Michael Cienfuegos knew as a student at Chandler High School that he was going to succeed in the entertainment industry.
“I felt like it was going to happen,” says Cienfuegos who now lives in Los Angeles. “I didn’t think it was going to be just a dream.”
He was right. Cienfuegos stars in the upcoming film Fat Camp, which debuts during a sold-out screening at the L.A. Film Festival on June 21. It has been reportedly picked up by BET and is set to air at a time and date to be determined in July.
Directed by Jennifer Arnold from a script penned by Chuck Hayward, Fat Camp tells the story of immature fitness fanatic Hutch Daily (Chris Redd). To avoid being kicked out of his mom’s (Vivica Fox) house, Hutch agrees to work at his uncle’s (Mel Rodriguez) fat camp for the summer.
Cienfuegos plays Charlie Soto, a sweet and slightly nerdy rule-abiding counselor-in-training under Hutch. Together, this odd duo must supervise an irreverent group of chunky boys on their weight-loss journey.
“I’m starring as the second lead,” Cienfuegos says. “I play a counselor in training, a motivational leader. My character’s favorite place in the whole world is fat camp. The two must work together to help these kids on their weight-loss journey. Charlie and the kids, meanwhile, help Hutch in his journey to be a man.”
Cienfuegos adds that the movie “has a lot of heart to it. The cast was incredible. We’re all lifelong friends now. I’m really excited for us to all get together and watch it, to be honest with you.”
He is proud that the producers of Fat Camp, which doesn’t have a firm release date, were set on casting “real people.”
“The production company was interesting in seeing real people on the screen—all colors, sizes, genders and types—and paint a picture of what we see every day when we walk outside,” he says.
“They didn’t want cookie-cutter actors. They really taught me that there’s a place for everyone. Diversity is real life. Diversity is every day you walk outside. If it isn’t that way to you, then you’re not seeing it right. I promise it is.”
A former Chandler High School defensive tackle, Cienfuegos moved to the Big Apple to study at the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts after graduation.
He then made his way to Los Angeles and landed a part in Showtime’s series Shameless. In addition to his on-camera pursuits, Cienfuegos is a rising stand-up comic who bases his jokes on his childhood in Chandler.
“It lends itself to my whole career,” he says about his formative years. “While I was in high school, I did a little of everything. I played sports. I was in theater. All of that stuff really drove me or gave me the idea that this is a thing I could do.”
Throughout his schooling, Cienfuegos was supported by his fiancée Kyley Koeth, who he will marry later this year in the Valley.
Besides Koeth, he was inspired by CHS English teacher Luann Ewan and Kathy Valin of the theater department. Both of the teachers are retired and could not be reached for comment.
“Kathy Valin was basically my first director,” he says. “Even though it was early on in my life, she molded me to continue to love this. I played football, but I thought the plays were fun.
“By the end of school, I was strictly in theater. It was rewarding. Literature is very important to me as well. Literature and acting and writing. I write all the time with my stand-up.”
Cienfuegos says he can’t believe how his personal and professional lives are coming together.
“My wedding is the biggest thing for me this year,” he says. “My fiancée and I have been together for eight years. We met at Chandler High School. We went to New York City to go to school together. She’s also an actress.
“We’re out here living our dreams together. It’s incredible to be in love with the person you’re doing this with. It’s been incredible and I can’t wait to be married.”