Not since Queer as Folk has there been a prime-time television show centered on the lives of a group of gay men. That puts a lot of pressure on HBO’s new San Francisco-set series Looking. The incredibly beautiful (and foggy) backdrop together with likable characters and writing that is grounded in realism make Looking a breath of fresh air. The show premiered a few weeks ago and centers on three friends living in San Francisco: Patrick (Jonathan Groff), a video game designer with adorable blue eyes, Dom (Murray Bartlett) a mustachioed waiter in his late-thirties and Agustin (Frankie J. Alvarez – who we interviewed here), a Cuban-American artist who is considering moving across the bridge to Oakland because, duh, the rent is cheaper (and his boyfriend lives there.)
In the first episode while riding a Muni bus, Patrick meets Richie (played by Raul Castillo) a flirty charmer who works the door at Esta Noche (the only Latino gay club in San Francisco). Richie flashes a grin at shy Patrick and asks, “Wanna come? Got a special tonight: Pretty blue eyes drink two for one.” The two eventually meet up and begin to get to know each other. The evolution of their relationship is something we are excited to watch play out. Also, we decided their celebrity couple name should be Peachie.
Straight off the premiere we caught up with Raul Castillo to chat about his character in Looking, his favorite spots in S.F. and how watching Carlito’s Way as a teenager convinced him to give acting a try.
Where are you from?
I was born in McAllen, TX and raised between McAllen and my parents’ home town, Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico.
What city do you call home?
New York City.
When did you realize you wanted to be an actor?
I played in bands throughout my youth and for the longest time thought I’d be a rock musician. I started to doing plays in high school, drama was a big deal in a lot of schools in that part of South Texas. In fact, I went to school with Tanya Saracho, who is a writer on Looking, and she was a huge influence on me at an early age, introducing me to a lot of playwrights and encouraging me to discover my own tastes. My junior year of high school, I saw the film Carlito’s Way and that changed everything. Too many great performances to mention but seeing actors like John Leguizamo, John Ortiz, Viggo Mortensen and Luis Guzman turning out great performances on the screen like that… it made me think and put a bug in me.
How did the opportunity to work on Looking come to you?
I met Michael Lannan several years back through a mutual friend, he’d seen something I was in and asked me to play a part in his short film Lorimer which was essentially a prototype for what would later become Looking. I read the script for the short and thought it was a pretty sincere, well-told story. I felt the same when Michael contacted me last year to tell me HBO had green-lit the Looking pilot and asked me if I would come in and read for it.
Can you compare your experience acting in Looking and the short film Lorimer. How did your character, Richie, change in the TV adaptation?
Michael Lannan has such a deft hand, both characters were fresh and original and portrayals of Latinos I had not seen very much of. The original story was set in Brooklyn, hence the title, a reference to the L train metro stop. The character in Lorimer is Puerto Rican. When Michael adapted the script to San Francisco, the character became Mexican. Lorimer was the story of one night in the lives of these two guys. Looking is about the beginning of a new relationship and really tracks, over the course of eight episodes, the evolution of the beginnings of this relationship. Basically, I had more time to develop and shape the character. Also, Andrew Haigh, who wrote and directed the beautiful English film Weekend, was our Executive Producer for Looking and director on many episodes and his approach and vision had large part to do with the world of the show.
In Looking, Richie is Latino but not in the Hollywood stereotype kind of way. How much input did you have on the development of your character for the TV show?
I think that’s a testament to our writers. As an actor, I had complete freedom and input on many different levels throughout the shoot. I felt so supported and encouraged to explore. But the character was already there when I walked into it. It’s a beautifully rendered portrait. I know guys like Richie, I just hadn’t seen them on TV.
Any funny or memorable stories from the set?
To the guy who was really pissed off when he came in to get his hair cut the day we were shooting at Willy’s Barber shop in the Mission and quickly realized they were closed for the day for our shoot and let us know he wasn’t too happy about it, I hope he lets it slide and becomes a fan of the show.
I am going to assume you fell in love with San Francisco while shooting there (I’m from the Bay Area). What is your favorite part of the city?
How can you not fall in love with San Francisco? I’ve lived in New York for over ten years now and consider myself a New Yorker by this point and I love living in this city. But the pulse of San Francisco, and the Bay at large, has great allure. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that there is so much good food there. I don’t know if I could name one favorite place – there were so many that I loved – but my friend Octavio Solis, the playwright, took me up to Twin Peaks. There were breathtaking views of the entire city. Also, I love the farmers market at the Embarcadero on Saturdays. Oh, and the murals in the Mission are so great.
Did you do any “research” and head out to bars in the Castro before the shoot (or to watch drag shows at Esta Noche)?
The cast and crew were always hanging out on our downtime. Most of the hotspots that are featured in the show, we hit up at some point when we weren’t shooting.
When the trailer was first released by HBO, there was some pushback from people who thought the show lacked diversity. What was your reaction to that specific criticism?
I quickly learned not to pay too much attention to that stuff. People are going to have the reactions they have, preconceived notions included, no matter what. The work speaks for itself. Richie is one of the most richly-drawn characters I have had the pleasure of portraying on screen, hands down. I’m happy that people are out there who are paying attention and concerned for that type of thing – I agree wholeheartedly there needs to be more diversity on TV – but I think Looking holds it down for people of color.
What’s next for you?
I’m a playwright, in addition to being an actor. At the moment, I’m working on a couple of scripts: one that I’ve been developing with my theater company in NYC, LAByrinth, and another that that’s a collaboration between the La Jolla Playhouse and the Museum of Man in San Diego. Aside from that, working on developing a couple of feature film projects that I’m interested in acting in. I like to stay busy, I’m happiest when I’m working.