In real life and on TV, J.W. Cortes takes out the bad guys. The only difference is his TV investigations get solved within the hour — not so much in reality. As Gotham’s Det. Alvarez, he works with Batman’s right-hand, James Gordon (Ben McKenzie), and on the streets of New York City, he’s a police officer for the MTA.
Here, the proud Puerto Rican discusses his time in the Marines Corps, growing up in a tough area in Brooklyn and his ultimate hope — to inspire the next generation of Latinos.
You play a detective on Gotham, but you’re also a real-life MTA policeman. How do you manage your time?
Working for the MTA PD, we do a three-on, four-days-off weekly schedule. That’s one of the ways I manage my time, and a lot of it is just time management. Managing my days off, managing if I have to do a shoot. I got cops here who are very supportive of my career who will work a shift or two for me. That’s really one of the ways I manage to do both. The other part is I have officers who are tremendous Batman fans. Some of them, their desire is to be as close to the Batman world as possible. I’m very blessed that they’ve been so supportive.
Do your co-workers rib you about being an actor?
Hell yeah, all the time. Sometimes they’ll refer me as Officer Hollywood. Sometimes I’ll be walking and fans will come up to me, and, yeah, they’re very excited. They're confused but excited because they’ll see me in my uniform and be like, "Wait a minute, you’re shooting right now?" Then of course as soon as the fan leaves they’ll be like, "Really, guy? Come on."
Aside from being an MTA policeman, you’re also a Marine Corps veteran. How was that, and how did it help you in your current careers?
I really learned a lot about myself, and how I responded to stress, how I responded to every other nuisance known to man: sleep deprivation, no showers for several weeks, lack of information. When you go through something like that, where your life is being compromised on a daily basis, you start to figure out that we’re not going to sweat the small stuff anymore. We’re going to really look at things not as salty, not taking everything at face value; things happen. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. That’s why we should really focus on making the most of everything. To be cliché, I believe that if you suffer through at least one thing for whatever reason your dream is, then you need to do that. For me, for today, this interview with you is a part of that thing.
I think one of the challenges that most actors face is dealing with what I call the silent "no." The silent "no" is sometimes a lot tougher to understand in the verbal world. You go to an audition, you put your heart in it. You go home, you’re hoping that your phone will ring. After about two to three days you realize you didn’t book the part. After a while, after going to hundreds of auditions of that happening to you, that silent "no" will actually speak to you a lot louder than that verbal "no." What happens is you start to dissect: "What didn’t I do?" "What didn’t I say?" "What could have I done?" "Maybe I’m too dark, maybe I’m too skinny." I think that being in the Marines has given me the discipline to stay the course, to ignore the silent "no," to continue to work hard on myself, in my class, to stay in the fight.