BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — When he was a little boy actor, Rhenzi Seliz attended eight different schools by the time he was in the third grade. His family moved often, he says, as his single mother tried to make ends meet.
“My mom cleaned offices, she was a receptionist at a hair salon, worked in retail — small little minimum wage jobs,” he says. “And she’d do two jobs at a time to pay the bills and put food on the table. I can’t thank her enough,” he said, seated on a beige frieze couch in a coffee bar here.
“She had me when she was 21, and we were living in New York at the time in the projects. Then we moved to Florida because she hated the cold and didn’t want me to grow up in an environment like that. We didn’t end up in an amazing place in Florida, but it was better than the Bronx in New York at that time … And because of her, I had a very good childhood.”
It wasn’t until his mom married and the family moved to Los Angeles that Seliz even thought about being an actor. When he was 6 he’d enjoyed singing karaoke on stage, but the idea of performing for a living didn’t occur to him until he arrived in Hollywood.
“I was playing baseball and so I was doing that for a while, and then I realized, one, I wasn’t going to go too far in baseball. I’m 5 foot, 10 inches and weigh a buck-30. Plus I don’t have the passion in that I feel I need to do that for the rest of my life. So I’d thought about acting just in my own life, but I’d never put that idea out there,” says Seliz, whose parents are Dominican.
“In L.A. — being that it’s not such a weird thing to do out here — in Florida you start acting, it’s ‘What? Play a sport, kid.’ When I got out here, like, it’s one of the cool things to do … So I jumped into a play my junior year of high school. I loved it.”
He loved it so much that he landed an agent and roles in “Casual” and “Teen Wolf.” Then an audition for Hulu’s “Marvel’s Runaways” came up.
They asked Seliz to recite a monologue. Though he’d not prepared a monologue, luckily he’d memorized a piece from “Fences,” and that scored the part for him. The adaptation of the comic book by Brian K. Vaughan begins streaming on Hulu on Nov. 21. Seliz plays the leader of a group of diverse teenagers who unite when they learn that their parents are super villains.
Seliz, 19, was a sophomore in high school when the family relocated. “We came out here, we didn’t have family, friends, a place to stay or a job,” he stretches his legs in front of him.
“We just moved into a hotel, put all of our belongings in a truck. And by the time we got to L.A., we’d found a place to stay and we were able to unload our things in the apartment, and my stepfather found a job. So we were able to pay our bills and three weeks later, I was going to Santa Monica High School.”
He figures his peripatetic lifestyle may have been an advantage. “For me it wasn’t so weird, it was just what I knew, it was what was happening. I’d meet people and leave. But I think it taught me to be able to talk to people very well, to be able to communicate and to adapt because you have to in order to make friends, unless you want to be the kid sitting alone at lunch.
“You have to put yourself out there,” he nods. “So I think it helped me in that way. Ever since I was a little kid I haven’t been afraid to speak to people. I think it’s because I HAD to speak to people if I wanted to have friends and have fun.”
During his travels he was able to observe many different kinds of people and what he calls “comedy styles.”
“I think, because meeting so many different people you learn so many different things. … If could go back and change it, I wouldn’t. I have friends here who have friends they’ve had their entire lives. I’ve never had that so that was a little tough.
“Sometimes I think what would that be like to have a friend I’ve known for 19 years? But I have very good friends now and am very fortunate. I have a very lovely family so I’ve always had a good connection with people and never lacked for the human connection which I think is very, very important. My family is always there for me.”