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How That '70s Show's Wilmer Valderrama Really Felt About Fez's Characterization

Wilmer Valderrama was born in Florida but was raised in his father's home country of Venezuela, according to Entertainment Weekly. The actor explained to Today that at 14 when his family returned to America for good, his father told him, "'Mijo, we came here to work. We didn't come here to go to theme parks or the mall. We came here to work.'"

That meant Valderrama had to earn a living as well. He was still a high schooler when he shot the pilot for "That '70s Show," but the long-running sitcom proved to be the young actor's breakthrough with the public. He ended up playing Fez, a weird foreign exchange student among the main group of Wisconsin teenagers "hangin' out/down the street," from 1998 to 2006 until the series ended.

Valderrama has moved on to other media projects, including "Handy Manny," "Encanto," and "NCIS," though he's also set to reprise his role as Fez on the upcoming reboot "That '90s Show" (via Variety). Here's how the actor feels about Fez's character all these years later.

Wilmer Valderrama is thankful he got to play Fez

Since "That '70s Show" aired, Fez has been the subject of criticism because he fits into the stereotype of a loud immigrant with unusual quirks, similar to Apu on "The Simpsons" (via Vox) or Balki (Bronson Pinchot) from the sitcom "Perfect Strangers." The show took pains not to name the character's ethnicity or original country, with his name being short for "foreign exchange student," but this also meant Fez was the butt of many racist jokes, like Red Forman (Kurtwood Smith) calling him various foreign names.

Wilmer Valderrama himself identifies as Latino but deliberately messed with Fez's accent so it would be hard to decipher where he's from: "I interpreted it as like, oh, we don't know where he's from, it'd be really funny if I just combined accents from different countries," he told Today. The actor was really just happy for a part with some complexity, adding, "I felt like that accent was another great aesthetic to create a character that was still multi-dimensional [sic] that I hadn't seen on television."

However, the "NCIS" star also acknowledges that he was still quite naive when it came to the lack of representation Latino people had on television shows. It's possible Fez would have been a very different character if "That '70s Show" was developed now instead of in 1998.