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  • Annette Dawm

Reconnecting with Carlos Bustamante

For over two decades, Carlos Bustamante has become one of the most recognizable faces on Canadian television. After 16 years as a host of YTV’s The Zone, Carlos became a reporter for ET Canada. Although he “really loved” working in children’s television, he felt ready for a change.

In the beginning of his career at YTV, Carlos quickly adapted to the fast-paced filming environment. He was able to memorize or improvise dialogue on the spot. Along with his natural curiosity and interest in others, these skills have served him well as a reporter.

“….I was curious about what else I could do, where else I could contribute or where else I could fit. It sort of came across my path…. Skill-wise, it wasn’t all that different from what I was doing. I had gotten all of this training for what I’m doing now in The Zone and at YTV. So I wouldn’t say it was difficult, but I was working in a different way with a new team and a new audience.”

However, many of his original viewers have followed him throughout his career. From a young age, Carlos became aware that as a host, he would have the ability to impact so many lives:

“It’s kind of the best!” He explained. “In my mind, it’s sort of the best version of being known by people. I have interactions with people that are really heartfelt. They’ll come and they’ll tell me stories like, ‘I watched you when I was this age and I watched you at this age and I watched you at that age!’ It’s so lovely to know that you’re remembered by people.”

“That’s one thing, but also that people are comfortable enough with me to come up and tell me that and share a bit of their life and their story. If you came up to me on the street and we were chatting, I’d want to know, ‘What’s your story? What are you up to?’ You know what I mean? I think that’s one of the coolest things! ….If someone’s in their 20's now and says, ‘I used to watch you when I was 5!’ I’d be like, ‘Cool! But what’s your life been like since you were 5? Has it been a good time for you? What have you been working on? What do you like? What do you like to do?’"

“I’ve had people say, ‘Watching you when I was a kid influenced me!’ That’s cool to me because I know what it’s like to watch someone and pattern certain things in your life after what you see on TV or in the movies…. It’s really, really awesome. I think it would be strange if [the attention] was new, but it’s not. It’s kind of how I’ve lived my life the last 20 years or so. Again, I think it’s a very cool thing if I can just walk down the street and strike up a conversation with whoever it is. It’s a way to break the ice. We have a little bit of common ground.”

Initially, Carlos started out on a different path. He began attending tap dancing school when he was 8 or 9 years old. Although he wasn’t aware of it at the time, this was his first step into the entertainment industry. As a student in high school, he was paid to appear in several Toronto-based productions. “That’s when I was like, ‘Oh! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! I could do this for a very long time!’” He recalled.

Today, Bustamante is able to incorporate his dance skills at work. He can often be seen dancing with co-host, Cheryl Hickey during the show or on social media:

“I love it! I’m a big fan of dancing and anybody that can do it. It’s nice to have kind of a shared language, I guess. Cheryl’s got the spirit! She’s got the moves! She was born to be a dancer! She’ll always joke that she doesn’t quite have all the moves, but she does.”

“I am a big fan of just living life. I live life to its fullest….” Carlos continued. “We have such a good time here! Whether it’s doing all of the interviews, or if we’re in studio together, or even if we’re just in downtime shooting all of those TikTok dances, it’s just a really fun time to be doing what we’re doing! I’m just looking forward to doing it more!”

As a dancer in the ‘90s, Carlos said the Paula Abdul has been a “huge influence” on his life. He recently had the opportunity to travel to her house for an interview!

“It was surreal! It’s a bit odd to be going to someone like Paula Abdul’s house! It’s a bit weird, but it was cool! We were sitting down in her living room for a chat. Her dogs were running around. I could see her kitchen right there! She was so lovely and I’ve been a fan of hers for a very long time….I’d met her a couple of times before and I knew that she liked to have fun….”

With over 20 years of experience, Carlos admitted that it is hard to narrow down his favourite interviews, but there are a “handful” that stand out, including his time at San Diego Comic Con: “There’s nothing quite like being in the Marvel press line as almost every star of all of the upcoming movies cycle through to come chat with you! It’s really incredible!”

“The first time I ever met Jackie Chan in an interview, it was for The Karate Kid with Jaden Smith…. I grew up watching a lot of kung fu movies. So all I wanted to do was ask him about his old kung fu movies and all of the old stuff he used to do! I couldn’t do that with the four minutes that I had, but that was a huge learning thing for me! I’ve had the opportunity to travel to some amazing places to do interviews. I did a junket (a set of interviews) in Tokyo for Pokémon: Detective Pikachu with Ryan Reynolds and Kathryn Newton. That was a lot of fun and a lot of it was because of where we were. I recently met Kathryn Newton again for Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and we went mini-putting! Who does that? It was a great time! It was amazing!”

In terms of the technological changes he’s witnessed throughout his career, Carlos credited the internet as the biggest. He noted how it became the “dominant” form of communication, especially with programs like Zoom.

“When I started, we were on Beta. It was all analog stuff. Now a lot of what we do, even here at ET Canada, we do a lot of interviews on Zoom. We create a lot of content on what’s in your pocket. That’s really the biggest change…. There are so many new ways to tell stories. There are new ways to film and present them….”

In 2020, Carlos and his co-workers (including Morgan Hoffman) were forced to work from home due to the pandemic. He used this as an opportunity to learn new skills and to problem-solve along the way:

“I kind of relished the opportunity to try something different. Not that I don’t love doing interviews in person. I prefer to be in front of somebody while we’re having a conversation—but the fact that we were forced to do things the way that we were and that we had to adapt—I loved that as a team, we were problem-solving. It was awesome. What was really neat, at least at the beginning, when people first started doing Zoom interviews, nobody was used to it! There was no real vocabulary around it. Nobody really knew how to do it, per se. So when I would be doing interviews with actors or musicians, I kind of felt like tech support. It was like teaching your grandma how to FaceTime! Like, ‘No! No! You’ve got to frame it up like this!’ That would be the first few minutes of every interview. It was so funny! It was the most surreal thing to be interviewing some major Hollywood actor in their living room.”

For example, he remembered how Georges St-Pierre "....had his phone with him and so he’d walk me around his apartment and ask, ‘Is this a good spot? Is the lighting good here?’ I was like, 'Yeah, that’s perfect! I can see you! Your background’s interesting!’ Again, it was like being tech support. It was an interesting time.”

“All of these walls started to come down.” Carlos continued. “You get used to the way junket interviews go. Or when someone comes into the studio, there’s a process. There’s a bit of a formality. There is a bit of a machine that you feel, but I didn’t feel the machine for almost a year of chatting with people online. That was actually really refreshing.”

Finally, for anyone who is interested in following in his career path, Carlos Bustamante advised that being a good listener is a key to success:

“I like to listen a lot. I think it comes from a combination of things. I went to theatre school and one of the big things they always tell you in a scene --even though you know the line-- is that you’re supposed to listen to your scene partner. That’s how you know the emotions of the scene and how to react. So interviewing is the same way. I would watch a lot of people who I thought were really good at it. Even if they had a list of questions in their head, they could make it look like they didn’t. It always appeared to me like they had the most natural conversation or that they were listening….”

“There are things that you want to keep top of mind, but if the conversation goes a particular way and you’ve got time to pursue something, why not pursue it? You might find something more interesting that way. That’s the way I like to connect those things…. If you’re writing the questions based on what you want to know or what’s interesting to you, you won’t forget what’s interesting to you. You might forget the way you wrote the question, but if it’s interesting, you’re going to get there.”

For more information, please follow Carlos Bustamante on Instagram.

Photo courtesy of Carlos Bustamante.

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