Interview with Renoly Santiago of “Dangerous Minds” and “Hackers” fame By CyPhEr777

In Film, Interviews, News  /  


Renoly Santiago was born in Lajas, Puerto Rico in the mid 70’s and moved to the New York/New Jersey area in the 80’s, where he’s been living since. Most will remember Renoly as he has starred alongside many of Hollywood’s elite. One of his first roles was the character Tito on the nationally televised show “CityKids,” which aired on ABC on Saturdays. I remember watching that show as a kid with the angle being a hipper, more modern version of Sesame Street or The Muppet show. He acted alongside Malik Yoba of “Cool Runnings” fame and the Syfy Channel’s “Alphas” and “Dule Hill” who now plays a character in the smash hit show “Psych” on USA Network. From there, Santiago was cast with Michelle Pfeiffer in the 1995 film “Dangerous Minds.” He played the character Raúl Sanchero, a well-meaning troubled individual who is frequently involved in gang warfare and street crime. That same year he starred with Hollywood royalty, Angelina Jolie, Jonny Lee Miller (“Trainspotting” and CBS’s “Elementary”), Matthew Lillard (Scooby Doo movies), Jesse Bradford (“Bring It On” and “Swimfan”) and Laurence Mason (“The Crow”) on the cult classic “Hackers.” His role was that of the enigmatic hacker Ramon Sanchez a.k.a. “The Phantom Phreak/King of NYNEX”. Next on deck for Renoly was another great action-packed movie, “Daylight”, acting with Sylvester Stallone again as a troubled young individual.

Renoly5Renoly and Michelle Pfeiffer in “Dangerous Minds”

One of his most notable roles came in 1997 in the film “Con Air,” which starred powerhouse actors such as Nicholas Cage, John Cusack, John Malkovich and Ving Rhames to name a few. Later, he decided to turn to Broadway appearing in Paul Simon’s “The Capeman” and made appearances in TV shows like “Touched by an Angel” and “Law and Order.” Also, during this time, he started working on his music career as a singer, collaborating with the likes of Paul Simon (on Broadway), Marc Anthony, Danny Rivera and La India.

Renoly7Santiago in a scene from the movie “Daylight” with Sylvester Stallone

Renoly3Renoly Santiago on the set of the movie “Con Air” with John Malkovich

Since then, Renoly Santiago has been acting in many independent films and is currently planning on releasing an album before the end of 2013. We here at Insomniac Magazine interviewed Renoly as he has much industry experience. He provides thoughts and insights on the inner-workings in recording, as well as shares his progress throughout the years:

I know you were born in Puerto Rico, but you lived most of your life on the East Coast during the 80s primarily in New Jersey and New York. What was that experience like, being that New York throughout the ’80s was the springboard for many cultural and artistic platforms? Were you at all influenced in anyway by this cultural revolution going on around you?

Growing up in the ’80s was awesome.  Yes, I was very influenced by the cultural revolution that went on.  There was so much great music and movies happening, in theater too.  I remember Madonna, Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper and Boy George were everywhere.  Duran Duran was killing it, so was U2.  I loved all of them, but I was a huge fan of Boy George.  The way he dressed and wore make up it broke boundaries and was so different.  The songs were so beautiful.  I loved Bryan Adams and Bruce Springstein, John Cougar Mellencamp.  Beastie Boys came out in that decade and LL Cool J was putting out some sick grooves.  It was an incredible time musically.  MTV was a new phenomenon and Madonna was the queen of it all and rightfully so; she was very controversial and pushed buttons like no one else ever has.  It was intense.  The dance music was so awesome especially in ’80 – ’82 when I was like six and eight.  The 80’s dance synth songs like Shannon’s  “Let the music play” and  Secret Weapon’s “Must Be the Music” were great dance funk songs.  Sylvester was tearing up dance music and there was that cool spacey song called “Cars.”. The clothes were so cool, colorful, sexy -tight.  I was a little kid soaking it up and taking it all in.  I wanted to dress wild too and made my mom take me to the village in New York from New Jersey in the 4th grade!  I wanted to wear weird clothes too.  I wore a long red plaid trench coat with big shoulder pads with army pants and combat boots with black specs, I was like eleven!

How did you get your start as an actor and a musician?

From an early age I could sing and I was that little kid that people would form a circle around at parties and in the neighborhood.  I loved to entertain.  I was first asked by my music teacher to star in a school musical in the first grade and did a few school plays.  Then I started going to an acting school in Queens, New York with a friend from school in New Jersey.  I did a lot of theater work and was in a theater group called City Kids.  I did a lot of pounding the pavement and daily commuting but my first big acting break was Dangerous Minds with Michelle Pfeiffer and my first big music break was when Marc Anthony introduced me to Paul Simon and he asked me if I would like to star alongside Marc in the show.  I’m really looking forward to releasing my debut album.

Being that you’re an accomplished artist musically and an actor could you describe the similarities (positive and negative) of both the music and entertainment industries?

The positive similarities are that they are both extremely rewarding artistic fields and you meet so many interesting people from all walks of life, the travel, the fans, respect from peers.  The negative side is that neither businesses are fair and no matter how good you are, a lot has to do with timing and if the right opportunities are there.  Both require a thick skin and you have to do it because you really love it because there are no guarantees.

What was it like being a part of so many high profile movies? Would you change anything?

It’s something I recognize is a rare honor and it’s taken a lot of hard work, studying, focus, sacrifice, inner work and patience.  I have had to spend a lot more time alone and away from family, friends, intimacy than I would like but in the end I prefer to inspire others to dream big and go for your dreams.  I am so grateful for the body of work that will last all eternity and for what’s to come.

I have to admit that “Hackers” is one of my all time favorite movies and your character was awesome. Were you considered for any of the other parts or did you just nail the “Phantom Phreak” part? What was the overall environment like during filming of “Hackers?”

Thank you. I was first given this script by casting director Mali Finn famous for Titanic and others (rest in peace), when I read for her [for the] the role of Robin in “Batman & Robin” back in ’94.  I was considered for Phantom Phreak because his description was as a Latino, so that was the role I was told to read.  It later ended up in the hands of casting director Dianne Crittenden known for “Star Wars.”  I was very fortunate they liked me enough to have me meet the director.  I remember I put my feet on his desk and crossed my legs comfortably after reading for the interview…I guess it worked. The vibe on the “Hackers'” set was incredibly fun. My trailer or hotel room was the meeting spot, Angelina, Johnny, Laurence, Jesse and Marc would always stop by. We would talk and play around; we had some really great times.

Renoly6Jonny Lee Miller (left), Jesse Bradford (center) and Renoly (right) as “The Phantom Phreak” in the movie “Hackers”


What genres of music are you into and who were your artistic/musical influences growing up?

My personal style is dance, pop, percussion, synth, beats and acoustic.  I also like soul and Latin.  My influences growing up were Stevie Wonder, Madonna, Michael Jackson, and Prince.  I also study great singers like Luther Vandross, Aretha Franklin, Donnie Hathaway, Janice Joplin, Marvin Gaye, Jose Feliciano, Whitney Houston, and Joni Mitchel… I don’t care the artist’s gender, I love to take a great artist and listen to them deeply, I get inspired by Labelle and Sylvester too.  I recently did a study on Angela Bofill, just amazing.  Love Kate Bush too.

How would you describe your music to people?

It’s dance, pop, electric, soulful, music for the world.

What image do you think your music conveys?

It’s humor with depth, style and sensuality.  It’s meant to be memorable and unique, to make people want to dance or be together and think of memories and dreams.

Its seems as though in order to make it in the music industry today you have to have some sort of gimmick. Your music is totally opposite of that and seems to be about who you really are as an individual. What is your view of the music industry today and it’s future?

I think real artists tend to appear as if they have a gimmick, but really they are just in tune with their artistic voice and then less creative types think there is a need for a gimmick.  My thing is, if you’re a real artist you’ll touch people the more you express your talent and what’s inside with flare & originality.  That’s what offers something new and unique to the industry.  I think the music industry is moving a great direction that is expanding and giving artists more options.  I think music will always be a powerful force and the industry will continue to change with technology and grow with new genres and new musical inventions.

What inspires you to do what you do?

The fact that I love music, human emotion, dance and storytelling. I also love to touch people all over the world with my work; to inspire thought and creativity, peace and love.

What project or projects are you currently working on? When will they be released?

I am presently recording songs and meeting some interesting people in the music industry. I’ll be putting out material by spring 2013.  I just wrapped an indie film called “Grand Street” alongside Kelly McGillis due out later this year.

If you had an opportunity to collaborate with any artist or artists, dead or alive, whom would you choose? And why? 

I think there are a lot of great artists out there right now, living I would say Lady Gaga, Adele, Alicia Keys.  From the past, Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston, Luther Vandross, Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, Freddie Mercury, a lot of them.

Renoly, it was an extreme pleasure to do this interview. Can you offer any words of wisdom for anybody trying to make it in either industry?

Thank you, my pleasure.  I would say really prepare for your craft and be professional and reliable.  Always keep a positive attitude.  Remember to treat the work and others with the utmost respect and do it because you love it no matter what.  Go for your dream.

To see more of Renoly, check him out at