I want to start this off by both thanking Juan Gabriel Pareja as well as offering my sincere apologies. I made a few mistakes when it came to this interview and looked like a complete fool which Mr. Pareja seemed happy to overlook. Fans know him best as Morales from AMC’s The Walking Dead and recently I had the distinct pleasure of talking to him about his career and his role on the hit wildly popular zombie apocalypse drama. Despite priding myself on a certain level of professionalism when I conduct an interview, however, things fell apart from the word “go.” I had two interviews scheduled for the same afternoon and managed to confuse myself on who I was talking to first. So imagine my surprise -and his- when I began talking about his amazing performance in another horror show he’s never actually been cast in. “Don’t worry,” I thought to myself. “At least you’re recording everything so you can get the interview itself written up just right.”
Ever heard of Murphy’s Law, kids? If it can go wrong it will and for whatever reason my recording of this poorly prepared for interview is now lost to the ages. In fact, other than the few notes I jotted down while talking to Mr. Pareja, I’ve got nothing. So, this article is going to be a fun mixture of interview, review, and riffing about this this incredibly talented and gracious actor.
Juan Gabriel Pareja is a Texas native who returned to his home state after graduating from NYU to follow a lifelong passion in the performing arts. Beginning his career in the early 2000’s he did what so many actors do: he went to work. Taking small roles in films being produced in the region he worked tirelessly to support himself and his dream. In 2007 he found himself in neighboring Louisiana where Frank Darabont was assembling his vision of Stephen King’s The Mist. A smaller role but none the less a memorable one for Pareja, it encouraged him to continue on his path taking small parts in larger films like W. and Machete until he received a call from Frank Darabont’s office in 2010 about a new project the director was involved in.
“I’d been working doing some door to door sales and taking parts when I could when I got the call.” Pareja said. “I turned on the camera on my phone and shot my audition as soon as the conversation was over.”
The audition was for the role of Morales in the first season of The Walking Dead. The character seemed like a perfect fit for Pareja who admitted the character needed a little bit of work when he first started reading.
“I knew that he needed to be a part of a family,” he said. “Just being on his own didn’t fit right so we talked about it and gave him a wife and kids. Really made him fit alongside Rick and Laurie as sort of a functional family unit. Rick has to do what he can to protect his family and so does Morales.” But where Rick and his family went one direction, literally and figuratively, Morales went another. In the reunion of the two season one patriarchs we see both similarities between the characters as well as very blatant differences. Both have done what they could to survive, to keep those people most important to them alive, but only one can still claim to have his family. The actor also went through a very physical transformation before he returned to the series and the character. Like Rick he’s a much leaner, more grizzled version of the man we knew in season one.
Juan Pareja is an incredibly talented actor and if his dramatic performances in The Walking Dead aren’t enough to prove that to you, you need to check him out in the Amazon original Goliath as well as Boone: The Bounty Hunter and the upcoming short film The Life of Ricky. Be sure to follow him on social media (especially Instagram where he’s most active) @juangpareja .
Juan, if you read this, I'd really like a chance to redeem myself. Walker Stalker comes to Nashville every year and, if you're able to make it out to this celebration of horror culture in Music City, I'd enjoy the opportunity to sit down with you and try to do this interview again face-to-face. Just message me @dotdblog or through 52weeksofhorror.com to let me know.
And, scaremakers, be sure you catch up on The Walking Dead during their mid-season break and watch Morales and Rick square off in the episodes Monsters and The Damned from the current season.
Dan Lee is a horror fiend and freelance writer with a special place in his heart for monster movies and demonic possession stories.