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Miles Gaston Villanueva Goes to Hollywood

Dec 22, 2017 11:00AM ● By Melissa Mendonca

Miles... To Go

January 2018
Story by Melissa Mendonca
Main photo courtesy of Miles Gaston Villanueva

Choices. When it came down to choosing between two general education courses at Fresno State University, actor Miles Gaston Villanueva knew himself well enough to know that a Spanish class with an 8 am start time wouldn’t set him up for success. He tends to burn the midnight oil.

The other option, more appropriately timed as an afternoon class, held its own setbacks. Oral Interpretation of Literature would require two presentations. Villanueva was shy, someone who watched performers with awe but harbored his own fears of holding an audience. Ultimately, facing his fear of public speaking beat out his fear of early morning classes.

The class turned out to be a watershed, leading the young student who had been following his older brothers into studies of kineseology to his true calling in theater.

“I grew up an athlete,” says Villanueva. “I wasn’t one of those actors who started acting as a kid.” He’d do impressions and imitations – Jim Carrey was a hero – but as soon as one of his parents would ask him to repeat himself for friends or family, he’d become shy and afraid.

The work ethic his parents, Visalia residents Theresa and Rich Villanueva, instilled in him, however, pushed him to produce stellar interpretations for his class; his efforts caught the attention of his professor, Terry Miller. Miller invited Villanueva to audition for a school Shakespeare production. That production set him on a career path that eventually led to Los Angeles and the role of Lyle Mendendez in the late 2017 eight-episode series, “Law & Order True Crimes: The Mendendez Murders.”

“For some reason, I said ‘yes’ that day,” Villanueva says of the offer to audition for that first Shakespeare production during his sophomore year at Fresno State. “I had three lines and did some sword fights,” he says with a laugh of his role in Henry IV Part I. Still, the experience brought him home to himself. “I didn’t know what I was missing until I got to theater and found my people.”

He changed his major to theater and landed his first lead by his junior year.

Upon graduating from Fresno State, he found himself roaming the Bay Area to do regional theater and was baffled by friends’ suggestions to take his talents to Los Angeles. “People kept telling me that if they looked like me, they would go to LA,” he says, seemingly unaware of the power of his jawline. “What does that even mean?”

It was a lull in his Bay Area audition schedule that finally nudged him toward Los Angeles, where his older brother Matt was working on a doctorate in kineseology at the University of Southern California. He decided to crash with Matt and see what came about professionally. “I did it kind of on a whim.  I’m indebted to my brother for letting me be here for awhile,” he laughs. “I actually took his apartment over. I’m still in it.”

Success came readily for Villanueva, who quickly landed roles in daytime television and has now been in Southern California for five years.

His recent high-profile role as Lyle Mendendez, however, is the highest point so far, both professionally and personally. “It’s the most defining thing for me as an artist/actor because of everything it asked,” he says. “Getting into the head of an abuse victim and someone who feels their only way out is to take their parents’ lives.” He describes the role as “the most daunting, the most challenging, the most rewarding.”

Filming for the series began in June 2017 and wrapped in October. The first episodes began airing in September. “People had watched three episodes before we had even wrapped,” he says. While some cast members chose to wait to view the show until filming wrapped up, Villanueva chose to celebrate with family and friends. “My parents came down to watch with me and Gus (the actor who played Erik Mendendez),” he says, relishing the opportunity to share his work in community.

“It’s amazing the self discovery that can happen when you inhabit another person. That was lightning in a bottle,” he says of the Mendendez role. “It’s changing things for sure.”

The role is raising his profile as an actor but also bringing a certain amount of celebrity, which he enjoys for its ability to connect him to more people, an opportunity he genuinely enjoys. “It’s changed me,” he says, “but it’s made me a better person, to come more into my own, and to interact with other people.”

Gratitude is a sentiment Villanueva peppers into his conversations with ease and sincerity. “I’m still hustling,” he says. “I’m still auditioning. I’m very fortunate.”

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