By PETERSON GONZAGA
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—When he was younger, actor Josh Dela Cruz used to watch “Blue’s Clues” with his sister. Coming full circle, the Broadway actor is now the new host of the rebooted popular Nickelodeon show now dubbed “Blue’s Clues & You.”
It’s a dream come true for Dela Cruz who was performing in the Broadway version of “Aladdin” when he auditioned and found out he would follow in the footsteps of the original “Blue’s Clues” hosts Steven Burns who played Steve and Donovan Patton who played Joe.
The youthful looking Filipino actor caught the acting bug in eighth grade after his sister persuaded him to try out for a high school musical. After junior year in high school, he realized he would make acting a career with full support from his teachers and family.
Dela Cruz is so excited to bring new life to the “Blue’s Clues” family because the reboot will include brand new items along with the iconic elements that made the show popular on Nickelodeon. New items and characters include the Handy Dandy Guitar along with Mr. Salt and Mrs. Pepper’s new addition of twins Sage and Ginger.
During an interview at the Nickelodeon campus in Burbank, Dela Cruz discussed his audition experience, working with Burns and Patton along with his Filipino background and diversity in entertainment.
“Blue’s Clues & You” premieres on Nick Jr., on Monday, Nov. 11 at 1p.m. (ET/PT)
Q: Tell us about how you landed the gig for “Blue’s Clues & You.”
Dela Cruz: I was doing “Aladdin” on Broadway at the time and I got a call from my agents that they were auditioning for “Blue’s Clues”— “The Blue’s Clues Reboot” as it was called at the time—and I remember thinking, “Oh. That’s cool. All right. I’ll go.” I auditioned and I didn’t hear back for a month as most auditions go for an actor. You just kind of go, “Okay. Great.”
A month later, my agent emailed me, “I guess this is still happening. You have a callback.” And I thought, “Oh “Blue’s Clues.” Great.”
I go in. I prepare my sides (audition script). He tells me some notes from the casting director and I go in. This time it’s with the producers, creatives but nothing too out of the ordinary for an audition. I get back home. I get another email that they want to test me on screen. Fantastic. Awesome. Also, here’s a video (from agent’s email). They sent me the promo video that they just put out for the search for the next host for “Blue’s Clues.” That’s when I found out just how many people they auditioned. They auditioned over 3,000 people. I was like, “Oh. That’s why it took so long.” I automatically felt nervous. I was like, “Wow. This is a big deal.” This is on a whole other level. I prepared my sides. I auditioned. That’s where I met Steve Burns, the original host of “Blues Clues.” I was working with the director and he snuck up on me. The director was like, “Oh yeah, Steve. Do you have any notes for Josh?”
And the room was masked off with drapes and everything. I knew there were people behind there. I just didn’t know who was behind there. And emerging from the curtains was Steve Burns and he was like, “Oh hey. Hey Josh. I’m Steve.” It took me a second to realize it was Steve.
I got nervous and flustered. But as soon as he opened his mouth, he made me feel so calm. I felt empowered. I felt like I belonged there. Just like he does on the show, he has so much depth to his voice that I never heard on screen. He gave me notes. He gave me a piece of advice. I did my sides again. Then, I left. From first audition to when I found out, it was about 2-1/2 months. It was really exciting. I still can’t believe it. I used to watch the show with my little sister way back when. Never in a million years did I think this would happen.
Q: Are you going to put your own little spin to it and a little bit more flexible and creative with your character?
Dela Cruz: Yeah. One of the first things Steve said to me after I got the job was, “Hey. We hired you because we love you. Don’t feel you have to do anything that I did or that Dono (Donovan Patton) did, just be yourself. We love that. Just experiment.”
Given those words of encouragement helped me start to realize that it was cool. I can put my spin on everything. I can personalize it. I don’t have to feel like I’m boxed in with someone else’s interpretation of a performance. That was really important for me to hear and it put me at ease that I can be myself in this role.
Q: Being Filipino, are they going to let you infuse some “Filipinoness” into the character?
Dela Cruz: You know. You’re going to have to tune in and see what happens. I mean growing up in America, there really isn’t representation specifically Filipino (in entertainment). I think the one time I realized there was a Filipino on screen was in a Wes Anderson movie. It was “The Life Aquatic.” And the pirates that stopped them were speaking Tagalog (Filipino language). I was like, “They’re Filipino. That’s amazing.” Other than that, every time there was an Asian on screen growing up, there was somebody that was a caricature, stereotype or somebody that knew martial arts or a foreigner that was threatening; I never identified with any of them. So, I never thought about becoming an actor on television, especially in America.
To be able to do this role where I am Filipino, but that’s not the meat of why they cast me. They cast me for being me as Josh. It’s really exciting for me and I hope that whoever is watching can take it away as, “Oh. Because he’s Filipino, that could be me. I could be an African-American. I could be a Latino-American. It doesn’t matter.”
Q: Shooting the first episode with Steve and Donovan, the previous “Blue’s Clues” hosts, and them introducing your character, how was that experience?
Dela Cruz: It was surreal. Because they had a few scenes, they filmed my stuff first. Steve wears green and I’m on a green screen, he had to be filmed on a separate backdrop. They put up a blue screen for him. I was able to watch them work. It was one of the best learning experiences of my life because I already did my scenes and to see how they were relaxed on set and how they conducted themselves on the green screen was eye opening to me. I was like, “Oh cool. I can play. I can interact.”
They had such ease that you don’t understand how difficult it is while watching the show because they’re so good at it and getting to be in their shoes in that empty void of green you start to get used to “This is specific.” Everything else, I can create around. It was amazing. They’re so supportive. It’s eye-opening.
Q: How do you stay grounded now that you’re becoming a TV and social media sensation?
Dela Cruz: My sisters. They’re my grounding wires. If it weren’t for my older sister and my little sister, I don’t think I would have become a performer in musical theater. My older sister encouraged me to do when I was transitioning into eighth grade. I had a great time. I learned a lot about theater. When I did the show, I felt so at home in that environment. I was fortunate enough to get a scholarship because a role I played to go to a summer conservatory for musical theater. That was the first time I was surrounded by people that wanted to do it for a living. I felt like this was so right especially the summer before my senior year. I had decided I wanted to become a music teacher. But something was saying, this is right. I changed my mind and thought about it a lot. I told my mom and my dad. They were insanely supportive; my teachers as well. But they were, of course, scared. They wanted to make sure I was OK.
I was fortunate enough to have really supportive parents and teachers help me make the decision to pursue it. It was kind of meant to be and laid out but if it hadn’t been for my sister telling to audition for the musical, I wouldn’t have started acting.
Q: Speaking about family. Tell us a bit more about your background and your Filipino roots.
Dela Cruz: My mom and my dad are from the Philippines. They met while they were working in the Middle East so my older sister and I are born there. We then emigrated to the U.S. We lived in Yonkers (NY) for maybe four or five years before finally ending up in New Jersey. We were a little bit isolated at the time from the larger Filipino community that was in Bergenfield, NJ were my aunt lived. That’s where we spent a lot of time. But it didn’t take much time for us to get a larger Filipino base when family moved here from the Philippines. I can understand Tagalog. I can understand it especially when my parents are mad at me. I’m learning Tagalog on (the language course) Rosetta Stone just because I think it’s something that is really important for me to know.
It’s part of my identity especially now that I realize that growing up as an Asian actor, I was a little bit confused. I wanted to be ethnically ambiguous. I can play an Asian guy, but then maybe can play something else. But it wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized, “No dude. You’re Filipino. You’re Asian and that’s okay. You can be Filipino. You can be Asian. You’re not the problem.”
My parents and my lola (grandmother), always cooked Filipino food. I mean chicken adobo was my thing. I loved it. Sometimes pork adobo because it was so fatty and so delicious. But I’ve been vegan for three years now. I remember when I told my mom, she goes, “Why?” It was like a threw a huge bomb her way. But it was about that adobo life.
Q: Circling back to you acting career, do you feel like you’ve broken the glass ceiling and are roles becoming more color-blind?
Dela Cruz: I don’t know if it’s becoming more color-blind. It’s definitely more inclusive. I was watching “Star Wars: Force Awakens” in the theater and it was a moment near the end of the movie where all the generals and everyone were trying to figure out a plan. One of the generals was Asian. He didn’t have an accent. And I remember thinking that this is the first time I ever felt like in a movie I was part of the story and not watching somebody else’s life.
Looking back at my childhood, Nickelodeon is so special because it’s one of the most diverse outlets out there, especially with cartoons. “Hey Arnold!” is such a depiction of New York City and how diverse it is. With our show, I think progress builds upon progress. I think it is getting better. The time is right. It isn’t so much color-blind as it is inclusive. America and the world looks so diverse.
It’s now being reflected. “The Farewell,” Lulu Wang’s movie is so important to me because how it’s not a movie about Chinese people or American people. It’s a movie about family trying to deal with death. With that and Chloe Jao with “The Writer,” it’s an amazing time to be around. My teachers in school were saying, “Don’t worry. Just be yourself.” If that’s something I can pass along doing “Blue’s Clues” is: just be yourself. You are perfect.
Q: Talk to us about how “Blue’s Clues & You” will connect with the viewers through various digital platforms.
Dela Cruz: It’s really cool. “Blue’s Clues” broke ground being the interactive children’s television show. We spoke directly to the camera. We were able to empower kids. Now because of technology through applications on tablets and phones and how intuitive kids are with that platform, we now make our show even more interactive through episodes that are available on our Noggin app where kids can watch the show and at any point they can tap on different things in the frame. They can tap on me and I’ll say, “Hey.” They can tap on a paw print and it’ll say “A clue. A clue” They can draw the clues themselves and color them in and personalize them. What sets apart is because how personal our show is then other children’s show.
Now, it’s even more personal and kids can more information which they happen to be learning about and having fun doing. It’s really exciting to bring that to this audience.