We can’t get enough of Broad City, Comedy Central’s women led hit about best friends Abbi and Ilana surviving in the unwelcoming but irresistible contradiction that is New York City. Unlike most hit shows of twenty somethings in NYC, Broad City, now in its second season, has done an incredible job with representing the diverse landscape of the Big Apple. (a.k.a. real life) Our favorite, of course, is Ilana’s lovable Latino roommate, Jaime. The Guatemalan actor responsible for bringing the character to life, Arturo Castro, took time out of his busy schedule to share with us a little bit about his childhood, the state of Latinos in comedy, and his upcoming Latin flavored sketch show, Alternativo.
Get ready to crush, hard.
What was your childhood like in Guatemala?
“My earliest memories were sitting down in front of the TV watching American commercials and memorizing them.”
When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time alone. My sisters are older than I am by generations and my mom worked a lot of the time and my dad wasn’t really around that much. My earliest memories were just sitting down in front of the TV watching American commercials and memorizing them. My sisters would come home and I would repeat them. They thought I was possessed or something. It turned out I wasn’t. Being alone a lot really developed my imagination and sense of play. I don’t ever remember really being bored. I didn’t really have imaginary friends so I had to play with my sisters’ imaginary friends.
How did you get into acting?
When I was 12, I was kinda a chubby kid. This girl that I liked, I found out she was doing after school theatre classes. She wasn’t giving me the time of day at school so you know my normal 12-year-old self thought “once she sees me act” so I started taking the classes and once I did, I realized… I ended up liking acting more than I liked her.
What was your life like before B.C. (Broad City) and what’s it like post B.C.?
“The moment Broad City came into my life, suddenly the rest of the world gave me the chance to walk into the room.”
How very Latin of us to be religious. [laughs] I always knew there was something unique about the way I tell stories, about the way I perform. Broad City brought me the validation I needed. Something to give me a chance. Before Broad City, I was doing a lot of commercials, a lot of side gigs. Always in acting. I decided very early on that I wasn’t going to take a day job because acting is my day job, but I was living in a basement apartment with no window. I remember my mom would call me, my mom has this fear that buildings are gonna burn down at all times. She’s like “How are you gonna get out? How are you gonna get out?” I was like “Don’t worry mom, I’ll figure it out.” I was living in a basement. There were a lot of moments… I didn’t think about giving up but I just kept hitting walls and the moment Broad City came into my life, suddenly the rest of the world gave me the chance to walk into the room. Then once I was in the room I just tried my best to show them all that I had been practicing and believing all those years that they didn’t know who I was. So from Broad City on, I live on the top floor now. I have a fire escape so that makes my mom happy. And the quality of the work that comes my way now is what I have always dreamed of.
What’s it like working with such powerful women?
It’s so cool and so wonderful to me that I work with such powerful women. Everything that I’ve ever learned about kindness, about resilience of spirit, about honesty, I’ve learned from women. I grew up with three sisters and my mom and the lady who took care of me when I was a kid, so I was surrounded by women my entire life. They were all wonderful, strong, empowered women… To me it feels like home. It feels like this is how it has to be. Cause, you know, I think every male actor wants to think of themselves as the next Brando, this really devil may care kinda character, but what has helped me throughout life is what I’ve learned about the strength in kindness. I learned that from powerful women. I’m so happy that I get to continue on my homeward journey, which is being around really creative, really powerful, really kind women. So yea, I’m home.
Tell us about your upcoming sketch show, Alternativo, that has the tagline “There’s Latino in all of us.”
“The main goal, and my main goal as an artist, is improving the perception of our culture worldwide.”
I have this beautiful French girlfriend with a beautiful French accent so I’ve gotten to know the French culture a bit. I grew up in Guatemala then I lived 10 years in NYC, so I’ve gotten to know those cultures. And what I realized, the common denominator is what we laugh at, what we enjoy, like the joy of life is what makes us similar. So, Alternativo is a sketch show that I want to take the best parts of the silliness that we grew up with, like Walter Mercado, and introduce it to a more mainstream audience through the goggles of comedy, like everybody from every culture can join us in a good laugh. It’s not going to be strictly Latino but it’s definitely going to have a Latin flavor. We are also gonna bring in the millennial Brooklyn viewpoint because that’s what I am. The main goal, and my main goal as an artist, is improving the perception of our culture worldwide. And this is the time to do it. This is the time. We are coming up, our voices are being heard more and I want us to have something we can point to and be like “Wow, that is really high quality and that belongs to my culture.” So that is Alternativo’s purpose. And it’s gonna be really silly and funny. We are gonna have a parody of Walter Mercado called Armando Bodega. It’s gonna be really special and I am looking forward to sharing that with the world.
How do you feel about the current state of Latinos in comedy?
I’m so proud of Gina Rodriguez and so proud of people like her and Raúl Castillo, who’s in Looking. I think the state of Latin comedy right now is wonderful. I have a theory on why Latin comedy is so funny. Guatemala is a very beautiful place but it’s also very dangerous. Violence is random. It’s very random. Since it’s a small place you are touched by tragedy around you a lot. Your only counter against that is to get back up and keep on going. Go to work… I think Latinos in general, no matter what the hardship, can always find a reason to smile and I think that is what we are seeing today… I hope that’s what we are bringing to it.
What are your wildest dreams?
“I would also like to produce my own shows where I can give my talented friends a chance to shine.”
Career wise, be able to do to somebody what Abbi and Ilana did for me. To make my name brand strong enough that for just being in the project, the project will get made. There are so many scripts that wouldn’t see the light of day any other way. And I would also like to produce my own shows where I can give my talented friends a chance to shine, just give them the spotlight and they will take it from there. So be able to build careers through my career is really a dream of mine. And on the Latin perspective, I just hope there’s a day soon where you watch a TV show and you’ll see a guy — that happens with Broad City, and it’s happening more and more — but what I wanted to see when I was a kid is you watch something and it’s like this guy’s a doctor, he just happens to be Latin. Not he’s a Latin doctor so he’s gotta be that stereotype… And Jaime too, if you see Jaime he happens to be Latin but what he is is a really sweet guy, he’s a really sweet character having a good time. He’s being a really good friend. You don’t pin him as a stereotype.
Last thoughts for the Remezcla community?
There’s a bunch of us out here hustling and working hard for you guys. And I hope that you will join us, I hope that you know what a pleasure it is for us to be representing our culture, what a pleasure it is for me. In the beginning of my career, there were a lot of immigrant roles. And a lot of people that I talked to were like, “Why do you take those roles? You’re so not that guy but A) I am an immigrant and B) these are wonderful stories, there’s no shame in it. There’s no shame in playing gay, there’s no shame in playing an immigrant. These are real life stories that are powerful and I am happy to be able to tell them. What I would like to tell the Remezcla audience is that there’s the Ginas and the Raúl Castillos and the Cristelas, all of us are really fighting hard to get a threshold, to get a foot in this industry to represent you guys and I hope you’ll join us for the ride cause we are doing it for you guys. And call your moms often.