From playing Hispanic bandit “Jefe” in Three Amigos to starring as Secretary of State “Mickey Troop” in The West Wing, acclaimed actor Tony Plana has continually exploded traditional Latino stereotypes through his acting. Offstage, he not only advocates civic engagement, diversity, and education, but is down in the trenches developing programs for and speaking on these seminal issues.
Plana recently starred for four seasons as “Ignacio Suarez”—the widowed father to America Ferrera’s “Betty”—in ABC’s landmark, groundbreaking hit series Ugly Betty, for which he received the 2006 Golden Satellite Award from the International Press Academy, an Imagen Award, and an Alma Award. Ugly Betty was the first Spanish-speaking series to be adapted to English for a major American network and has received the highest ratings and the most critical acclaim of any Latino-based show in the history of television, most notably 11 Emmy nominations and a Golden Globe Award for best comedy. Plana also starred in Showtime’s original series Resurrection Boulevard—the most awarded series in the network’s history and the first series to be produced, written, and directed by Latinos—and was nominated for two Alma Awards for best actor. Plana has also starred in more than 60 feature films, including JFK, Nixon, Salvador, and An Officer and a Gentleman.
A child-immigrant who learned English as a second language and went on to attend London’s Royal Academy, Plana credits his success and versatility as an actor to his education. A firm believer in giving back to the community once you’ve achieved your own goals, he co-founded the EastLA Classic Theatre (ECT), the nation’s only Latino-based theatre company that is dedicated to serving economically challenged communities through educational outreach programs. As executive artistic director, he has developed such programs as Language in Play, which utilizes the performing arts to impact literacy skills in academically at-risk and bilingual students.
Speaking to students, nonprofits, and corporations, Tony Plana stresses the importance of civic engagement and diversity in any field. With humor and grace, he shares his journey—from the difficulties he faced penetrating Hollywood to his education advocacy—and how one should always choose inspiration over victimization in order to deal with seemingly insurmountable odds.
Plana has directed two feature film comedies: A Million to Juan with Paul Rodriguez and The Princess and the Barrio Boy, the first Latino family film to be produced by Showtime, starring Academy Award nominee Edward James Olmos and Maria Conchita Alonso. The film received two 2001 Alma Award nominations for Best Made for Television Movie and Best Ensemble Acting and won the 2001 Imagen Award for Best Made for Television Movie. Plana has directed several episodes of Nickelodeon’s hit series The Brothers Garcia, receiving a Humanitas Award nomination and winning the Imagen Award for its third season finale, “Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover.” He also directed the season finale of Greetings from Tucson for the Warner Brothers Network and the Halloween episode of Desperate Housewives for its final season on ABC.
Plana’s other feature films include Lone Star, Three Amigos, Born in East L.A., El Norte, 187, Primal Fear, Romero, One Good Cop, Havana, The Rookie, Silver Strand, and Picking Up the Pieces with Woody Allen. Recently, he has appeared in the action thriller Half Past Dead with Steven Seagal and Morris Chestnut; The Lost City with Andy Garcia, Bill Murray, and Dustin Hoffman; and Disney’s highly acclaimed GOAL, The Dream Begins!
On television, he has starred in the Showtime original miniseries Fidel as the notorious Cuban dictator Batista, as well as Showtime’s Noriega: God’s Favorite. He has portrayed leading roles in four critically acclaimed television series: Veronica Claire for Lifetime, Bakersfield P.D. for FOX, and Steven Bocco’s Total Security and City of Angels for ABC. He has also appeared in such Emmy Award-winning programs as Sweet Fifteen; Drug Wars: The Camarena Story; The Burning Season: The Life and Death of Chico Mendes; and a special episode of L.A. Law, which also received an Imagen Award. Plana has had recurring roles on the award-winning dramas Hill Street Blues, The West Wing, John Doe, Commander in Chief, 24, and Desperate Housewives.
As ECT’s artistic director, Plana provides young minority audiences with access to classic dramatic literature, interpreting texts through a multicultural, non-traditional perspective and presenting them with a contemporary, populist aesthetic. His provocative adaptations of classic Shakespearean plays are specifically conceived for students with little or no theatergoing experience. He adapts and directs these plays against curriculum-relevant historical backgrounds that foster interest in expressive speech and dramatic literature and serve as catalysts for the investigation of personal and interpersonal psychology, race and cultural relations, socio-political issues, and world history. For example, a zoot suit-styled musical Romeo & Juliet, set during World War II with 1940s swing music and dance, features an East LA Latina “Juliet” and a West LA Anglo sailor “Romeo” struggling to define their love and identities in a wartime city sharply divided by racism, xenophobia, and economics.
Plana has been awarded two Nosotros Golden Eagle Awards for outstanding work in film and television and five Los Angeles Dramalogue Awards for Theatre. In 2005, he was honored as Educator of the Year by Loyola Marymount University’s Department of Education and in 2006 received the Humanitarian of the Year Award from the Millennium Momentum Foundation at the Los Angeles Music Center. In 2008, he was awarded Loyola High School’s Cahalan Award as a distinguished alumnus and a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Imagen Foundation. In 2009, the HOLA organization honored him with the Raul Julia HOLA Founders Award for excellence. In 2010, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa awarded him The Dream of Los Angeles Award—the city’s highest honor—for his contributions to the media arts and education.
Tony Plana was educated at Loyola-Marymount University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in literature and theater arts, graduating magna cum laude. He received his professional training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, England.
Ugly Betty and Latino Culture
Media Arts & Education
Being “Ignacio Suarez”: Hispanics in Hollywood
An Evening with Tony Plana
"Tony Plana was not only amazing and inspirational at the event but his connection to the young people and communities that we served was impactful. The young people, supporters, and staff from HSTF left the event knowing that Tony Plana appreciated their work and was on their side for CHANGE and TRANSFORMATION. Tony spent a night before at the HSTF building with young people and staff, and shared his experiences with everyone. As one young person describes the night, 'He is my new hero!...He took the time to be with us, heard us, mentored us...we are so lucky to call him our new friend.'"
ABC News Veteran, Creator & Host, What Would You Do?
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