Bobby Soto is getting his due in leading roles. The LA raised actor got his break in television roughly a decade ago, with appearances in notable shows such as The Closer and Brothers & Sisters. Just this year, Soto has left an impression on audiences within Narcos: Mexico, The Quarry, and most recently with The Tax Collector. Co-starring Shia LaBeouf and directed by David Ayer, The Tax Collector is leading all eyes on Soto, and he couldn’t be more up for the job.
The film is more of a return to form for David Ayer, who has built a reputation for LA set crime thrillers. Soto and LaBeouf play “tax collectors” for a local ganglord whose business is comprised upon the arrival of an old competitor. Released over the weekend in select theaters while also on VOD as a result of the ongoing crisis, the film found great success despite an array of critical reception. The Tax Collector was the number 1 film at the box office receiving over $300,000 from theaters and $2 million from online rentals.
We were able to chat with leading star Bobby Soto for an exclusive interview! We talk his collaboration with David Ayer, Shia LaBeouf, and his interpretation of the film’s heavy themes. Soto also tells us his advice for fellow upcoming Latinx artists.
To start off, what was it like getting to work with director David Ayer knowing that he’s grown a reputation for crime thrillers such as End of Watch and Training Day?
BS: Pretty much, I grew up in South Central, Los Angeles. So I grew up around that lifestyle and pretty much what people say, “coming from the streets.” David Ayer, by the grace of God, we actually grew up in the same neighborhood – literally in the same neighborhood. So a lot of his movies, they resonate with the Los Angeles Chicano culture. From Training Day to right now with The Tax Collector. A lot of the stuff in these films really capture that authenticity. And if anyone ever talks about a movie from LA, you think about David Ayer’s.
We built the story together. We worked together. We collaborated. He knows a lot of things and all of us – the whole cast from Conejo, Shia [LaBeouf], myself, to Chelsea [Rendon] who grew up in Montebello – all of us grew up around Los Angeles and in that energy. So when the script came about, it wasn’t something that was so far-fetched. It was more of an introspection of the art, an introspection of the self. More than a performative act, we had to dig deep into ourselves in order to contribute to the story and move it forward. Of course, it’s a movie, but it wasn’t like if I grew up in the Valley and then read the script with, “Oh sh*t, I have to… what is this?” No, we grew up around it. So it really was at home.
David Ayer always aims to create something raw and authentic, especially with the use of sets. You spoke on that as far as knowing the LA Chicano culture, but what was the set like for you and co-star Shia LaBeouf when trying to get into that head space? After all, there are many really intense scenes.
BS: David [Ayer] says, “You’re going to walk into whatever you walk into, wherever the script takes you, wherever you lead yourself into by doing the work you do – but just know I’m always going to be right behind you. I’m always going to be there to support you, to take care of you, to be there for you.” That’s what I believe sets the tone for the whole set. He’s a leader so he’s got that impactful energy. When he walks into a room, he knows what he wants. He knows what he sees, and you can feel like he’s going to protect you like a big brother. He’s kind of like prepping you for the football practices and then when it’s game time, you can always look at the bleachers and he’s right there cheering you on.
It’s a very free, very relaxed set. There is a lot of high energy because everyone’s really excited. Of course, you’re working with someone at the top of his game so people could do their best. He’s nothing like you hear about in other movies where it’s like, “this crazy sh*t happened” or “that crazy sh*t” – it wasn’t like that on this set. I think because it was even more intimate for a lot of us that it became more like a family. “Let’s all try to pull something out of each other.”
One thing that I was super curious about was your experience working with George Lopez. Him being like a legend and seeing him in a more serious role was really cool. What was that like for you?
BS: It was a surprise man. Actually, I didn’t see him until we got on set and that was the thing. He just came on set and did his thing. At first, because I grew up watching the George Lopez show it was like, “Oh sh*t, I have to compartmentalize”. He plays a relative of mine in the film, so the fangirl inside of me had to calm down a little bit. But it was really amazing watching him play. Even when I saw it because it’s one thing when you’re doing it and another when you’re watching it. When I watched it myself, I’m like, “Damn George Lopez is really f*cking killing it.” Everybody I heard from our pre-screening was like, “Yo!” They couldn’t believe it.
I guess just seeing him, you expect to almost laugh or for him to say something funny. But he goes to a place that I just haven’t seen, and you can tell that the energy is just radiating off every one of you. You all did a really good job in that sense.
BS: Thank you. Thank you.
There are a lot of films in this vein, but The Tax Collector has a lot of interesting themes, particularly some fascinating ones with religion. What’s your interpretation of the film’s meaning or message? What have you taken away from it from the times you’ve seen it?
BS: I think personally, it makes you question if that were to happen to you. How far would you go to protect the things you love? To test your faith? Really, I think its a test of faith, a test of loyalty. It’s like the Book of Job if you know that reference from the Bible. God gave him everything and then he took this away, took that away, took this away, took that away – he was testing to see if his faith was still there. If anything, I think people will, at least, look at the movie and go, “How does this affect me?” First and foremost, it’s a fun movie too, you know? Then these questions of faith I think will just slip into the person’s psyche and make them question themselves and see what really matters for them.
Do you have any advice for aspiring actors or creatives, specifically for people in the Latinx community, on how to succeed in today’s world?
BS: The name of the game is perseverance. These cliches are cliches because they have truth to them, right? You always hear people say, “Believe in yourself first and then everybody else will believe in you.” Well, that’s true. I also say it’s okay to be selfish. It’s healthy selfishness that we need to go for what we want, because a lot of times, we don’t necessarily see the mental prison traps that we put ourselves in. But because we take responsibility for our lives, first and foremost, and then we take the responsibility from our parents, friends, siblings, school, or whatever – the biggest thing is just to really take all that power and believe in yourself.
That’s the truth, and don’t outsource your authority. There you go. That’s a good one. Don’t outsource your authority. What that means is if you’re doing things to please other people, then you’re not doing it for yourself and you’re not doing it for the beauty of what you can do.