“I just always loved and enjoyed watching movies,” says Jorge Lendeborg Jr. of how he got bit by the proverbial bug. “My dad would take me to the video store when I was a kid and he would let me pick movies. And even at a very young age I would pick stuff like Goodfellas, or old Clint Eastwood films. And I just fell in love with it like that.”
Born in Miami to a Dominican family, the 22-year-old Bumblebee star found his calling early. A high school drama class led him to the inevitable next step of acting and—with his parents’ support—a post-graduate move to Los Angeles. “My parents are a big reason for my success,” he says. “After high school, they paid my rent for a whole year before I started working. They were always on board, and I really couldn’t do it in the time that I did it without them. You’ve got to try for the moon in anything you want to do, but if someone shelters and nurtures it, maybe that’s the most important thing.”
In conversation, Lendeborg Jr. is relaxed, funny, observant. Refreshingly, he eschews the guru-seeking attitudes that often plague industry hopefuls, turning instead to a no-nonsense storytelling compass built through years of absorbing art, cinema, and human behavior. When he didn’t feel like classes were cutting it, he instead focused his attention on other actors to learn how they work. “You can’t lose sight of what makes you you,” he says. “When I moved out to L.A. I started taking a class, but I didn’t really like what they were teaching. I was like, ‘Dude, I know I’m young, but still!’ I didn’t want to be presumptuous, but I felt training was regressive.”
As Lendeborg Jr. continued to land auditions, he quickly found that each one has its own unique circumstances that need time to be felt out. “Whenever the audition comes, it comes. Sometimes one will require a lot more preparation than another. But until then, I’m going to keep doing my work as it comes naturally and listening to whatever’s in front of me.”
One constant of the auditioning process, he adds, is that you need to believe that the words on the page are enough. “When I audition, I read the sides and try not to come with any ideas or approaches from the beginning. I just read the material as a person who loves filmmaking. I try to look at the script as if I were a little kid and imagine the world within it. Then I start to break down what I want to do.”
The proof of Lendeborg Jr.’s approach lies in his performances. In 2016, he emerged with impressive maturity in his feature debut: Steven Caple Jr.’s The Land, an indie drama about four Cleveland teens whose dreams of professional skateboarding are jeopardized when they become entwined in a local drug ring. Since the film’s Sundance premiere, he’s defied typecasting with an impressive mix of blockbusters and independents: opposite Noah Wyle in Shot (2017); as Peter Parker’s schoolmate in Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017); and alongside Rosa Salazar, Jennifer Connelly, Christoph Waltz, and Mahershala Ali in Robert Rodriguez’s Alita: Battle Angel.
“It takes a different type of acting,” he says of his work on bigger films. “It takes real patience, and it’s a lot more technical. You learn to ask questions of the director. I’ve been lucky enough to work with fantastic people in those movies, and to bounce between those two worlds. It was kind of by design, because the people I look up to were respectable in a lot of different kinds of things. I’m still learning how to do it on either scale. For bigger movies, you just have to be in love with the movie magic aspect of it. You have to believe in the truth of the picture, not just the truth of the moment.”
Lendeborg Jr. is currently filming John Leguizamo’s Critical Thinking, the based-on-real-life story of the Miami Jackson High School chess team’s climb to win the U.S. National Championship. “Not only am I working with someone who I respect, I’m working on a story that proves that intellectual property and intellectual games belong to people of color,” he says of the project. “They’ve been ours all along. We are smart, even if the media doesn’t want to show us that way.”
Does Lendeborg Jr.—like Leguizamo—plan to try his hand on the other side of the camera? “Oh hell yeah!,” he says, his pure and infectious enthusiasm cracking excitedly. “I can’t wait. I want to shoot a short, hopefully sometime in 2020. I love movies, every aspect of them. I feel that you have to direct, if you want to get better. Directing only improves your acting, and vice versa.” For this young, total-package moviemaker, the best is yet to come. MM
Alita: Battle Angel opened in theaters February 14, 2019, courtesy of 20th Century Fox. This article appears in MovieMaker’s Winter 2019 issue. Featured image photograph by Andrew Eccles.