Benjamin Bratt: 1963—: Actor Biography
Benjamin Bratt wasn't sure he wanted to be an actor, but for someone who thought that at least he could teach if his acting career didn't pan out, he has certainly built himself a promising career. He started out acting in a few small spots in movies, then landed the role that shot him to fame as Detective Reynaldo Curtis on Law & Order. Since then he has proven his worth in movies such as Miss Congeniality, Red Planet, Traffic, and Piñero.
Born December 16, 1963, in San Francisco, California, Benjamin Bratt was raised in that city by his Peruvian mother, a registered nurse originally from Lima, and his American sheet-metal-worker father of German-English descent. Bratt's parents divorced when he was four. His mother was left to raise five children on her own, and Bratt and his siblings and mother continued to stay close to each other. About his mother, Bratt told In Style magazine, "When we were kids she would pack us into the car and drive us all over the Southwest to different powwows. She was a very freewheeling, free-spirited woman, and that's a gift she gave to all us kids."
Acting ran in Bratt's family. According to the Hispanic Magazine website, "His grandfather worked in the New York theater and, according to Bratt, his anecdotes are part of the family history." Even with this family background, Bratt was not immediately drawn to acting. He went to Lowell High School in San Francisco where he was known as a jock, playing baseball, swimming, and wrestling his way through the four years. Bratt finally decided to try acting when his father suggested it to him as an option. He went to college at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and from there went to study at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. He belonged to the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity. He always figured that if his acting didn't pan out for him, he could teach.
When Bratt first arrived in Los Angeles after having completed his education, he was stunned by the Hollywood scene because he came from a world whose philosophy incorporated "blind casting," the casting of anyone into any part, regardless of ethnicity, the philosophy followed by the American Conservatory. That was not the way Hollywood ran, and it took a while for Bratt to navigate through the stereotypical Hispanic roles. He told Hispanic Online, "When I first came to Los Angeles they immediately tried to pigeonhole me … I even had an experience where I was auditioning for the role of Brad Gardner in one movie and after I got the role they changed my character's name to Dave Ramirez. I said 'Why did you change my name?' and they said, 'Who is going to buy you as Brad Gardner?' This is the kind of small-mindedness that exists in the industry."
Bratt made his television debut in the TV movie Chains of Gold, where he played alongside John Travolta. He was then seen in Demolition Man in 1993. He also won one of the lead roles in the 1993 movie Bound by Honor, a movie about a Chicago gang. In 1994 he was in two movies, The River Wild and Clear and Present Danger. The role that made him known across the industry and potentially even the country, however, was his portrayal of detective Reynaldo Curtis in the award-winning series Law and Order, which he started in 1995. It was a good break for Bratt and is the role that All Movie Guide Online said "made him famous." After leaving the show in 1999, Bratt moved back to San Franciso to be closer to his family and to concentrate on making films.
In 1997 Bratt co-starred in the movie Follow Me Home, an independent film directed by his brother, Peter. It was the first film done by his and brother Peter's new production company, Chacras Filmworks. From there he was involved in a run of films whose parts were all as different from the previous one as can be. In 2000 he was seen in the critically-acclaimed movie Traffic, in which he played a drug lord. At the same time he played the romantic lead as a comedic and loyal FBI agent in the romantic comedy Miss Congeniality alongside Sandra Bullock. He was also seen opposite Madonna and Rupert Everett in the movie The Next Best Thing. In 2001 Bratt took on what was probably the most challenging role of his career to date as the Puerto Rican playwright Miguel Piñero in Piñero. For the role he lost 17 pounds so he could more accurately portray the drug-addicted, chain-smoking man. In 2003 Bratt was nominated for a Golden Globe award for his performance in the movie. According to All Movie Guide Online, "Bratt's uncanny evocation of troubled … writer and drug casualty Miguel Piñero attracted early dark horse Oscar buzz."
In 2002 Bratt married actress Talisa Soto, something that shocked Hollywood because he had just gotten out of a highly publicized four-year relationship with Julia Roberts. Bratt met his wife on the set of the movie Piñero. About the relationship, Bratt told People Weekly, "It's like being in love for the first time. It has also been very quiet and low-key, which has suited us both." Bratt and Soto have one child, Sophia Rosalinda. In that same year he won the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors Rita Moreno award for acting excellence. And it would appear that there is no stop in sight for Bratt. About the future, Bratt told Time magazine, "I have no particular career agenda. Your job as an actor is to stay employed." And it is doubtful that this will be a problem for Benjamin Bratt.
Demolition Man, 1993.
Bound by Honor, 1993.
The River Wild, 1994.
Law & Order (television series), 1995-99.
Miss Congeniality, 2000.
Red Planet, 2000.
The Next Best Thing, 2000.
Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television, Volume 29, Gale Group, 2000.
Advocate, March 5, 2002, p. 41.
American Theatre, May 2002, p. 9.
In Style, May 1, 1999, p. 139.
Interview, May 2000, p. 122.
Latina, April-May 1997, p. 34; October 1999, p. 86.
People Weekly, May 10, 1999, p. 96; April 29, 2002, p. 60.
Time, January 21, 2002, p. 126.
Variety, December 18, 2000, p. 26.
"A New Chapter for Benjamin Bratt," Hispanic Online, http://www.hispaniconline.com/vista/marbratt.htm (March 26, 2003).
"Benjamin Bratt," All Movie Guide, http://www.allmovie.com (March 26, 2003).
"Benjamin Bratt," Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com (March 26, 2003).
—Catherine Victoria Donaldson