Jay Leno’s Garage

Child actor Josh Gonzalez on playing a young Jay Leno and making it in Hollywood


We've all been that kid who plays 'let's pretend' in their bedroom while dreaming of the day we can embrace the real thing. For a young Jay Leno, that dream was to one day collect, drive and talk about vintage cars, concept cars, luxury cars — basically cars of all racing stripes.

So when CNBC decided to shoot a promo for the new season of Jay Leno's Garage recreating a scene from the legendary comedian's childhood, the search was on for an actor that could not only exude his famous charisma, but also convincingly resemble a mini-me version of the iconic funnyman.

It was no surprise, then, that the lucky winner of that casting call was a charming and surprisingly precocious 11-year old actor by the name of Josh Gonzalez.

CNBC caught up with Josh after filming to talk about his time shooting with Jay, how his own bedroom stacks up to the retro set and how he got started in Hollywood.

CNBC: Josh, who or what got you interested in acting?

Josh Gonzalez: My mom has called me a 'drama king' since I was a baby and my friends always said I should be an actor. When we lived in Illinois, my mom signed me up for an acting class when I was 8 years old to see if I liked it and it was so much fun. I really loved it and felt very comfortable.

Soon after I started the acting class, Tom Logan, a hollywood director, came to class to do a workshop. There were around 100 people in the workshop. Even with all those people ... I felt comfortable talking to Tom Logan and cracking jokes with him. By the end of the workshop, he invited me to a Hollywood competition called International Model and Talent Association (IMTA). It was a five-day competition and I won Child Actor of the Year in my age category. At the end, there were call backs and we were told if you have three callbacks, you did excellent. And I had 25 callbacks! We signed with an agent and manager and soon moved to Los Angeles.

CNBC: What was it like to meet and work with Jay Leno?

JG: I have to admit I was a little bit star struck when I met Jay. I had watched his show Jay Leno's Garage with my dad, and my mom and grandma were so excited because they loved him on The Tonight Show. Jay was super nice. He shook my hand when I met him and he shook my mom's hand, too. I wasn't sure what to expect since he is such a big star, but he was really nice and really easy to talk to. He made me feel really comfortable working with him. What I really liked is that he didn't treat me like I was a kid. He spoke to me like we were buddies. He was so easy to work with.

CNBC: You play a young Jay in his 1962 bedroom. How different was that from your 2017 bedroom?

JG: Jay had a ton of cars in his bedroom and as much as I like cars, I don't really have toy cars in my room. I have a desk with my computer. That's where I highlight my scripts before I start memorizing them. I also have two huge containers of Lego pieces and different Lego building kits. I love to build. I have a lot of board games, too. I love to play Rummikub, Scattergories, Uno, Pictionary and Monopoly. And I have two huge containers of puppets. I love to make videos with my puppets putting on different shows. That is probably the actor in me!

CNBC: What did you learn about Jay Leno that you never knew before?

JG: I did not know that Jay actually flipped in the Hemi Under Glass car that was in the commercial. I saw that flip on an episode of Jay Leno's Garage and it was shocking to see that with Jay in it and Bob Riggle driving, and then the car was all repaired in the commercial.

CNBC: What did you think of the final version of the promo? Did it come out the way you expected?

JG: I loved the final version of the promo! I thought that it was so cool. It was so fascinating to remember what I filmed all day and then how they took pieces and put it into the promo and paired it up to something Jay did.

I loved where I rolled the toy car and then they showed Jay rolling in a real car, or when I did a donut with a toy car and Jay did it with a real car. That was so cool. Overall, I thought that the final promo looked amazing and I'm so glad [with] the way it turned out. My mom keeps getting calls from our Chicago friends whenever they see my Jay Leno promo!

CNBC: Now that you've played a young Jay, what other dream roles do you have?

JG: I have big dreams of working with all sorts of actors in all different types of roles because I truly believe I can always learn so much from anybody I work with, especially actors who have been in show business for a longer period of time. I actually have a bit of a dream at this point that Jay might do an episode and invite me to ride along in one of his cars with him. Jay's fans seemed to like the promo of Jay remembering his youth and wouldn't it be neat for "big Jay" to invite "little Jay" on one of the episodes and have them ride together?