As a New York native, Tuffy Questell has been in the entertainment industry for over thirty years as an actor, producer, casting director, and musician passionate about increasing the expansion of the New York film market.
His career started in 1971 after starring in his first commercial with Mattel Toys when he was only two years old. He recalled loving being on set and always enjoyed every acting opportunity he had. He remembered how his parents recognized his big personality at an early age by giving him opportunities to perform, whether singing or acting.
Tuffy Questell comes from a musical home. Growing up, his mom was a lounge and wedding singer, and his dad was in a doo-wop group. Throughout Tuffy’s childhood, he sang and performed an array of music, loving all genres.
Because of his parent’s artistic and musical influence, he said, “Music, acting, and entertainment have been my life goal, my life’s energy.”
Tuffy was able to grow his love for music after landing a position as a talent coordinator in New York City, working for 20 years at Video Music Box, an American music television program primarily featuring hip-hop videos. He remembered being a young teen watching this program, so it was rewarding for him to be able to use his talents to interview and recruit local artists.
In our interview, Tuffy Questell recalled having the unique opportunity to interview some friends of one of the Video Music Box’s hosts, Ralph McDaniels. He got to interview Heavy D, Salt-N-Pepa, and Pete Rock, to name a few.
When talking about the opportunity to interview these amazing musicians, he said, “People loved the reviews of my interviews. I was a different interviewer than Ralph. I was extremely honest and straightforward, but I treated them like my friends, not celebrities. That’s what made the difference, so my appeal became very big. I stayed with Video Music Box for almost 20 of their 37 years.”
In addition to his involvement and impact on hip-hop music with Video Music Box, Tuffy has always been passionate about his acting career. Tuffy loves acting and is so grateful to have the opportunity to inspire people through his career. He also talked about the differences between television and film acting.
He loves that TV shows are accessible to so many people but explained how rewarding it is working in films that have been accessible worldwide. He said, “When you do film, it reaches parts of the world where they have little to no access to the Internet. When you get an opportunity to do a film that reaches the world, even if it doesn’t sell, it still gets seen.”
Tuffy explained how rewarding it is to meet fans who have been impacted by his work, both locally and internationally: “There’s nothing like running into someone who saw you in a film, and they get touched by that vibe of Hollywood. It’s a beautiful feeling. I’m not an Oscar winner. I’m not an award winner, but I have done the work, and they know that,” he continued. “That is where the appreciation comes in, and I love what I do.”
Tuffy Questell has no doubt shown his expansive active talent by working on a variety of films including Bamboozled (2000), Cayman Went (2009), Inside a Change (2009), Going the Distance (2010), Arthur (2011), Trophy Kids (2011), You’re Nobody ‘til Somebody Kills You (2012), Peeples (2013), Bert and Arnie’s Guide to Friendship (2013), A Miracle in Spanish Harlem (2013), Condemned (2015), Hot Air (2019), Wheels (2020), and Blackjack: The Jackie Ryan Story (2020).
In addition to his acting career, Tuffy also has also worked as a casting director and producer building his companies River Red Casting and 1 Umbrella Production. “As an actor, I get to be inspired, but as a casting director, I get to inspire others to aspire to greater heights,” Tuffy explained. “That’s a beautiful feeling. I love people, and I’m a people person. Everything I’ve done over the years is about people.
“Even my posts today are about encouragement and about helping people find their way through things,” he continued. “So, I’ve always been that person. As a casting director, I get to help others find their way through this business.”
In our interview, he mentioned that the two people who really helped him get to where he is today as a casting director and producer are his mentor Jaki Brown and his sister Cheryl Questell.
Tuffy Questell has worked in the casting department for several television shows and films including titles like Summer of Sam (1999), Bamboozled (2000), 100 Centre Street (2001-2002), Paid in Full (2000), 25th Hour (2002), Brother to Brother (2004), Messengers (2004), Preaching to the Choir (2005), Get Rich or Die Tryin’ (2005), Freedomland (2006), Blackout (2007), The Naked Brothers Band (2007-2008), Notorious (2009), and The Harder They Fall (2021).
Questell has also starred and been featured in several commercials with big-brand names like Xfinity, Pizza Hut, Progressive, Visa, Time Warner, Dunkin Donuts, McDonald’s, and Sprite, to name a few.
While Tuffy has a wide range of experience in the entertainment world, he has been featured in dozens of television shows like The $treet (2000), 100 Centre Street (2001), Hope & Faith (2005), Miracle’s Boys (2005), Rescue Me (2006), Prison Break (2006), Law & Order (2008), The Naked Brothers Band (2007-2009), The Electric Company (2009), Mercy (2010), How to Make It in America (2010-2011), Golden Boy (2013), East WillyB (2013), Person of Interest (2015), Gotham (2015), The Detour (2017), and New Amsterdam (2021).
Since Tuffy loves screen acting, he’s enjoyed getting to play multiple television roles throughout his career. Tuffy recalled a specific role that he really had fun with:
“I love television because you can play characters that make a permanent mark in people’s lives. Even when I did The Electric Company here in New York, and I played an on-camera DJ, they loved that! The energy was great. It was great for my daughter, who was a baby, watching me on The Electric Company. I love kids’ shows— Nickelodeon or other kid’s networks are really great. I love being able to speak to children. Anything that speaks to my daughter and speaks to other children is something that is meaningful to me.”
Tuffy Questell is passionate about entertainment, especially in his hometown of New York City. Throughout his career, he has valued and worked towards increasing the expansion of the New York film market. He said this: “So much is shot in New York, but they like to use exterior shots. They don’t always want to use the physical attributes of our talent in New York. If you go to LA, you can walk on any set in any of the studios like Paramount or Warner Brothers. They all have New York sets, so they can re-create New York in any part of the world.”
He explains that the reason he fights so hard to get projects shot in New York is that these New York actors deserve to work. He also said, “I still think that New York is a beautiful backdrop, and we have some great talent here. I’m all about trying to get more projects to stay in New York.
“The bad part of that is they’ll send a camera crew to shoot for five days to just get the exteriors: driving up the West Side Highway or through Central Park. Since they won’t actually shoot in New York, New York misses the monetary gains of shooting here. There are a lot of TV shows that love to shoot here, like Law & Order which has been here from the beginning of time, but a lot of films don’t always want to come here. If they’re only shooting exteriors, they won’t hire the actors.”
Tuffy Questell’s mission is to expand the number of films being produced in New York so the world can recognize the amazing advantages of filming there. Throughout his career, he’s been able to work on many projects in New York, like How to Make It in America with Luis Guzman and Blue Bloods, with season 13 coming out next month.
“There are so many projects that we’re going to be doing in New York that just makes sense,” said Tuffy. “New York is the backdrop of so much, and it’s not just cop shows. It’s reality shows, dramas, sitcoms, and even soap operas. It’s still a beautiful, vibrant city and deserves to have more shows here.”
One of Tuffy Questell’s biggest accomplishments through his thirty years in the entertainment industry came recently after being featured in a mural this April in the Bronx.
He said, “Coca-Cola and Rock the Bells did a mural here in the Bronx, and my face is up on the wall at the Madison Square Boys and Girls Club. I was able to have my parents and sisters there, and I showed the mural to my daughter. That was the most amazing blessing and gift to my parents, to my lineage, and to my legacy as a man in hip hop, a man in television, and a New York icon.”
Tuffy Questell explained how his image sits with other amazing icons like D-Nice, Grandmaster Flash, Amadeus, and others. It was a huge accomplishment for him to make his parents proud by using the Questell name to build this amazing legacy.
His motivation throughout his career has been simply about loving people. Tuffy said, “I love to give as much as I can. Everything I do is about being inspired in order to inspire others.”
Tuffy enjoys giving back and has a heart for loving others. In our interview, he told me about an organization out of Charlotte, North Carolina called Healing Vine Harbor that he supports. This cause is very important to Tuffy. He said, “They’re about helping women who have been lost in the system. We really are about helping our people.”
Tuffy also supports drummer and musician Ralph Rolle and his company Soul Snacks. Made in the Bronx, these cookies are delicious and are available at Walmart.
When asked what the most rewarding part of his career has been, Tuffy Questell said, “I think it’s being able to do what I love— being an actor, being an entertainer, being able to perform for corporations to churches to live events.
“I love that I’m going back into the studio this August to finally record an album because I just want to put some good music into the world,” Tuffy announced. He told me a little bit about his next project where he’ll be able to use his love for music to create a fusion-genre album called The Tuffy Project.
“This is not your typical album. It’s not one genre of music. It’s all the music that has made me who I am. There will be some classical pieces, some gospel, some covers, and more. I love good music, and I love that I’m finally putting this out.”
In addition to his desire to make music, Tuffy is excited about many new projects happening this year, especially his acting role in a new movie called Bloom.
“The storyline is about a young girl raised by her dad, and it’s really about empowering men who are broken— men who’ve been broken by history or their fathers. The young girl is trying to help her dad to heal while healing herself from the loss of her mom. It’s such a beautiful story about the relationship between a father and daughter.
“Since I am a single dad with a daughter,” Tuffy continued, “when I first read the script, it just spoke to me. It’s a story about healing, redemption, and love, so I’m really looking forward to shooting that towards the end of the year.”
Tuffy Questell has a lot of stuff in store for this year that he will be announcing on social media soon, so be sure to follow his Instagram here.
Follow Tuffy Questell on Instagram:
Tuffy Questell: @tuffybxnyc
1 Umbrella Productions: https://instagram.com/1umbrellaproductions?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y=
River Read Casting: https://instagram.com/riverredcasting?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y=
Other Websites to Follow:
Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tuffycastsfilm
River Red Casting: https://www.river-red.com/
Tuffy’s producing partner, Jaki:
Healing Vine Harbor, Tuffy’s sister’s organization in Charlotte:
Soul Snacks, Tuffy Questell’s cookie partnership:
Tuffy’s cookie partner, Ralph: