An interview with Abraham Bobadilla, lead star of “I Am Gangster,” from writer/director Moritz Rechenberg

(Abraham Bobadilla gives an outstanding performance as a hardcore gang member who feels his need to have a better increased stature at his aunt's crime organization)

by Oliver Carnay

One of the films I saw at recent ‘Dances With Films’ festival that I thought was very impressive was “I Am Gangster.” Writer/director Moritz Rechenberg delivers a realistic, raw, authentic portrayal of the gritty, dangerous life of gangsters in the Latino community in East Los Angeles, bringing a non-judgemental/non-apologetic portrait of the issue of gang-related youth violence on the streets of Los Angeles.

Rechenberg first took interest in street gang kids in late 2007 when he was looking for materials for his next short film “Ticked.” An article from Los Angeles Times about racially motivated gang killings caught his attention. His extended research led him and collaborated with members of the Teen Club of Hazard Park in East Los Angeles where he scouted real juveniles for his short film back in 2008. Eight years later he comes full circle with this powerful film “I Am Gangster” that comes straight from the heart. The film immediately got a film distribution deal from FilmBuff in the middle of its screening at Dances with Films festival.

Shot with handheld documentary style and realistic dialogue, Rechenberg highlights three main characters in his stories: Hardcore gang member LITO (Abraham Bobadilla) seeks retaliation for the shooting of a fellow gang member by the police, while gang matriarch Tia (Marlene Forte) refuses to let him do so and rejects his request for more organizational responsibility. This pressures Lito to begin seeking more power on his own. Meanwhile, rebellious and easily influenced teenager RIO (Gilberto Ortiz) faces bullies at school and pressure at home, when he meets up with his old childhood friend who is an active gang member.  Now, Rio could be easily swayed to enter the dangerous life that looks so inviting.  David (Rick Mancia) is an idealistic correctional officer able to keep his family safe, deals with excessive use-of-force incidents at the jail and is challenged to make a fateful decision between the lesser of two evils.

Rechenberg masterfully used and selected a pool of organic non-actors -- former and actual occasional active gang members in the development of his films to give a different level of authenticity in creating this powerful film. Without story board he motivated and coached first-time actors. According to him, besides lending an inimitable character and level of authenticity to the film, these positions offered the kids employment and hopes it created an opportunity for healing through active reflection.

In the opening scene of “I Am Gangster,” non-actor Abraham Bobadilla, (who plays “Lito”) set the tone and thrill introducing the first major character in the movie. Curiously, I got the need to talk to him about his portrayal and participation in the film. And here is what I got. Please read on:

HOLLYWOODFLIP: How did you first learn about this movie?  Can you talk about how you were cast?  What were you doing before you got involved with this movie? 

AB: I first heard about this film through Jacob Albert a mutual friend me and Moritz have. I was working at Homeboy Industries ( when Jacob approached me and told me his pal had a movie and needed gangsters or people with experience in that life. I decided to go for the experience. I had no idea i would actually get the part. The day we went out to Hollywood to audition me and a few guys were given lines and asked to read them out. I’m not going to lie ... I was a nervous wreck. I had no experience in acting . I just went with the flow. Strange enough I noticed I was the only one handed the main character’s lines. I didn’t really feel like i had to act. I just went into my street mode and read the lines. Moritz loved it and offered the role right away. I took the opportunity and ran with it. As i mentioned before, I was working at Homeboy Industries when i got involved with the movie. I was not involved with the teen harzard project.

HOLLYWOODFLIP: This is your first movie but it looks like you've been acting for a while.  It was amazing the director came up with raw, realistic and the scenes were so truthful as they are.  In your case, how did he motivate you or how did you motivate yourself in every scene you did?  Was he open for suggestions?  Did you improvise at any point or did he want you to go exactly what's on the script?

AB: Playing this role was not hard for me. Growing up in east L.A., I saw and lived a lot of these things growing up. I didn’t need much motivation. I was guided in a direction that the director felt was real but there was sometimes we would need to change a word or two to sounds more up to date in the gangster world. Moritz was very open to any ideas and felt if we could improvise to make it seem more real, then that was the way to go. For the most part we went with the script. I felt it had a real feeling to it so i just went with it.
HOLLYWOODFLIP: What were the preparations you have to do the scenes?  How was it working with Moritz as a film director?

AB: Preperation began in Moritz small office three months before actually filming. I would meet him up and rehearse lines after lines ‘til he felt we had it down to his expectation. Working with Moritz was great. He is a very chill guy. From what I’ve heard, directors can sometimes be *ssholes. Not in this case. Hanging out with Moritz feels like hanging out with one of the homies from the neighborhood.
HOLLYWOODFLIP: What was the greatest challenge you encountered during the shooting?

AB: The greatest challenge during the shooting scenes was the running. Ah man i hate running. He made me do those scenes over and over again. I wondered why so many takes. Come to find out he wanted me to look tired for reals. I wasnt to siked about this but hey what can i say. I like to work hard so i gave it my all.

HOLLYWOODFLIP: How many days of shooting did you have?

AB: In total, I don’t really remember how many days I filmed. I can estimate that I filmed about three weeks in total. 21 days if I remember correctly.

HOLLYWOODFLIP: What do you think people would need to take after watching this film?

AB: What the audience needs to take is a trip down to Homeboy Industries. I worked there for about a year and I have to say its the best place to go meet people who have changed from their gangster ways to positive influential ways... plus their cafe has great food!

HOLLYWOODFLIP: How much of the character you portrayed is you?  How do you relate to the other characters in the movie? 

AB: I would say i was the character all in and out. Strange enough my character’s pregnant girlfriend name in the movie is Jazmine and my actual baby’s mother’s name is also Jazmine. It was easy enough to get mad at her while filming. I just thought of my girlfriend .. I can relate to the other characters in many ways. Being from the boy who was peer pressured to becoming the one who pressured the others.. ive lived it all in my short 21 years of life. I felt that playing this role was not really acting. More so just being myself.

HOLLYWOODFLIP: The last part of the movie was so powerful.  How do you feel about the way the movie ended?  For some people who are stuck in this kind of world, what do you think the society can offer as a solution?

AB: I felt that the way the movie ended was very real. There is so much stuck in a loophole and cant find a way out. And even sometimes if you want a way out it is already too late. The best way I think society can help change these situation would be to offer more jobs to people. Making money with job security is the key in the end. Either you make it flipping pattys or selling dope. Work is key. If you stay busy enough you wont have time to get involved in all these difficult situations.

HOLLYWOOD: Are you going to pursue more acting after this movie?  What's next for you?

AB: Now that this film has been premiered here in Hollywood I feel that if any opportunities come my way I will definitely take full advantage of them. I didn’t really plan on acting again and I loved what I did. But hey, if more than one person thinks i was good and think i can make it somewhere then they must have seen something i don’t. I would love to continue acting.

Also i would love to thank all that made this possible for me -- from Jacob Alberts, our director Moritz Rechenberg, Ralf Weinfurtner - the producer, and all of my co stars .. It was really an honor filming this movie and I wish everyone the best in their future. .!