Julio Torres in Problemista

INTERVIEW: Julio Torres on How His Salvadoran Parents Inspired ‘Problemista’


When writer, comedian, and actor Julio Torres moved from El Salvador to New York City to go to college in 2009, he didn’t realize how many small differences he would face as he tried to make a new life in the U.S.

“There were so many rules,” Torres, 37, told Remezcla during an interview. “There were so many things that felt so overwhelming … like how banks worked and how getting a phone worked. Everything was a hurdle.”

Torres managed to jump all those hurdles and graduate with a degree in literary studies from The New School. A few years later, he entered the writers’ room at Saturday Night Live for six seasons and also created the Spanish-language HBO series, Los Espookys.

Torres now makes his directorial debut with Problemista, an absurdist comedy that he also wrote, stars in, and co-produced. In the film, Torres plays Alejandro, an aspiring Salvadoran toy maker who is in search of a sponsor, so that he can extend his visa and stay in the U.S. to work. He believes he’s found that in Elizabeth (Tilda Swinton), an eccentric art critic who tells Alejandro that she will sponsor him if he helps her organize an art exhibition for her cryogenically frozen husband.

Torres describes the lines that separate Problemista from his own experience as an immigrant in the U.S. as “blurry.” When writing the semi-autobiography, he took liberties in the narrative to make it uniquely original.

“I work a lot with metaphor, and I like things that are a little removed from reality,” Torres said. “I like to exaggerate things. I’m not just wholly interested in my experience. When you incorporate other people’s experiences, then it becomes a movie that’s not just about you.”

He also said that he and Alejandro share a resiliency that keeps them from giving up on their American Dream, no matter the challenges they encounter.

“You feel like you’re swimming against the current,” Torres said. “I don’t know that I thought, ‘[Getting a visa] is not going to happen,’ but I did feel like, ‘This didn’t happen today, but tomorrow, [it will].”

Torres credits his parents for giving him the hopefulness he needed to persevere. In Problemista, Torres’ mother (Catalina Saavedra), is much like his mother in real life – a woman who constantly tells him that everything is going to work out for the best.

“I was raised by someone who is not just a supporting mother, but an artist in her own right,” Torres said. “[She] bestowed that in me – the joy of creating something. My dad bestowed in me the joy of intellectual pursuit of being a very curious person.”

That curiosity continues to fuel Torres as he maneuvers his way through the entertainment industry. He said he feels “lucky” and “privileged,” with all the success he’s had so far in his career.

“I feel very uplifted,” he said. “I feel like every step of the way … I have had people trusting me and my voice.”

Problemista opens in theaters everywhere on March 22.