In 2017, writer-director Tom Musca was casting for a new film when a Mason Gross School of the Arts student walked into the audition. Musca RC’73 immediately took an interest in the student, Tomas Roldan, and cast him in Chateau Vato, now streaming on HBO Max.
The comedic film, starring Paul Rodriguez, is about a working-class Latinx family that moves into a mansion belonging to a man who has recently died. The family, thinking it will be a temporary move, quickly gets used to their new luxurious lifestyle. Musca, who started working on the film in 2006, wanted to feature the stories of Latinx workers who he felt were often relegated to supporting roles.
Musca lived in Los Angeles for many years and now lives in Miami. In both cities, he was conscious of the importance of Latinx workers and the fact that they were underappreciated. “I thought this would be interesting character terrain for a film,” he says.
Musca, who grew up in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, says that Rutgers’ progressiveness and diversity helped expand his understanding of different cultures and backgrounds. “I was a kid from the suburbs and at Rutgers I was introduced to a bigger world. I interacted with an incredible range of people,” he says.
After graduating from Rutgers, he earned a master of arts degree at UCLA and went on to write and produce several films, including Stand and Deliver (which earned Oscar and Golden Globe nominations), Tortilla Soup, and Race. He’s written roles for such prominent actors as James Gandolfini RC’83, Edward James Olmos, Benicio del Toro, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Michael Madsen, and Paul Rodriguez.
Since the fall of 2010, Musca has taught creative writing, screenwriting, and film production at the University of Miami, mentoring students who show an interest in film careers. As a professor, Musca feels strongly about supporting his students. He visits the sets of his students’ films and creates workshops that parallel writers’ rooms. Musca says he makes sure that his students know he’s there for them.
“One of the things I tell my students is that my door is always open. We’re here for you,” says Musca. “Make the time to meet with your professors, bother them! That’s what they’re for.”
While casting Chateau Vato, Musca was looking for someone who could play the role of Nando, the teenage son of the family who moves into the mansion. Musca wanted to base Nando’s character on his own son, and Roldan MGSA’20 fit that role perfectly. Musca says that Roldan was naturally funny and always gave him more than he asked for.
“Tomas walked in and just his comportment, his physicality, and his attitude—he was not at all intimidated. He was close to perfect. He was totally cooperative and he had his stuff down immediately,” says Musca.
Roldan says Musca took him under his wing just as he does his University of Miami students, and he’s grateful to Musca for giving him an experience that taught him a lot about acting.
“He challenged me like a dad would challenge his son. It was wonderful. Tom spent a lot of time with me and I felt very respected by him,” says Roldan.
Chateau Vato was Roldan’s first film, and he recalls that during filming, he would often draw on what he learned at Rutgers from professors like Barbara Marchant and Kevin Kittle MGSA’04. “They were incredible professors,” says Roldan. “They taught me a lot, not only as an actor or as an artist, but as a human being.”
Musca is now working on a feature film based on a script he wrote, and a short film based on one of his stories is scheduled to be in production this summer.
“I like to tell my fellow filmmakers that I want to die by my sword,” Musca says, “meaning that I want to make films until I can no longer make films.”