Born and raised in a Cuban household in Miami, Fl, Leonel Oliva’s priorities growing up were different from what they are today. “You go to school, get a degree, get a job, get married and have kids. Acting for a living was just never something we considered a job in my home.” It wasn't until 11th grade, during an assignment in his high school drama class, that he finally knew he had to find a way to make a living out of his love for acting. “The teacher had asked us to bring in something to act out in front of the class. I wanted to do something different, so I decided to act out my own suicide. After seeing my classmates’ reactions to how I made them feel, and experiencing the rush I felt from knowing I had moved them so much, I knew this was what I had to do for the rest of my life. I just didn't know how to make it into a real job, especially in Miami.” His passion for acting grew over the next five years as he studied acting at the University of Miami while obtaining his degree in nursing. After a year and a half of working as a nurse in Miami, it was time.
In October of 2007, Leo arrived in California. Due to his focus and drive, within three months he managed to work on multiple low budget independent projects while landing another steady job at Kaiser Permanente in their ICU. But something was missing: “I knew I was making progress, but felt like something was not letting me move forward as fast as I wanted to. I spoke to one of the producers on the set of a short I was working on, and after talking to him for a while, I knew what my next step had to be.” For the next two years, Leo would partake in one of the most demanding acting programs in LA. The first year consisted of class five days a week, three hours a day with a minimum of one hour rehearsal between classes. Out of sixty students who started the program the same year he did, only nine would go on to graduate. Right before graduation, while accompanying a friend to an audition, Leo was noticed by the director of the film and soon thereafter was cast in his first feature film. Over the next two years, Leo would hone his craft as an actor by working on many different projects, including the Emmy winning FX TV show Louie.
His latest endeavor has been in writing and producing his own films. His first was a short, Spoils of War, which deals with a civilian’s inability to cope with the death of his enlisted brother. His greatest accomplishment to date is THE SHIFT, a feature film tackleing the ethical issues faced by nurses while dealing with end of life care. Inspired by his personal experiences as an RN, Leo wrote, produced and starred in the film alongside Danny Glover.
“It’s been a journey, and not a very easy one. But I’ve always known that I will make it in this industry more because of my perseverance and hard work than anything else.” - Leo
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