We’ve been industry friends for almost twenty years and I always look forward to hearing about his new projects and listening to his adventures and observations on the ever-changing entertainment industry.
We had just wrapped a great photo shoot for the 100th Issue of Urban Latino. Grabbing a couple of plates of food prepared by Chef Alex Garcia, Uly took me through the scenes that made up the first 4 decades of his life…Enjoy, I sure did.
1971 - Bronx, New York City
Ulysses “Uly” Terrero was born on August 16, 1971 at New York Polyclinic Hospital in Manhattan to Zoila & Manuel Terrero. He is the middle son with an older brother, Sandy, younger brother, Jessy, and a sister, Leslie. The Terreros were a hard working family. Mom worked at the New York City Tourism office and Dad worked two jobs. During the day he was a super in a building in the Bronx and at night, he worked in the maintence department at CBS.
1977 - The Lights Go Out...
“One of my earliest memories was playing outside in the summer of 1977. It was a hot summer night and all of sudden, the street lights went out. Jessy and I were scared out of our minds. We heard glass breaking and people yelling and running around everywhere. Out of nowhere, I see a light coming from a flashlight and I hear my father’s voice. He was like a super hero saving us from the looting mob and chaos. It turned out to be the city wide black out of 1977. I recently asked my father what the hell we were doing in the park at 10pm…weren’t we like 5 and 6 years old. His reply was, ‘kids grew up faster back in those days. La Doña, the lady that’s always in her window and keeps an eye on all the kids in the neighborhood, was watching you.’”
1978-1984 Catholic School vs. Public School
“I didn’t realize how hard my parents worked to put us in Catholic School. It made them proud that their kids would get a good education. As a parent now, I really have a sense of what a good education can mean, but as a kid, I hated the fact that we had to wear uniforms and were the targets of abuse from the public school kids. It seemed to be a favorite past time for them to beat up the students at Saint Angela Merici School. The worst day by far was Halloween. That’s when they would throw eggs. One year, they climbed over the fence and attacked us on our own playground. We ran for our lives. Those damn uniforms made us easy targets.”
Visiting the Heights / Jumping Rooftops
“We would visit our cousins that lived in Washington Heights and play games like cocolibio with our cousin, Raymond Polanco. Two teams, 7-10 guys on each team… you would have to chase the other team members all around the block, in and around the buildings. My cousin was crazy. He would run up to the rooftops and when the other team chased him, he would jump from rooftop to rooftop on 177th Street and St. Nicholas. If you fell, you would not make it alive. One time, I gave in to peer pressure and jumped. I cleared the first building, but he kept jumping. I followed him until the last building. It was almost double the leap. My cousin jumped without fear. I jumped too, but looking back, we were crazy to risk our necks just to play a game.”
1981 - Movin' on Up, like the Jeffersons - South Side Jamaica, Queens, NYC
In the mid-80’s, South Jamaica was hit hard by prostitution, the crack epidemic, and cop shootings. It was a predominately African-American neighborhood and as one of the few Latino families in the area, the Terrreros had some adjusting to do.
“When I was 10, my parents moved us from an apartment in the Bronx to a house in Jamaica, Queens. It was three floors and had a backyard. 162 Hillside Ave. to be exact. It seemed like a nice block. I thought we had made it. One morning, while I was playing in the backyard, I found what looked like deflated balloons all over the place.
The real estate agent never told my parents that the house was at the center of the area known for prostitution. Those deflated balloons were condoms that had been discarded after working girls serviced the Johns. The same block was mentioned in a song by LL Cool J, “Bristol Hotel”. My dad quickly built a fence to keep the prostitutes and pimps off his property. My brothers and I would sneak to the window to observe the activity on the block. It was better than late night cable,” says Uly.
Can't be Stopped....
As hip hop became the rock and roll for urban youth, every kid growing up in the 80’s was either an aspiring MC, b-boy, graffiti artist or DJ. The Terrero boys chose to form a break dancing crew. Uly would go by the name, King Uly and Jessy, as Big Jess. They named their crew, Can’t Be Stopped (aka CBS), to take advantage of all the t-shirts, hats, and jackets their dad would bring home from his job. “We looked fresh. We had all this CBS gear to make us look official,” explains Uly.
CBS performed at the 7th & 8th grade talent show that took place at Presentation Grammar School. It was a big moment for the crew. Before they took the stage, a rival crew began to bang on the windows. Glancing over, the members of CBS saw the words, “CBS SUCKS,” written backwards on the windows so they could read it. They paid the prank no mind and went ahead and “killed the performance.” Their routine got them some street fame and they would later meet the legendary crew, Dynamic Rockers, who would eventually make CBS an official part of Baby Dynamic. For two years, they would go to clubs like Roxy and Roseland to battle other crews.
1985 - Holy Cross...Run Uly Run
Uly’s mother, trying to instill discipline and structure in her son, made him go to a very strict all-boy high school, Holy Cross. This time, not only did he have to wear a uniform, but the students actually wore business attire, which included a jacket and tie. It was Uly’s worst nightmare. He did everything he could to get kicked out but, survived the first three years.
“Holy Cross was 98% White in the 1980’s. The students did not hide their racism. They would say things like, ‘I never had a spic friend.’ It wasn’t 100% their fault; it was the times. I tried to fit in by playing baseball, but Holy Cross was a Division 1 school. The kids were 6’ tall and I was only 4’11” as a freshman. Baseball was out and I would have been crushed playing football, so I joined the track team. I ran cross-country in my sophomore year and was ranked 7th in the state as varsity. Shout out to may track coach brother Bradegon. I owe my confidence to the experiences at Holy Cross. I also met and became friends with some great guys who I am still friends with today,” explains Uly.
“So when my mother got a letter saying I was getting expelled, it devastated her. She immediately went to the dean’s office and explained to him how hard they had worked to pay tuition. After a few minutes, she just broke down crying. I don’t think they had ever seen anyone lose it like that.”
The Dean allowed Uly to finish his senior year on the condition he complete detention all year long. While the other students were being dismissed at 11:00 am, Uly would have to take extra religion classes until 2pm and then complete his daily detention.
The nuns would tell the other students, “Look at Uly a good example of what you don’t want to be.” Nonetheless, he stuck it out and graduated, making his parents, especially his mom, very happy.”
The Gift that changed Everything
My mother, always the motivator, bought us for Christmas, the one thing that would change my life forever…a VHS camera. If I did well in school, I was allowed to use it. Once I pressed play, everything changed.” proclaims Terrero. “We started making our own movies and everyone in the family got involved. Super Uly was our first home movie. The other film was Uly on Elm Street we even had special effects and in once scene we had Freddy Krueger fighting Jason from Friday the 13th. Sandy was the DP and my cousin, Alberto, helped out. I still have it somewhere,” explains Uly.
The video camera had a strong impact on Uly. He began to consider going to school to study film making. His parents told him if he could name five Latinos that had made it big in the film industry, he could change his major, leaving his business studies behind. The only name he could come up with was Desi Arnaz from I Love Lucy.
1990 We Got JUICE
A few weeks later, there was a casting call on the radio, looking for extras to be in a Paramount Picture directed by Ernest R. Dickerson, who had worked with Spike Lee. At first Uly thought it scam, and did not bother going to the casting call, but his brother, cousins, and friends went. When they got a “call back,” Uly crashed the casting and met the director. He got the gig, which paid only $35 a day for extra work, but in his mind, he had gotten his big break.
“I will never forget the first day on the set. All the lights, trucks, dollies, and walkies…it looked so official. I thought I was in a dream,” explains Uly. Their scenes consisted of rolling dice, acting the tough dangerous crew in the neighborhood. Their big moment came when they jumped Roland Bishop, the character played by Tupac Shakur. Uly was listed as a featured extra on the day’s call sheet. He would become very familiar with film making terminology later on in his career. “We became cool with Tupac, Omar Epps, Vincent Laresca, and Treach,” says Uly. The film was called Juice, and it put me on the path to everything else I would do later on. Juice was made for $5,000,000 and was released on December 31, 1992. It became an urban classic with box office revenues of $20,000,000. It was considered a huge success.
OPP - Naughty by Nature
Before Juice was released, Uly had his first brush with fame when he appeared in the video for the hit song “OPP” by rap group Naughty by Nature. His cameo was recorded while he was having a real life argument with his girlfriend at the time. They shot them making up and it made the final cut of the video. When the video came out in late 1991, it was a huge hit and Uly’s cameo made him an overnight celebrity in the neighborhood. The video played every day on Ralph McDaniel’s Video Music Box and YO! MTV Raps and became a club banger. It was then that Uly realized that a music video was a crucial marketing tool for promoting an artist.
Brothers Making Noise
“Since high school I tried rapping just for fun, but in 1990 I started to take it serious, Jessy and I formed a duo Probable Cause. Jessy went by the moniker, Big Jess, and I went by Phly You. We began to perform at venues like Lion’s Den and colleges like Hofstra University. We even got to go on the legendary hip hop radio show, Bobbito and Stretch Armstrong. A year later in 1991, we produced a demo and began shopping it around to music labels. A Rap label showed interest and asked us to submit a second demo. It was clear, however, that they did not know how to market a Latino rap group. We went ahead and submitted the third demo and this time, they told us they wanted us to sound more like Onyx or Das EFX. At this point, we knew they just didn’t get it. Our short-lived rap career ended with the discouraging realization that the labels had no idea what to do with US,” explains Uly.
Not Latino Enough
Mr. Terrero caught the acting bug and started to go on casting calls, but soon realized he was not “Latino enough.” At the time, most directors thought being Latino was being a “vato loco.” They were not aware of the nuances of the U.S. Latino community. All they knew was the stereotype of the gang banger - bald headed, baggy jean, bandana-wearing, chulos.
“On the set of the film, Kiss of Death, starring David Caruso, Samuel L. Jackson, and Nicolas Cage, Jessy and I were the thugs that put the weapons in the car. The director kept telling us to ’Be a little more street. You know how they do.’ I didn’t know if he wanted us to grind our teeth or foam at the mouth. It was so funny to me,” explains Uly.
Uly’s next few acting gigs were drug dealer #9, heroine addict #2, and rapist #3. Most of the lines were along the lines of, “Gimme yo’ shit, bitch!!!” He got to the point where he’d speak the line in different levels of street…with a Spanish accent or a West Indian accent, more hood or less hood. It became second nature, but he wondered if this was what it was all about.
“There are people who are angels in my career two of those individuals are Tracy Vilar and Victor De Jesus who meet on the set of Juice. Being one of only 20 Latinos in show business on the east coast they embraced me and Jessy and introduced us to all the other young Latinos working in the film Industry. Winsome Sinclair was another angel in my life she actually casted in us in Juice and other projects. A director Darnell Martin was also extremely critical part of my career early on.
1994 - I Like it Like That
While on a trip to Canada, pursuing his last chance at becoming a rapper, Uly didn’t let his family know where he had gone. When he got home, his mother was furious that he had disappeared. She informed him that someone from Columbia Pictures had been calling, looking for him non-stop. They were looking for Latino talent and Associate Producer, Victor De Jesus, had thought of him for the project. By the time Uly called back, the film had been cast, but there was a spot for an intern in the production department. He had a full time job as a crew chief for Pan Am Airlines. He was well paid and could fly anytime he wanted with his “buddy pass.”
Victor explained to Uly it was decision time. Either you reach for your dream or remain at Pan Am. “I asked God for a sign and it came in the form of a pink slip. The airline went out of business. So I became a casting intern in a production with a 98% Latino cast and a plot set in the Bronx, New York,” explains Uly.
When the call went out to cast the film, there was a real lack of Latino talent and Uly quickly realized where his niche was. He did a good job on Black Out (later renamed I Like It Like That) directed by Darnell Martin. He was hired as an assistant to Yolanda Geralds. Shortly after, he began doing assistant extra casting for movies like New Jersey Drive, Above the Rim, Kids, Sunset Park, Ghost Star, and The Opportunist, just to name a few.
1995 - T&T Casting
Yolanda Geralds, Uly’s mentor, decided to pursue more producing jobs and would let Uly handle the casting jobs that came in. “Yolanda told me one day that I was ready to do my own thing. I started a company called Terrero & Terrero Casting (T&T Casting). I soon realized Hollywood studios were not trying to give jobs to an “urban” guy with a bit of slang accent. They would not trust me with budgets similar to those I had already handled on other projects,” explains Uly.
To survive, Uly started casting for music videos. One of his earliest jobs was for Timdog, Talib Kewli, Patra, and Ini Kamoze called “Here Comes the Hotstepper.” The jobs paid little or no money, but he built a body of work. Word got out that T&T could deliver the goods when it came to talent for videos.
Uly landed an extra casting gig for a film called Minotaur (Columbia/HBO) directed by Jonathan Tammuz, who in 1990 had been nominated for an Oscar for his short film, Childeater. Adam Rodriguez (CSI Miami, Ugly Betty) auditioned for one of the parts and they built a brother-like friendship.
The first film Uly did the principle casting for was Nestor Miranda’s Destination Unknown, which starred Yancy Arias (The Division) and Lisa Vidal (The Event, Southland). This film would win the Golden Starfish Award at the Hamptons International Film Festival and was nominated for a 1998 ALMA Award for Outstanding Independent Feature Film.
1997 - Go to Guy
In the late 90’s, hip hop went commercial and Uly became the “go to guy” for casting music videos. The budgets got much bigger and reflected movie-like production. Uly and his company, T&T Casting, had come into its’ own. During that time, he did jobs for artists such as Redman, Wu-Tang Clan, LL Cool Jay and Bad Boy Records.
The mother ship landed with “You’re All I Need,” by Mary J. Blige, featuring Method Man and directed by Diana Martel. After that, T&T Casting got work from mainstream artists like Christina Aguilera, Mariah Carey, and Bush.
Madison Avenue Man
The world of advertising came calling in the form of a NIKE commercial directed by Paul Hunter. It featured street basketball players dribbling to a beat. Paul Hunter fought for Uly to get the casting gig and it was by far his biggest pay day to date. The Nike Freestyle TV spots where hugely successful, won numerous awards, and generated incredible buzz in the streets and on basketball courts everywhere. Shortly thereafter, he worked on commercials for Reebok and Adidas. “The paydays on commercials are so much bigger and better than videos and independent films,” proclaims Uly.
On October 17, 1997, while celebrating his new-found success, Uly was throwing one of his famous boat parties. This particular party was on a luxury yacht and there where hundreds of people on board. Fat Joe had just bought out the bar so there was a lot of drinking going on. The party continued until early the next day. At the end of the night, Uly volunteered to drive a couple of people home. As he was exiting the Long Island Expressway, a truck slammed into his car flipping it over 5 times. Uly was in a coma for six days. “For 32 days after my coma, I didn’t remember anything or anyone. Then one day, while in physical therapy, I was doing a mental exercise, mixing dough in a bowl and suddenly, my memory snapped back. I looked at my chest and head and was freaked out by the number of stitches I saw. Leslie was yelling at me, telling me I was careless and should be ashamed of putting my parents through all that stress.” As if things couldn’t any get worse, while Uly was recovering at home, there was a fire that burnt down the house. At first everyone blamed him, but it was later discovered that the boiler had blown up.
1998-1999 - The Birth and Rebuild
“After my accident, it took me a little while to get back to work. I slowly started to get back on top of my game. Besides my accident, the one event that changed me to the core was the birth of my daughter, Natalia, who was like a New Year’s gift. She was born on January 2, 1999. She brings peace into my life and is the reason I get up every day to do my thing,” says Uly.
It didn’t take Mr. Terrero long to get back on top. By the beginning of 2000, he was casting commercials for major brands like Coca Cola, Mountain Dew, I Pod, and Sprite. The music video side of the business also came in steady. He was casting videos for Madonna, Britney Spears, Shania Twain, and Snoop Dog. As a father, he was now motivated by someone other than himself.
2001 - Prison Song, The Studio World
While working on the New Line Cinema film, Prison Song, directed by Darnell Martin and produced by Robert De Niro, Uly got a crash course on the world of the Hollywood studio system. It turned out to be full of suits and things were done by the book. He also dealt with talent managers and agents who were extremely difficult to work with. “I would call a manager or an agent and they would be so rude. Some would even just hang up on me,” explains Uly.
2004 - Soul Plane
“Sheila Jaffe, another one of my angels, was the casting agent responsible for Entourage, The Sopranos, and most recently, HBO’s How to Make it in America. I would call her for advice. She walked me through “deal memos” and really saved me a few times. When Jessy landed (no pun intended) the Soul Plane gig, Sheila fought for me to do the casting and shared the casting credit. This was a truly unselfish act on her part.” MGM put up $16,000,000 to make Soul Plane and because of bootlegging, the movie was in urban neighborhoods two months before the release, which hurt box office receipts. “To this day, when I’m at someone’s house and I see a copy of the movie, it’s usually a bootleg version.” Although Soul Plane did not do well in theatres, it plays continuously on cable networks and has become an urban classic.
2006 - ATL
Uly’s next big gig was casting Jellybean, a film directed by Chris Robinson, who had 200 music videos to his credit including videos for Diddy, Alicia Keys, and Usher. The film would take place in Atlanta, Georgia and was loosely based on the life of music producer, Dallas Austin. The film was written by Antwone Fisher, boasted a screenplay by Tina Gordon Chism, and was produced by Will Smith’s company, Overbrook. “I was excited to work on a movie that was going to be great, but production got postponed because a similar movie went into production, Roll Bounce, starring Little Bow Wow. A year later, I find out I was replaced by Kim Hardin who had just come off casting Hustle & Flow. I was broken- hearted. Shortly after, I was asked to help with the casting. They had fallen short and I turned them down. Chris called me and I told them if they tripled my rate and provided accommodations, I would consider it. They came back with an offer I couldn’t refuse and I got to work,” explains Terrero. The film was renamed ATL, received good reviews and was a box office success..
2007-2008 - Good Fellas
“I teamed up with A-Love and started a production company called Good Fellas Enterprises. We opened an office on 20th Street and 5th Ave. and remodeled for it $50,000. We quickly got to work and I started to direct videos,” explains Uly. He did a video for “Find Us in The Back of the Club’ by Beatnuts featuring Akon and “Disco Inferno” for 50 Cent. Videos for Tony Touch, Nina Sky, and B-Real followed. He also directed “Mi Corazoncito” and “Un Beso” for the Latin super group, Aventura.
Business was great until...
“I was on a roll. We got a Def Jam gig for Ja Rule, “New York” featuring Fat Joe and Jadakiss. We shot in three boros all in one day, Manhattan, Queens and The Bronx, but the production went over budget by $15,000 and Def Jam did not want to cover it. We had to take the financial hit. Then, in the Dominican Republic, I was basically kidnapped by some vendors who took me by gun point to Western Union to claim the money they were owed. When the video was done, we handed the edited version to the label before final payment. The video ended up not being usable due to some label politics and they refused to pay us the $25,000 we were owed. After that, I was developing a new website and the designer disappeared with the deposit for the project,” explains Uly.
The music industry was going through another round of consolidations and budgets for videos were slashed. The overall economy was going through its’ worst period since the Great Depression. “I had too many people on payroll and financially lost control of the business. Months later, I was offered $100,000 for a piece of T&T Casting from someone who just wanted to be a “visual partner,” but only got $50,000 when the deal was done. My partner and I didn’t agree on several things and all the money disappeared! After continuous disaster, I decided to close the office and work from home.
2009-2011 - Reboot
“Working at home was refreshing. I started over and slowly began to stack my money again. My friend, Adam Rodriguez, encouraged me to move to Los Angeles. He also offered me his house for the year, rent free. Plus, my daughter told me I should go as well, giving her an excuse to come out to LA…to visit me,” says Uly.
A Better Understanding
“Going out to LA proved to be more challenging than I had anticipated. Living out there with no car, I spent a lot of time by myself. All that time alone really helped me find myself. So as of 2011, I just started spending my time on projects that made sense to me. Alumbra Films made a lot sense. In LA, I spent a lot of time with Franc Reyes, developing the future!” proclaims Uly.
2012 - Now and the Future
Ulysses Terrero’s life so far has been about different levels of success and how quickly fortune can be reversed. His near-death experience made it clear that it can all be over in a split second. Terrero lives from project to project, and his latest development is www.ulyssesterrero.com . His website will consist of UTV, which is a vehicle to showcase all of his video content and UTC, which will be the long-awaited casting web page streaming the live casting process.
I looked down at my watch and it was almost 11:30pm. I had been listening to stories from the life of Uly aka King Uly aka Phly You aka Mr. Terrero for 4 and a half hours. As we wrapped it up, I asked him if he had any closing thoughts. In true Uly fashion, he wanted to give some shoutouts.
- “My mother and father for paying my bills, feeding me when I was hungry, loving me unconditionally and never closing the door on me.
- Jessy for the unconditional love, advice, work, money, knowledge, and just good old friendship!
- Sandy and Leslie for keeping me humble and keeping it real. You know what’s going on.
- Ivette Gomez for giving birth to the greatest thing in my life, Natalia Terrero
- My daughter, Natalia, for always making me proud!!!
- Adam Rodriguez for being a brother. You and I know what’s going on.
- Diane Martel for appreciating my services and fighting for my rate. She has always taken care of me and is a true angel.
- Paul Hunter for fighting for me to cast some of the most incredible commercials.
- Georgianne Walken and Sheila Jaffe. They are so unselfish and giving. I thank them for all the time and knowledge they shared with me unconditionally.
- Chris Robinson, thank you for all the work and fighting to get me to get on the feature films.
- Rosie Perez for introducing me to Hollywood and for being a good friend.
- Josh Goldstein and the Goldstein family for taking me in and making me feel like I was a home.
- Judy Ju for the good memories.
- The 162 boys that still have love for the Kid!
- Last but not least, to everyone I didn’t mention, I’ll mention you all in my book. I promise!”
For exclusive behind-the-scenes footage of ULM’s Issue 100 photoshoot and more be sure to visit: www.urbanlatino.com, Facebook and/or Twitter.
Words by Jorge Cano-Moreno
Photography by Josh DeHonney
Styling by Lidia Zambrano
Grooming by John de la Ossa
Make-up by Vicki Sanchez