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Pepe Peña is a painter? Yes, and the ‘¿Qué pasa, USA?’ star is hosting his own art show

Cuban actor Manolo Villaverde, known internationally for his character Pepe Peña in the series “¿Qué pasa, USA ?,” never took his painting hobby too seriously. But friends always insisted he exhibit his work, so he decided to just do it so they would stop bothering him.

“They are the ones who put me on the edge of the abyss every time they ask me to show my paintings. And although I know that many people like them, I don’t really consider myself a professional painter to be exhibiting all the time. My thing is acting,” Villaverde told El Nuevo Herald as he put the finishing touches on the 42 watercolors, the three ink drawings and the acrylics he will show at Comber Hall in Coral Gables Friday and Saturday.

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Villaverde, an unconditional admirer of the work of Sorolla and Carolla and Caravaggio, learned technique in Miami with Venezuelan teacher Abdón Romero, after years of painting on his own.

“He taught me how to handle colors and master watercolors, one of the most difficult techniques of visual arts,” acknowledged the 82-year-old actor, explaining that his love of painting began during his childhood.

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The cast of ‘¿Qué pasa, USA?’ (seated) Manolo Villaverde and Ana Margarita Martínez Casado; (on the floor) Ana Margo and Steven Bauer; (standing) Velia Martínez and Luis Oquendo. Archivo el Nuevo Herald

“I remember that one day my father could not believe that I had copied a drawing of a can of chocolates. And when I told him that I wanted to be a painter, he replied that I would starve to death. He expressed the same when I informed him of my decision to be an actor, ” he said.

After studying accounting in New York and joining the United States Navy, in 1958 Villaverde returned to Cuba, where he immediately joined the University Theater of Havana.

He was cast in many of the most important dramatic series on CMQ Televisión until 1964, when he went into exile, via Mexico, after being arrested twice for circulating propaganda against the regime.

In Miami, the actor continued his career dubbing radio soap operas that were recorded in the Freedom Tower and, later began to find work in the theater.

“My debut was in ‘La rosa tatuada’, with Norma Zúñiga. I remember that Pepe Bahamonde, the producer of ‘¿Qué pasa, USA ?’ that gave me the role of Pepe Peña, was in the audience. And after refusing three times, I ended up accepting,” recalled the actor, who does not regret his decision.

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‘Alfareras valencianas’ is one of Manolo Villaverde’s works that will be on display at Comber Hall in Coral Cables. / Cortesía M. Villaverde


Villaverde attributes the success of the series to the fact that the reality of the immigrant remains very similar to when the show debuted 40 years ago. Plus, shows about generational family dynamics never go out of style.

As for Pepe Peña, Villaverde said he is the character that has given him the most satisfaction in his career.

“People identify with him. Everyone relates him to the grumpy father who at the same time can be very tender and understanding. Peña is a great man who is unforgettable,” explained Villaverde.

If you go:

What: Manolo Villaverde Art Exhibit

When: 7-11 p.m. Aug 2-3

Where: Comber Hall, 2711 Indian Mound Trail, Coral Gables (next to Little Flower Church).

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