Late last year, actor Modesto Lacen was over the moon with marvel over having been picked for a role he had long dreamed of – playing baseball legend Roberto Clemente.
It seemed like it couldn’t get much better for the 34-year-old native of Loiza, Puerto Rico.
But it has – in huge ways.
He is now featured in the sizzling telenovela “Relaciones Peligrosas” (“Dangerous Relationships”), which in recent weeks debuted in the United States, including Puerto Rico, on Telemundo.
Lacen will also keep playing Robert Clemente in the off-Broadway play “DC-7, The Roberto Clemente Story,” which runs in Manhattan at the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater through April 8, but then will play the role on tour when the play goes to such places as Orlando, Miami, Puerto Rico and Nicaragua, among other locations.
The play has been a hit, scooping up six ACE awards, including one for Best Actor for Lacen, and Best Musical and several ATI awards, which honor independent Latin theater artists.
One of the most heady moments, though, came when Clemente’s sons praised Lacen’s portrayal of their father.
Lacen recalled how Clemente’s sons proclaimed “You are my father,” after watching his performance, and how important it was to him to move both the people who knew Clemente personally and those who did not.
"For this generation who never got to know my father, Modesto Lacen does a great job portraying him," said Luis Roberto Clemente to reporters. "He resembles him a lot and with his singing especially, he gives an amazing performance."
The baseball icon’s older son, Roberto Clemente Jr. added to reporters, "I have seen the show five times now and the whole cast does a wonderful job, but especially Modesto Lacen. I believe that he has truly transformed into my father, no doubt about it."
Lacen was bitten by the acting bug as a young boy, when he'd go to the movie theater with his mother. He earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Puerto Rico, graduating Magna Cum Laude.
The actor, who is fluent in Spanish, French and English, trained with the Public Theater and Circle in the Square in New York City.
I would like to impact not only Puerto Rico, but different communities in the United States and abroad.
- Modesto Lacen, actor
He often speaks about how important his role as Roberto Clemente has been to him and his heritage.
“Growing up in my house he was someone we always looked up to,” Lacen said. “Besides being a great baseball player he was a great example for Puerto Ricans, specifically Black Puerto Ricans.”
Once the play is done, he plans on taking about a week vacation to Puerto Rico to unwind.
This coming summer, the play will take the international tour.
The play is slated to be featured in Puerto Rico on the weekend of August 18th, Roberto Clemente’s birthday. Lacen is excited about this, because he considers it not just a big deal for him, but “the whole island.”
Lacen deftly divides his energies and passion between the play and the telenovela, in which he portrays the father of a troubled Haitian teen who is bullied because of his race.
The cultural transition entailed in playing someone of a different nationality is not difficult for Lacen, because the role in many ways is “very similar to my father,” he told Fox News Latino.
As the father of the bullied boy, Lacen’s character strives to help his son overcome his obstacles and become a better man.
These messages, Lacen says, bring back memories of his dad and the life lessons he often dispensed.
Beyond his current acting projects, Lacen has been working for his non-profit organization, Nueva Escena Inc., named after the Nueva Escena theater company he started in Puerto Rico to provide an outlet for local playwrights and actors.
Although, admittedly, Lacen has been too busy to work as much as he’d like with the organization, but ideas for projects for it area always percolating inside him.
The organization, according to Modesto, is based on the “mission to empower people through art.”
His main goal is to “impact society and the community with art,” a task that he tries to accomplish with help from his friends, who are mostly artists.
“I would like to impact not only Puerto Rico, but different communities in the United States and abroad,” he said.
Through lectures and workshops, he hopes Nueva Escena can “change the world through art.”
“I became an actor not for the fame or the money,” Lacen is quoted as saying in published reports. “Acting is my calling.”
“ It is very important for me to invest my energy in projects that mean something and characters that are not stereotypes of Black people and Latinos,” he said. “I think we’re at a moment where we cannot afford that anymore. We have to set aside these stereotypes of the past because that doesn’t help anybody.”
E.J. Aguado Jr. is a freelance writer based in New Jersey and Fox News Latino's official March Madness correspondent.