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For 'Breakthrough' star, a chance to keep heritage on-screen

NEW YORK (AP) — As a young actor in Hollywood Marcel Ruiz has something clear: He wants to keep representing Puerto Ricans and Latinos like himself on screen. "With any opportunity that I have, I always try to raise the flag," said the 15-year-old star of the movie "Breakthrough" with pride.

It is something he learned in part from the legendary actress Rita Moreno, who for three years played his grandmother in the now-canceled Netflix series "One Day at a Time." "She moved to the United States at a young age and after all these years she kept the language and every time she has the chance, whereas she's accepting an award or being recognized for her work, she always says she's Puerto Rican and she represents Puerto Rico," Ruiz said in a recent interview, speaking in Spanish.

Born in Old San Juan, Ruiz is the son of Puerto Rican filmmakers Carlitos Ruiz Ruiz and Mariem Pérez Riera and the grandson of comedian, author and producer Silverio Pérez. He moved with his parents to Los Angeles at the age of 9, and was cast as Alex Alvarez in "One Day at a Time," his first major role on screen.

Playing the lovable and funny son of Justina Machado's Penelope taught him not only about acting but also "about life, about work," said the actor, who had to learn to balance his job with his school load, "which made it even harder."

"One Day at a Time" debuted in 2017 as a reboot of sitcom that aired on CBS from 1975 until 1984, reimagined with a Latino family. Machado played a single Cuban-American mom and military veteran, and Moreno her mother. Its cancellation, announced in March, led to an outcry on social media and left many frustrated, Ruiz included.

"Not only for all the people involved in the show, but also the fans," he said, adding that "it should be normal by now to have a Latino family in a TV show." He said the series not only represented minorities on screen, but did it in "the most real way possible, and that's very important."

Ruiz can be currently seen on the big screen alongside Chrissy Metz in "Breakthrough," an inspirational movie based on real life events in which he plays a teen who nearly drowns in a lake. Metz play faithful adoptive mother who prays for him to come back from the brink of death. The film has earned more than $33 million in its first three weeks of release.

"She's the best," he said of the "This Is Us" actress. "She has that maternal instinct, even though she doesn't have children. I felt her as my mother. And... she made the experience way more fun, because she sings and she's very funny."

He was also grateful to discover a talent for drama within him, coming from a comedy series. Now that both projects are behind him, he's back into auditioning and excited of the opportunities ahead. "I loved the experience of making a movie and I would love to make another one," he said. And "I would love to work in a project with my parents."

Follow Sigal Ratner-Arias on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sigalratner .

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