The concept of web series High & Mighty is right in its title. Without knowing why (mystery is key to this show), protagonist Chelo suddenly finds that getting drunk or stoned makes him mighty: it gives him super powers. The series’ playful humor is clear from the outset: while any other superhero origin story might introduce you to its hero’s powers with a training montage or a scene about choosing an outfit to fight crime in, this one finds Chelo and his friends raiding his East LA family home for stuff they can break on his head to test his strength. A wrench? Sure! Bricks? Go for it! Car windows? Awesome! A potted plant? Bring it, man!
That his superpowers (strength, speed, even flight) are tied to different controlled substances is not good news for Chelo. You see, the young, perhaps too-laid-back Angeleno is trying to get his life back together. His well-adjusted girlfriend is tired of his drunken hijinks. She was hopeful that, upon finally getting rid of the ankle bracelet he’d been forced to wear for the past three months, he’d go ahead and get himself a job. No such luck for poor Chelo as he tries to find out what caused his powers to appear in the first place, sort out how they might be related to those clinical tests he’d been participating in for money, and possibly figure out why someone went ahead and shot him several times in the middle of the day in front of his friends.
Written by Cesar Mazariegos, the web series is directed by Carlos Lopez Estrada, who holds the distinction for being the youngest director to ever win a Latin Grammy (he did so back in 2012 when he was just 24!). And with episode titles like “Turnt,” “Super Mang,” and “Drunk with Power,” High & Mighty isn’t your usual superhero story. For starters, it doesn’t star a white guy named Chris. Instead, it is Jorge Diaz (of Jane the Virgin, Lost in Oz and Elena of Avalor fame) stepping up to the plate as the high and mighty Chelo. This is the kind of breakthrough role any actor dreams of: there are stunts, there are drunken emotional scenes, and there are plenty of hilarious scenes that will surely make Diaz a comedic actor to follow.
Before heading to Park City, where High & Mighty is screening as part of the Sundance Film Festival, Diaz chatted with Remezcla about this one of a kind project. He talked about the thrill of working with Mazariegos and Lopez Estrada, why he enjoyed doing his own stunts (despite that concussion he got) and the joy of embracing a project that upends Latino stereotypes. Check out highlights from our chat and an exclusive clip below.
On Landing the Part of Chelo
Just like any other audition, I got an email from my agent. All it said was that it was a digital series for a new platform and that a big studio was behind it. I got the character description and, to be completely honest, I wasn’t sure about it. Because I only read the sides initially and then they sent the whole script. Once I read all of that, I caught myself just laughing out loud so many times! I was like, “This is really funny. If they can pull this off this can be really great!” And I also thought it would be really fun to shoot! So then I Skyped with Carlos Lopez Estrada from New York and when I saw his face, I was like, “Who is this little 18 year old who’s gonna direct this show?” But he was giving me directions in such a mature way and he was so grounded. The way he was speaking — he knew exactly what he was doing. He was so great, and I researched him. I knew he came from a video background and I realized this guy was super creative. Then I met the show runner, Cesar Mazariegos, the writer of the show. He was such a great guy. Super smart. Super witty. After I walked out of that room, inside I made this decision. Like, I want to be a part of this. Hopefully I get the part!
On His Love of Stunts
Any time I get to do stunts, I get super excited! There’s a thrill-seeker in me. I actually got a concussion on set, when they were breaking all those things on [my head]. And I didn’t realize it! But it was fine. I saw a medic and everything was great. I was having a little too much fun. We were like, “Just hit it harder, man!”
The most fun scene is at the end of the third episode when I was tied to a harness, hanging from a crane in the middle of a home in Boyle Heights, East LA, above a hammock. The way it looks is just amazing. It was also just a fun shoot. It was like 3 in the morning. We were all tired. But it was so fun. You feel like a little action star! What also made it fun was the group around us. Everyone made it fun. It was such a great group of just young creative people in the arts. From all the actors to the entire production team. It’s just a fun-loving group of people.
On Making a Latino Story Everyone Can Relate to
I love the fact that Chelo could’ve been anybody. This is like the anti-superhero story. It could’ve been in the middle of Texas, with an African-American or a white guy or an Asian guy. But to me, personally, I really connected to Chelo because he reminds me of my older brother. To a tee. And I screened the first three episodes of the series to my older brother and his response was: “Dude, that’s like… that’s like me!” Literally! I look at him and go like, “Yeah, I know, right?” He’s just a regular dude who, like so many other people I know, is going through life and they hit a certain age when they go, okay I think it’s time to grow up. And none of us really want to grow up. You’re faced with challenges or responsibilities that you take on and that creates issues in your life. This dude just happens to discover he has superpowers. You go on this journey with him to see how he’ll solve these issues in his life. How can he save the world but also save himself?
I love that it incorporated parts of the Latino culture. Suddenly you see the mom come out and she’s speaking Spanish and we do that whole scene with her in Spanish. I found it so beautiful. [But] any person can relate to this [story]. We had a screening and we had an Asian mom in her fifties come up to me and say, “I loved this. I laughed out loud so many times. I was rooting for you!”
On Breaking Down Stereotypes With Humor
Stereotypes here are done with a wink. They’re very tongue-in-cheek, so that you know we’re making fun of them. I feel sometimes, historically in Hollywood, Latinos don’t get the privilege to do that. We’re just kind of handed roles and well, this is who you are, that’s who you’re auditioning for. I hadn’t even thought about it until this moment: we don’t get that opportunity because of the lack of roles that are out there, the representation and the images that we have in the media. I found it so refreshing that we were able to play off of those stereotypes [in this project]. We turn these stereotypes on their heads—when you do that, you’re teaching the audience like, “Come on! *Wink wink* that’s not who we are.” And then you’re just connecting with this guy at this human level. You feel his pain. Because this kid is just dealing with some real shit. It’s really funny but he’s just trying to get his life together! It’s also, coming from people who know what they’re talking about. From people who have firsthand experience, who know these people. And who are able to do it with a lot of fun. It’s all just very sweet.