When truth is stranger than fiction… I can’t believe it’s been that long, but it’s true: More than a quarter century ago, in sunny Miami, I was sitting in my office as Editor in Chief of a local luxury magazine putting the finishing touches on our annual list of “The Hot 20” single men and women in what was arguably the sexiest spot on the planet. I chose wisely and had the list at 19; I just needed one more guy to round out this impressive collection. Later that same day, Richard Pollmann, my good friend and superstar agent for Irene Marie Modeling Agency in South Beach called to tell me that he was sure he’d solved my problem (I had asked Richard the night before to let me know if he had any ideas). “RPF,” he said, referring to me by my initials as many of my close friends do, “I have this kid, he’s 20, he’s super green, just out of the US Marines, and, get this: he’s Cuban, gorgeous and single—how Miami is that? Oh, and believe me, the women are going to eat him up!” “Send me a pic,” I said. And exactly 22 seconds later, I knew we’d found our missing stud. Problem solved.
BY RICHARD PÉREZ-FERIA
I scheduled David Fumero’s shoot with my longtime collaborator, photographer Andrew Melick, at the end of our days-long odyssey of capturing 20 gorgeous people in interesting ways because I wanted to give David a chance to get in the best shape possible. So, after 19 other exhausting sessions, I had David come in at 5:30pm to the photo studio in South Beach for his turn at bat. I needn’t had worried. He was ripped, buff, Popeye-like…whatever phrase you prefer: this so-called kid was jacked. And that face…Richard Pollmann was absolutely right. David Fumero could well be something very special indeed.
What I didn’t expect was how respectful David was, how shy, even. Let me be clear: If I had that body and that face, I certainly wouldn’t be half-whispering hellos and smiling slyly at compliments directed at me. I’d be like, “Hell, yeah, world: This is all of me! Who wants some?!” Or something close to that. David Fumero was all “no problem” and “sure, sounds good” and “I don’t mind, take your time.” In a word, David was a revelation. And we became instant friends.
From that initial photo shoot, I vowed to try and help my compatriot in his future endeavors. (I had also just met and had an equally positive magazine experience with another fellow Cuban, the stunningly beautiful model and MTV host, Daisy Fuentes, who happens to be PuraPhy’s inaugural cover story, along with her husband, singer Richard Marx). So, as David inevitably became more and more well-known, I featured him in Teen Celebrity, a huge magazine I edited or, later, as the premiere cover star of gym, a ridiculously popular fitness magazine people still ask me about years later, or a prominent story in Celebrity Style, another one of the publications I served as EIC. In short, David and I helped and liked each other without hesitation. And a true friendship had taken root.
About a decade after we met, our mutual good friend and, yes, another Cuban, Greg Calejo, had organized a “Cubans Only” weekend getaway at his beautiful lake house in upstate New York. More than half-a-dozen of us made the trek and had the time of our lives (If you don’t believe me, try getting a word in edgewise with a room full of Cubans—not possible). But, the momentous headline of the weekend was when David first introduced us to his fellow actor and “serious girlfriend,” Melissa. And she was Cuban, too! We all loved her instantly (how could you not?) and we kept telling each other how gorgeous those babies were going to be. We weren’t wrong.
Melissa Fumero is one of the main stars of the ratings bonanza, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, unquestionably one of the funniest shows on television. Melissa plays Amy Santiago on the NBC smash police procedural comedy that’s top-lined by Saturday Night Live alumnus Andy Samberg. The show is big hearted and exceedingly well done, but as a look-how-funny-and-silly-cops-really-are exercise, it’ll be a challenging task, to put it mildly, for the show’s creators and writers to walk the line between smart sitcom and the real world issue surrounding police brutality and racially charged deaths. F-U-N.
Similarly, David completed his successful years-long stint as Mike Sandoval on 50 Cent’s influential show on Starz, Power, and now he’s moved on to Spectrum’s and FOX’s L.A.’s Finest, a sort of off-shoot of the Bad Boys movie franchise, as Lt. Jason Calloway. But, a lot of us remember his star-making turn—on a Jet-Ski, no less—as the love interest/heartthrob in Mariah Carey’s career-defining video for “Honey.”
The impossibly sexy couple met while on the set of One Life To Live, the iconic soap opera where they portrayed cousins. I know…I know… Melissa has also guest starred in a few episodes of the amazing reboot of One Day At A Time, starring Justina Machado and EGOT (Emmy/Grammy/Oscar/Tony) living legend, Rita Moreno who, incidentally, so deserves an Emmy for her jaw-dropping, amazing performance as Lydia.
David and Melissa Fumero have only recently dipped their toe in the CBD pool and have graciously allowed us inside their Los Angeles home for this exclusive look at the busy lives of what many correctly consider a beautiful partnership and an even better love story.
Hey, I know! How about we get behind the idea of an I Love Lucy reboot, starring Melissa and David Fumero? David on bongos? I’m in. Melissa at a chocolate factory? I’m so in. Never say never, amigos. It is Hollywood, after all.
OK, there’s a lot to unpack with you two gorgeous creatures, but let’s begin with what’s most important: How are you coping with the world being upside down due to COVID-19, the country finally getting its racial house in order and becoming parents for a second time (to baby Axel) born on Valentine’s Day less than a month before we had to be quarantined. Easy peasy, right?
DAVID FUMERO: We were very fortunate that this horrible pandemic coincided with our time off from our jobs. You know, Richard, we’re usually not working during this time so, for us, It hasn’t been as tough to adjust. Of course, our kid had to get out of daycare and that’s been tough, but considering what we’ve been seeing in the news, Melissa and I are very aware how lucky we are.
MELISSA FUMERO: Oh my God, what a crazy time. With everything going on, and with so many, many of our friends who’ve lost jobs and been out of work for months, especially in New York City, we both know how very, very fortunate we truly are.
Thoughts on the resurgent Black Lives Matter movement for racial justice and ending the pervasive systemic racism so entrenched in this country. Doesn’t this moment feel so much bigger than us?
DAVID: Oh, yeah, it feels way bigger than us. Black Lives Matter is something that needed to happen years ago. I mean, I remember being in LA on the day of the Rodney King incident and, in a way, I can’t believe we’re still stuck in the same place. So, yeah, I think it’s important that this racial justice movement is happening now. I also think it’s important that we, as a collective community and as a society in this country, put ourselves in check. Man, let’s just do the right thing! All of us. Equal rights shouldn’t be controversial. I really hope this movement will lead to something better for everyone.
Melissa, you’re on a very highly rated, popular sitcom about the police in Brooklyn; it’s essentially a show about diverse (and hilarious) cops. Wondering your thoughts on a way forward with your show with the discussion of policing such a hot-button issue in the country right now.
MELISSA: I agree with you, Richard, we’re experiencing a massive seismic shift right now and it’s way overdue. Probably because everybody’s been home during the pandemic, it just feels like people are finally paying attention and listening and having necessary and uncomfortable conversations. We’re definitely doing that at our show. All of us on the show have been talking and thinking a lot about how we make this particular show in 2020. While we have addressed some of these things on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, I think they’ve largely—with the exception of the racial profiling episode—have existed in the fabric or the background of the show And now we’re talking about how do we bring those things to the forefront and actively involve our main characters. The whole industry is examining how we treat cops and how we tell these stories and certainly what the makeup of these writers’ rooms on these cop shows look like. Look, from the state of Mississippi finally changing its flag to actual conversations and debates about police reform happening in real time around the country, I think we’re going to finally see real change. And we should. It’s been long overdue.
But even for your former show, Power, David, the risk and reward potential is huge, right? I mean, if these shows get it right, amazing; but, if they have missteps, the pervasive cancel culture is ready to pounce.
DAVID: Yeah, there’s definitely a lot of pressure on all television writers now. My heart goes out to every writers’ room right now, especially cop shows because people are going to be watching very closely to see what happens.
Let’s go back a bit now. I’ve always described the two of you as the Cuban—and happily married—version of “Brangelina” (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie). You fell in love when you played cousins on the soap One Life To Live. Tell me about how the love story began. Did Melissa, for example, go against type and make the first move?
DAVID: Richard, are you kidding me?! [Laughs] I had to work hard for her! This is what really happened: I first saw Melissa when I was in a hotel room in LA and I thought “Let me turn on the soap to see what’s going on and see what everybody’s up to.” So, I turned on One Life To Live and the very first person that comes on the screen is Melissa. Right away I get on my phone and called one of my best friends who happens to be a director on the show, and I asked her who that girl was. She told me that Melissa had just started and that she’s Cuban, too, but she warned me that she had a boyfriend. I was, like, cool; she’s very cute, but, since she was taken, I forgot about the whole thing. A little later, the show asked me to come back and on my first day Melissa was sitting in the makeup chair, so I went straight up to her and started speaking to her in Spanish and she’s like, “Listen, I don’t speak Spanish.” And I said, “What do you mean? You speak ‘Cuban,’ right?” So, right away, I started flirting with her, but then there was a guy there, JP, who was working on the show who told me yet again that she had a boyfriend. I told him to relax, that I’m just trying to get to know a fellow member of the cast. Every time I saw her after that, I’d ask her to lunch or dinner and it took something like three months until one day I found out she broke up with her boyfriend.
MELISSA: Oh my God, David! You’re completely exaggerating! At most, it was only a few weeks. [Laughs] From my perspective, before David showed up to the set, everybody—I mean, everybody—was warning me, saying “Oh, David comes tomorrow; he’s such a player; he’s such a ladies’ man” and more stuff like that. So, when he first came out trying to be all smooth and talking to me, I was, “No.” So I just thought he was this player. But as a little time went by and I started having actual conversations with him, I started thinking that he was nothing like how people had described him to me. People have this idea of “David Fumero” that they projected on to him and that’s not him at all. That was a real valuable lesson for me: not believe the pervasive gossip about someone I really didn’t know. Here’s the moral of our story: After 15 years together, and two beautiful boys, I was definitely right about David. Oh, yeah; I was right.
Melissa, I have to tell you that of course I love you in the life-defining role of Amy Santiago on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, but, I must say, I’m also digging your two-episode stint thus far as “Estrellita” on the amazing One Day At A Time reboot.
MELISSA: I met One Day At A Time’s Gloria Calderón Kellett before I had ever seen the show and I was, “Oh my God! There’s a Cuban show runner!” I was just bursting with pride. She’s the coolest person ever and obviously so talented. And then, of course, I fell in love with the show and I was thrilled when they asked me to be on it. Because One Day At A Time focuses on a LA-based Cuban family it felt extra special to be on it. With production halted across the board, I heard about how they’re doing an important, politically charged animated episode, and Gloria asked me about it. She said, “Listen, I want to do this episode, but it may be controversial for you in this role.” I knew right away that I was in, so, I was like, “let’s do it!” Look, as you well know Richard, all of us Cubans are having these heated political debates right now and that episode was handled beautifully and so honestly.
Gloria told me she was inspired by her having a tough conversation just like the characters on the show with a cousin she loves dearly. You know, we’re all going through that. There’s a huge gap between us and we’ve become disconnected from each other was Gloria’s main point. The episode implored and challenged us to engage with people we love who we have opposing views about important topics. We stopped talking to each other to avoid conflict and these scary, uncomfortable conversations, but there has to be a way forward, right? But, also, I did the episode because I’d do anything to work with Rita Moreno! For the rest of my life, I’ll never forget what it was like to be on set with Rita Moreno and Gloria Estefan. It blows my mind that I’m even in the same room as those legends. And just getting to work with them and watch them work—they’re both amazing, incredible women who are also so kind with talent coming out of every pore in their bodies. A dream, really.
David, you first caused a sensation on a wave runner with Mariah Carey in tow in her sexy video for “Honey,” her first “emancipation” single after divorcing music executive Tommy Mottola. Any thoughts about that experience?
DAVID: Well, what I remember about that video is that I was in Italy at the time and I flew to Puerto Rico to shoot it and when I got there and met the director and Mariah they gave me the rundown of what we’re going to do. At the end of the conversation, the director said, “You can hang out at the hotel for the whole week and we’re going to have a big party at the end of the week.” I mean, I was like this 22-year-old kid and I was in heaven. The very first day I was there I wanted to relax and get some sun since we were going to start the shoot the next day. I think it was on a Saturday and I remember sitting by the pool with a cocktail and sitting up in my chair to see a Miss Puerto Rico beauty pageant or something like it happening around the pool. I’m 22 years old looking at this thinking, “I’m going to be here for a week having this much fun?!” I get a call that same night telling me I have to fly out as soon as I’m done with the video because I just booked another job. Mariah was so sweet; everybody there was very sweet, and the crew was great. I mostly remember being disappointed that I couldn’t stay longer to have a free vacation in paradise.
David, tell me about that iconic print advertising campaign you starred in for Jean-Paul Gaultier in that unforgettable sailor T-shirt that launched—pun intended—your career.
DAVID: Well, that job made my move to Paris possible because it was really my big break in the fashion world. I became good friends with Lynn, Gaultier’s right hand man in Paris, and both of them were just the coolest. I was young in a foreign country and working with them was insanely fun and, again, everybody was just so freaking nice and cool. That campaign felt like a job that was meant to be because if I hadn’t booked that gig, I probably wouldn’t have moved to Paris and I probably wouldn’t have done so many things that I’ve done in my career. So, kind of important, yeah.
Melissa, for Brooklyn Nine-Nine, did you have just one audition or did you have to go through the whole process?
MELISSA: Oh, I had to go through the whole process. It wasn’t too crazy, pretty standard: audition, call back. I actually didn’t hear anything after the call back, so I forgot about it and something like two months later they called and it had been so long that I was like “Wait, what’s this?” I then went in to get screen tested and then I think I found out that I got it a week later. I remember saying, “Thank you, God!” I knew getting this role was a life changing moment. You know I honestly went into the screen test with the firm notion that there’s no world that exists in which I’m going to book this job and I remember walking into the screen test and Angela Johnson, who’s a stand-up comedian I love and adore was there testing as well and I was, “Yeah, that’s exactly who’s going to get this: somebody who’s really funny, who’s a real comedian.” I had zero expectations, so I ended up having the best audition I’ve ever had in my life. I walked out of that audition on cloud nine just thinking to myself “Oh my God, that was amazing. I don’t care what happens.” When I got the call, I collapsed on the floor in tears and just cried super hard because I really didn’t expect to get it. I just felt like they were going to choose somebody with a lot more comedy experience.
I’ve always been curious about this with a number of actors: Is there one consistent person you see at most auditions or that casting directors and television and studio executives always pit you against for a given role?
MELISSA: It’s funny, at points Gina Rodriguez (Jane The Virgin) and I went out for a lot of the same stuff—and she’s obviously so, so great.
OK, now for the good stuff. Let’s talk CBD. What got you guys started?
DAVID: Well, we initially got CBD for my mom. Melissa and I also have a CBD pen I used for help with sleep for a while and I really felt different, you know? And then I did some research on CBD and got it for my mom and she’s been taking CBD oil ever since.
I swear by Gnome Serum’s “Sandman” to help me sleep. It’s kind of an amazingly super rich, luxe cream that’s been nothing short of amazing for me. [Laughs]
DAVID: Sounds great. It’s kind of crazy how much I was loving that CBD pen, but since I do work out a lot, usually after training and spending a lot of time with the kids… by the time seven o’clock rolls around, I’m super tired. This is our new life. [Laughs]
Melissa, so what’s next for you? Taking over rom-coms?
MELISSA: I’d love to jump on the rom-com track, absolutely! Also, you know, there haven’t been any Hispanic superheroes. A fan sent me a note telling me that DC Comics’ Catwoman was originally Cuban in the comic book. I haven’t fact-checked that, but, if true, it’d be an interesting fun fact. [Editor’s Note: It’s true] Maybe it’s time for a Cuban superhero! [Laughs]
Thank you guys. This has been great. David, any last thoughts?
DAVID: I’m just feeling thankful, truly grateful, and I want everyone to please stay safe. We’re going to be OK on the other side of all of this. I just know it.