Richard Cabral isn't defined by the tattoos that cover his neck. But, for years, his intricate ink defined the kind of roles he played.
"I've always been the bad guy," Cabral says of his guest-starring roles on shows including Southland, Chicago Fire and Body of Proof.
That all changed with the second season of the ABC anthology series American Crime. Cabral plays Sebastian De La Torre, a computer tech who helps a victim of sexual assault. "To be just a regular guy was life-changing to my career."
It takes about an hour for makeup to cover the ink. But Cabral would never consider having his tattoos removed. "I got these before I even knew I was going to become an actor. They're part of me."
The son of an alcoholic mother and an absentee father, the Los Angeles native entered the gang life at an early age. By the time he was 20, he was facing life in prison for attempted murder. He was ultimately sentenced to five years. Still, the experience changed him. "You don't go out the same way you went in. I knew that I wanted something different."
He turned to Homeboy Industries, an organization dedicated to helping former gang members change their lives. When the executive producer of Southland came looking for guest stars, Cabral was cast, and a new career was born.
To his complete surprise, Cabral was nominated for an Emmy last year for the first season of American Crime (he played drug dealer Hector Tonz). "I had so many emotions going through me. Nobody from my community or my family had even come into this industry. We had never known anybody successful like that. For this to be happening to me, it was a bit much."
Today, in addition to his busv acting career. Cabral has a production company and is producing Fighting Shadows, a one-man show about his life. He also speaks to groups of young people in gang-ridden communitioc
"Art saved my life. Storytelling saved my life," he says. "That's my message."