Confessions of a Professional Cosplayer: The Leo Camacho Story

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(Photo Credit; Maxine Baker Photography)

Earlier last month I had the opportunity to sit down with the astonishingly unique and creative individual known as Leo Camacho, diving into the unknown in an attempt to showcase his lifestyle and history, explaining what truly fuels and inspires the imaginative and innovative individual that is Leo Camacho. Most known for his favored presence among the cosplay community for his remarkable portrayal of characters Killian Jones (Captain Hook) from ABC’s Once Upon A Time, and Prince Eric from Disney’s The Little Mermaid, he quickly rose in the ranks of popularity.

(Photo Credit; York In A Box)

 While his notable and uncanny resemblance to not one, but two, sea-fairing captain’s is strikingly impressive, there is much more than meets the eye to the talented individual we’ve all grown to know and love amongst the pop culture community. From Disney to gaming, media, and television, Camacho’s existence proves to extend further below the tip of the iceberg. Through our in-depth conversation, I was able to uncover the truth about the man behind the mask, proving that he’s more than just a pretty face, but also a person who is just as beautiful inside as he is out, constantly striving to inspire and motivate others to follow their dreams. His story explains the magnificence behind the characters he so realistically portrays and takes us on the journey of progressional dedication and passion of a man who is truly genuine, both inside and out.

Born in San Dimas, California to Cuban immigrants, Leo is the only child and first generation of his family who migrated from Cuba, setting their sights on living amongst the ‘Land of the Free,’ in efforts to escape a poverty-stricken country. Currently living within central city limits of Los Angeles, Camacho was raised and grew up near Pasadena, attending school in West Covina. As a child, he grew up surrounded by constant love, attention and affection from his Grandmother, his Aunt’s, Mother and Father — who each delivered their own unique presence in Leo’s early upbringing around pop culture.

Raised speaking Spanish with his family, he began learning English when starting Kindergarten, explaining that “he was unaware of the difference between Spanish and American culture, as they seemed to morph together as he ventured into young adulthood.”

At a very young age, Leo became very engaged and interested in gaming and had a strong passion for Nintendo. He was then introduced to the Disney franchise and spent most of his time watching every film imaginable, incorporating his family’s shared love and passion, together as one. Admitting that a majority of his family time was spent watching the ever so popular films together, they also stayed committed to an annual visit to Disneyland each year, making clear that the ‘house of mouse’ stayed prominent in the family in every way.

 Camacho described his feelings for the unspoken motivation of his family’s attraction to the brand being, “Disney is the representation of the American dream, where you can essentially create your own universe. You can make what you want of your life, of your destiny, so to speak. You can take your passion and literally put it on a page and tell your story with the world.”

Leo explained that he was also inspired by artistic approaches and practices, diving into his creative craft and producing art when he was just a mere child. He was able to appreciate the multitude of genres that represented pop culture as he was exposed to a vast range, from Dick Van Dyke to Mary Tyler Moore, which his parents introduced him to at a very young age, to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and other related ‘80s animated television shows, allowing him to form appreciation for both retro and current nostalgic trends.

Having a strong appreciation for growth and progression of pop culture, media and a mind-blowing understanding and devotion to each era, he feels that the blast-from-the-past approach to the wacky and odd development of many popular shows such as Masters of the Universe and Turbo Teen will always hold a secluded, special place amongst his heart.

 “You get those wacky-ass cartoons like Turbo Teen, where a guy turns into a car when he spills hot water on himself, and Masters of the Universe, let’s just look at that. It’s literally a half-naked barbarian fighting a skeleton man. It was weird stuff, but it was way cool.”

Believing that media has been, and will continue to be the carrier for bridging the gap of pop culture, Leo takes a unique approach to explaining the progression of nostalgia and culture in society and fandom from his perception.

“Here is the cool thing about the ‘80s. It was the advent of technology as we experience it now but not refined and more of an explosion of media that was, in a way, the carrier for pop culture. Everybody was like ‘oh my God,’ we can get things out much faster now, we can produce more movies, we can create more channels because cable television was vastly developing, and so they just took it and ran with it,” he explains. “Fashion was also changing, as sit was transitioning from the wacky ‘70s to something more controllable, and once music was introduced into the mix, the fashion era became more extreme,” he responded when explaining the experimental era that held as the medium of entertainment.

It’s refreshing to see an individual like Leo Camacho take on the world of pop culture and appreciation with full knowledge of the progressional era from which it came, and continue to stand behind what helped to build his foundation and core, from the very beginning of his life, transitioning into adulthood, to present day.

 Leo explains, “if you look, there is definitely a formula to film and cartoons. They reviewed ideas in the ‘80s and were just like, ‘what do you think about a man putting a thumb on his chest?’ it’s literally rock-paper-scissors, but they have battle armor. Then, eventually that gets refined and turned into Pokemon, and it’s suddenly the biggest phenomenon of all time.”

We then found ourselves on the subject of social media, online presence and popularity, as well as YouTube integration in the media, agreeing that marketing has found itself amongst a vast universe of potential with every outlet at your fingertips.

“If you’re willing to put in the effort to reach the achievement, you will.”

He also stated, “It totally makes sense that now the YouTube generation incorporates all of that, and also why it is so popular now. Because we’ve been given the chance to re-explore everything with each other on a whole new massively spread out media platform that is Youtube. We’re redefining all of the wacky ideas and trying to make new ones. It’s really cool.”

It’s apparent that we’re now living in the world that has a strong appreciation and understanding of fandom, geek-related culture and the franchises among the world of ‘nerdists.’ However, during the transitional stage of ‘80s to ‘90s pop culture, there wasn’t much of a basis to build upon which is what partially fueled the end of childhood in many adults today. As children, growing up in that era, many of us were raised to believe it was okay to play with toys and obsess over fandom when we were young, though as we grew, the fact that we must ‘grow up’ and ‘let those passions go’ was driven into our minds. For those brave and strong individuals who chose to stand out among the masses, many were labeled as a ‘geek’ or a ‘nerd,’ a term that was once not as cool to self-label yourself or be titled as it is today.

“When you’re young it’s so easy to obtain a label. I was a five-sport athlete but no one even cared, because I was more of a nerd than I was a jock, or at least perceptively. This changed in High School when I learned to manage my social interaction, though I was always known as a nerd because I had been labeled as such before mainstream media said it was okay.”

Camacho holds the title for one of the most appreciated ‘cosplayers’ in North America, which has been the proving success for his fame amongst the crowds, helping to also build his multiple fan clubs and social media channels. Leo didn’t end up branching out into the world of cosplay until much later in life than expected, as he explains, ‘cosplay’ hasn’t been around in the United States for very long; at least not when compared to Japan and other parts of East Asia.

In the early 2000s, Leo became very into Naruto, when it was first released in Japan, and dove right into binge watching the first season. “I thought, this is just awesome, and I kind of want to put together a costume based on one of the characters for Halloween, even though no one will know who I am.”

He explained that he began looking up costume tutorials and ideas on the internet and found people that had already been doing the same thing, and explains his first initial reaction to his discovery was ‘what is this?’. Eventually, this led him on the path of researching specific ‘cosplayers,’ which steered him to unearthing the word ‘cosplay.’ He then explains that he became enthralled with the whole new world that he had just uncovered and thought ‘how cool would it be to go to a con and dress up?’ Though he had no idea where to even find ‘cons’ or how to even get started, he still attempted to learn all he could from the new, crazed community stepping outside of the box of normal approaches to suggested lifestyles and normality.

“Eventually I decided that I wanted to finally put together a costume and attend a convention in it because it looked like a lot of fun and I decided to give it a shot.”

Leo then explained the beginning factors of what sent him into his binge-crazed obsession and developed a strong passion for cosplay and portraying characters from our favorite television shows and films, so perfectly that it’s hard to tell the difference. From scratch, he put together a Jack Sparrow cosplay, assembling random items, mostly found at second-hand store Goodwill.

 “I remember spending about $70 making my cosplay, and I just remember walking into the convention in it, feeling severely outclassed. I was like, dude, my cosplay is not up to ‘snuff,” he explained.

Feeling out of place from other seasoned cosplayers, Camacho still expressed his enjoyment of attending his first convention and explained how after the event was through he ended up selling his first costume on eBay totaling over $500. For which he then took his newly earned profits, and invested his finances in a high-quality and more accurate Jack Sparrow, which he debuted at Anime Expo in Los Angeles, CA.

 Leo began to crave and truly enjoy spending time at conventions, portraying characters and magically transporting fictional characters from their original places in their fantasy world to the realm of reality.

“I really liked people stopping and taking photos, and appreciating my costume for what it was. I just wanted to keep doing ‘this’ and making more costumes, and even though I still wasn’t very great at it yet, I truly enjoyed it and was really into Jack Sparrow.”

 Leo progressed by performing characters at a range of parties, seeing it as an enjoyment and very unique experience, which led to the unavoidability of creating new costumes, for new characters, building upon his initial foundation before cosplay became socially acceptable in the appreciation of fandom in a modern world.

Famed for his resemblance to dark-haired Prince, Eric, in Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid,’ Leo ideally portrayed the character so perfectly, cast along side famous cosplayer and public figure, Traci Hines, in a self-produced and created live-action music video of ‘Part of Your World,’ which went viral in its pre-production stage. Suddenly, the face of a young stranger began to soar across the great lengths of the internet, and word quickly began to spread that ‘Prince Eric was real!’

Part of Your World, as well as the recreated and photographed wedding of The Little Mermaid, and The Hipster Mermaid Series helped Leo to quickly rise to the top as the scene’s favorite male cosplayer. But recently, after precisely pulling off Killian Jones, also known as Captain Hook, from ABC’s popular drama, Once Upon A Time, Camacho’s popularity seemed to just continue soaring upward into the sky.
“I. Seriously. Killian. That’s just serendipitous. What are the odds that another sea-fairing character would look so much like me? I look a lot like the Prince Eric cartoon, but he’s still just a cartoon. But, Colin O’Donoghue? He looks so similar to me. It’s just wild.”

 

 

Leo explained that the past comparisons made towards himself and Jake Gyllenhaal were definitely appreciated, for which he could see the similarities, but as soon as Once Upon A Time was released, he would hear the uncanny likeliness and comparison to character Killian Jones upwards of 30 times per day.

 “Everyone was telling me that I look like him, to the point where someone asked me if they could just make me the costume and then perform in it. So, I did it, and it was so awesome to the point where obviously I now have to do this all the time.”

Camacho is bringing reality to the world of fantasy and allowing others to experience the wonders of the fantastical world in actual reality. It’s truly uncanny how one person can resemble two favored and popular fictional characters in such a perfect way.

 Leo spent a majority of his recent years working as the digital content manager for XPrize, where he managed digital and social campaigns, content coordination, as well as planning and digital marketing. Within the past month, he has officially announced his departure from his position, in efforts of pursuing entertainment and media full-time, which he admits is both ‘exciting and nerve-racking.’ Camacho plans to stay on with the corporation as a consultant because he is appreciative of the credibility that comes with holding a position with a company as notable as XPrize, especially in the science and technology industries.

“One of the reasons I am pursuing this dream so soon is because I already have enough work lined up to where my day job was actually getting in the way of these opportunities. I also plan to spend more time dedicated to working on and progressing with Thingamavlogs, as well as working on the brand as a whole.”

(Photo Credit; Maxine Baker Photography)

 With the decision of pursuing entertainment and media full-time, Leo explained that he is hopeful that his current projects will transition and present him with more mainstream opportunities centered around voice acting and correspondence, being his two strongest attributes. In addition, he plans to devote more time to his personal YouTube channel in hopes of it eventually reaching a status where it alone will support him in both personal and professional aspects.

“I want to be a multi-media entertainer. The advantage of having a digital marketing background is that I can apply myself to the promotional, marketing, and management side of things and help to fuel the fluidity of implantation.”

 “I have been hosting for about eight years, which many people aren’t even aware of because now everything else over-shadows it. I hope to progress into that general realm, and already am.”

It’s evident that Leo Camacho’s notoriety is on the rise, and for good reason. I’ve yet to meet an individual who truly loves, supports and encourages fandom in such an awe-inspiring way, constantly helping to pick others up, and motivate them to follow their own aspirations and passion. Leo has an honest, deep affection and attachment to the pop culture and fan-driven communities, and his appetite for all things ‘geek’ is sure to be the crowning point in his achievements.

Don’t forget to subscribe to Leo’s YouTube channel, and follow him on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, to stay up to date with his latest adventures and antics!

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