Rhenzy Feliz still isn’t used to seeing his face on billboards.
Feliz, 20, plays one of the main characters in “Runaways,” the new Marvel television show on Hulu. The show, based on the early 2000s comic created by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona, follows a band of Los Angeles teenagers who discover their parents are supervillains. Feliz plays Alex Wilder, the resident nerd and unofficial leader of the group.
But before he was leading a powered pack of teenagers, he was growing up in Winter Park.
THE REAL DEAL
Feliz was born in New York City but moved to Winter Park when he was a toddler. He lived with his mother in a government housing community on Margaret Square.
“We didn’t have a lot of money growing up,” Feliz said.
As his mom worked as a real-estate agent and did some odd jobs to make ends meet, Feliz grew interested in baseball, ocean life and, once a week, singing karaoke at Crane Roost Park in Altamonte Springs.
“For a kid his age, he just wasn’t afraid of going up on the stage,” his mother, Joelis Vallejo, said.
The grade-schooler’s signature piece was “Hotel California,” and the experience on stage inspired Feliz to try acting.
“It was this subconscious feeling (that I could perform) deep in the back of my head,” Feliz said. “My parents were always impressed I could get up on that stage and sing and act it out.”
Although Feliz spent his freshmen year at Edgewater High School, his sophomore year was different. Feliz’s mother and stepfather moved the three of them to Santa Monica, California. There, he became truly invested in acting.
“In Florida or places besides L.A., it’s like it’s weird to act … guys are supposed to play sports,” Feliz said. “I was on a baseball team at Santa Monica High, and I hear some of my teammates saying ‘Oh, I saw my friend’s play, he was so good, he’s such a good actor.’ And I’m thinking, ‘Oh! It’s cool to act here.’”
Feliz spent half his time in high school performing in various school plays, first as a Hollywood bigwig in “The House of Blue Leaves” and then getting a lead role as Scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz.” He began demonstrating his value in local acting showcases and at one point was close to nabbing a role on television show created by renowned director Ava Duvernay.
Eventually, though, he caught his big break. Near the end of high school, Feliz was cast as a romantic interest for a 10-episode arc of the Hulu show “Casual.”
He was overjoyed when he heard the news but soon found himself so nervous he couldn’t eat while on set.
Feliz’s mother said she will never forget the first time she watched her son on her television.
“It was a little surreal seeing him,” Vallejo said. “I was thinking, ‘This really is the real deal.’”
WELCOME TO MARVEL
Last year, Feliz spent his entire winter break waiting to hear back about the “Untitled Marvel Project” for which he had auditioned.
“I get called in, I do some of my auditions,” Feliz said. “Finally, I get a call from (Marvel Head of Television) Jeph Loeb, who tells me, ‘I have three words that are going to change your life: Welcome to Marvel.’”
The show, which is nearly finished streaming its first season, began filming in February and wrapped in October. During that time, Feliz acted with an ensemble cast, bonded with castmate Greg Sulkin, formerly of Disney’s “The Wizards of Waverly Place,” and learned how to keep quiet about the show’s plot points. He was encouraged by Marvel to keep a phone with an eight-number lock or he wouldn’t be given scripts to read.
It does bother him that although his character is the brainiac on the team, he’s also the only one without powers.
“I kept saying, ‘Give me a power this season; let me have a power,’” Feliz said.
HOME SWEET HOME
Since the show wrapped filming, Feliz has been using his free time to relax with friends and audition for new projects. As he often does during holidays, he has returned to Winter Park to visit his birth father and other family.
“We moved to L.A. four years ago, but in a lot of ways, (Winter Park) still feels like home,” Vallejo said.
She sits down to watch “Runaways” every week, and then again with her parents and then once more with the in-laws.
Even as his career develops, Feliz said he still feels grounded.
“Things are still more or less the same for me; I’ve still got my circle of L.A. friends,” he said, just before a man walking by to congratulate him on the show. “That sort of thing happens a lot more, though.”
Feliz is at the age at which he could join some of those friends in college, but the young actor has a different plan in mind.
“I want to keep working; this is what I want to do,” Feliz said. “Sometimes, I feel like I missed out (not going to college). … But I love the life I have now. This is just the happiest I’ve ever been.”