Wilmer Valderrama knew from a young age that he wanted to become a successful actor, but it wasn’t until his loving parents gave him the encouragement that he needed that he truly felt he could become one.
Valderrama, who currently stars in CBS’s long-running NCIS and Netflix’s From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series, spoke with PEOPLE Now about how his parents, Sobeida and Balbino Valderrama, have been the two most influential people in his life.
“My parents sold everything they had in Venezuela, just so they could afford to bring us, the family, to the United States in search of a better opportunity,” he tells PEOPLE.
Valderrama, 38, was born in Miami but moved to Venezuela with his family at the age of 3, where his father worked as a farmer. When the family returned to the United States, they faced many difficulties, such as adjusting to the language barrier.
The former That 70s Show star says they often relied on their sense of humor to help them get through.
“My dad is a clown, my mom is a bigger clown, and I am an idiot,” Valderrama says. “Growing up in that household was very fun, very funny, and in the face of tragedy, a sense of humor, it was a big one.”
Though they struggled — especially with the language barrier — his parents found the strength to persevere for the sake of Valderrama and his siblings.
“My parents made sure no matter how traumatic anything was, that there was always… a different way of looking at it,” he explains. “They gave us a sense of humor to disarm the trauma that comes with going to a country, with being suppressed, being looked at as inferior because you have a strong accent.”
Valderrama participated in theatre to help him learn English and knew as a 6-year-old that he wanted to act, sing and dance. Though he was a child, he saw entertainment as a way to make money and ease some of the problems that the family faced.
Though his father initially seemed apprehensive about his pursuit of acting, it wasn’t until the family’s car was stolen early one morning that Valderrama felt he had earned his parents’ permission, and their faith in him, to go all in.
“Seeing my dad stressed, seeing my mom get emotional, and I looked at [them] and I say, ‘Mom, dad, don’t worry because I’m going to be a famous actor,” Valderrama recalls. “And my dad, with a smile at 2 in the morning, he just looked at me, really, really stressed — but able to manage a smile — he looks at me and goes, ‘Okay mijo, you can do that.’ “
Seeing how his parents’ support for him remained unwavering, despite the difficulty of the situation, was something Valderrama held on to.
“I felt in my heart that he had given me permission to do it,” he says. “Having him tell me that I could do that made me fearless.”