Meet Renny Madlena
The East Bay actor, who costars on the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, is relishing every moment of his hard-earned fame.
Renny Madlena has also appeared on the Hulu show Chance.
Photo by Tom Biagini Photography
Renny Madlena was a plumbing-supply salesman in his 30s, living in the East Bay suburbs and trying to pay the bills. So, naturally, he became a professional actor.
The now-55-year-old plays Deputy Estrada on the hit Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, which returns this spring for its third season. He also appears on the Internet show Gold Mountain. Both programs shoot in the Bay Area, making it convenient for the Moraga resident to work an “unglamorous” day job in and around San Francisco.
Born in Concord, Madlena played football at Alhambra High in Martinez. He later trained to be a firefighter—but the acting bug buzzed, getting louder each year until he could no longer ignore it. Now, he’s gone from local thespian to working TV actor who hopes to someday score a gig playing an edgy middle-aged dad. Diablo sat down with Madlena to discuss his fascinating trajectory.
Q: What possessed you to try acting in your 30s?
A: Acting was [always] in the back of my mind. In my mid-30s, I was thinking, If I don’t do this now, I’m never going to do it. There was some concern. … Then I saw there was a community theater in Pleasant Hill that was holding auditions.
Q: How did you “act” when you hadn’t tried it since your school days?
A: I watched a couple actors during the audition and thought, Well, that’s how you do it. I just copied them. And, shockingly, I didn’t get [the part]. [Laughs] But I was really happy with myself. Before long, I was doing theater all over the Bay Area and taking acting classes … and casting directors started coming in.
Q: Tell me about your day job.
A: This is usually a conversation stopper. I sell boxes. My company manufactures folding cartons for medical and cosmetic uses.
Q: Do many box salesmen get Johnny Depp comparisons?
A: It happens weekly—sometimes multiple times a week, in airports and restaurants. I have to let them down and say no. I tell them he looks like me. … People ask me if I want to be a Johnny Depp impersonator. I never would. I want to do my own acting.
Q: How has your role grown on 13 Reasons Why over the past three seasons?
A: Each season, it’s gone up. At first, I got an audition for a show that sounded weird. It was shot in Northern California, so that was a perk. I shot my scene and didn’t think about it, and then [the show] blew up. … Season two I was in three episodes. During season three, I’ve shot four or five scenes. I don’t know how many [episodes]. They’re very secretive. It’s such a big thing; I don’t think they want any spoilers out there.
Q: How much do you know about the show’s storylines before they air?
A: I’ll get my scene—if I’m lucky—a week in advance. Sometimes it’s just a few days. They used to just email you a script and say, “Here it is.” Now they send an encrypted link that you can’t print or forward. I had to sign nondisclosure agreements for this and last season.
Q: Do people recognize you from 13 Reasons Why?
A: Papillon [Quality Tea and Coffee] in Lafayette has kind of been my mobile office. I’ve been going in for years. The first day I walked in there after 13 Reasons Why became a hit, the people who worked there said, “Hey, I saw you. So, what do you do again?”
Q: Where do you want your career to go from here?
A: When I was young, I had stars in my eyes. I wanted to be a working actor who was getting good roles. That’s what I still want. I think I want what any actor wants: to sink his teeth into some good roles. I don’t know if I would’ve been mature enough or patient enough when I was younger. I’m at the age now where I’m just grateful to do this. Someone asked me the other day if this is my dream job. And, yeah, it is. I’ll just keep doing it as long as I can.