Movies have always held a special place in Erniel Baez’s heart. The actor, whose star is on the rise, decided to pursue acting at 15 and hasn’t looked back, amassing an intriguing body of work along the way. 

Recently, I had the privilege of chatting with Erniel about his role on the MGM+ crime thriller Hotel Cocaine, playing Ray Dorado in the series, working with Danny Pino and Michael Chiklis and more. 

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This interview is condensed for length and clarity. 

Origin Story 

Melody McCune: We at GGA love a good origin story. How did you get into acting?

Erniel Baez: I started getting interested in acting when I used to sit down every night with my grandfather and watch films back in Cuba. A couple of years after that, when I immigrated to Canada, I stopped pursuing sports. I was looking for something I could focus on. 

Film has always been important; it shaped and inspired me in many ways. I decided to give it a shot. I was 15 then and didn’t know how to get started, so I went online searching for acting schools and workshops. So, I went to the Montreal School of Performing Arts. From there, I slowly started acting, building a resume, getting headshots and auditioning. Here we are 12 years later.

Actor Erniel Baez leans back in a chair while wearing a black suit. He poses in front of a gray background.

Pictured: Erniel Baez

Hotel Cocaine

MM: Let’s talk about Hotel Cocaine. Can you tell me about it and how you got involved with the project?

EB: Hotel Cocaine follows Roman Compte (Pino), the general manager of the Mutiny Hotel. It’s set in the late 1970s in Miami during its cocaine heyday. My character is Ray Dorado. Ray Dorado is a prominent bank owner with different connections and dubious ties to the criminal underworld. He happens to be a regular customer at the hotel.

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The opportunity to audition for the role came across my agent’s desk. Because of where it took place and the year, an era I’ve always liked, and the multifaceted character, I was very attracted to the show.

I auditioned and was fortunate that it appealed to the showrunner, Chris Brancato. About a month and a half into it, we got the confirmation. A couple of months after that, we were in the Dominican Republic shooting.

Viewer Expectations

MM: What can viewers expect when they watch the show?

EB: They can expect to be in for a very thrilling ride. First of all, the imagery and color. The color palette for the show is appealing. It looks aesthetically beautiful, being directed by the great eye of Guillermo Navarro, who is an Academy Award winner for his mastery of the visual medium. At the same time, it’s a thrilling story. [It was] a very tumultuous time in Miami, which used to be the murder capital of the United States.

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There’s going to be a lot of action, thrills and drama. It’s the kind of show that will keep you entertained and at the edge of your seat every single episode because you don’t know what will happen, who will be involved with what and the different types of turns it will take. Hopefully, people will enjoy it.

MM: Describe Hotel Cocaine using three words.

EB: I’m going to use four words — Hell of a ride. 

Working With Danny Pino and Michael Chiklis 

MM: Do you have a favorite scene or a highlight from working on the show?

EB: I was very fortunate — I got the opportunity to work with almost everyone I wanted to work with. [My] character is involved in many different facets of the story.

Without revealing too much, there is a particular day that was interesting because it was my first time working alongside the great Michael Chiklis. It was a particularly interesting story for reasons I can’t mention, but you’ll see [why] once the show comes out. Because of the dynamic of that scene and that it was my first time working with Michael Chiklis and Danny Pino, who is like a big brother to me now. The level of enthusiasm and intensity with which that scene was carried out was one of the highlights of the whole shooting process.

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MM: Do you have a dream role?

EB: I have many [dream] roles, but the interesting thing about Hotel Cocaine is the project itself encompasses many of those dream roles on my wishlist. I always wanted to work in the Caribbean because it’s close to home. Additionally, I always wanted to be part of a biopic, so [I played] a character based on an actual person. This character, while fictitious, was heavily influenced by an actual human being who existed at the time and was a regular client of the hotel.

A lot of things got checked off the list with this one. But moving forward, any role enabling me to work alongside any of my idols would be a dream role—either Denzel Washington or Al Pacino, for sure.

What’s Next 

MM: What else is on the horizon for you, career-wise?

EB: There are a couple of projects we are currently shooting. I can’t divulge too much information on it, unfortunately. There’s a TV series we finished shooting one episode of the other day, and I will be recurring in it throughout the season. There’s also a feature film coming out sometime next year that is currently shooting, and I’m working on that.

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Unfortunately, I can’t say names or who I’m starring alongside because, as you know, it’s quite hush-hush. But on the horizon right now, besides working on those projects, is also focusing on the premiere of Hotel Cocaine on MGM+ on June 16. Being able to promote the show as much as possible and hopefully see all my friends and colleagues sooner rather than later.

A closeup of actor Erniel Baez, who wears a black suit. He poses in front of a gray background.

Pictured: Erniel Baez

MM: Have you watched anything interesting lately?

EB: The last great experiences I had in the cinema would be Dune: Part Two and Oppenheimer. Very different films, but both blew me away as far as the cinematography, acting and, as a whole, were incredibly captivating.

Favorite Films

MM: Name your top five favorite films.

EB: The Godfather is my favorite film of all time. You could easily put The Godfather Part II in there as well, but I consider them one film. Scarface was very influential growing up.

Once I saw [it] the first time—I was around 10 years old—it was my first time seeing an Al Pacino film. I believed [he] was Cuban and would debate with people that the best actor in the world was Cuban and his name was Al Pacino. I love Raging Bull and A Few Good Men.

To finish it up, it’s either [Federico] Fellini’s or Goodfellas. I also love many Akira Kurosawa films. 

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MM: Thank you so much for chatting with me, Erniel!

EB: Thank you, Melody!

You can follow Erniel on Instagram (@erniel.baez). Learn more about Hotel Cocaine here, and tune in on June 16, when the series premieres on MGM+. 

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