Man of the cloth: West New Yorker digs into role on daytime drama

Actor George Alvarez says that his character on the CBS Drama Guiding Light has influenced him in his personal life. Lucky for friends and family, he’s not playing a controlling diabolical millionaire or the head of a violent crime family. Alvarez is playing a priest. “It’s rubbed off a little bit off on me,” admitted Alvarez last week. “It makes me want to be a better person.” But his character is on a soap opera, after all, so he is related to a crime family and has already compromised his vows just seven months into his time in Springfield. Alvarez, who grew up in West New York after his family emigrated here from Cuba in the late 1950s, wasn’t heading toward a life on screen when he graduated from Memorial High School. He went to Parsons School of Design, but balked at the idea of taking a job in an advertising agency to make money rather than pursuing art. He worked at Studio 54 in its original heyday, and through connections there wound up at a casting cattle call for a movie. He got the part, and even though the project, an early attempt to adapt Anne Rice’s novel Interview with the Vampire to the big screen, was never produced, Alvarez had come down with the acting bug. “You get to pretend, get to be a kid again, and get paid well to do it,” said Alvarez of his chosen profession. Alvarez did some theater in New York, but soon decided to go where the Film and Television work was: Los Angeles. For years he worked as an actor on and off, and he began to develop another passion: writing screenplays. In the early 1990s, a two-day stint on General Hospital turned into a long-term role on that soap’s spinoff, Port Charles, and his years as police officer Alex Garcia began. Though Garcia enjoyed being on Port Charles and occasionally General Hospital, he was always looking to head back to New York. He had two sons there who were fast growing up without him, so he began to look for an opportunity to return. When Guiding Light, which films in New York, was looking to beef up the part of Ray Santos, a cousin to one of the show’s popular Latin characters, Alvarez took the part. Once back on the East Coast, Alvarez felt the pull of home. He decided to settle back in West New York, and has even moved into his childhood home. He decided to renovate the charming brownstone off Boulevard East, choosing to go back to the lifestyle he’d missed on the West Coast. “There’s more sense of communities here. You get to know your neighbors,” said Alvarez. One project Alvarez has continued since his move is directing his first film. After years of seeing his scripts optioned but never ultimately produced, he decided to take the fate of his latest script into his own hands. “It’s about a chess player who changes people’s lives through his playing,” said Alvarez. “It’s Forrest Gump meets Being There.” Chess looms large in the story, taking the place of success, maturity and even celebrity for each character. Alvarez is shooting the film with little financing, flying out to L.A. when his schedule allows to shoot scenes with actor Emilio Valle playing the lead. “No matter what, it’s going to happen,” said Alvarez of his film, though he could just as easily be talking about the success of his acting career and personal life.