Wilmer Valderrama is Handy Manny: Manny heads to primetime

Oct 11, 2010 at 1:36 p.m. ET

Wilmer Valderrama sees himself as the perfect embodiment of multiculturalism in entertainment. Born in Miami, Valderrama grew up in Venezuela before moving to Los Angeles when he was thirteen. Valderrama has been given the opportunity to pursue his dreams by an entertainment industry that also reflected his passion for spreading the importance of a multicultural presence on television. Of his Disney Channel creation, Handy Manny, Valderrama is especially proud.

Wilmer Valderrama and Handy MannyHandy Manny is getting his big-time close-up with a primetime special, Handy Manny Big Construction Job, airing October 11 at 7 pm on the Disney Channel. As part of Hispanic Heritage Month, Valderrama will be featured in a number of video vignettes throughout the month on the Disney Channel discussing and showcasing the important contributions Hispanics have made to society.

In the multicultural world of Handy Manny, this sentiment has ruled the show's motivation from the beginning.

What first brought Valderrama to fame was his casting in a role that would make him a superstar, as Fez on That '70s Show. After years as Fez, Valderrama was given the opportunity to create, produce and direct other shows on various networks including MTV, the Discovery Channel and his pop culture phenomenon that is the Disney Channel's Handy Manny.

Wilmer Valderrama phoned SheKnows to talk about the Handy Mannyprimetime special, what it means to him to serve as a role model and how a hard-working and talented Hollywood performer is becoming his own brand of multicultural icon.

Wilmer Valderrama's Manny has his moment

SheKnows: What does it mean to you personally to portray such a strong character in Manny?

Wilmer Valderrama: It's such an honor. I've been able to do some amazing things with this character. It's some of the most rewarding work I've ever done. To be able to see kids, the faces of the kids, when you do the voice, or they're playing with the Manny toys, it's so wonderful to see that Disney and I could make such a great team to create such an iconic character for preschoolers. We've been so blessed that it's been so well received by families. We've been so blessed that two communities have embraced it -- both English and Spanish-speaking households. It's a great anthem for our multicultural country. Disney and I have been able to open parks, open schools, speak to kids, and we've done a lot of USO work. We've been very blessed.

Handy MannySheKnows: Now for Manny to make the move to primetime, how's the feeling over there at the show?

Wilmer Valderrama: It's a big tribute to how hard people have worked these last couple of years. To be able to tell the fans and the parents that we're going to do a series of primetime specials, that has been amazing. We're going to be embracing the best parts of Handy Manny, which is the musical side, as well as introducing characters and having more guest stars. It's going to be a really great year. It's going to be the best year for Handy Manny yet. Especially with these specials, we are thinking about the whole family. We are thinking really hard about how to make these specials true family affairs. This is a really great chapter for Manny. It's a big tribute to the network that they have the confidence in the show to put us on primetime. When have you ever seen a preschooler show on primetime? That's kind of big for us.

SheKnows: Good point. Even the big, purple dinosaur never had a primetime special.

Wilmer Valderrama: [Laughs] Exactly.

Wilmer, Manny and Hispanic Heritage Month

SheKnows: To be a part of this show, with Hispanic Heritage Month and doing your video vignettes, that had to be a great source of pride for you, to be able to bring that to audiences across the country…

Handy Manny and Wilmer Valderrama go primetime

Wilmer Valderrama: It's amazing, number one, being a part of the Disney family is amazing. They truly care about every culture. They understand the importance of all cultures, they understand that in giving us a primetime spot to be able to do these specials. What's exciting and unique about it is that there's a young generation of Latinos that are growing up not being in touch with their roots and not being in touch with the importance of a second language. For Disney to have such a push to introduce the world to this culture in such a great, fun way, while at the same time having it be nostalgic for the parents and have a new-found love for your roots -- it's wonderful to be able to do this. The fact that they would ask me to be a part of it and be a face for it, it's really neat. I'm proud of who I am. I am proud of my culture, but also proud that my culture represents so many different ones. Through this month, we can embrace a multi-cultural world and hopefully, this brings us that much closer to everyone.

SheKnows: What do you think it is about the character that has so resonated with kids and parents alike?

Wilmer Valderrama: When we were developing the show, and the voice of the character, the number one key for me is that I didn't want it to feel like a character. I wanted him to feel like an everyday guy. He has a baseball shirt. He has his F150. We wanted him to have great morals, great intentions, and just really care. I feel like we achieved what we wanted, which was creating an image that reminded everyone of their older brother, parents or teachers -- role models -- people who touch your life in a positive way. We made him a normal voice. That was the winning factor. That was the great recipe for this character. Everyone on the show can be as animated and fun as possible, as long as Handy Manny was the grounded one. There are so many organic characters in the town but Manny really brings everyone together.

SheKnows: For you personally, you've worn many hats over the years, actor, director, and producer -- what does it mean to you to do all those things at this point in your career?

Wilmer Valderamma

Wilmer does it all

Wilmer Valderrama: It's amazing, especially because I understand how difficult it is in this industry to be ambitious enough to try to pull one of these things off. The fact that people like Disney and 20th Century Fox, MTV, Discovery Networks and everyone that I've been able to produce for, create for, direct and star for -- the fact they've given me a platform to be such an ambitious guy, I don't know…I'm just a hard worker. When I'm given the opportunity, I strive for not only perfection to be the best, but I want to make sure that I pay tribute to those who have given me these opportunities. That's why Disney is such a family for me and I intend to stay within that family for some time. I'm just blessed to be able to wear all those hats you mentioned. For me, as a worker, as an ambitious man who likes to put his hands in a little bit of everything -- directing, acting, producing -- it's important that I stay a multitasking individual. I'm so honored that this industry has embraced me as someone who has a voice, and most importantly, as someone who can deliver.