Childhood & Early Life
Cabral was born on August 28, 1984, in a second-generation Mexican–American family, in East Los Angeles, a part of the city known for retaining its personality and resisting gentrification over the years.
His father abandoned the family when Cabral was just 2. He grew up as an only child in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood riddled with street gangs, drugs, and violence, all of which had a lasting impact on him. Exposure to such harsh people and situations shaped him into a hardened teenager.
By 13, Cabral was already a member of a New Jersey-based street gang and had been incarcerated for stealing a wallet. By 15, he had turned into a crack and meth addict.
He spent the rest of his teens in and out of juvenile detention or jail. During his time outside, he managed to clear his GED, discovered storytelling and poetry, and experimented with rap and record tracks under the gang name “Baby Jokes.” He also became a father.
At 20, he faced a 35-year life sentence for “violent assault with a deadly weapon” after shooting a man while out drinking with friends. He was eventually sentenced to 5 years behind bars and realized that he needed to change the course of his life for good or end up dead on the streets.
On being released at the age of 25, after 27 straight months in prison, Cabral immediately hustled for a blue-collar job. However, because of his criminal record and his demeanor, he failed to get a job. Following this, some friends suggested ‘Homeboy Industries,’ a well-known gang-intervention program in Los Angeles. Soon, he was seen washing dishes and baking muffins by day and taking classes at the ‘Anthony Gilardi Acting Studio’ to prepare for auditions via ‘Homeboy’s links with ‘Central Casting’ by night.
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Within weeks of being at ‘Homeboy,’ Cabral earned a non-speaking role of a Cuban gangster in ‘CSI: Miami’ when a casting director came to their facility, looking for “extras.”
Soon, he was discovered by the producers of ‘NBC’s hit police drama ‘Southland’ (2009), starring ‘Academy Award’-winner Regina King. King shortlisted 10 ‘Homeboy’ wards for a visit to ‘Warner Bros. Studios’ and picked three. One of those boys was Cabral. This was his first audition and a turning point in his life.
He scored a cameo in Bruno Mars’s music video ‘Grenade’ in 2010, and soon after, he starred as ‘Marcelo Valdez’ in Chris Weitz’s ‘Academy Award’-nominated drama ‘A Better Life’ (2011).
A bunch of Hollywood stints followed in quick succession, including ‘End of Watch’ (2012, with Jake Gyllenhaal), Ridley Scott’s ‘The Counselor’ (2013, alongside Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, and Michael Fassbender), ‘Snitch’ (2013, opposite Dwayne Johnson), the comedy ‘Walk of Shame’ (2014), and the horror ‘Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones’ (2014).
He featured in a string of guest-starring roles between 2011 and 2014. These were in ‘ABC’s ‘Body of Proof,’ ‘HBO's ‘Luck,’ ‘NBC's ‘Chicago Fire,’ and the ‘Emmy’-winning comedy ‘Key and Peele.’ He was also part of a few low-profile features.
2015 brought the breakthrough role of his career, in ‘ABC’s commercially and critically acclaimed ‘American Crime,’ created by ‘Academy Award’-winner John Ridley. This was a role that had elements remarkably similar to Cabral’s own life. In the first season of ‘American Crime,’ he was seen as ‘Hector Tontz.’ Later, he appeared as ‘Sebastian De La Torre’ and ‘Isaac Castillo,’ in the second and third seasons, respectively.
‘American Crime’ brought him nominations for a ‘Primetime Emmy’ and an ‘OFTA Television Award’ in 2015. The show was also nominated for the ‘Best Ensemble’ at the 2015 ‘Satellite Awards,’ a title he ended up winning with the rest of the cast.
He wrote and produced his own shorts, ‘Secret Love’ (2015) and ‘In Varrio We Trust’ (2016). However, he was soon seen in another big-budget Hollywood action–thriller, ‘Blood Father,’ starring Mel Gibson.
Following this, he was seen in ‘Fox’s buddy-cop series ‘Lethal Weapon.’ It featured him as ‘Detective Cruz’ in eight episodes, making him an even bigger face on primetime TV.
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He co-wrote his own one-man theater show, ‘Fighting Shadows,’ with Robert Egan in 2016. The show related his experiences as a former gang member who had spent years in and out of jail. The play had a 3-week-long sold-out run at ‘The Rosenthal Theater’ in Los Angeles.
Soon, he produced and acted in his own Tarantino-esque indie ‘Khali the Killer’ (2017) and an episode of ‘Jesus and Moi.’ He was then seen in the fairly successful action-thriller ‘Breaking In’ and the Jennifer Garner-starrer ‘Peppermint,’ both in 2018.
The biggest news for his career in 2018 was ‘Mayans M.C.,’ a showcase for the Mexican–American biker culture, which featured Cabral as ‘Coco.’ He was nominated for the 2018 ‘Critics' Choice Television Award’ for the ‘Best Supporting Actor.’
In 2019, he was seen in the 9/11 drama ‘Windows on the World’ and in an episode of ‘Hulu’s horror anthology ‘Into the Dark.’ He has done the pilot for ‘Throwbacks,’ and his upcoming East LA thriller ‘Maze of Fate’ is in the post-production stage.
He directed four episodes of the series ‘Out the Box.’
Personal & Family Life
Cabral was married twice, but both his marriages ended in divorce. He married his second wife, actor Janiece Sarduy, on October 24, 2014. He filed for divorce and claimed the custody of their children after separating from her in June 2016.
Sarduy and Cabral have two children, Adalyn and Bella.
The ex-convict was bestowed with the ‘Lo Maximo’ award in 2013. This is an honor reserved for special service recipients who give back to the community or profoundly transform their own lives.
Cabral has his own production company, ‘Lineage Entertainment Group,’ which produced the independent film ‘Khali the Killer’ and his one-man theater show. Lineage also puts together a monthly live poetry slam in Montebello, California.
He has published his life story in a book titled ‘Vida,’ which is not aimed at narrating a comprehensive account of his time in prison or on the streets, with all the dirty details, but instead uses poetry to reveal his deep personal experiences.