At 48, Berto Colón is always at his absolute best. Whether he's stealing scenes on the soccer field, in the CrossFit arena, or on screen, the Ponce, Puerto Rico man never brings anything back from his A-game.
M&F sat down with the fast-rising performer, who first attracted attention as Cesar Velazquez in Orange is the new Black and is currently wowing viewers with his portrayal of Lorenzo Tejada in Starz' highly rated Power Book II: Ghost is fascinated by why he owes his recent successes to a solid sports and exercise background.
"I've been a fan of Muscle & Fitness since I was a very young guy," says Colón, who is 6'1 tall. “Want Muscles was the publication of choice. My wife makes fun of me all the time because I still have publications from the 80s and 90s that I never threw away. I treated them like encyclopedias.”
Effort equals reward
Beginning as an aspiring actor trying to make ends meet by working in hotels and bars throughout New York and New Jersey, Colón took the train between shifts and rushed through audition after audition to land acting roles. His dogged determination paid off, and after lending his voice to video games (The Warriors, Grand Theft Auto IV), he later landed appearances of varying sizes in The Good Wife, Gossip Girl, Nurse Jackie, Gotham, and Jessica Jones, but it would his portrayal of Cesar in Netflix' Monster hit Orange is the New Black, which made his face internationally recognizable.
"I had just moved to a new area here in Jersey and one of the first crazy moments happened at a water park and I was with my daughters," says Colón. "This guy had like a little heart attack, he couldn't believe I was at this old water park in Keansburg." The actor knows fame can be a fickle business, and is able to recall past successes and setbacks in the sporting environment as motivation boost for his acting career. "I was born and raised in Puerto Rico," says Colón. "I've played sports all my life. I was a swimmer first, and we had these summer swim camps where we basically swam all day. For me, translating cross-training from your actual sport started early in my life because we would have swimming and then gymnastics and then sort of a poolside workout or in one of the gyms. So I understood the implementation of cross training to improve your stroke, moves, shots or running ability.
Courtesy of Crater Media Group
Berto Colón is a gentle giant
While Berto Colón is gentle and very down to earth in his free time, he is very competitive when the lights come on. "I switched from swimming to basketball, and then at some point it changed," says Colón. “I think a lot had to do with personality, but discovering contact with football took me to another level. We played rough touch and rough tackle with no equipment.” After moving to the United States, Colón worked hard in high school and earned a football scholarship to Fordham University. It was soccer training that introduced the actor to the Bulgarian training method and he gained a good understanding of lifting while maintaining his stamina. "The highlight for me was working out in the gym," says Colón. "I've always believed that in order to play sports, you have to train to improve what you do."
It's all about the process
A knee injury would eventually end the actor's dreams of making the NFL, but these days he's pursuing celebrity acting roles with the same fire and passion he's shown in his athletic career. "You could be a musician, an artist who paints, it's all about the process," says Colón. "I've had a couple of ACL injuries that have made my chances of an NFL career that much more difficult. But this process of spending all these hours in the gym is playing a game for an hour but you practice endlessly and it's definitely just about the process and the work ethic because that's where you hone your skills. That's what draws me to acting; It's an artistic endeavor that we all have by nature, but it also involves that work ethic and process. It's very hard to break into anything, to get to the top of an industry, and unless you develop some kind of work ethic or pain threshold, and in this case; a rejection threshold, you might have 10 nos before you get a single yes, so learn all that in the process. You stay hungry.”
Courtesy of Crater Media Group
Berto Colón is still crushing CrossFit
Despite his filming schedule, the star still spends as much time being as active as he can find. Berto Colón is a passionate surfer and is also very fond of CrossFit. While training at Power Pak Fitness in New Jersey, an Instagram post from last year shows him completing a CrossFit Games Open workout in just 21 minutes and 20 seconds.
"These CrossFit workouts are really challenging," says Colón. “Because again, going back to the Bulgarian method, I feel like I had an introduction to this method at school by maintaining a certain workload for a long period of time. So if you're smart and you're doing your workout in a way that you understand that the first 5 minutes of a workout can feel weird because your body is still adapting, you don't necessarily have to push it all, you have to go at a certain pace because you are just 5 minutes in a 20 minute workout. The whole concept is to keep the work going. After those first 5 minutes, your body adjusts, and over the next 10 minutes it gets easier. If you find the right tempo at the beginning, then you find the right tempo in the middle and then you can give yourself the final push.”
w as Lorenzo in Power Book II: Ghost, the drama sequel to the original Power crime series, Colón is in his element in the series produced by Courtney A. Kemp in association with Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson.
"Lorenzo is a guy whose ethics, obviously unlike mine, have kind of gone out the window," says the actor. "To me, he's a man with real connections and an understanding of family and protecting what's his, but his work requires that he's not guided by ethical issues. For me I don't want to romanticize such a person, but for the purposes of the work I need to understand what his motivation must be. That's the joy of what I'm allowed to do."
PowerBook II: Ghost Season 2 is currently airing Sundays on Starz and is also available on StarzPlay.