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‘Giant of a man’: Documentary explores the life, career of actor Raúl Juliá

Raúl Juliá in front of his home in New York City. (Courtesy of Family Collection)

Inspiration comes from everywhere.

Through film, Ben DeJesus tries to pay homage to those who inspire him.

His latest project is the documentary “Raúl Juliá: The World’s a Stage.”

It will air at 9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 13, on New Mexico PBS and is part of the “American Masters” and “Voces” series.

“Raúl was someone I could look up to,” he says. “I always had it in my mind that I would want to do a film detailing who he was exactly. He was important because there weren’t so many Latinos in the theater that were recognizable during his time.”

DeJesus also wanted to highlight that many know Juliá by his work in “The Addams Family” films, yet he was one of the best Shakespearean actors.

“And he did everything with his thick Puerto Rican accent,” DeJesus says. “I saw a clip of him trying to do a British accent, and he could do it, but he wanted to do it his way.”

The documentary follows Juliá, whose magnetic work on stage and screen took the world by storm.

Juliá’s journey from his native Puerto Rico to the creative hotbed of 1960s New York City to prominence on Broadway and in Hollywood was one of passion, determination and joy – a groundbreaking career cut short by his death in 1994.

DeJesus’ project took about six years from inception.

He worked with Juliá’s wife, Merel Poloway.

“I had first met her six years ago, and I told her of my admiration for Raúl,” he says. “I wanted to sit down with her and think about the vision of telling his story.”

Ben DeJesus is the director of “Raúl Juliá: The World’s a Stage.” (Courtesy of NGL Studios)

DeJesus pored through archival footage from more than 40 years ago and got all of it sourced.

“It was challenging,” he says. “Archival material is different from 40 years ago. We really wanted to highlight the theatrical part of his career. Finding live theater footage of him and finding photographs really helped out.”

After all the research and filming came the editing process.

“It’s about 84 minutes now,” he says. “When you are telling someone’s story, you need interesting characters and the stakes to be high. Conflict always hypes it up. But Raúl wasn’t troubled like that. He was an incredible human being to effect positive change. The conflict that we found was that he was a voice for Latinos during a time there weren’t that many in theater or in film. He helped blaze that trail.”

The documentary features Rita Moreno, Edward James Olmos, Anjelica Huston, John Leguizamo, Jimmy Smits, Rubén Blades, James Earl Jones, Andy Garcia and Esai Morales, all who count Juliá as a point of inspiration.

“I never got to meet him during his lifetime,” DeJesus says. “After finishing this film, I realize the giant of a man he was during his life. He made an impact that will last for generations.”

SEND ME YOUR TIPS: If you know of a movie filming in the state, or are curious about one, email film@ABQjournal.com. Follow me on Twitter @agomezART.

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