The actor also spoke to TooFab about his friendship with LaBeouf, including what inspired them to create their own theater company in South Central Los Angeles.
"The Tax Collector" star Bobby Soto believes there are "baby steps" being taken for more Latinx and Hispanic representation in Hollywood, but says there is much more work to be done.
In an interview with TooFab, the actor, whose grandparents are immigrants from Puerto Rico and Mexico, opened up about working with a primarily Latinx cast and shared his hope that the film creates more opportunities for the Latinx community.
"I think there are baby steps being taken, but steps nonetheless," Soto began. "I've said this over and over again. The thing about Hollywood, I think...what I've learned is that with Hollywood itself, there's no one that is in the quote-unquote Chicano community or the Latinx community that is at a level that can make calls like Denzel [Washington], like Oprah [Winfrey], you know, like Christopher Nolan."
"It dates back. There was nothing back in the day except for J.Lo or George Lopez or for Edward James Olmos. These people, they had to really work really damn hard for themselves," he continued. "There's nothing out there. So they had to create and trailblaze. Fast forward 20 years down the line, we're still in a place where we're still trying to get this community to have high ranking people that say, 'Let's mentor them. Let's make them the next generation.' We don't have that right now. That's going to continue this legacy of us, but we don't have that right now."
"And so what I think is, someone like [director] David Ayer who did this film, which is a very specific story — it's not a cry for representation," Soto added. "We're making a movie and we hope people like it. And that's it, you know, and hopefully, this opens more doors."
Written and directed by Ayer ("Suicide Squad," "End of Watch,") the drama follows two tax collectors -- David (Soto) and Creeper (LaBeouf) -- who work for a Los Angeles crime lord named Wizard by collecting fees from 43 local gangs. However, when Wizard's old rival reappears and the business is upended, David's future is in jeopardy and he must do whatever it takes to protect his family.
When asked about working with LaBeouf, not only did Soto have nothing but good things to say about his co-star, he also explained how the two became close while filming "The Tax Collector" -- and even opened up a theater company together.
"I've seen him every day for the last two and a half years. Every single day," Soto said. "He was someone that I completely connected with. He opened up his arms for me -- and I did the same with him. I just saw him earlier today."
"I love him, man. He's like a big brother to me, really. You know, if anything he's been the best collaborator I've ever been around," he continued. "I learn every day from him and I'm blessed to have him in my life. He's a great human being. He has a huge heart and a huge understanding of people. He's very receptive and open."
In 2018, Soto, LaBeouf and Bojangles founded Slauson R.C. Theater School, which provides free theater programs to the community in South Central Los Angeles, where Soto grew up.
"Things are removed from the community because they're just defunded," Soto said. "There's no money for it and so for me growing up personally, I didn't have a place to put my energy into and it's very easily offered around South Los Angeles to get involved with things that make you feel alive and things that make you feel like you're important or meaningful to this group of people."
Although Soto said he was "blessed" to have a mother who made sacrifices so he was able to take acting classes as a kid, he knows there are many teenagers who don't have the same opportunities -- and he and LaBeouf are changing that.
"When I met Shia, we discussed all of this and he understood it very well," Soto said. "When I told him my dream, he really wanted to do the same thing. And so we literally shot some scenes of the movie off of 53rd and Compton, off recreational center and the park. And while we were there, we talked to the people that lived there -- I grew up down the street and literally three blocks down from where that park is -- we decided to make a theater company there."
"So ever since the movie wrapped -- it's already been more than two years -- we've been together in this theater company," he continued, adding that he and LaBeouf are currently working on a play.
Last month, Soto and LaBeouf both attended a drive-in screening of "The Tax Collector" at the Vineland Drive-In in the City of Industry. As theaters are closed in many states across the country amid the coronavirus pandemic, Soto said having the pre-screening at the drive-in was the "best place" it could have been at. More importantly, Soto has a personal connection to the Vineland Drive-In.
"I thought it was actually the best place. I grew up by that drive-in," Soto explained. "I used to go [there] as a kid. And then it was just me coming back to watch myself on the screen. It was amazing. Especially now during COVID where all the cinemas are closed. This film got the community, got people from everywhere to come in and join in. It was a beautiful process for me."
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TooFab also asked Soto to share his thoughts on LaBeouf actually getting his character Creeper's tattoo.
While Soto said he didn't get David's "Familia" tattoo permanently inked on himself, he thought it was "brilliant" that LaBeouf decided to get his entire chest tattooed.
"We went into the tattoo part together," Soto recalled. "He did his thing and I think it was brilliant. I thought it was beautiful."
"It made me want to get my whole chest tattooed," he added with a laugh. "It was really inspiring to see someone do that, you know? I mean, my whole family is tatted up, everyone's got tattoos all over the body. So I see it all the time, but to see an actor do it -- I really appreciate that."
"The Tax Collector" hits theaters, VOD, and on Digital HD on August 7.