Jason Genao is a bubbly young actor from Jersey City who you might be familiar with—he plays Ruby Martinez on Netflix’s On My Block. With a promising career ahead of him and a big role already under his belt, he’s looking to make his mark on the industry wherever he can see a fit. As you’ll read below, he isn’t concerned with any specific genre or medium, but knows that he wants to act to the best of his ability and follow that road wherever it may take him. He also, as it happens, has a similarly freewheeling approach to getting dressed. We talked about how Jason came upon acting, where his mind was while filming the final season of On My Block, how a costume can change one’s demeanor, mixing streetwear and high fashion—and plenty more.
First, let’s start with your background. What’s your story, and how did you first arrive at acting?
Acting was this thing that I felt was on its last legs of escaping me. I was a junior in high school, always pretty certain that I would become a chef. But when my guidance counselor started pushing for colleges I decided to just try and see if I could do something about it. So I googled “cheapest acting schools in New York,” came upon one, then convinced my brother and dad that it was for actual school so they would give me the money for it. When they finally said yes, I auditioned to get in, and somehow I did. At the end of the conservatory there was a manager who allowed us all to audition and if she liked you, she’d take you on as a client. Twenty-five students were in my class and I was the only one who walked out with her card. She essentially shifted and changed my life. Senior year we came together as client and manager and she’d send me off on auditions during my lunch hour. I’d run to the train, run to the audition and then run back to Jersey City in time for French class. A couple of bookings later and that’s how it happened for me.
What has the process been like for you with On My Block? Its fourth and final season premiered on Netflix late last year and I’m curious what’s next for you since you just closed your first huge chapter.
On My Block was the first project that was my own, and that was a terrifying, but an absolute godsend. It was terrifying to be so new and have an entire show land on my shoulders. It was always, “Was I good enough? Should I do another take?” Or, “That was good, okay. I’m happy. I’ll walk away now.” But I think as a cast we held each other’s hand through the whole thing and that’s how we got through it. Season Four held some of the most bittersweet moments of my life. Here was the end of something I was never even fully prepared for to begin with. I have a couple projects lined up, but I’m trying to still figure out what kind of actor I am.
Does getting in costume change your mindset as an actor?
Yeah, 100 percent. The costume allows me to make decisions that I can be confident in. You wear a Ruby button up and then I make a choice as an actor and think, “That wasn’t Jason, that was Ruby.” So when I watch it, I can separate the two and not see myself or feel like it was odd, ’cause it isn’t me anymore.
Has your style evolved in the time since auditioning for On My Block to now? Has success changed how you think about fashion and your wardrobe?
I’ve always felt this close connection to fashion, but was too afraid to attempt certain things. Before auditioning for On My Block, my fashion was the best of what I already had in my closet. Sometimes for special occasions I would take a trip to H&M and then wear those same items hundreds of times over. The show, however, gave me a new purpose and confidence to feel like where I was going and the rooms I was entering mattered and held weight with the fashion decisions I made.
I know you like to mix high fashion with streetwear. What are some of your favorite brands? How do you shop for clothes?
I don’t feel like I fit in the full adult word just yet. I can’t see myself walking around in a suit, even to important meetings. I still need the comfort of the streetwear I grew up in, so I mix the two. I love brands like Palace, Missoni, Banks Journal, and thrift store finds. Vintage pieces are always what I’m drawn to most though. I love vintage Guess and Calvin Klein mixed with Rhude.
You’re going to be starring in Steven Soderbergh’s new thriller Divinity. This seems like a departure for you, so why do a thriller, and are you seeking other kinds of acting gigs out of the norm for you? How important is it to you to show range as an artist?
I’m just so interested in creating a body of work that people look back and talk about—that live in continuous positivity. I’m so fascinated by movies from the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s; how they age and still feel like the most incredible pieces of cinema decades later. I want to make a project now and have it be loved later. Then, when technology advances and film is a completely different concept decades after me, my projects still live as something that made it to the end. But it’s not so important to me to prove my range as an actor as I feel like it’s more important to show the quality of my acting in each project. If I only continue to do comedy, I won’t hate it. As long as the fans consider that what I do is great.
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