav's big break would occur in the streets. It was a chance session at Astor Place with Kareem Campbell that resulted in Javier getting sponsored by City Stars and opened the doors to California that had the biggest impact on his career. He turned pro and eventually relocated to Los Angeles in 2001. City stars would ultimately go out of business a few years later causing Javier to take a job at the legendary skate shop Supreme on Fairfax. It was at Supreme that Javier met Rob Weiss - a producer for HBO's Entourage. Weiss cast Nunez in the role of Wilfredo Gomez on his new show How To Make It In America. During his time at Supreme Javier also picked up a few new sponsors and reignited his skate career, he's currently busy getting clips for Ammo skateboards and FMS Shoes. I caught up with Jav' earlier this summer on his old stomping grounds on Fairfax in L.A. and got the low down on his career both on and off his skateboard.
Season 2 of How To Make It In America premiers tonight at 10:30 on HBO.
You're from New Jersey, how did you get started skating originally?
My older brother skated, I got into it pretty much through him. He was the guy that motivated me to jump on a skateboard. I stole his skateboard. I want to say I was probably about eight years old when I did my first ollie on the Have You Seen Them board - the Missing Children board, what was that H-Street?
It was Think.
Yeah Think - exactly.
Karl Watson, Sam Smyth...
Yeah, Nick Lockman, all those fools, that was the first board that I ever set foot on and it was my brother's board. I pretty much jacked my brother for his board and then when I came home later that night he yelled at me, but I remember doing my first ollie when I was eight years old.
You had a 411 Wheels Of Fortune skating the Brooklyn Banks at eleven, which is pretty impressive being that you were so young. That was just three years after you started skating, how did that work out?
I was lucky enough to come into the city and get accepted into the crew. You know how it is, if you're an out of towner and you come into the city, you're gonna get checked or regulated. I was lucky enough to be around people that took me under their wing. That first year that I started going into the city, which was like '93, that's how I came up on 411. I was just skating and the dude, I believe his name was Dave Schubert - he filmed a lot with Pepe Martinez, both of those guys were up in New York from D.C. and they were like "dude, you wanna film a 411?" I was like "sure, let's do it" and pretty much filmed all of those tricks in like ten minutes.
Who were some of the guys that were skating downtown that were sponsored when you were a little kid?
I would see Huf, I would see Huf shredding it. I would see Harold (Hunter), Steven Cales, Jeff Pang, just the old Zoo crew. I would see them skating through the city and like I said, I was lucky enough for them to accept me into their crew and they took me under their wing. But yeah, those were the guys. My first pro was Fred Gall, he was the first pro that I ever saw at Brick Town Skate Park in New Jersey. Before I was even going to New York, I remember going to Brick Town and Fred Gall was there, I remember fanning out on him.
How Did sponsorship come into play, who was your first sponsor and how did that work out?
It started off with me getting sponsored at this Flushing contest that Dead End put on... remember Dead End?
Vinny Raffa, big up to Vinny Raffa - he threw a skate contest at Flushing Meadow park in maybe like '93. Vinny Ponte was already on Dead End, but me and Supa were skating the contest over the grate. I was doing my tricks, Supa was doing his tricks; we were skating so good that Vinny Raffa was like "you guys are on the team!" Me and Supa got on Dead End on the same day. That was awesome cause Vinny used to take us in this crazy old school Cadillac to D.C. and Philly, we did some ghetto ass tours with Vinny. I give him repect, he took us out and pretty much showed us a good time when it came to skateboarding and being sponsored.
Around that time that movie Kids came out, which was your first introduction to acting. How did you hook up with Larry Clark?
That whole thing happened through me just skateboarding in Astor Place with Harold and Justin Pierce, those were the dudes that introduced me to the writer. Pretty much we're skating Astor and Harold's like "Jav, I want to introduce you to Harmony (Korine). Harmony, this is Jav; put him in the movie." Harmony just looked at me like "okay" and that was it. I got into Kids without thinking about what it was going to become, but I was lucky enough to be a part of it. When that movie came out the following year, I had older people coming up to me - way older than me, like in their 30's, saying "dude you saved my life, you made me go take an AIDS test..." but I'm young as shit, I was like "dude, why are you telling me this shit" I wasn't caring, I was just a little dirt ball skating down the street. But yeah, that's how I got introduced, if it wasn't for skating and being in the city and being around Harold, I wouldn't have ever been involved.
Cool, let's talk a little bit about Menace / All City / City Stars and that era. How did you hook up with Kareem? That was a major deal at the time and you were still really young.
That sort of happened the same way, if you ever came to New York in the mid 90's through the late 90's you would see the crew that hung out at Supreme and skated Astor. One of those days we were skating and Kareem comes back from tour with Menace when he first got it poppin', everyone was on that trip and they just came to Astor and were chilling. Me and Maurice Key were skating and Kareem was impressed and said, "I'm starting this new company and I want to sponsor you" and I was like "cool." At the same time Kareem hooked Maurice up with World Industries.
That was around 20 Shot Sequence and Trilogy.
Yeah, right before that.
Speaking of Trilogy, you did that switch flip over the Brooklyn Banks Wall which was so perfect - popped high and caught clean. People still talk about that, RB mentioned it in some interview that I saw recently. Talk about that day and that trick, how many tries did it take, had you done that before?
No, you know I was thinking "I wanna go for it" and it was one of those days when I linked up with RB. I thought, "fuck it, let's try to knock it out," so I knocked it out pretty quick, within an hour. I was just there throwing it up, but then I pulled one and RB happened to film it and it was good times. I got to skate the wall, you can't even skate that place anymore.
Around that time you started traveling and coming to L.A. and San Francisco. What was it like coming out to California for the first time?
I came out here in the summer of '94, no maybe it was '95. I was thirteen years old when I first came to Cali. Just coming out here and seeing the mind-set of all the skaters and how professional it was and how serious it was, that opened my eyes. I thought, "wow, this is a serious thing, I gotta focus on skating more." On the East Coast you got all these obstacles - first of all you got the winter, second of all you got people that go out and aren't really focussed on skating like the skaters are out in California. It's just two different mind-sets, two different places, two totally different worlds. I felt like I wanted to move out here, it's more focussed on skating, the weather's good all year around, it's laid back, there's photographers and filmers.
What ultimately happened with City Stars?
I don't know, I don't really know the business side of it cause I never really bothered asking Reem. I guess it could be bad business, but I don't know. At the end of the day, Reem was the dude that opened my eyes to California, if it wasn't for Kareem I wouldn't be in Cali - who knows, I'd probably still be on the East Coast.
Do you still keep in contact with everyone?
Oh yeah, of course! I just talked to Fabian today, he's focussed on his acting thing which I respect a lot. Joey, I talk to Joey - he's busy working on Odyssey. Billy Valdes, he comes by the shop once in a blue moon. Reem, he's in Texas, but I spoke to him like a month ago - he seems to be doing well, like I said, until I die that's my brother. He put me on to a lot, so I'll never forget that.
You mentioned officially moving to L.A. aound 2000, how did end up working at Supreme? Was that through earlier connections in New York?
The connections helped because I grew up with the shop in New York. I moved out here in '01 and they didn't open the shop until '04, so I had already been out here a couple of years before they opened. I heard that they were opening a shop so I met the owner James, who I knew already, and Eddie Cruz who owns Stussy on La Brea. I just told them that I'm living out here now, and they were like "you know what, we're looking for somebody..." and pretty much I was the perfect option because I knew the guys and grew up with Supreme, it would be stupid for me not to be there. It worked out, it worked out well.
Yeah, you worked there for a long time - what was that like seven years?
I worked there from '04 or '05 until this year, so yeah like six years.
During that time period SHUT relaunched. How did you link up with Eli Gesner and Rodney Smith?
I rode for Zoo, after Dead End I got put on Zoo and then that's when Reem put me on Menace. So I was cool with the guys already, they started the brand up and it made sense - they were from the East and I grew up with them, so I figured let's try it out.
More recently you switched to Ammo, what motivated you to make that change?
The reason why I linked up with Felix is because he's very driven and I respect his hustle a lot. Also with Ammo, I've got some creative control in it as well. Felix has got a lot going on in his head and I like it. I'm down to be a part of it, it's something fresh. Me, Manny, and Felix all talk about what's going on and stay up to date on everything that's happening with the brand. I just felt like that was a better move for me.
Speaking of Felix and moves, you're also on FMS Shoes now after briefly riding for the newly relaunched Axion. Talk a little bit about the switch from Axion to FMS.
The switch from Axion to FMS was because FMS was a better deal for me. I'm not getting any younger, so obviously I gotta go where I'm eatin' at. I give a lot of respect to everyone at Axion because it's a cool group of people that skate for the team, they're making good shoes, it was good - I was definitely psyched on being on Axion; but at the end of the day I gotta look out for myself and FMS came with a deal that I couldn't refuse, so I decided to go with that. And with FMS, the shoe brand isn't based mostly on skating, it's a lifestyle shoe, so it makes sense in a way. Travis is a good dude, so it's been good so far - I'm not complaining at all.
Let's switch gears and talk more about acting. After Kids you did a few things like that movie Prison Song with Q-Tip and some commercials. Talk about getting your SAG card and pursuing your acting career.
After I did Kids I got introduced to some people in New York that were running an agency and I started booking commercials. It was all through skating, if I wasn't skating I probably wouldn't be doing any of these gigs. I did a Levis commercial which was a national campaign in '97, after that I was pretty much SAG eligible. So I did that, I paid my dues and became a member of SAG. Even though I wasn't working as much, when I moved to Cali I kept paying my dues. I thought "you never know, you might get a gig - you're living in LA" and that's pretty much what happened. I ended up getting this How To Make It In America gig, but through the Our Christmas stuff - I had a casting agency, they would always send me on these random gigs, and that was one of the gigs that I booked. There was Prison Song, but I did this other one called Our Christmas, Ice T was in it, Colegio fom the Bronx Tale was in it. I just always kept with it, I was like you know what, even though I never took an acting class in my life - let me just be natural with it. I grew up around enough people that I'm sure I could act a certain thing out.
Talk a little bit about How To Make It In America and your character Wilfredo Gomez. Did you go in and read for that?
No, not even - I was working at Supreme and one of the producers from Entourage, his name is Rob Weiss, comes into the store. He's been shopping there for a minute, so we knew each other. He was like, "Yo Jav man, we're about to start this new show and I think you'd be perfect for this character - he's a bipolar pro skater." At the same time it's like Hollywood talk, you hear that shit a lot in LA - people blow smoke up your ass. I was like "you know what, that's good but don't try to gas me up with this shit. If it happens it happens. Don't think I'm gonna be calling you up or asking you or whatever, I ain't gonna be hounding you for this job." He was like "nah for real, you know what - they're doing a pilot. We can't afford to send you out cause it's just a pilot and we don't know if it's going to get put on the air, but if you want to fly yourself out you can get a couple scenes." That was the first episode with me screaming through the fence and doing all that wild crazy shit. It ended up getting picked up for a season and that's how I got involved with that and then it got picked up again for a second season which is the season that we're filming for right now, and this season is a bigger role for me.
Where did the name Wilfredo Gomez come from, did you have anything to do with that?
Actually, I didn't - those guys picked a good name.
It seems like it's perfect.
Yeah, Wilfredo - come on, every Wilfredo I know is a fuckin' nut. So pretty much Wilfredo is definitely a psycho name. It fits perfect. As skaters, all of us grew up with those type of people - we all know a Wilfredo Gomez. At the end of the day it's not really too far fetched from what I really lived, so why not. I could play along with it.
Speaking of sort of reality, in that little trailer that they had for Season 1 called The Legend Of Wilfredo Gomez, they had a bunch of stories like hide a dook, selling kids three wheels made of potatoes, pulling chicken out of your pocket, things that are really urban legend in skating.
It's not even urban legend, all of those stories are real stories that skaters knew. So that just goes to show that everyone knows a Wilfredo. There's a lot of skaters that we grew up with that are just daryls and pretty much it was all true stories. Like when people ask me, "who is Wilfredo really about?" I tell them he's not really about a specific person, it's about all these people all mixed into one. When we did The Legend Of Wilfredo Gomez, it was cool cause we had a lot of people that showed support. It was dope that they made it happen, to be honest, not to brag about myself but if it wasn't for a skater being on the show I wouldn't think any skater would be involved with it. Just cause, you know how skaters are, they'd be like "man fuck that, it's some actor trying to be a skater." So it all worked out, it all fell into place perfect. All of those stories are true.
Who are they based on?
Matt Schnurr was the hide a dook, the potatoes... I don't know who the potatoes is, the chicken in the pocket was Harold, all of those stories are true stories- they just made it into a character now. I'm happy because they can write a lot of crazy shit for me because my character's crazy. I can be the funniest dude in the show because I'm bipolar.
So let's talk about Season 2, cause in Season 1 they were just looking for you the whole time then they found you at the end and it's kind of leading up to Season 2 where you'e gonna have more of an active part. You probably can't give away everything, but what can you tell us about Season 2?
Well, Wilfredo Gomez is sponsored - I got a sponsorship now. I'm sponsored by Rasta Monsta and that's all that I can pretty much say. You can only imagine, with Luis Guzman being my boss - he plays Rene Calderon...
They burned the Rasta Monsta truck in the end of Season 1.
They step it up, they got some money from that job - from that insurance gig. You'll see man, I'm excited for the second season. We got a lot of good writers. A lot of good people, the writers are super cool with me. The creator and writer of the show pretty much lets me do whatever I need to do to make it authentic and he takes my advice, so I give him a lot of respect for allowing me to do that. His name is Ian Edelman and he's the guy that's given me a lot of shine too, he's put me in a lof of episodes this season. This season's gonna be way funnier and way better.
What impression do you think Wilfredo is going to leave on people that don't skate after watching him this season?
They're going to love him, he's so much of a nut that they're going to love him. Everyone loves that crazy motherfucker, I'm pretty much that dude in Season 2.
Do you think your role in this will inspire kids to skate if they see it and they don't already?
Ummmnnn, well I hope so. I hope I inspire them to skate and not to be crazy. You know, it's tough to impress the skate industry, so I'm curious as to how the skate world is going to respond to me being on the show and doing what I'm doing. There's a lot of critics in the skate world, it's a tough industry.
So what's the process for going out and filming for these episodes and how does the lifestyle you're leading right now with your acting being prominate compare to the lifestyle of just being a skater?
It gets a little tough, you gotta be focused - you gotta memorize these lines. You gotta know how you're gonna go about it, you don't wanna go on set and look like you don't know what you're doing - especially when you're working with Luis Guzman. I gotta be professional, we just focus hard on it. I get my lines straight, I make sure I have everything down and on lock, then I just go handle. It's random with the shoot days, they have me wake up at six in the morning one day and then we shoot til' night or they have me wake up at noon and we film til' night. It's always different. I'm not complaining man, it's a cool opportunity and I'm excited.
Are you going to be pursuing acting more in the future? A lot of people that are on these HBO shows go on to other roles as a result and it seems like you have that lane opening up.
Yeah you know, that's something that I didn't take advantage of in the past - when I did Kids, I was young and being naive. I was thinking "I'm good, I don't want to really do this acting shit, I wanna skate." Now it's coming to a point where I got my foot in the door with HBO, why not - I'd be stupid not to really pursue it this time. That's my goal, I'm really gonna get involved with this and hopefully do some more seasons. I'm just gonna perform and play that role and run with it.
What about skate video parts? It's been a while since we've seen a part from you.
Yeah, I've been putting out these little commercials here and there. I've actually got another one that I'm about to drop. To be honest, I haven't had time to go out and really film. I really just want to go away and focus on really filming, I want to get out of LA and film. That's one of our goals this summer with Felix, Ammo, and Manny. Felix actually just purchased a van - a full on skate mobile. He's gonna put everthing skate related in the van and we're just gonna go. We're gonna have Spanish Mike come out here and hold us down with the filming, but yeah this year. I'm still skating, I still love skating. It's still in my blood and I feel like I could defnitely come out with some shit, I just have to really put the time into it. Now that I'm with a motivated team, I feel like it shouldn't be a problem.
You turned pro really young and you've been skating for a long time. What's different now compared to back then?
I feel like back then it was casual skating, you had good skaters and they had style and that's all that it really took. Nowadays it's more how many days out of the week you are training for this contest. It's becoming more of a serious thing than it was in the past. I believe now kids really know that they could make a career and a lot of money off of this thing because the mainstream is helping out skating, so now they feel like "alright, I can focus on this." Now you have parents taking their kids to the park, where back in the day the parents would be yelling at their kids for skateboarding like "what are you doing? You can't make money skateboarding." Now it's becoming an accepted thing where parents are allowing their kids to become P. Rod or Nyjah. I ain't mad, but skating is a tough game nowadays - it's really become a real sport just like a basketball where it's about training every day. Back in the day it was more you're with your homies, you get a trick, you get your skate on... it wasn't as serious as it is now.
What about the business side of it? You've been through highs and lows but you always seem to come back up.
To be honest, I never worried about what the next person has or what the next person was doing. I was always worried about Jav. I was never in nobody's business, I never burnt a bridge, I never disrepsected anybody, I always played my role - that's how I was raised. With that mentality, I felt like that's what kept me in the skate game and relevant in the skate game for as long as I have been. Like you said, you haven't seen a part from me in awhile, but I try to come out with stuff in the mag or some clips or a commercial just to let people know I'm still on it. Come out with a few clips a year just to be somewhat relevant. The way it's been going, I've been blessed to still be relevant in the skate world. There's a lot of people that I grew up with skating that were huge at the time, it's tough to break in and maintain that skate credit that you used to have. It sucks cause a lot of my friends that were doing it back then, they're not even skating anymore.
Who are some of the dude's past and present that you look up to in skateboarding?
Being young, I definitely looked up to all of the New York riders. All the guys that were on Zoo, they were good friends of mine and they were at their peak level in the skate industry. I can't forget Kareem, he's the one that got me to California and opened my eyes to this whole skate shit. Keenan, rest in peace, Justin Pierce, rest in peace, Harold, rest in peace - those guys were the ones that I looked up to being young. I wanted to be funny like Harold. I wanted to skate like Keenan when I was young. To have all those guys be my friends but also being that kid thinking "man, I'm skating with these guys" I respected it a lot, but I played my role - I was never that thirsty little kid. I was always just that humble kid, I've never been that annoying - well I was annoying, but it was good annoying. I looked up to a lot of people, it's tough to even go down a list... Gino, come on man!
You mentioned New York as being a primary influence, what's the biggest difference living on the West Coast skating - how do those two compare?
If you're skating in the streets in New York, you feel the energy from that environment. If you skate in the streets in LA, you don't feel shit - it's not the same as far as that element. As far as really being productive and getting stuff done, I prefer L.A. There's so many skaters that live out here, there's parks everywhere now, the access is there to go skate and actually learn some stuff instead of just pushing around in the city. The advantage that New York has is the environment of being in New York with so many people. Out here, for me, I feel like I can focus more out here than in New York as far as skating. Don't get it twisted, I love skating in New York when the weather's nice - of course... the scene, the photos, the footage, that all looks dope.
You recently went on a little mini tour with some music groups, what was that all about?
Yeah, Little Wayne, Rick Ross, Nicky Minaj, and Travis Barker - pretty much I became a roady over this past weekend. I went to the Anaheim show and they were like just jump on the tour bus and come with us to Oakland. I had my same outfit on for like four days - back stage skating with Yelawolf through Rick Ross, through the Arena. It was pretty epic man.
What's the last thing that pissed you off?
I got denied my citizenship. I'm in the process of getting my naturalization and I forgot this one letter. When I went for the hearing, dude just denied me. I felt like socking him in his face, but I can't do that. But yeah, that was the last time I got fuckin' tight, cause I was in the process... now I gotta pay all over again.
How do you make it in America?
With a Green Card? I don't know how... nah, like I said - I live by this theory: just worry about yourself. Too many people worry about what this guy is getting or what this guys doing, worry about yourself. Have a goal in life and focus on what you need to do instead of putting that energy onto something else negative. But yeah, how to make it in America is just be yourself and be humble.