August 24, 2021

Read the full interview on Flaunt.com!

David Makes Man is the newest coming of age drama series to hit Oprah’s OWN television network, and audiences can’t get enough! Insert Arlen Escarpeta, the actor who stars as Adult JG bringing nothing short of authenticity, passion, and of course, a sense-of-humor. Taking place in South Florida’s rougher neighborhoods, the character brings grounding to his brother David, played by Kwame Patterson, an entrepreneur who faces an opportunity that will change him and his community indefinitely.

But this isn’t Arlen’s first rodeo! Escarpeta’s impressive resumé includes being a series regular on Crackle’s The Oath, NBC’s American Dreams, a recurring role in SYFY’s The Magicians, and a standout role as Bobby Brown in the Lifetime original film Whitney.

In describing himself, Arlen states, “I’m a creative. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I’m a big kid. That’s me in a nutshell. I’m a lover of life and people for sure.”

Arlen was born in Belize in Central America, a place he calls home, but was raised in Los Angeles. On a show like David Makes Man, Arlen plays a character whose morals and passions align directly with his: representing and embodying what it means to be a Black man in America today. This is about healing trauma, overcoming obstacles, and reminding viewers the importance of unconditional love.

Flaunt caught up with Arlen via Zoom, who had his puppy in his lap. Read below as we discuss his background, biggest influences, when he knew he wanted to act, why a show like David Makes Man is so impactful, importance in family, being a mental health advocate, his workout playlist, goals, and more!

Photo Credit: SHAMAYIM

You were born in Belize but raised in Los Angeles, how was that growing up? 

Growing up here in LA, I was still in a Belizean household, so it was very much Belizean. The music, the culture, the energy, it was special. It’s something I’m really proud of and glad to know that I have roots deeper than just here in the US, because my culture in Belize has really shaped me to be who I am. My upbringing has opened up doors for me for sure.

Biggest influences coming up?

Oh my, definitely my mother. For the most part, she was doing things on her own. For sure my mother. My sisters, because I have all sisters. Oddly enough, definitely a lot of my teachers. I was in the Gifted Magnet program all the way through high school. Also performing art school Magnets. All the teachers I had either opened up doors for me, challenged me, or helped put me in positions to do things I didn’t even know would shape my future moving forward.

When did you know you wanted to act?

I knew that I wanted to act after my first performance in the 5th grade, when I played Hamlet. Not by choice, my teacher corralled me into that. It was the confidence that it gave me, the self-esteem I didn’t think I had before. I did something I didn’t think that I could do, it hit me in a different spot that I never felt before. Even now, the feeling hasn’t numbed. I’m not jaded. I haven’t lost my edge or that zest. I still feel amazing when I work, when I’m acting and creating. It’s served me well.

What does it mean to now star in a show like David Makes Man

It feels like a culmination of hard work, opportunity, definitely luck and grace at the same time. I know there’s tons of actors out here, tons of people auditioned for the role of JG and for the show in itself. It’s not lost to me that it’s a great opportunity. I’m working with some wonderful people. I auditioned for David Makes Man season one for another character; didn’t get it.


Yeah, I thought that was dead in the water. I auditioned for Moonlight and had worked with Barry Jenkins, but that didn’t work out for me. But in my mind, I really wanted to work with these guys: the Barry Jenkins’, the Tarell McCraney’s. I wanted to work with people on the cusp of being creatively interesting and in their own lane, challenging the status quo we see on screen whether it’s TV or film. Now that I’m here and I’m working with someone like Tarell, it feels organic. It feels like home. That’s a good way to describe it, it feels like family and it feels like home. Tarell, Dee and Kwame, as my brother in real life and now my brother on screen, I’m surrounded by so much love and I feel good. I feel safe.

Talk about the character you play, a Black police officer, and how heavy that is.

For sure. JG, Jonathan Greg, as a Black police officer on David Makes Man, he’s still discovering himself. He’s still figuring out what and who he is. I don’t know if JG has yet to fully understand the weight of being a Black man and a police officer all the way at the same time. I don’t think he even realized as he was opening up that door. There’s certain things that drew him to the profession obviously, but now as he’s gotten older and he has a family, the weight of the world, the real things happening in the world are challenging JG in a different way.

Especially now in season two, with everything that’s happening to him being shot, the Shalimar character is a young Black man who’s very much in the same lane JG was when he was younger. His life went a completely different way, so now JG’s seeing that it’s not all good all the time just because you’re on the “right side of the law.” There’s levels to it. He’s a father, which is definitely challenging because JG is still a little boy in a sense. He’s a little boy trying to be a father, he’s a little boy trying to be a husband. As much as David is trying to make man, JG is trying to figure out man as well. It’s good and it’s interesting. Even me personally as a man, you’re always growing. Everyday’s going to be a little bit different. The more eyes open you can be to that, the more you can appreciate what’s happening around you: how you’re growing, and growing in the right direction. JG’s getting there and these last couple episodes of season two, you’re going to see the mask come off and see something special for sure.

Fondest memories on set?

Day one, my wardrobe fitting was first. Putting on the uniform and seeing myself as JG 100%, that was special. Talking to Cayden who plays young JG, that was special. I met him literally the first or second day I arrived in Florida at the elevators. I said “Hey!” We looked at each other for a moment like “okay, so you’re me and I’m you.” It was interesting to know that we’re both going to be working together, making this character come to life. Tarell and Kwame, all of those moments were always special. It’s not an accident, something special is happening here. What happens with it? Who knows. I’m going to live in this moment, I’m not going to throw it away as another job.

Talk about being an advocate for mental health, especially in Black men.

Mental health is something that needs to be addressed on all levels. Oh, everyone here knows therapy’s important. The fundamentals of it right? David Makes Man allows us to see that the practice of it goes far beyond the therapist’s office. It bleeds into everything you do. Your waking moments, the people you surround yourself with. Are you catering to your inner child? As you watch the show David Makes Man, we constantly see the adults go back to their younger selves, asking are they catering to these younger versions of themselves? Or are they trying to jump past the trauma to be an adult?

Far too much in our life nowadays, social media, pressures of growing up and being successful, we jump past a lot of stuff to be what we’re supposed to be, or what feels like “I’m successful now!” There’s a lot more to be unearthed and dealt with, so mental health in that sense is something that’s never done. There’s something I’m going to watch in the news that’s going to trigger me. Either new trigger or old trigger, I got to learn how to deal with it.

You’re an avid workout enthusiast, do you workout everyday?

No, not 7 days a week. [laughs] I’m on a 3 or 4 days out of the week workout person. Speaking on mental health, it’s part of the process. When I go and I play flag football, it clears my head. I’m not thinking about the pressures of auditioning. I’m not thinking about if I booked a job or not. I’m not thinking about anything other than running and having fun. That’s me catering to my young self. I’m not doing homework, I want to go play outside. It settles me. It resets my energy and my tone, then I can come back and lock into being an adult. Get back to adulting. Any chance I get to run around and play, what’s that movie Tag? Let’s play adult tag for the next year, I’d be in. Let’s do it, for sure.

Who do you listen to when you workout?

Oh wow, I’m multifaceted with my music. Being from Belize, anything dancehall. Specifically, ‘80’s and ‘90’s dancehall is special. I’m talking Beanie Man, Sean Paul, oh my gosh I can go down a list. I’ll go down a rabbit hole for sure. Outside of that, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Blackstar for sure. I was listening to them on a podcast earlier today. Chance the Rapper, a little bit of Kanye, some Nas, some J. Cole. Of course, give me some ‘90s R&B as well. Sometimes I’ll work out or play sports to some Jodeci or some Silk. [laughs] And Mint Condition, that was a special era for me. They said the words that I was too afraid to say when I was trying to talk to a girl.

What does family mean to you? I know you’re close with your nieces and nephews.

Family for me feels and means you’re safe to bump your head. It’s okay to fail. It’s a constant support. You have to be open to criticism from anybody, and know they always have your best interest at heart. My family is like that. As much as they depend on me, they also criticize me. Will tell me “go get better,” then the next day expect me to be a hero at the same time. They expect the most from me but also understand I need support from them, and that feels good.

What’s the most important theme in David Makes Man that stands out to you?

The biggest theme that’s impactful for me on David Makes Man has to be growth is love and love is growth. It goes hand and hand, you have to love that you’re growing. You have to love that you’re changing. You can’t get stuck in one lane or one way, because if you do, you’re gonna miss a lot of things. You’re going to miss a lot of moments trying to hold onto what you built at whatever age. It’s okay to grow and as you bump your head, that’s part of the process.

Goals yourself as an artist at this point of your career?

My goal is to be as creative as possible, and knock on doors and open doors at the same time. I want to work with people that are ready to do some fun, cool, interesting things. I’m ready to tap into the energy that I feel. I’m now in a place where I can confidently say that I’m ready for whatever you put in front of me. I’m really there, I’m ready to do the work. I’m dedicated to the work, and I’m okay challenging myself. I don’t want to just entertain you or myself, I’m ready for the challenge.

Anything else you want to let us know?

As much as some people may see me as a new face, I’m not a new face at all. I’ve very much been here for quite a while doing my thing, which is where I’ve always liked to be. I don’t have to be in a rocket ship to the top, I don’t tread too low. I’m right where I’m supposed to be: growing, building, building bridges. I’ve been here. When you take notice, know that I’ve been here.

On David Makes Man, because visuals and representation are important. I love the fact that they allowed me to keep my locs in my hair as a police officer. The CROWN Act passed in real life, it’s not always reflected on screen. We have so many different representations of what Black is and can be on a show like David Makes Man, what love can be on a show like David Makes Man. I’m talking about our LGBTQ community, that’s the essence of what David Makes Man is. It’s not cookie-cutter, not middle of America. It’s a real reflection of what’s happening in the real world, what’s happening in people’s families and lives behind closed doors 24/7. If you are in tune and want to get a piece of that pie, by all means tune in. It’s a special show.

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