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Tony Plana

Actor, Ugly Betty / Education Advocate
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Biography

Tony Plana recently starred for four seasons as "Ignacio Suarez"—the widowed father to America Ferrera's "Betty"—in ABC's landmark, groundbreaking hit series Ugly Betty, for which he received the 2006 Golden Satellite Award from the International Press Academy, an Imagen Award, and an Alma Award. Ugly Betty was the first Spanish-speaking series to be adapted to English for a major American network and has received the highest ratings and the most critical acclaim of any Latino-based show in the history of television, most notably 11 Emmy nominations and a Golden Globe Award for best comedy. Previously, he also starred in Showtime's original series Resurrection Boulevard, and was nominated for two Alma Awards for best actor. Resurrection Boulevard was the first series to be produced, written, and directed by—as well as star—Latinos, and the most awarded series in Showtime's history, including an Alma Award for the best television series of 2002.

He has directed two feature film comedies, A Million to Juan with Paul Rodriguez and The Princess and the Barrio Boy, the first Latino family film to be produced by Showtime, starring Academy Award nominee Edward James Olmos and Maria Conchita Alonso. The film received two 2001 Alma Award nominations for Best Made for Television Movie and Best Ensemble Acting, and won the 2001 Imagen Award for Best Made for Television Movie. Plana's television episodic debut was 2001's "Resurrection Blvd." Saliendo, which garnered critical acclaim, receiving a GLAAD Award for best dramatic episode of the year and a SHINE Award nomination for its sensitive portrayal of sexuality. He has directed several episodes of Nickelodeon's hit series The Brothers Garcia, receiving a Humanitas Award nomination and winning the Imagen Award for its third season finale, "Don't Judge a Book by its Cover." He also directed the season finale of Greetings from Tucson for the Warner Brothers Network and the Halloween episode of Desperate Housewives for its final season on ABC.

As an actor Plana has starred in more than 60 feature films, including JFK, Nixon, Salvador, An Officer and a Gentleman, Lone Star, Three Amigos, Born in East L.A., El Norte, 187, Primal Fear, Romero, One Good Cop, Havana, The Rookie, Silver Strand, and Picking Up the Pieces with Woody Allen. Recently he has appeared in the action thriller Half Past Dead with Steven Seagal and Morris Chestnut; The Lost City with Andy Garcia, Bill Murray, and Dustin Hoffman; and Disney's highly acclaimed GOAL, The Dream Begins! Just released feature films include El Muerto, starring Wilmer Valderrama; Towards Darkness with America Ferrera; and AmericanEast with Tony Shalhoub. Upcoming features are America with Edward James Olmos and The Miracle of Spanish Harlem with Kate del Castillo.

On television he has starred in the Showtime original miniseries Fidel, as the notorious Cuban dictator Batista, as well as Showtime's Noriega: God's Favorite. He has portrayed leading roles in four critically acclaimed television series: Veronica Claire for Lifetime, Bakersfield P.D. for FOX, and Steven Bocco's Total Security and City of Angels for ABC. He has also appeared in such Emmy Award-winning programs as Sweet Fifteen, Drug Wars: The Camarena Story, The Burning Season: The Life and Death of Chico Mendes, and a special episode of L.A. Law, which also received an Imagen Award. Plana has portrayed recurring roles on the award-winning dramas Hill Street Blues, The West Wing (as US Secretary of State), John Doe, Commander in Chief, 24, and Desperate Housewives.

Plana is the co-founder and Executive Artistic Director of the EastLA Classic Theatre (ECT), a group comprised of multicultural, classically trained theatre professionals. For the past 20 years, the EastLA Classic Theatre has been dedicated to serving economically challenged communities through educational outreach programs for primary and secondary schools. Through the EastLA Classic Theatre, Plana has challenged the boundaries of teaching and learning language through an innovative approach called Language in Play (LIP). Working directly with language arts teachers, LIP utilizes the performing arts to impact literacy skills in academically at-risk and bilingual students.

As ECT's Artistic Director, Plana has defined its mission as primarily educational with a priority on creating access to classic dramatic literature for young minority audiences, emphasizing interpretation filtered through a multicultural, non-traditional perspective and presented with a contemporary, populist aesthetic. His provocative adaptations of classic Shakespearean plays are specifically conceived for students with little or no theatergoing experience. He adapts and directs these plays against curriculum-relevant historical backgrounds that foster interest in expressive speech and dramatic literature and serve as catalysts for the investigation of personal and interpersonal psychology, race and cultural relations, socio-political issues, and world history. For example: A zoot suit styled musical Romeo & Juliet, set during World War II with 1940s swing music and dance, features an East LA Latina "Juliet" and a West LA Anglo sailor "Romeo" struggling to define their love and identities in a wartime city sharply divided by racism, xenophobia, and economics.

Through the EastLA Classic Theatre, Plana has challenged the boundaries of teaching and learning language through an innovative approach called Language in Play (LIP). Working directly with language arts teachers, LIP utilizes the performing arts to impact literacy skills in academically at-risk and bilingual students. Evolved collaboratively with educators over the last 15 years, ECT's unique process of personalizing language through student playwriting and playacting based on autobiographical experience has proven more effective in achieving academic advancement and personal growth than established, traditional methods. It has consistently improved students' reading, writing, and speaking skills, resulting in higher attendance and lower drop-out rates and increased class participation and homework completion. It has also resulted in better test scores and strengthened self-confidence, and provides an engaging and meaningful school experience.

Other accolades include two Nosotros Golden Eagle Awards for outstanding work in film and television, as well as five Los Angeles Dramalogue Awards for Theatre. In 2005 he was honored as Educator of the Year by Loyola Marymount University's Department of Education and in 2006 received the Humanitarian of the Year Award from the Millennium Momentum Foundation at the Los Angeles Music Center. In 2008 he was awarded Loyola High School's Cahalan Award as a distinguished alumnus and a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Imagen Foundation. In 2009 the HOLA organization honored him with the Raul Julia HOLA Founders Award for excellence. Last year in 2010, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa selected him as worthy of one of the highest honors bestowed by the City of Los Angeles, The Dream of Los Angeles Award for his contributions to the media arts and education.

Tony Plana was educated at Loyola-Marymount University, where he earned a bachelor's degree through the honors program in literature and theater arts, graduating magna cum laude. He received his professional training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, England.

Topics

Teaching Our Teachers: The Power of Theater in the Classroom

Alzheimer’s Disease: Finding Help and Hope

Latino Today: My Journey from Cuba to My Life as an Actor

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