Wilmer Valderrama first caught audiences’ attention as the lovable foreign exchange student Fez on Fox’s popular long-running sitcom, “That ’70s Show.” Valderrama achieved success even before he graduated from high school. Born Wilmer Antonio Valderrama, the actor moved to his family’s native Venezuela at the age of 3. Valderrama’s family returned to the United States 10 years later, when he was 13, this time settling down in Los Angeles. Not knowing a word of English, Valderrama was forced to pick up the language quickly. While attending William Howard Taft High School in Woodland Hills, he began to show an interest in acting. Actively involved in the drama and theater department at his school, he landed professional work while still a teenager and made his acting debut in a Spanish-language Pacific Bell TV commercial. His television debut came on the Disney Channel series “Omba Makomba,” and that same year, the actor landed a role on Fox’s new sitcom “That ’70s Show.”
Playing the part of entrepreneur in real life, Valderrama opened the Hollywood hotspot restaurant Dolce, followed by Geisha House — both of which were in partnership with his co-stars Danny Masterson and Ashton Kutcher. Taking trash-talking to a new level in 2006, Valderrama pitched the show “Yo Momma” to MTV. As host and executive producer of the series, Valderrama went out across America to find the best free-style trash-talkers around. Shifting gears back to theater, Valderrama appeared in the Los Angeles Times Critic’s Choice play “Blackout,” as well as performing alongside Anjelica Huston and Sir Ben Kingsley in the Actors Fund of America all-star performance of the screenplay “Sunset Boulevard.” Also that year, Valderrama appeared in Richard Linklater’s adaptation of “Fast Food Nation” and was cast as Francis “Ponch” Poncherello in the film adaptation of “CHiPs.” Following that, Valderrama took on the title character in the Disney Channel’s show “Handy Manny.”
He’s currently featured in the film “The Dry Land” with America Ferrara and recently signed a development deal with Fox TV that will have him produce and star in a series project. Valderrama just finished shooting two features, “Larry Crown,” directed by Tom Hanks, and “From Prada to Nada,” a Latino version of “Sense and Sensibility.”
ROBIN BRONK: If you had five minutes in the Oval Office with President Obama, what would you discuss with him?
WILMER VALDERRAMA: I would discuss the importance of immigration reform and Arizona’s S.B. 1070, as it directly affects the momentum of our growing culture and the effects it has on the Latin community, which is soon to be considered one of the most influential voices of our country.
RB: What issue would you like him to know about?
WV: The tragic dropout rate among all of our high school students, especially in our inner cities, and the resources we are losing for schools and teachers caused by the lack of funding.
RB: If you could give President Obama one piece of advice, what would that be?
WV: ... Don’t eat yellow snow!
RB: If you could ask President Obama one question, what would that be?
WV: Kobe or LeBron?
RB: Would you ever consider a political career?
WV: ... I wouldn’t rule it out!
Bronk is a seasoned Capitol Hill strategist and advocate. She started her career at The Creative Coalition, a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group for the arts and entertainment industry, in July 1998. During her tenure as CEO, Bronk has taken The Creative Coalition from a New York-based entity to a national organization. www.thecreativecoalition.org