Earlier this year, Jane the Virgin star Gina Rodriguez beat out A-listers such as Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Edie Falco for Best Actress in a Comedy Series award at the Golden Globes. Yet, another rising Latino from CW's popular telenovela series has seemingly left a lasting impression on Hollywood, arguably the show’s most entertaining character – the un-seen narrator – Anthony Mendez.
Mendez’s velvety baritone guides viewers during each episode from beginning to end. He even brings the uninitiated up to speed with his concise yet detailed recaps. The most fascinating tidbit about the Dominican actor, however, is his latest feat: getting nominated for the coveted Emmy Award above all his castmates, including leading starlet, Rodriguez.
Although initially shocked, the 42-year-old has embraced the honor of placing in the new illustrious category of “Outstanding Narrator,” not just for himself, but also for his entire squad. “I’m very proud to carry the torch in the next couple of weeks for the entire Jane The Virgin team,” he told VIBE Viva.
Mendez’s career has flourished since his humble beginnings in music production. Recalling a decade-long journey in radio, he revealed that his purpose as a voiceover actor goes beyond serving as a mere host. “Our job is to solve that missing piece, [we're] the glue that’s missing in order to tell the story,” he explained. But the Washington Heights native doesn’t want to stop at just being a vehicle for spoken word, he also intends on acting as a beacon of hope to inspire young Latinos in the U.S. with his unique profession.
“It’s about letting people understand why I want to put a face to voiceover – to allow people and young, American Latinos especially, to understand that there’s a career that no one has thought of," he said.
VIBE Viva sat down with Mendez about his early profession as the booming voice of the New Jersey club scene and producing demos for artists like Tego Calderon and Wisin y Yandel, which ultimately helped him foray into the television industry.
VIBE Viva: Have you always wanted to be a voiceover artist?
Anthony Mendez: I don’t know if it’s so much that I’ve always wanted to be one, but I think over the last 10 years, I did. Initially, I wanted to be in the music business, which is where I got my toe in. Then that led to doing radio spots and then voiceover. Once I did my first voiceover for a local club, I was hooked. I started acting and even got into classes. So over the last 10 years, I’ve made a living off doing what I love.
How did you land your first gig?
It was a nightclub. My best friend from college, Alex Peña, used to run an entertainment company called Nu Life Entertainment, and they used to produce a lot of radio spots and promotions for nightclubs. There was a club in Jersey City where a guy from the radio station would come and do the voiceovers. One time he was on vacation so they were like “Why don’t you do it?” I said, “Okay.” That was my first voiceover gig. I was really horrible but with that kind of stuff, it’s really just playing hype man for the party.
What about the script for Jane The Virgin attracted you?
I don’t think it immediately caught my eye. I think, like many people that hadn’t seen the show, the premise was so far out there that people were kind of raising an eyebrow at it. I think that was the same kind of reaction I had when I got the email. I looked at it and thought, “A girl who was artificially inseminated accidentally and I gotta do a narrator type thing? I don’t think I want to do it.” But then I read it and what attracted me to it was how brilliant they intertwined all these stories. Mind you, I hadn’t seen the entire script yet. They gave me enough of the script where I got the idea of so many things going on at once and how the narrator kind of brought them all together. That just really impressed and amazed me.
You’re the only character that was nominated for an Emmy. How does that make you feel?
Initially, it made me feel a little shocked. I was heartbroken over the show and Gina not getting nominated. But eventually we turned that around and focused on the positives of it. I feel honored to carry the torch for everybody and I’m talking about everybody from hair, makeup, lighting, mixing and not just the writers, actors, and directors. I’m very proud to carry the torch in the next couple of weeks for the entire Jane The Virgin team.
How close are you to the cast?
I usually go out there in the beginning and towards the end. Sometimes, I try to make it out for table readings when I’m in town. But mostly, we stay in touch via email, text messages, or on social media. Even though I’ve only met them a handful of times, they feel like they’re long-distance friends or cousins.
Do you feel like your character will one day manifest on screen?
I hope not, at least not anytime soon. Jenny has said herself that when the show comes to an end, which I hope is several years down the road, she will reveal who the narrator is or isn’t. But knowing how Jane The Virgin is with all these twists and turns, even if they do reveal whom the narrator is, I feel like they will do it in a way where I won’t necessarily have to be on-screen. I think, in the short term, what I’d like to do is like an inside joke and maybe pop up in the background or something without saying any lines. I think that would be funny for people who do know who I am.
You’ve done voiceover for video games as well, most recently Grand Theft Auto V. What are the significant differences between lending your voice to games and TV?
There are several differences. I think the biggest difference is the level of energy you bring to a video game. It’s almost similar to doing animation. Grand Theft Auto V was an amazing experience. I walked into Rockstar, which is one of the top video game developers, and it’s like a top-secret type of place. Between all the doors I had to go through and signs all over the place, no pictures or social media—it’s a very competitive business. When I walked in, there was an entire binder full of my lines and pictures of my character. I was the guy—one of the store clerks that rob liquor, which everybody necessarily kills. I remember in video games, there’s just a certain amount of energy you have to bring to it in order for that energy to transpire during game play. You feel like you’re almost yelling in certain parts. Plus, not only do you have to do all the characters lines and the range of emotions that that is required, but then you have to do what is called “exertion sounds.” All the hits and falling, you’re really yelling it out. By the time you leave a video game session and it’s the last one of the day, your voice is pretty much done and you can’t really do much else. Narration in TV shows or movies is so intimate. It’s like pillow talk because you’re only talking to that one viewer.
You’ve also worked with music artists.
Yes, I used to produce and record demos or track presentations for artists. Let’s say an artist had a deal with a company, they would come to the studio and lay down tracks. I’ve met and recorded for people like Tego Calderon, Daddy Yankee, and Wisin y Yandel. It was because of my relationship with a friend that ran the promotion company. I had always wanted to record with these people. But the music business is top-notch. Voiceover is competitive as well, but the biggest difference is that voiceover, especially nowadays, you’re almost both the engineer and the artist. So you’re not really depending on outside forces.
Do you feel like your background helped create the foundation of your career?
We are diverse as any American and we are as American as any American. The largest growing segment of the Latin community in this country is the American born that prefer English-Language programming and English-Language music. Not to say we don’t listen to our Spanish music like salsa, bachata, merengue, and so on, but we can flip to hip-hop or electronic music at the drop of a dime. It’s about letting people understand why I want to put a face to voiceover -- to allow people and young, American Latinos especially, to understand that there’s a career that no one has thought of. Here’s a career where you can still be in the studio because everyone dreams of being in a recording studio, but you can also reach millions of people as well.
Considering that you’re the one who lives to do all the telling, what do you want people to say about you when you’re gone?
I just want people to say that I was a real caring and helpful person. Even to this day, I still get people who call me and say, “Hey, I have a few questions for you…” Whenever the time allows, I always try to help out, because nobody does it alone in this business. And what I mean by “this business,” I mean the entertainment business or any type of freelance or creative art. Nobody does it alone. I think that’s the message I want to send out.