Jason Genao Of ‘On My Block’ Talks Growing Up On His Block And His Secret To Making Bomb Empanadas
Netflix’s coming-of-age comedy “On My Block” has been steadily gaining an audience by the passionate word-of-mouth of fans, and a string of 🔥 GIFS on social media.
Jason Genao, one of the show’s stars, won over audiences with his character Ruby Martinez’s witty one-liners, his depth of self-awareness, and his hilarious dance moves with co-star Jessica Marie Garcia over the first two seasons of the show.
Now, if you haven’t seen “On My Block,” we will have a few spoilers ahead for seasons 1 and 2, now that season 3 is officially out.
Before season 3 started streaming, mitú spoke with Genao in an exclusive phone interview to see how he got the inspiration for some of the show’s most pivotal scenes amd how the fictional Los Angeles neighborhood of Freeridge compares to his hometown. Oh, and he shared his secret to making some delicious empanadas.
Genao’s character Ruby left us shook after the ending of season 1.
A tweet Genao posted on his personal Twitter account before the airing of season 2 said, “Remember that time I had you guys thinking I was dead for a whole year. Ahh commitment.” That hit some fans in the feels—but Genao said he knew he had to keep the script’s enthusiasm going.
Oh, we see you Genao, he’s got a little of a 😈 mischievous side—sounds like someone we know on OMB?
“I think in the back of my head, I knew if I ruined it, season 2 wouldn’t be good. All the suspense was held in the majority of my character whether he was alive or not, [it was a] pivotal story arch. If that would have been ruined, there would not have been as much enthusiasm,” Genao said over the phone with mitú.
“I wanted to keep this suspense in the show as great as everyone else did. I lived off of reading everyone’s tweets—seeing them all suffer for the year,” Genao added.
When it comes to diving into his character of Ruby, he goes all in, especially when it came to handling Ruby’s PTSD following the events of the first season.
“I did my research online with what happens with people who have PTSD. My cousin was shot twice. For me that kind of hit—PTSD comes in the form of however you are as a person,” Genao said of how he was able to understand the effects of PTSD.
“I had to take Ruby as a 14-year-old innocent person, who lives where he lives but never thought it would affect him,” Genao said about the performance.
Tapping into his own personal experiences was also a vital part of capturing the trauma Ruby went through after being shot at his crush’s Quinceañera party.
“[I] take traumatic experiences and bring them to the forefront—bring real life emotions to the performance. As an actor that is a gift—you hold on to them because of the power they can bring to the scene. I take those things and hold on to them because I need them for my job,” Genao said.
As layered as Ruby is when it comes to dealing with life’s trauma, he’s also a 14-year-old kid navigating the same exciting ‘firsts’ of teen life—first crush, first kiss, and the first time being a teen entrepreneur.
Ruby is a character that has it together—he can do his taxes, he has binders for plans, he has choreographed Quince dances.
Genao assures he was *not* that put-together as a teen growing up in his Dominican family.
“I was a mess as a teen. My mom was a stay-at-home mom, I relied on her. I definitely was not super put-together as a teenager,” Genao said with a laugh.
Since Genao seems to embody the characteristics of Ruby down to a button-down T (with polo shorts and a backpack), it might come as a surprise to fans that he actually first read for the role of Cesar Diaz.
“I was sent Cesar and then an hour later [they] sent me the slides for Ruby. I was more intrigued in Ruby because he had so much to say. They said you have to perfect it, so I went into this study mode and I got it down,” he said about landing the role.
Hmmm…maybe Genao and Ruby share some characteristics after all. INSERT NERD FACE EMOJI
When it comes to Genao’s hometown of Jersey City, there are some similarities to his character’s fictional home of Freeridge.
“Me and my brothers, we all went to the same high school, there were a lot of gangs. I remember my brother bringing people with cuts and scars and blood and I was like ‘Jesus.’ As time progressed, it got better, I guess they gentrified my neighborhood,” Genao reminisced.
Much like Freeridge, he said Jersey City also had its teens having fun despite the violence around them.
“It always had a festival in the summer, and had a carnival. It was really freeing, my mom was never like we HAD to be careful. I was 11-years-old walking to friends’ houses,” he continued.
Growing up in Jersey City also helped Genao appreciate a sense of diversity not seen in every bedroom community across the country.
“Jersey City was super free and so diverse. [When I see] issues like racism or hatred of a certain community [in other places], I was baffled, that wasn’t an issue in my community. It wasn’t until I left that I realized how harsh the rest of America was,” Genao had to say about seeing a lack of diversity in some communities.
OMB’s success with both audiences and critics can help to change the narrative of diversity in places that might not experience it as much in daily life.
The show is proof that now diversity is having a movement—not just a moment.
“It garners more hope—not false hope—a secure hope. We are not just a diverse show, but a successful diverse show,” Genao proudly says.
Off-camera, Genao likes to cook in his spare time and he does not come to play when it comes to making some B-O-M-B empanadas.
“Sazón Goya and mojo—don’t play with me. Me with my Sazón,” Genao chuckled as he recounted a story where he was browsing the aisles of a market in LA, trying desperately to find the secret ingredient to his empanadas.
Of course, los mercados came through when he needed it and he found his Goya packet at a Latino market. So what’s ahead when it comes to his projects on camera?
“There are lots of things I have my eyes on, you never know. There are things coming,” he cryptically said.
Looks like Genao’s fans will be patiently anticipating what’s to come on OMB season 4 and beyond.