As an actor, Juan Felipe Restrepo spends his life living in other people’s shoes. He alters personalities, adapting to new situations, circumstances, and sometimes even his physical appearance to create an entirely new individual to embody. He mixes his own traits with those of his character, adapting his persona when necessary. Each new role teaches him something new about humanity, and what triggers various emotions. It is the ultimate form of expression for the Colombian native.
“Acting is like a journey of self-discovery. Every time you get a new role, you get to do it all over again; maybe in the process some of your characteristics match the ones from the role. Maybe nothing is the same at all. It is up to you to answer these questions and ultimately make it real, search inside you to see what makes the character tick, and then give it a life in your body,” said Restrepo.
Throughout his career, Restrepo has worked on several critically acclaimed projects, including the music video The Arrow of Our Youth and the films Cage and Bangin Lanie. His most decorated project to date was the 2017 drama Prodigal Son. In addition to starring in the film, Restrepo also wrote it, as the story was very close to his heart.
Prodigal Son is a story of a closeted gay teenager coming out to a conservative Latino family. Restrepo based the script on the real-life story of his older brother coming out to his parents. The film was in Restrepo’s way, a show of support for his brother, his role model from the time he was a child to this day. He also hoped to provide inspiration for many Hispanic families who can’t accept their family member’s sexual orientation. Restrepo wanted to use the power of filmmaking to see a positive change.
“South America is a continent that still is pretty conservative, mainly catholic and pretty close minded. Any situation where homosexuality plays a part is seen as either a sin or a curse to everyone in the family of the person who is homosexual. It really pissed me off to see what my brother was going through, because he was one of the greatest prides to my family, and after he came out it seemed like every achievement he made got erased from existence, along with his relationship with my parents. After a few days, it really made me sad and disappointed, because family is supposed to be the ones who, no matter what, will never turn their back on you, and unfortunately, that’s just what happened to my brother. This film is not just his story but the one of many others before and after him and I realized I had a real statement to make,” said Restrepo.
In the film, Restrepo plays Andres, the main character. In the beginning, he appears to be a very proper and well-respected youth of the community. Nothing about him at first would show that internally he is struggling with accepting himself for who he truly is. There’s worry and concern strictly in his body language and on his face from the very first scene, and throughout the story you see how his emotional journey just affects him more. Restrepo captured this perfectly. The film takes audiences through Andres’ life, the situation he has been living, and ultimately the moment of truth. Restrepo wanted to show as authentic of a coming out as possible, showcasing how heartbreaking every detail was for his character.
“Andres represents not only my brother and my family, but also every single one of the LGBTQ community members, open or closeted. I wanted to show the audience how we come off if we are close-minded and reject our loved ones. He is the hero of the film and he realizes at the end that it is better to be who you are. Embrace it, and don’t let people shame you for that,” said Restrepo.
After finishing production in November of last year, Prodigal Son has seen great success at many international film festivals. Restrepo’s captivating and authentic performance has been praised, and he took home several awards including Best Young Actor at the Actors Awards 2018, Best Actor at the Top Shorts Film Festival, and Best Actor at Festigious Film Festival, to name a few. It is expected to make its way to several more festivals as the year continues. Such success could never have been possible without Restrepo’s raw talent and commitment to his work.
“This has been such a gratifying and inspiring experience. You see something you created, something you put your heart and soul on, something you gave so many days and hours of your life, something that was a piece of you put on paper and then on film and it makes me so happy and proud,” he said.
To get into the mindset of his character, Restrepo had many personal conversations with his brother. The actor discovered his brother’s emotional experience, how he was feeling all that time before he came out, his struggles, his fears, how having this secret affected him in his daily life and towards his group of friends. He learned how he was doing with classes, with going out, where he would go and what he would do. They also talked about the circumstances when he came out and how he felt while listening to his parents disagree with who he is and the way he felt throughout the entire experience, what he felt before telling them, during telling them and after the truth came out. Not only did this experience bring him even closer to his brother, it allowed for inspiration on set and a passion that drove all Restrepo worked alongside.
“Juan Felipe was so wonderful to work with, very professional, giving and present. He is an excellent actor and writer because he’s committed to producing only excellent work. He has very clear ideas in regard to storytelling and character development and is willing to experiment and collaborate in order to fully realize his artistic vision,” said Actress Illiana Nunez, Restrepo’s co-star in the film Prodigal Son.
Restrepo dedicates his film to the entire LGBTQ community. Through his work, he was able to feel some of their pain, all that weight on their shoulders, all that rejection, that dark side of the world that many try to avoid facing. It was a learning experience for the actor in many ways, and the highlight of his career. Above all else, however, it all goes back to his family.
“This couldn’t have been possible without my brother, and my family. When I showed it to them, it made them change their way of thinking and things are now way better with my brother. Even though it’s still not perfect, the amount of change is more than notable in my family and I am happy that I was part of this process and this result. I owe the film to them, for allowing me to share their experience and their story in an artistic way,” he concluded.