Albuquerque Botanical Gardens
A cool breeze rustles through leaves overhead. Branches grow wrapped around beams forming a pavilion over our heads. Anticipation fills the air. Our camera crew hurriedly checks camera positioning and lighting. The interviewer sits in makeup going over his questions for today’s esteemed guest. Everybody looks on as a woman from Texas passes nearby wearing a Heisenberg t-shirt. With knowing smiles, we all nod to one another. The hustle is not new to us – it’s all in the job description – but today’s guest is different and everyone can feel it. “A local boy made good,” some might say; others consider him the good guy on their favorite television show, but to us he is the interview of the year.
We’ve all seen the show on AMC. It began five years ago in the desert outside Albuquerque. In a now-famous RV, a man in his underwear drives off, leaving a pair of jeans to float to the desert floor. A desperate teacher with lung cancer wants to leave money behind for his family. Most of us have followed it over the last few years and shed tears when it came to an end this past month. We watched our favorite characters grow and change over the course of the show – some becoming better people, most doing the opposite. Our guest today, Steven Michael Quezada, aka DEA agent Steven Gomez has the distinction of being the only character on the show that didn’t “break bad”.
Everybody wants to know how do you break away from a show with such a loyal fan following as Breaking Bad has had. Steven is here to talk about what came before Breaking Bad, the show itself and what is coming up for him in the future.
Being a native New Mexican from right here in Albuquerque, Steven had to work for everything he’s achieved. Coming from a large family, he had no prospects for higher education and was left unprepared for it after going through the Albuquerque Public School (APS) system. But he didn’t let that stop him. By the end of his high school career, he had secured himself a scholarship to Eastern New Mexico State University to major in acting. He dreamed of acting on stage in front of thousands. It took him only three years to complete his degree before he moved off to Hollywood. It wasn’t long before he discovered that Hollywood wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Being a Latino actor, there were limited roles available to him, and none that were a stretch. Homesick and tired of the stereotypical casting, he returned to his hometown of Albuquerque where he became involved in Community Theater. Even here in the Land of Enchantment there were limited roles for Latinos and most were not new or original. When suggesting the theater look for new plays, he was fired on the spot from his volunteer position.
Most people would let that dishearten them and drag them down, but not Steven. His response was to write his own play. He looked to his brother Richard for inspiration His brother had been born with a hole in his heart so he wasn’t able to participate in sports and activities like other kids his age. Instead, he spent his time studying and expanding his mind. The other family members would tease him about being the first Chicano president. This led him to pen his first play of the same name: The First Chicano President. An engaging story about a man surrounded by the best and brightest and his subsequent rise to president, the play shows anyone with the right motivation can be anything they want to be.
Armed with his newly penned script, Steven cast himself in the lead role and filled in the rest of the cast. The play was a hit and sold out every night it was performed. In the end, Steven wrote a total of four plays and sold the movie rights for The First Chicano President in order to pay for his wedding. Like many other struggling actors, the stage was not paying his bills so he began to look for other ways to use his talents which led him to stand-up comedy. He had a great first show, with the crowd roaring with laughter. He claims it was like no other feeling. The second night didn’t go as well as the first, but he stuck with it. With blood, sweat, tears, and a dash of luck, he made it onto the Southwest comedy circuit and turned a possible one night stand into a career.
As his successes increased, Steven began to think about how to help others get out there and get noticed. In 2010, he began his own television show called The After, After Party with Steven Michael Quezada. This locally-operated show was designed to showcase talent here in New Mexico. That wasn’t enough for Steven. He gathered kids from the middle schools and high school to learn how to run the cameras, lights and sound systems. In this way, he was training them for a career in film, a burgeoning industry here in New Mexico. At the same time, he was also working with a charity called Youth Development Incorporated (YDI). YDI works with underprivileged kids to help them get an education in the art of filmmaking. YDI helps 12,200 direct clients every year and another 10,000 through outreach programs. In 2008, Steven arranged a softball tournament between the cast and crews of Breaking Bad and In Plain Sight for a fundraising event.
Obviously a man who has a drive to work, he joined the board of a charter school in Albuquerque that his children attend. For those who don’t know how the local school system here works, APS has regular schools K-12, and with most charter schools starting in sixth grade with a few elementary schools through out the city. These charter schools usually have a specific focus such as art or math and they often have specially designed schedules to help the children that attend them to excel.
One night his daughter asked him why he did so much for just the one charter school when there were so many kids out there who deserved help. She though he could do more to help. Steven said that would require running for a public office and asked his family if they were prepared to be public figures. They happily agreed and today Steven sits on the APS board in District 5.
Just recently, he was approached by Direct TV to air his After After Party show nationally on a Direct TV channel. Direct TV still plans on showcasing the talent in New Mexico as their main focus. They also want to show the big studios that Albuquerque has talented people here in front of and behind the camera. By hiring local crews, they will save money and qualify for more tax breaks in the state. It’s a win-win for everyone.
After talking about the man behind giving so much to the community, he switched gears to talk about his beloved character Steven Gomez. When the show first began to shoot here in New Mexico, the character of Steve Gomez was brought in for comic relief in the emotionally troubling show. The whole first season, only he and Jesse shared the ability to relieve stress in the show. With the popularity of the show on the rise, no one saw the writer’s strike coming. It brought the shows production to a halt along with many other shows. While most people were sad, this was music to the ears of Steve Gomez, and a reprieve from certain death.
Both Steve Gomez and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) were due to be killed off at the end of season one of the show. But thanks to the time everyone spent together waiting for the strike to end the cast had grown attached to each other. They decided to keep both characters on, at least for a while. Once they brought in Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) to be Walt’s lawyer, Steven Gomez took on a more serious role.
Steven smiled as he reminisced about the good old days on the Breaking Bad set. With a laugh he describes the day he got the call from Vince Gillian. He knew it was bad news because Vince never called. He told him that the show was wrapping up and they were tying up all loose ends. He continued on to say that they really like him and Steve Gomez would die like a man. It was the end of the show: people were going to die, Hank was going to die. Steve Gomez got to go out in a real old west style standoff.
When asked if he thinks the show reflects poorly on his hometown, he smiles and laughs again. “No. The show reflects badly on the state of the US. The meth problem extends past the city limits of Albuquerque. It’s a national epidemic that needs attention.” Steven Michael Quezada. He also points out that the show was deeper, more layered, than just the meth issue. He adds that when people ask if the show makes Albuquerque look bad his reply is “Do you watch CSI and then say ‘I’m not going to Vegas.’? Because someone dies there every week.” The answer is of course no. The town is just a backdrop to a fictional show. These stories could take place anywhere in the United States. New Mexico was lucky enough to have great crews and great rebates that allowed it to be that backdrop.
Steven says he has more acting plans now that Breaking Bad has come to an end. He is looking at working on a new project called Duke City. It stars Wes Studi who will play an ex-Albuquerque policeman who gets busted for helping out the gang his father was involved in. Now disgraced, he joins the gang in order to make a living and survive. Steven plays a crooked DEA agent who becomes the leader of a gang. Throughout the show, the characters follow the money from the corner drug dealers through politics, government, and banking to see who really is making the money off the drugs and the war on them. The money is the important part because if you follow the money you may find out things you never thought possible. Steven says himself some people may not like the story but it is one that needs to be told.
Steven Michael Quezada is a man with unstoppable drive. He claims to play golf in his free time, but after talking with him and seeing what he has planned for the future and what he has done in the past I have to ask, “What free time?” Breaking Bad may be over but this man is far from broken. We will be seeing him for years to come on screens big and small and stages near you.
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