Cruz Abelita Dishes on Playing Justin in Step Up and His Next Top-Secret Disney Role
13-year-old Cruz Abelita may be young, but he's already had quite the acting career—and it's clear he's just getting started.
His credits include Netflix's Christmas on the Square with Dolly Parton and the 2020 film Words on Bathroom Walls, but perhaps his most notable role has been playing Justin Jimenez, Davis's little brother, on Step Up. With the third season of the series airing this year on STARZ, we got the chance to chat with Cruz all about his love of acting, working with Carlito Olivero and an upcoming Disney role he wasn't able to reveal. Keep reading to discover everything he shared with us.
Sweety High: When did you discover your passion for performing? Was there any specific a-ha moment that made you realize it was the path for you?
Cruz Abelita: My big sister, Sophia Abelita, started acting at age 5 and I wanted to join her. The first movie I worked on was Adam Sandler's Blended. My mom wanted to see if I liked being on set before signing me to an agency. I had so much fun and I remember getting to hold baby zoo animals.
After that, I wanted lines, so my mom submitted me to East Coast Talent Agency. Soon after, I also signed with Crackerjack Management and Coast to Coast Talent in L.A. They have all kept me really busy!
SH: Can you tell us a little bit about your character, Justin, on Step Up?
CA: Justin is a cool kid. He's been moved around so much but he trusts his older brother with his life. He knows he will be protected. Justin loves everyone and just wants to be part of a family. He has to be mature and go with the flow. Justin adores his big brother and wants Davis to shine!
Also read about: Actress and Singer Kayden Muller-Janssen Talks New Music and The Villains of Valley View
SH: Justin has to deal with some real challenges, with his older brother doing his best to keep him safe and happy. How do you get into the mindset to play a character with a life so different from your own?
CA: I have a great acting coach. Julia Jones has worked with me on so many emotional scenes. I'm a very empathetic person so we talk about how difficult or sad situations, in my own life, have made me feel. We talk about Justin's hardships and even come up with backstories. Julia taught me to take a moment before filming and really visualize and feel my emotions in a safe way. On set, I sit quietly before a scene and let Justin in. The good times and bad times. Then I can give Justin a truthful performance.
SH: What has it been like working with Carlito Olivero as Davis on the show?
CA: He took me under his wing on day one. He truly feels like my older brother, since I don't have one. He's always checking on me on set and we have such a good time! He really is one of the kindest actors I know.
SH: Do you have any favorite memories from the set of Step Up?
CA: Funny memory: We were rehearsing a scene with dominos. They told us to be careful not to knock them over until we were rolling. Welp—it accidentally got knocked over. None of us touched it but the ground shook and away it went. We all laughed so hard but it took the props department an hour to reset it! They played this as a blooper at the wrap party and everyone laughed so hard!
Also read about: Martie Blair Shares How Millie Bobby Brown Helped Her Become Young Eleven for Stranger Things
SH: You actually had a role in the new Jumanji movie until the scene was cut—do you have a favorite memory from the set? Do you feel like you learned anything as an actor about the experience?
CA: Fun fact: They kept the name a secret so I didn't know that I booked Jumanji right away. When I went in for a fitting I saw pictures of The Rock, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, etc. on the wall. I turned to my mom and said, "Is this Jumanji?" It was! It was such a massive sound stage and it was like being transported to another world. They did scans of my body for an avatar and everything. Unfortunately, the scene was cut but I had a premiere for friends and family and some of the leads sent messages that we played on the big screen. Sometimes that happens. They cut scenes to make the film shorter. I was really sad but it happens to everyone.
SH: Is there anything at all that you can tease about your role in an upcoming Disney movie?
CA: I can tell you that it comes out in December 2023! It was the first movie where I got to do my own stunts! It's going to make everyone laugh!
Curious about the twins that play Holly Wheeler on Stranger Things? Click HERE to read our interview with Tinsley and Anniston Price.