‘NCIS’ Star Wilmer Valderrama’s Childhood ‘Idol’ is a ‘I Love Lucy’ Icon

by Quentin Blount

Everyone has an idol growing up. Even NCIS star Wilmer Valderrama. He has a special person that he looked up to that made him want to become an actor.

Just about everybody knows who Wilmer Valderrama is. Perhaps you know him by the character he plays on NCIS — Special Agent Nick Torres. Or maybe you remember him from his time on That ’70s Show where he played the role of Fez from 1998 until 2006. Either way, Valderrama has turned himself into one of the most successful television actors in the industry. But from where — or better yet from who — did he get his inspiration?

The answer to that question is fellow actor Desi Arnaz. Valderrama explained as much in a 2019 interview with Forbes.

“My first idol was Desi Arnaz,” Valderrama admitted.

Desi Arnaz, without a doubt, is best known for his role as Ricky Ricardo on the 1950s sitcom I Love Lucy. A Cuban-American actor, he co-starred on the show with his then-wife Lucille Ball. Valderrama says that he grew up watching the show in Venezuela when he was still a young boy. He would watch the show in Spanish.

“I used to watch I Love Lucy in Spanish in Venezuela, and when I came to the United States I watched it in English, and that’s when I realized he had an accent.”

That was a realization moment for the now-NCIS star. Up until then, he had never seen “someone like him” in a leading role in a TV show.

“I’m watching this funny leading man, who dresses sharp, and that made me feel this is normal. At the time, even if there was a Latin character, you never heard an accent unless they were the bad guy, which is so not me. For the first ten years of my career, I had no real examples of someone like me in a leading role.”

‘NCIS’ Star Works to Promote Diversity

When he isn’t starring on NCIS, Wilmer Valderrama is working outside of the studio to promote diversity in the industry. He spoke just that with hosts on the Australian morning show Studio 10 back in 2018.

“It’s very important to me. When I first got to the United States back in ’93 or ’94, I didn’t see myself in television. Or at the very least, I didn’t see myself in television with aspirational roles that made me want to be that or think that I could.”

Valderrama believes that it’s important to keep normalizing the conversation of diversity. Because just like him, and Desi Arnaz before him, he wants other minorities to succeed in television as well.

“Diversity is something that is critical and is very urgent in America,” he continued. “We need to normalize a lot of our minorities. Specifically in this national conversation as we have this interesting look to immigration. It’s important that young people see themselves in television and normalize the conversation of diversity. Because that’s what America is, right?”