Josh dela Cruz on being the fresh new face of ‘Blue’s Clues,’ his Filipino roots
It’s something that viewers both young and old don’t need a trail of clues or blue paw prints to figure out.
Indeed, one of the reasons that makes Josh dela Cruz a snug fit for his role as the host of “Blue’s Clues & You,” the latest iteration of Nickelodeon’s hugely popular children’s show “Blue’s Clues” first hosted by Steve Burns (who played Steve, from 1996 to 2002) and Donovan Patton (as Joe, from 2002 to 2006), is the actor’s protean ability to channel a diversity of characters beyond his millennial upbringing.
After all, the 32-year-old performer had cut his thespic teeth playing a variety of characters on Broadway before he bested 3,000 other hopefuls for “Blue’s Clues & You”—from his stint as the understudy of the lead in Disney’s “Aladdin” to his role in Stephen Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along.”
We realized we even saw Josh in the ensemble of the wildly immersive musical about Imelda Marcos when we watched David Byrne’s “Here Lies Love” at the Public Theatre in New York in 2013. How’s that for serendipity?
In “Blue’s Clues & You,” Josh has taken over the seat vacated by his cousins, Steve, now a private eye at the Blue Prints Detective Agency, and his younger brother Joe, who’s now in charge of the Present Store.
But this heart-warming blast of nostalgia isn’t the only thing that excited us about the return of “Blue’s Clues” on TV. As it turns out, Josh has been revealed to be a proud Filipino American, onscreen and off.
In fact, Nickelodeon is commemorating International Family Day in the series’ upcoming “Bibingka” episode—at 9 a.m. on Friday (channel 33 on Cignal; channel 45/105 on SkyCable)—by acknowledging Josh’s Filipino roots and Asian American identity. In the episode, he and his clue-loving female pooch Blue whip up the Pinoy delicacy before his Philippine-based lola (Carolyn Fe) comes for a visit!
So you can imagine how thrilled we were when ViacomCBS agreed to help Inquirer Entertainment arrange this exclusive one-on-one interview with Josh last weekend via Zoom before the episode’s March 14 telecast.
And it couldn’t have started better than seeing a beaming Josh greeting us with “Hello, Kuya (older brother)!”—instantly demonstrating how Pinoy tradition has been heartwarmingly instilled in the value system of this handsome new face in children’s entertainment!
“The opportunity to represent Asians, Filipino Americans and Filipinos around the world is so special to me,” Josh admitted to us. “I feel so honored to be here. I got this audition from my agent, and I was like, ‘This is amazing! The show’s coming back on its 25th anniversary!’ I used to watch this with my little sister!
“I found out in the middle of my auditions that they saw so many people for this. I didn’t hear back from them for a month, so I thought, ‘Oh, it’s over. Let’s just move on.’ Then, my agent sent me an email about a final callback, and they said, ‘Oh, by the way, they had just auditioned over 3,000 people.’ So I got really excited—I was like, ‘OK, looks like I’m doing well!’ But then, I was terrified because I never thought I’d ever become a TV actor!
“I studied theater (he has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Montclair State University). I became a theater actor because I saw people onstage like Lea Salonga and BD Wong, so that’s why I thought, ‘OK, I could be a theater actor.’
“But it didn’t cross my mind that I could be a television actor because I never saw characters who looked like me on TV! It was always caricature—[Asian characters are always portrayed] as a villain or a foreigner. I never quite identified with those.
“So, when I came into this opportunity, I felt so honored. Just looking back at where I came from—my family immigrated to the States when I was 2 years old—and now, this. Suddenly, it’s like, anything is possible!”
The Dubai-born son of homegrown Filipino expats said he has vivid recollections of watching “Blue’s Clues” as a child.
“My little sister was 4 at the time, so that would put me around 7 years old when I watched it with her,” Josh recalled, smiling. “I still remember my Tita’s (aunt’s) pink rug, because she was the only one with cable. So, we’d go over her house, switch the channel to Nickelodeon, and watch ‘Blue’s Clues’ with my cousin Gabby.”
Our Q&A with Josh:
Can you talk about your Filipino roots?
My dad’s name is Roger and my mom’s name is Adelfa. They immigrated from the Philippines to the Middle East. My mom and dad essentially grew up in the Manila area. My mom was a nurse, who just retired this year. She got sponsored to work at a hospital in the Middle East with a bunch of friends.
My dad was working for a company in Germany, but was in the Middle East at the time. Through their mutual friends, they met, of all places, in church (laughs). I was just talking to my mom about this—my parents just celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary yesterday!
So, that’s how they met. My older sister and I were born in Dubai. Then, when I was 2, the hospital that my mom recently retired from sponsored us to go to the States, so we lived in Yonkers for the first three to four years of my life before ultimately moving to New Jersey, where my parents bought a house. That’s where I attended high school and college.
You know, my mom grew up in a one-bedroom house with her six other brothers and sisters, and I look back to that with gratitude, because my sisters and I were all able to go to school, coming from so little. Then, I got to be on this show and platform. I’m thankful for the chance to do my parents proud by taking the opportunities that they gave me and running with them.
Have you ever been to Manila?
It’s been so long. I’m 32 now. I was in the Philippines when I was a sophomore in high school, when I was 15, 16—that was the last time I’d ever gone there. We were supposed to go to the Philippines last year, but with everything that happened (with the pandemic), that didn’t end up happening.
You’ve managed to make the role your own. Did you feel any pressure measuring up to people’s expectations of you hosting “Blue’s Clues,” given that both Steve and Donovan were popular around the world?
I absolutely felt that pressure, because the show is important to me, my little sister, and my friends—that’s where the expectation is coming from. Of course, you don’t want to be the host that was bad (laughs)!
But I will say that after I got the role, Steve and Donovan came up to me when we were on set preparing to film it. They pulled me aside and said, “Josh, we don’t ever want you to feel like you have to replicate anything that we did, the way that we did it. They cast you because we all love what you bring to the role. So we want you to continue to explore that.” Since Day One. I have felt like I belonged, and that I’m able to do that every day on the set.
Steve has directed some episodes. What was that like?
Yeah, he wrote and directed a few episodes. He’s amazing! There’s always that fear of what it’s like being directed by the guy who created the role. But he’s so supportive, and Donovan just recently directed a few episodes, as well. If there’s anyone who knows about what’s necessary for this job, it’s them!
Steve, especially in the beginning, when we were doing a lot of crouching and I was kneeling a lot, he knew how much that hurt because I had knee surgery six years ago. He was always trying to find ways around it.
It’s been an amazing collaborative experience, where we’re always playing on set, so I’m so excited whenever he or Donovan is directing or whenever they’re in the show. Oh my gosh, it’s just magic!
Can you talk about the “Bibingka” episode?
It’s proof that the show or the network is all about inclusion—and we’re just continuing on that path. I’m so honored and proud that they’re not ignoring what I look like.
You know, I wasn’t cast because of my ethnicity—I was cast because I was the best for the role. So, they didn’t have to acknowledge my ethnicity at all. But they’re acknowledging and celebrating it!
It’s so important for me because, when I was growing up, nobody knew what a “lola” was—people thought Lola was just a name. But because of this episode, there’s a sharing of cultures that is bringing us closer together as a people. It’s such a source of pride for myself, my family, and other Filipinos—to know that we’re seen.
Watch the special episode of “Blue’s Clues & You” on Friday (May 14) at 9 a.m. on Nickelodeon (channel 33 on Cignal; channel 45/105 on SkyCable).
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