Actor J.W. Cortes goes from Sunset to Gotham

A born-and-raised Sunset Parker has a new address in Gotham.

But, for actor, singer and Marine veteran J.W. Cortes who joined the cast of the hit Fox show, “Gotham” in 2014, playing Detective Alvarez, the journey from Sunset was not an easy one. He describes the neighborhood where he grew up as extremely dangerous.

“I was born and raised on a street in Sunset, 49th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, that was considered one of the worst areas at the time,” Cortes said. “It was nicknamed Little Vietnam.”

Cortes describes his old stomping grounds as a place full of potential pitfalls for kids. “It housed a methadone clinic that brought a certain element,” he recalled. “Of course, you had the crack epidemic. Also street gangs at the time were very prominent. There was a combination of things.”

Cortes credits his parents and the Marines for helping him avoid the temptation of conforming to his area. “My dad is old school. He was born in Puerto Rico and was drafted into the Vietnam War,” said Cortes. “He raised us with really strong understanding.”

Both parents offered Cortes lots of encouragement. “They told us to understand we always had a choice,” he said. “There was a lot of tough love. I thank them for it today.”

At 18 years old, Cortes joined the Marines and considers it the greatest decision of his life. “It was my great escape. For 13 years, I served all over. I did see combat and was part of invasions of Iraq in 2003. It’s a tremendous honor for me think back on the job we did back there,” he said.

At Lafayette High School, Cortes also found a love for both singing and acting. “Music was a big part of my life,” he said. “I fell in love with theater and the arts. After performing in my first musical, I loved it so much that I formed a doo wop group. I sang in the subways.” His father introducing him to legendary acts such as Motown and Smokey Robinson also helped his love for music, Cortes said.

Around 2003, Cortes had an epiphany and decided that he wanted to make his dreams of performing come true. Though he lacked experience in auditioning, he hit the streets and auditioned for several roles in Broadway musicals and on TV. “I didn’t even know how to do a proper headshot,” he confessed.

Against the odds, he experienced success. In 2012, he was featured in “Stars Earn Stripes,” a reality show centered on a group of celebrities who experience the day-to-day operations of the military, returning to TV in occasional roles culminating with his most recent role on “Gotham.”

“After I auditioned, I was flying to Puerto Rico to celebrate my birthday when the phone rang and my manager called and she delivered the news,” Cortes said.

He filmed three episodes in season one, but is featured more prominently in season two, having already filmed over nine episodes.

While Alvarez is taking down villains in Gotham, in real life, Cortes continues to remember his time in Sunset. “I’m trying to figure out the best way to give back,” he said. “I’d like to speak more to the youth of Sunset and do them proud and inspire them.”

Season two of “Gotham” premiers on Monday, September 21 on FOX.

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