To most Miami actors, Paul Tei's real-life career trajectory reads like a laughably absurd screenplay. Tei is among the few who learned their craft in South Florida venues, started their own production companies, and then made it big on the small screen — all without bolting the Sunshine State at the first taste of success.
Sure, Tei is doing the cross-country thing these days, commuting back and forth for a recurring role in Miami's Burn Notice — where he plays metrosexual money launderer Barry Burkowski — and La La Land's Zeke & Luther, a Disney Channel mainstay. But don't let the facts twist the story. He's a local kid who says he was never expected to do much. Now, Tei is the Latino version of a fledgling Philip Seymour Hoffman — not quite as round, but still stealing scenes every time his mug is on-screen.
He's not all an act, either. He writes, directs, produces, and even knits outfits. He readily admits he might have been better off concentrating on just acting or directing or producing instead of spreading himself thin by doing all three after founding the acclaimed Mad Cat Theatre Company in 2000.
"I've never really been able to focus on one thing for too long," he says. "That might be one negative aspect of my [career]. If I was just an actor, or just a director, I might be further along, financially and in popularity."
Not that he would have done things differently. "Without sounding too pretentious, it's not a choice. Stories and ideas pop into my head and gnaw at me till I get them out," he says.
Luckily for South Florida audiences, Tei does get them out. He has nabbed more Carbonells and "Best of Miami" nods than just about anyone else on the stage.
Even with his budding silver-screen popularity, Tei's biggest dreams are still under the hot lights of live theater. "I'd like to see my plays produced outside of Miami," he says. "To see how other directors interpret your work would give a huge sense of accomplishment and make you feel that you belong."
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