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Arias steps out in 'Kingpin'
By Robert Bianco, USA TODAY
February 3, 2003
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Who's hot: Yancey Arias

Why now: On Broadway, he appeared to be Vietnamese. On film, he was buried beneath prosthetics in The Time Machine. Finally, on TV, Americans will get their first good look at Arias' face in NBC's Kingpin (Sunday, 10 p.m. ET/PT). The six-part, twice-a-week miniseries about Mexican drug dealers is one of the month's best-promoted and riskiest ventures.

The buzz: Kingpin has its flaws, but Arias' charismatic breakout performance isn't one of them.

Yancey Arias is no stranger to ethnic controversies.

For much of the past decade, this New York-born son of a Colombian father and Puerto Rican mother starred in Miss Saigon as Thuy, the heroine's Vietnamese ex-lover. His casting didn't exactly endear him to Asian actors, who weren't thrilled to see one of Broadway's few Asian roles go to a Latino. But eventually, Arias says, his dedication to the role won them over.

Sunday, the handsome 31-year-old actor faces another, possibly greater, ethnicity challenge. In Kingpin, the first prime-time network drama to ever boast a largely Latino cast, he plays Miguel Cadena, the Stanford-educated, business-minded leader of a family-run Mexican drug cartel.

Yes, Latinos have been clamoring to see themselves on TV. But is this how they want to be seen?

In the end, Arias says, the community will be thrilled to see a Latino actor "working in such an amazing role," despite the role's drug connections. "The drug world is just the backdrop of what's going on between these people. So I think people will definitely embrace this show."

And if they don't? "Whoever is dead set against something like this, well, wonderful, we're in a free country, you have that option to say what you want. But take that fury and make an amazing, challenging and high-conflict drama about Latino doctors and lawyers and police officers. ... I think it's a wonderful thing that we're doing here, and hopefully it will open doors for more exciting projects, and people will write the roles I've always dreamed of playing."

As befits a show about a family, Kingpin has turned into something of a family business for Arias. His wife, actress Anna Alvim, auditioned to play a prostitute, but producers didn't think she was right for the role. "They didn't think she was prostitute-y enough."

So instead, they cast her as his sister which, he admits, was sort of "weird." "But it was so much fun, because we have so many dimensions to our own relationship."

The road to Kingpin has been long for Arias, who alternated stints on Broadway, including a run in The Wild Party, with short-lived roles in TV shows. (He stole a car in the second episode of The Sopranos.) A singer since he was 12, he'd like to record an album. But he also wouldn't mind seeing Kingpin return as a regular series.

"I would love to have some kind of a run with this character. I would like to see where his journey goes, and see whether he's made an example of in our politically correct world."

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