Becoming a dishwasher in a fancy restaurant is kind of like starting out in the mailroom at a major Hollywood agency: there’s nowhere to go but up — or out. In a way, Guillermo Zapata has done both.
The co-owner of SUR (which stands for “Sexy, Unique Restaurant”) was already attracting diners like Madonna and Leonardo Dicaprio long before he and his colleagues were approached about becoming the venue for Bravo’s Vanderpump Rules in 2012. Since then, however, he has stepped away from the reality TV series to spend more time in front of other cameras. This includes ad campaigns for Mercedes Benz and Chase Bank, as well as acting roles such as Cat’s Revenge and the TV series Asesino, which will debut next year.
Along the way, the man occasionally described as “The Spanish George Clooney,” has learned a few things about fame, fortune and chasing a career in the arts, which he shared with SWAGGER during a phone conversation from his perch in Beverly Hills.
Rule No. 1: You Can Win The Race No Matter Where The Starting Line Begins
“As an accident, the first option I had in the U.S. was a position as a dishwasher. It was not in my plan,” he says. “But you take that and you put all your energy into that. You focus and try to do the best at what you do. I was the best dishwasher, but I knew that would be temporary as long as I kept growing myself. If I learned how to speak English, I would leave the kitchen, become a busboy. You keep moving yourself and in a positive way, and the other things come together.”
The proof? Zapata had his own restaurant about six years after that initial dishwasher gig.
Rule No. 2: Stay Down To Earth, Even Among The Stars
Tom Cruise? He’s dined at SUR. Paula Adbul? She’s dined at SUR. Over the years, Zapata has seen them all, including many encounters when he was personally taking their order, not just posing for a party picture alongside them.
“Nothing came for free for them either. They all earned what they have. They worked hard for it,” he says. “A lot of waiters, they all have the fantasy of, ‘Oh, maybe Leonardo Dicaprio will put me in his movies.’ I’ve found it’s better when you’re around celebrities to just absorb the energy next to you and use it to grow. You always need people around you to grow, but they have to have the right attitude.”
Rule No. 3: Know Where You Should Shine, And Where You Should Gracefully Fade Into The Background
For all its success — and for all his ambitions as a performer — you don’t see a lot of Zapata onscreen on Vanderpump Rules.
“When you have a background as an actor, it is powerful and beautiful to create characters. On a reality show is much easier to say, you know what, I’m going to put myself in there,” he explains. “Mostly it is you, you’re not someone else. I was never comfortable with that. When it’s a reality show, they want to see a little bit of the good part but also the dark side of your life.”
Rule No. 4: You’re Already Auditioning Your Next Big Break, Whether You Know It Or Not
Zapata is particularly excited about Asesino, a series about an assassin in which he’ll play a detective. The shoot took Zapata back to his native Argentina — an unexpected way of coming full circle after initially leaving for bigger things in the United States.
“If you’re organized and you’re working hard enough, you keep having opportunities. Like with food, the reality TV series, all this stuff. Life is a puzzle,” he says. “Maybe what you’re shooting will take a month or a year. It will happen, you need to prepare yourself and be ready because the moment will come.”
Rule No. 5: Instead Of Looking For A Starring Vehicle, Treat Your Life Like You’re Driving A Vehicle With Other People Inside
Zapata often turns to metaphors that involve travel and transportation when he talks about his work or life. This includes running a restaurant, which he likens to an airplane. “You’re the pilot, but you’re in the background and nobody sees you — what’s important is what’s happening to them, the experience you’re having and where you’re taking them,” he says. As for downtime, he describes it as a smooth-sailing ship thanks to his wife Nathalie and his two children. “For me, at my age, 49, made me feel like I’m back in my early 30s,” he says. “My family is my motor.”