January 11, 2008

Former gang member makes acting his true calling

By Kiko Martinez

Born and raised in South Central Los Angeles, a young Hector Atreyu Ruiz struggled everyday to help his mother – an immigrant from Chihuahua, Mexico – put food on the table.

Although he dreamed to one day play baseball for the L.A. Dodgers or become an astronaut, Ruiz had to spend his days selling oranges in his neighborhood and collecting aluminum cans to make ends meet. Throughout his childhood, he was ridiculed by peers and picked on by gang members. Ruiz decided joining a gang, as a defense strategy, was his only option in the hardened environment he lived.

“I was tired of being jumped by gangs and I wanted to feel some sort of protection,” Ruiz said during a phone interview. “I wasn’t a bad person and I always had a good heart, but I was just sick and tired.”

Despite his strong spirit, Ruiz still found himself getting into trouble as he ran with the wrong crowd through the streets of L.A. His gang affiliation soon caught up with him as a young man and landed Ruiz behind bars on more than one occasion.

“It was never in me to go to jail,” Ruiz said. “But I was hanging around with bad influences and doing the wrong things.”

Ruiz (left) starts with actor Kevin Bacon in “Death Sentence,” which was released on DVD Jan. 8

During his last stint in the L.A. County Jail, it took only four words from a guard to make Ruiz realize he needed to change his life for the better.

“When I was leaving, one of the guards told me, ‘See you next week,’” Ruiz said. “It really hit home. He looked at me like I was so predictable.”

Making a fresh start, Ruiz enrolled in a local junior college and majored in theater and acting where he honed his skills in a number of theatrical performances, including William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” From there, Ruiz was accepted into the University of Southern California’s theater program where he earned a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts. He then traveled with a theater company where he performed for a few months in London, Paris and Scotland.

“I was always smart and I though I would eventually find my way,” Ruiz said. “And I did. I made a choice and surrounded myself with positive people.”

Returning to L.A. – the city where years ago he was selling oranges and collecting cans – Ruiz was now an actor. He started his film and TV career with small roles on shows like “NYPD Blue,” “CSI Miami,” “Mind of Mencia,” and “Arrested Development,” where he ironically played a prison guard in 2005.

Ruiz landed his first feature film in the 2007 film “Death Sentence” opposite Kevin Bacon and Kelly Preston (available on DVD Jan. 8). In the film, he plays Heco, a lowlife thug that helps gun down a family and awaits a father’s revenge.

“For me, I want to put myself in a positive position in this industry and be very accessible,” Ruiz said. “Right now I am just paying my dues and waiting for my time.”

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