Editor’s Note: This feature is part of a series highlighting some of the inspiring changemakers working to showcase a broader spectrum of Latinx artists and experiences in film and television.
If there’s one thing you can’t accuse Roberto Larios of being, it’s lazy.
The evidence stretches back to when he was about 13 years old. At the time, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Sweetest Day – a holiday celebrated in the Midwest, including his native Chicago – meant working in his mother’s flower shop to help with the rush.
More evidence is found in his pre-Hollywood turn in the health management field, when he’d work from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. and once went seven months straight without taking a day off.
Even more evidence is in the days he spent driving Lyft – sometimes until 3 a.m. on the weekends – while working full time as an assistant, networking and reading scripts in his free time, so he could make end’s meet.
Larios, a TV agent, knows what it means to work hard, and it’s gotten him to where he is – inside one of the top agencies in Hollywood.
Larios’ parents, immigrants from Mexico, were business owners who were always working, whether it be at the aforementioned flower shop, selling Mary Kay or at his father’s sports bar.
The latter, in fact, is where Larios gained a great appreciation for film. On the weekends before the bar opened, he’d set up shop in middle room of his father bar and hook a VCR up to the projector and mow through classics, sometimes joined by early bird customers. Sundays were also for going to the movies as a family.
Translating this innate love of film into his eventual career, however, took some time. But denying his passion for entertainment – and his distaste for political science, his original educational pursuit while studying at Notre Dame – was not long-lived.
Larios landed at Hollywood agency Verve after completing his MFA degree at DePaul University and has never left, working his way up from the mailroom to being an agent.
“I’m home grown, and to be honest, that’s the best avenue – to be in the trenches learning from the bottom up and soaking in the company’s culture while learning valuable lessons,” he said.
The trip, however, never would have happened without the mentoring and encouragement he received early on as an assistant from Verve partners like Amy Retzinger, Adam Weinstein and Bill Weinstein.
Larios describes his journey with pride because it’s not a common tale. (“I was promoted in about three years. That typically doesn’t happen to a Latino in this industry,” he said.) Even less so is finding bosses who will invest in your success and take action to do so.
Take, for instance, Larios’ side gig as a Lyft driver. When he finally confessed to one boss that he had to supplement his income by driving, it came as a wake-up call about what actually is a living wage. Though driving, for him, was never the difference between, say, having a meal and not, Larios was honest about his position.
“I told him it’d never, ever gotten to that point, but what I didn’t want to worry about was making sure that I can take care of my bills and being able to go home to visit my family whenever I got a chance,” he said. “I’ve been in situations and I’ve seen my parents be in positions where they have literally zero dollars with the need to figure out how to get out of that situation, and I don’t ever want to be in that position ever again.”
This, he said, is a concern for a lot of newcomers to the industry, especially L.A. transplants.
“It’s the dual-questions of “How bad do I want this?” and “Is this enough to keep me here?” he said.
Verve soon announced pay raises for assistants and was the first agency to do so.
Larios said in his honesty, he had in mind “the next Roberto” and everyone with a similar background – the first in their family to make a play for success in the tough business with few or no resources.
“All of the partners paid attention once I was honest,” he said. “Their major concern aside from the wage issue was, ‘What if we get a call that you were in an accident?’ There is the idea that anyone is replaceable, but they’ve made me and my colleagues feel like we’re each unique parts of the company’s success.”
Larios would like to see this humanity and accountability become the norm. It starts, he said, with agencies taking a look at themselves.
“I would say, take a look at every agency’s roster and how many diverse agents they have, but it’s not necessarily about a number. What’s the ratio and, therefore, the impact?” he said.
At Verve, roughly a quarter of their agents are of diverse backgrounds.
“It’s a good number, and we’re improving on it. But, ultimately, the ratio is much more reflective of change – at least in our doors – and of what we’re trying to do with respect to who we’re promoting and who we’re trying to represent.”
Additionally, he said, it must be made clear what areas of any studio or agency Latinx people are employed.
“At any major studio or company, like, if they tell you, ‘Twenty-five percent of our workforce is diverse.’ Well, I’d ask, are the actual decision makers? Can they buy? Can they hire? Are they helping make a difference” he said.
Even once in positions of influence, Larios recognizes – and has experienced – the pressures with being a Latinx professional in Hollywood. When you’re one of few Latinx agents in the business, it can come with equal parts responsibility and scrutiny.
“It’s hard for someone like myself or, you know, like my colleague Gina Reyes, because we’re two Latino diverse agents at one of the major agencies in this industry, but unfortunately the pressure becomes one of feeling that we can’t sign everyone who we’d relate to or identify with due to being Latinx,” he said. “We are just two out of maybe a dozen Latinx agents, if that.”
Larios feels his greatest responsibility is to do his job and do it well for his clients, in hopes of making more opportunities for others.
“Ultimately, as representatives, we are here to build careers, elevate profiles, and most importantly, achieve dreams. If we can help, for example, five Latina female comedy writers that we represent find success, and all five of them are doing amazing things or are about to, then the ideal scenario would be that we can go sign five more to replicate the success,” he said. “In the end, it isn’t necessarily just the work that I or any of my teammates are doing, but how receptive the other end of my phone call or email is being to our clients.”
He’d never be in the position to do any of this, however, if he’d never used his voice, he said.
“I think the one thing that Latinos in general need to do in this industry is don’t be afraid to speak up,” he said. “I feel that a lot of us, myself included, are just appreciative of the fact that we’re in the room. So, therefore, we don’t say anything and we just accept it as is versus thinking or saying, ‘You know what? I think this is wrong’ or ‘I think we can do better.’”
Name: Roberto Larios Jr.
Job: TV agent at Verve Talent and Literary Agency
Clients: “I don’t want to leave anyone out. We represent as a ‘we,’ not an ‘I.’”
Years in entertainment: 4
Mentor: “All my colleagues at Verve, especially Bill and Adam Weinstein, Amy Retzinger, Chris Noriega, Gina Reyes, Manal Hammad, Melissa Darman, Rich Rogers, Chase Northington Matthew Doyle, Evan Pioch and Jake Dillman.”
Latino…de dónde?: “First generation Mexican-American, raised in the Back of the Yards neighborhood in Chicago.”
Latinx trope I’d banish forever: “That we all look a certain way or sound a certain way. Latinos come in all different skin tones and speak differently, even accent-less.”
Latinx TV show I wish everyone was watching/had watched: “‘Resurrection Blvd.,’ which aired on Showtime and ‘Gente-fied,’ especially when Season 2 comes out.”
Latinx actor/actress I think will a huge star one day: ‘Erik Rivera and Raiza Licea. They’re doing so much in the comedy scene for Latinos and underrepresented communities. I’m really rooting for them to be able to break out and for the world to know who they are.”
Overused line that executives say when passing on a Latino project: “‘I’m sorry. We have to pass. We have a project already that’s similar in scope.’ Even when in reality it’s five degrees separated from it. I call it the ‘Highlander’ Rule. There’s a movie called ‘Highlander’ where only one ultimate warrior can exist. So when there’s two, to one has to kill the other. And you hear it. ‘Oh, we already have a show about diverse doctors.’ But, it’s like, ‘Wait, you have two White savior doctor shows? You can’t have two diverse doctor shows?’”
What I think all executives could do to better Latinx representation on television: “When it comes to hiring writers or actors, there should be more than just the same 10 people. When you think of Latino comedy, for a lot of people, it’s either Gloria Calderon or bust. Like, find the next Gloria Calderon instead and give them a chance. And it’s the same thing with actors. ‘Oh, we couldn’t get Pedro Pascal, so we’re going to scrap it. We’re going to change the lead from Latino male to ambiguous.’ Go find the next Pedro Pascal. I know it’s all about box office dollars, but if you can’t get that one big lead person, put the star power in the next role or two and give someone else a shot. Believe you can make them a star.”