Tony Plana was educated at Loyola High School, Los Angeles and Loyola-Marymount University, where he earned a Bachelor’s degree through the Honors Program in Literature and Theatre Arts, graduating magnacum laude. He received professional training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, England.Plana recently starred as Ignacio Suarez, the widowed father to America Ferrera’s Ugly Betty, in ABC’s landmark, groundbreaking hit series for which he received the 2006 Golden Satellite Award from the International Press Academy and an Alma Award nomination for best supporting actor in a television comedy.It is the first Spanish series to be adapted to English for a major American network and has received the highest ratings and the most critical acclaim of any Latino-based show in the history of television. Early into its first season, Ugly Betty has already garnered Peoples Choice and Screen Actors Guild nominations and Alma, NAACP, Writers Guild, Directors Guild, Art Directors Guild, Best Family Series, Golden Satellite and Golden Globe Awards. Previously, he also starred in Showtime’s original series, Resurrection Boulevard, and was nominated for two Alma Awards for best actor. Resurrection Boulevard was the first series to be produced, written, directed and starring Latinos, the first of its kind to be renewed for three seasons on a television network, and the most awarded series in Showtime’s history including an Alma Award for the best television series of 2002.
Having co-directed and co-produced the film A Million to Juan with Paul Rodriguez, Plana celebrated his solo directorial debut in December 2000 with The Princess and the Barrio Boy. It represents the first Latino family film to be produced by Showtime and stars academy award nominee Edward James Olmos, Maria Conchita Alonso, Pauly Shore, and two of Plana’s co-stars from Resurrection Boulevard, Marisol Nichols and Nicholas Gonzalez. The film received two 2001 Alma Award nominations for Best Made for Television Movie and Best Ensemble Acting and won the 2001 Imagen Award for Best Made for Television Movie. Plana’s television episodic debut was 2001’sResurrection Blvd.’sSaliendo, which garnered critical acclaim, receiving a GLAAD Award for best dramatic episode of the year and a SHINE Award nomination for sensitive portrayal of sexuality. He has directed several episodes of Nickelodeon’s hit series, The Brothers Garcia, receiving a Humanitas award nomination and winning the Imagen Award for its third season finale, Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover. He also directed the season finale of Greetings from Tucson for the Warner Brothers Network.
Plana is also the co-founder and executive artistic director of the East L.A. Classic Theatre, a group comprised primarily of Hispanic American theatre professionals. For the past 10 years, the East L.A. Classic Theatre has been dedicated to serving the Latino community through educational outreach programs to primary and secondary schools and through bi-lingual productions of traditional and contemporary classics.
Through the East L.A. Classic Theatre, Plana has developed a unique and innovative literacy program called Beyond Borders: Literacy through Performing Arts. It is designed to enable students to expand their educational horizons and academic achievements by moving beyond their personal, cultural and vocational borders.
Working directly with language arts teachers, Beyond Borders utilizes the performing arts to impact literacy skills in academically at risk and bi-lingual students. Proven to facilitate and even accelerate student achievement of district and state literacy standards, the program is being implemented in five school districts in southern California: Los Angeles, Montebello, Baldwin Park, San Gabriel, and San Bernardino Unified School Districts. It also collaborates with the Los Angeles Parks and Recreation Department, the LAPD, and the L.A. County Sheriffs Department to provide performances and after-school drama programs for underserved areas.
Plana’s distinct talent lies in his provocative adaptations of classic Shakespearean plays, specifically conceived for minority communities with little or no theatre going experience. He directs these plays against relevant historical backgrounds that foster interest in expressive speech and dramatic literature and which serve as catalysts for the investigation of personal and interpersonal psychology, race and cultural relations, socio-political issues and world history. For example:
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream, set during the Spanish conquest of the Americas, comedically explores the strained relations between Native Americans and the conquistadors ultimately proposing an integrated vision of Indigenous and European cultures.
- A zoot suit styled Romeo & Juliet, with 1940’s W.W. II swing music, features a Japanese Juliet and a Latino Romeo struggling to define their love and future in a city sharply divided by racism and economics.
- A Mariachi musical Much Ado About Nothing set in early California depicts upper class Mexican rancheros interacting with working class Anglo prospectors and farmers.
Plana is also committed to developing new works. He has directed several critically acclaimed theatre pieces, including: Judith Ortiz Cofer’s Don Jose de la Mancha; Nancy De Los Santos’ The Answer to My Prayer; and Rick Nájera’s The Pain of the Macho for HBO New Writer’s Festival. As well as Guillermo Reyes’ The Seductions of Johnny Diegoand A Heart’s Eye, adapted from James Agee’s book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, for the mark Taper Forum; and Rogelio Martinez’ Adrift for South Coast Repertory Theatre.
As an actor Plana has starred in more than 70 feature films, including JFK, Nixon, Salvador, An Officer and a Gentleman, Lone Star, Three Amigos, Born in East L.A., El Norte, 187, Primal Fear, Romero, One Good Cop, Havana, The Rookie, Silver Strandand Picking Up the Pieces with Woody Allen. He recently appeared in the action thrillerHalf Past Dead with Steven Segal, Morris Chestnut, and JaRul; The Lost City, with Andy Garcia, Bill Murray, and Dustin Hoffman; and Disney’s highly acclaimed GOAL, The Dream Begins! His soon-to-be-released feature film projects include El Muerto starring Wilbur Valderama, Justified, Towards Darkness, and AmericanEast with Tony Shaloub.
On television he recently starred in the Showtime Original Miniseries, Fidel, as the notorious Cuban dictator, Batista, as well as Showtime’s Noriega: God’s Favorite. He has portrayed leading roles in four critically acclaimed television series Veronica Claire for Lifetime, Bakersfield P.D. for FOX and Steven Bocco’s Total Security and City of Angelsfor ABC. He has also appeared in several Emmy award winning programs such asSweet Fifteen, Drug Wars: The Camarena Story, The Burning Season: The Life and Death of Chico Mendes and a special episode of L.A. Law, which also received an Imagen Award. Mr. Plana has portrayed recurring roles on NBC’s award winning dramaThe West Wing as the U.S. Secretary of State, FOX’S 24, CSI, Monk, Almost Perfect, and The Closer for TNT.
Plana has been very active in live theatre. On Broadway, his credits include Zoot Suitand The Boys of Winter. He has performed leads at the Mark Taper Forum in Zoot Suit, Richard III, Widows, and The Reader. He has appeared in a wide variety of productions in many venues, including Figaro Gets a Divorce at the La Jolla Playhouse; Rum and Coke, Cuba and His Teddy Bear and Bang Bang Blues at the New York Public Theatre;Rum and Coke and Charlie Bacon and His Family at the South Coast Repertory Theatre;The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit (The Musical) at the Pasadena Playhouse; A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hamlet at the California Shakespearean Festival; Fugue at Syracuse Stage Company; Ariel Dorfmann’s Mascara at the Arizona Theatre Company; and most recently received high critical acclaim for his portrayal of Santiago in Nilo Cruz’ Anna in the Tropics at South Coast Repertory, the first Latino play to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
He is the recipient of two Nosotros Golden Eagle awards for outstanding work in film and television, as well as five Los Angeles Dramalogue Awards for Theatre. In 2005 he was honored a Educator of the Year by Loyola Marymount University’s Department of Education and in 2006 received the Humanitarian of the Year Award from the Millennium Momentum Foundation at the Music Center. In addition to his extensive involvement in the media arts and education, he also serves on various boards including the American Red Cross, the Center Theatre Group Diversity Advisory Committee, Loyola High School Board of Regents and the Latino Alumni Society , Latino-Byzantine Quarter Foundation, and the Young Musicians Foundation created by Henry Mancini.
He is married to actress, Ada Maris and is the proud father of Alejandro and Isabel.