Exclusive: Cristián De La Fuente's Ready for the Ballroom

Cristián de la Fuente is known first and foremost as a hunky telenovela star, but that’s about to change. The Chilean actor officially makes his debut on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars tonight, and since everyone and their mami watches the show, he’s guaranteed to become a household name in no time. Besides, DWTS isn’t the only English mainstream project that de la Fuente is involved in these days. He’s making a guest appearance with his wife (and fellow soap star) Angélica Castro on VH1’s upcoming telenovela reality show Viva Hollywood!, and he’ll be starring as a Dominican baseball player in the USA network’s new show, In Plain Sight, beginning this summer. But if you think de la Fuente’s ditching the telenovela world for good, think again. The actor, who just recently blew out 34 birthday candles, chatted with Latina.com about how he plans to keep both sides of his fanbase satisfied, why he serves as a Lieutenant of Chile’s Armed Forces in his spare time, and who his biggest competition is on Dancing with the Stars (hint: it ain’t Penn Jillette).

Before we get into all the scoop on Dancing with the Stars, tell us how you celebrated your cumpleaños this year.
I went to an LA nightclub called Area with my wife and some friends, and it was a lot of fun. Some of the pro dancers from Dancing with the Stars even showed up. I’ve already become friends with [fellow contestant and NFL star] Jason Taylor, so he was there too. But I’ve been dancing every day, so I didn’t do any of that at my party…I just sat the whole night and relaxed. That’s what I’m doing right now, because I have rehearsal again this afternoon.

Right, the rehearsal schedule for Dancing with the Stars is really intense. How did you end up getting chosen as a contestant on the show?
They actually asked me to join a past season, but I wasn’t able to because of a scheduling conflict—I would have loved to at the time. This time around, I called to see if they were still interested, and thankfully, they were…so here I am! I never realized it was such a huge show that everyone watches, but now people are coming up to me before the show’s even started, and it’s really hitting me how big it is.

What was the extent of your dance experience before this?
Up until now, I’ve only danced in the clubs and at parties. I don’t really dance to that boom-chicka-boom stuff.

You mean hip-hop?
Yeah, exactly [laughs]. But I always get up and dance at Latin parties. It’s impossible not to! I also practice a lot of sports regularly, like tennis and boxing, but dance is a totally different workout. I used to think I was a pretty good dancer, but once I started rehearsing for this show I realized that I basically had to start from scratch.

Out of all the guys, who do you think is your biggest competition on the show?
[R&B star] Mario, definitely. He’s a singer and dancer, so he already has a lot of experience. It’s hard because we’re supposed to be competing with amateur dancers, and then they throw someone who can really dance into the mix. It makes it really tough, but at the end of the day it’s not about winning for me. We all want to do well, but we’re really there to have a good time, so no there’s no feelings of intense competition.

We bet that’ll change soon. What dance style will you be performing on the first epsiode?
Cha cha, thank god. It’s easy!

Which dance move are you having the toughest time mastering in rehearsal?
I just have trouble standing up really straight and creating those lines that are so important. It’s all about body posture. A dancer walks like he’s being pulled from his head by a string, and my string is cut. So, I’m trying to rebuild my string right now.

Your pro partner, Cheryl Burke, is already a two-time winner on the show. Do you feel any extra pressure to do well because of that?
On the one hand, I feel great about it because I know I’m in good hands—or good feet, as I’ve been saying—because I know Cheryl’s going to take care of me. She has a way of choreographing around your strengths, so that’s very good. But on the other hand, I have the pressure of feeling like if we don’t win, it’s because of me. When she’s had a good partner, she’s won. But that’s just a little pressure in the back of my head. I really just want to have fun.

Cheryl’s got some pretty hot moves on the dance floor! Are you nervous about performing with her in front of your wife?
Not at all. Angélica is more excited than I am. She’s coming to every show, and she’s already helping me to get everyone to vote, because that’s what the show is all about. You can do your thing on the dance floor and impress the judges, but then it comes down to getting the people who watch at home to support you. Angelica is helping me with that, and she’s really happy for me.

Let’s talk about what you’ve got coming up after Dancing with the Stars, because there’s a lot. Is it true that you’re making a special guest appearance on VH1’s Viva Hollywood?
Yeah, they invited Angélica and I to be celebrity judges for the episode that focuses on love scenes. It was so funny because we had to go in there and teach all the guys and girls how to do love scenes and then judge them. Now I’m on the other side, being judged, so it was interesting to have that experience first. Plus, it was the first time that Angélica and I got to work together here in the states. We had a lot of fun.

Are you working on any other TV projects?
Yes, I’ve got a show on the USA network called In Plain Sight that premieres in June. It’s all about the life of an agent for the witness protection service [played by Mary McCormack], and each episode focuses on one of her cases as well how she deals with her family relationships. She’s got a sister who’s hooked on drugs, and also a boyfriend named Rafael Ramirez, who is my character. He’s a Dominican shortstop who gets called to play in the major leagues, and the show deals a lot with our relationship and our cultural differences. The dynamic of our relationship reminds me of a new, updated I Love Lucy—with very smart and sarcastic humor as opposed to “cake in the face,” slapstick comedy. The show is so well written. I’m in nine of the season’s 13 episodes, and I’m really excited about it.

So, do you think you’ll ever work on a telenovela again?
I don’t know if I’ll do them forever, but I think it’s a blessing to be bilingual and be able to work in both markets constantly. I did a telenovela when my daughter was born three years ago, and it was great because I was able to move to Miami for a few months and and spend time with my family. So if I come across the right telenovela project at the right time, I’ll be happy to do it. Instead of me flying to New Mexico to do In Plain Sight, then going to Mexico City for Como Ama Una Mujer, then back to LA, etc., it would be great to be in one place with my whole family for nine months.

Ever miss living in Chile?
I go back to Chile almost every month, so I can’t complain. I have a production company there called EFE3, and we produce shows for Chilean TV. So I go for that reason, and also because I’m a Lieutenant in the Chilean Air Force reserve. I fly with the Aerobatics team, which brings the air force closer to civilians and helps plant the seed for kids who want to become pilots when they grow up.

After I’m done with Dancing with the Stars, it looks like I’ll be going back to Chile to do a movie with one of the biggest directors in our country, Miguel Littin. It’s about the members of Salvador Allende’s cabinet who were sent to Dawson Island as political prisoners after the coup of 1973. Dawson was the only detention center where no one died or disappeared, so the film is all about how they managed to survive during this very turbulent political period in my country.

That’ll be a huge change of pace from what you’re doing now, but it sounds fascinating. Let’s go back to Dancing with the Stars one last time. What will you be telling yourself the moment you walk onstage for your first performance?
Don’t think too much. Just do it. I’ll probably wear a Nike T-shirt under my costume so I don’t forget those words.

--Monica Herrera