As a small boy, Erick Chavarria lived with his grandparents in Guatemala in the village of Loma de Chavarria (“village of Chavarria”), where everyone had the same last name. At the time, there were only dirt roads.
“Everyone — and I mean everyone — was dirt poor. My grandparents’ house was made of mud,” he recalls.
Life changed when he was six years old, and the village got running water and electricity. Sometime shortly after, his grandparents got the first television in town. Nearly the entire village would show up at his home during the day to watch Mexican soap operas. “The TV would be on from like 8 a.m. until midnight,” says Chavarria. “This was such a huge thing in the village. Everyone was so engaged with what was going on on the soaps.”
When their electric bill got too high, Chavarria’s grandmother started charging people to watch. “My job was to go around and collect five cents from everyone,” says Chavarria.
The draw of the television soaps made Chavarria think about acting. And with that thought, his whole life would change.
“It’s What I Always Wanted to Do”
When he was 15, Chavarria and some of his extended family decided to head to the United States to live. He spent 23 days walking, riding in 18-wheelers, and once in a fruit truck. His backpack with all his belongings was stolen, and the pocket of his jeans got stuck on a barbed wire fence and ripped off.
Chavarria’s plan was to work for three years in the States and then return to Guatemala for his education. Then living with family in Laurel, Maryland, he enrolled in high school and got a work permit to bus tables. After graduating, Chavarria enrolled at Howard Community College as a business administration major, but then he took an acting class. “It’s what I always wanted to do — be an actor. But my father thought it was the funniest thing ever,” he says.
After five years in the States, Chavarria became an American citizen, and once he finished his AA degree, he transferred to UMBC. He didn’t make it into the theatre program right away; so he took acting classes, worked on his craft, and was accepted the next year.
After he graduated, he didn’t go directly into acting. After a stint as a loan officer, then a real estate agent, Chavarria lost all his money in the real estate crash. With just $500 in his checking account and nothing much to lose, he decided to go head west.
“I said, ‘If I’m broke here, I might as well be broke in LA.’”
“One Day She Called Me In”
Chavarria began working as a server at a restaurant while he took acting classes. Armed with a demo reel made while at UMBC, he secured both theatrical and commercial agents and began auditioning. He began sending introduction letters to casting agents, and Gwen Hellier, who was then casting for General Hospital, stood out. Chavarria made a point of keeping in touch with her.
“I told her how I used to watch the soaps with my grandmother or that I just did a little commercial,” recalls Chavarria. “One day she called me in.”
He was given a script and told to go to the lobby and read it over, and then come back in. That’s when Chavarria realized that he was the only one auditioning for the bartender role. He got the part.
Chavarria was on six episodes of GH, played a recurring character on Eastbound and Down and Borderline, and has appeared in movies like Office Christmas Party. He has also acted at the Frida Kahlo Theatre in downtown LA and in commercials, and has a healthy IMDB profile to show for it.
The greatest reward, Chavarria said, is to be able to make a living acting. “I think a million people could’ve told me the stories of how hard it is to get into acting, and I still would have gone into acting. The most important thing is being happy.”
— Michele Wojciechowski
Image: Josue Pena