NEW YORK — Though he plays a tough, tattooed cholo in this month’s indie flick “Quinceañera,” actor Jesse Garcia doesn’t quite seem the roughing-it type.

“I got a smudge on my shoe! What the heck is that?” he exclaims, examining a dark blemish on his otherwise pristine Adidas kicks. “I just bought ’em….I like my white shoes white.”

As Carlos in “Quinceañera,” Garcia certainly has heavier issues on his plate than soiled sneakers. Set in the Latino Echo Park neighborhood of L.A., the film follows the young Magdalena (newcomer Emily Rios) as she prepares for her quinceañera, the Latina coming-of-age celebration at 15. Magdalena becomes pregnant, is kicked out of her home by her ultra-religious father and moves in with her great-uncle Tomas, who is already housing her similarly exiled gay cousin Carlos. The three form a kind of makeshift family as Magdalena’s pregnancy becomes increasingly apparent.

“I knew a lot of people were going to have qualms about doing a gay character, because people are just…they have inhibitions,” explains Garcia. “I read the script, and it was multilayered and really complex and just something I really wanted to pursue. I’ve done gay characters in the past where they’re just very comedic….It’s just like, why not? It’s acting.”

The performing arts life wasn’t always a sure thing for Garcia. Born to Mexican parents who were Jehovah’s Witnesses in a small Wyoming town (he is no longer practicing), Garcia was a self-described “super jock” in high school, playing football, wrestling and running track. In his senior year, his football coach took the team to a game at the University of Wyoming and Garcia was won over by the cheerleaders — the male ones.

“These guys were throwing these girls around, catching them with their hands on their butts. I was like, ‘Dude, that’s awesome! Those chicks are totally hot. I could totally do that,’” he recalls.

With help from his coaches, Garcia got an audition with Eastern Wyoming College and landed a full-ride cheerleading scholarship both there and later at the University of Nebraska. “Otherwise, I probably would have moved to Colorado and done massage therapy or something. But in college, I got to touch the hot chicks,” smirks Garcia.

This story first appeared in the July 27, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

His junior year, he met a girl who was moving to Atlanta to study acting and, intrigued, decided to quit school and join her.

“I’d always wanted to act, but I was in Nebraska and Wyoming, so what was I gonna do? I always wanted to do plays, but cheerleading got in the way,” explains Garcia, whose prior experience was limited to a play in second grade and a brief part in a college production of “The Nutcracker.”

After a few years in Atlanta and a slew of film, commercial and television work (he appears as a guest star this month on TNT’s “The Closer”), he moved to L.A., where he has lived for the last two and a half years, in Silver Lake — right next to Echo Park. In fact his current house, which he found on Craigslist, was a no-brainer choice once he learned of his roommate’s film history.

“When I went to go check it out, talking to the guy I was like, ‘I spent some time here shooting a movie.’ He goes, ‘I was in it, man!’” remembers Garcia of Bob Murphy, who is attributed as “Flirty Guy” in the cast credits. “I was like, ‘Aw, man, I gotta live here!’”

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