For Ryan Guzman, stepping up to act beats a punch on the nose

 For Ryan Guzman, stepping up to act beats a punch on the nose
Ryan Guzman's athletic background helped him with the dancing in "Step Up All In." (Jabin Botsford / Los Angeles Times)

Aspiring star Ryan Guzman took an unusual path to Hollywood, including a few years as a martial arts fighter. It wasn't exactly acting school, but it taught him some valuable lessons.

"I learn through experience. That's how I've always been," Guzman said. "With fighting, I didn't learn until someone punched me in the face."


Making a movie may not be as brutal — at least not physically — but his time in the ring helped Guzman understand the need to learn from your mistakes and soak up as much information as possible. The 26-year-old, who had a breakout role in 2012's dance spectacle "Step Up Revolution," is starring in the follow-up, "Step Up All In," which opens Friday. He plays Sean Asa, a Miami street dancer who, along with his crew, struggles to find work in the cutthroat world of professional dancing.

"I don't like being complacent," Guzman said. "There's so much work to be done, and I'd rather attack my flaws, because they are my weakest points, and make them my strongest points.

"I think it's the struggle that makes you and not the success. Before becoming an actor, there was a lot of hardship, a lot of struggle, a lot of things that I did that I didn't want to do. You do that struggle to get what you want."

Growing up in Sacramento, Guzman didn't dream of Hollywood or acting. He was into sports, especially martial arts and baseball. He pitched in college, but after an injury and unsuccessful arm surgery, Guzman quit baseball and refocused on martial arts, fighting in welterweight tournaments. After a disheartening loss, he decided that his future lay elsewhere.

One option was modeling. He had appeared in ads for Abercrombie & Fitch and other companies. Despite his early success, though, Guzman didn't want to pursue it as a career.

"Modeling was never for me," he noted in a recent interview. "I never really enjoyed it at all. It's very vain. It was either try acting or go back and fight."

He opted for acting in Los Angeles, recalling, "I came out to L.A. with $25, I think, to my name, a minivan that I was driving, and living in a one-bedroom apartment with five guys."

Arriving in L.A. in 2010, Guzman started doing commercials, which led to roles in smaller films and TV, including the series "Pretty Little Liars." Then he got his big break, landing the male lead in "Step Up Revolution." His natural athleticism helped him fit into the physically demanding dance role. The Lionsgate movie went on to gross $140 million worldwide.

Guzman knows that dance-oriented movies for young audiences aren't taken very seriously by the industry. But he isn't bothered by that — the "Step Up" series is meant to please audiences, and that's enough for him.

"We're not chasing Oscars here. We know what we are," Guzman said. "I want people to know that it's OK to have fun. With all the craziness going on in the world, why can't you just step into a movie theater and lose yourself?"

Guzman, whose father is Mexican, is also pleased that his role in the "Step Up" series isn't a stereotyped Latino character. "Hispanic people come in all different colors, shapes and sizes. I want to show that I am proud of my Hispanic culture and that nothing is out of reach for Latinos."

Still, Guzman wants to grow beyond the dance genre. "I'm never going to take away from the blessing that I got from being able to get into the film industry through [dancing]," Guzman said. "But I'm looking to expand my horizons as an actor, a director, as a producer."

In 2013, Guzman acted, directed and wrote his own short film, "Deceit," which dealt with how the mind can manipulate reality. Next year he has been cast alongside Jennifer Lopez in the thriller "The Boy Next Door." Guzman will play Noah, the neighbor of Lopez's divorced character. The two become romantically involved.

Another role is in the planned 2016 musical "Jem and the Holograms." Guzman will get a chance to do something he hasn't done before: sing.


"It was the first time I've sung in front of people," Guzman said. "I literally had a 15-minute vocal lesson in the back of an alleyway with the vocal coach for 'Jem and the Holograms,' and that was it. When I told [my family] I was singing, they were like, 'What? You have a horrible voice.'"