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Superhero Costumes Keep Dreams Alive for Hollywood Hopefuls

Struggling actors moonlight as superheroes in Los Angeles.

Actor Paul Louis Harrell leaves his apartment building wearing a $5,000 Iron Man costume in Hollywood on June 4, 2017.

While the Hollywood we see in movies is a place of glamour and beautiful celebrities, the cast of superheroes filling Hollywood Boulevard is frequently anything but. Many are people struggling to make a dollar as they pursue their dream of stardom.

"I'm successful because I have the best costume on the block and it's the most expensive one on the block," said Harrell. Longtime street performers like Harrell have concerns. They say business used to be more lucrative until the boulevard became overpopulated with costumed characters. Some look grungy, while others turn off tourists with aggressive demands for money.

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Toly Shtapenko, of Ukraine, takes a long stride along the Hollywood Walk of Fame wearing a Superman costume to impress tourists in Los Angeles on March 2.

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Justin Harrison kisses his wife, Hope, in their apartment before heading out to Hollywood Boulevard in downtown Los Angeles in his Superman costume on May 16. Harrison said they rely on help from the government to pay their rent because his income as a superhero impersonator isn't enough.

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Harrison rides a Metro train wearing a Superman costume on his way to Hollywood Boulevard on May 16. "I always go out in a costume," said Harrison. "I love seeing people happy and seeing them smile."

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Two Spider-Man impersonators, Rashad Rouse and Juan Carlos Banegas, change in the alley next to the TCL Chinese Theatre after working on Hollywood Boulevard on May 25. The boulevard is host to a diverse cast of superheroes from all over the world including Ukraine, England, Mexico, Germany and Nigeria.

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Matthias Balke poses with tourists on Hollywood Boulevard near the Dolby Theatre on March 2.

The screenwriter-producer-actor, who put $3,000 into his elaborate Batman ensemble, said he doesn't grab tourists or crack a joke to get their attention. Instead, he waits for them to come to him. "My way of soliciting is the quality of my costume," he said. "People see it, they come to me to ask me for a picture. I'd never walk up to anybody."

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Dan Inigo uses a tourist's smartphone to take a selfie on Hollywood Boulevard on May 24.

"It's a place of diversity, it's a place of drama, it's a place of illusion, a place of broken dreams," says the 25-year-old actor who prowls the boulevard dressed as Spider-Man. Although he barely scrapes by, Inigo says it's still a great gig for a struggling actor who needs to keep a schedule open for auditions.

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Rashad Rouse, 27, whose dream is getting his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, hangs upside down from a traffic signal in a Spider-Man costume on Hollywood Boulevard on May 25.

Rouse is a musician and sometimes works as an Uber driver when he is not working on the boulevard.

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Ramiro Rodriguez wears a Bumblebee costume, a character from the Transformers movie series, as he shakes hands with young tourists on May 26.

The 39-year-old former restaurant worker from Guadalajara, Mexico, changed his career after watching a film on Hollywood characters. Rodriguez and his brother invested all their savings in the costume. Even on bad days, Rodriguez said they still make enough to buy dinner.

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Omar Budhoo stands in front of Thomas Suriya's mural depicting iconic Hollywood celebrities while waiting for a green light to cross the street on June 2.

"My dream is to entertain. My dream has always been to entertain. I'm an actor," said the 48-year-old impersonator. "I'd probably die doing this."

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A young tourist tips Justin Harrison and his roommate, Reginald Jackson, after taking pictures with them on May 22.

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Donte, a musician who only gave his first name, straightens out dollar bills on May 25, his first day in a brand new Chewbacca costume purchased on eBay for $441. Donte said he replaced the old one because he wasn't making any money with it.

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Belnarr Golden, wearing a SpongeBob SquarePants costume, dodges a tourist trying to pull the nose of his costume on April 17.

Longtime street performers say the business used to be more lucrative, until the boulevard became overpopulated with costumed characters. "I crack jokes on them. That's my trick. I make them laugh," said Golden. "If I stand still, I'm not getting paid."

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Golden enters a public restroom with his SpongeBob SquarePants costume folded in half after working on April 17.

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Harrison high-fives a commuter as he and his roommate, Reginald Jackson, head home after working on May 16. "When I put on any costume of any character, I automatically feel like I am that character," said Harrison.

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Captain America impersonator Henry Hodge, a cinematographer from England who lives next to Hollywood's Dolby Theatre, enters his apartment in Los Angeles on May 8.

"The boulevard is the only thing that gives me the freedom to do what I really want to do," said Hodge. "I never have to miss a film meeting. I'm always available to shoot."

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Matthias Balke stands on Hollywood Boulevard on March 2.

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