With a Netflix Series, a Sundance Hit, and a Superhero Movie, Raul Castillo Is Poised for a Breakout Year

Raul Castillo speaks onstage at premiere of "Special Correspondents" during Tribeca Film Festival on April 22, 2016. Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

Abundant sensibility matched with an eclectic resume have led Mexican-American actor Raúl Castillo on a path to rising stardom. He is poised to become a major name in the new wave of US Latino actors taking over film and television. Jumping between an independent production based on a bestselling novel, a Latino superhero project, and two episodic ventures on Netflix, the actor is primed to break out in full force this year.

His most noteworthy work was as a part of the ensemble cast of HBO’s LGBT series, Looking, a role that earned him a cult following and that challenged assumptions about masculinity from the perspective of a person of color. He followed that with a slew of small roles until he landed on the Netflix series Atypical with a recurring role. But it’s his role in Jeremiah Zagar’s We the Animals, which premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival, that revealed him as a powerhouse actor dissecting complex Latino men on screen. Based on Justin Torres’ novel, the lyrical film follows a young boy whose sexuality begins alienating him from his loved ones. Castillo plays the kid’s Puerto Rican father, Paps, who adheres to traditional standards of manhood, including some of its worst features like domestic abuse.

Castillo is now set to star in Netflix’s drama Seven Seconds, as narcotics detective Felix Osorio. The hard-hitting tale about race, corruption, and interconnectivity in the United States follows a large group of characters after a crime is committed with apparent impunity. Branching out even further into wide release ventures, Raúl Castillo recently shot El Chicano, a crime saga that promises to be the answer to the lack of superhero films with Latino representation. Set in East Los and starring a notable lineup of actors, this might be Castillo’s biggest move yet.

Taking a breather from his multiple commitments, he took some time to give Remezcla more details about everything he’s got coming out this year. Here are the highlights.

On His Character in the Netflix Series Seven Seconds

“These types of stories allow people to process what’s happening in this country and perhaps provide a bit of catharsis.”

I think as the only person of color in this particular unit of narc detectives, he becomes the moral compass or the barometer for a lot of feelings about this crime that goes down at the beginning of the show. In that sense, I think it was a great way to explore racial dynamics for people in uniform, or in our case in plain clothes. I knew that I was in good hands with Veena Sud, she has such an expert hand with character. I feel she has vested interest in my character. I never felt like I had to do anything that was stereotypical or that made me feel compromised as an actor. I got to work on material that was strong and compelling with a character that is layered, complex, and something different than what we normally see on television. I think that we need these stories now more than ever. It’s a tense political time in this country. There is a lot that this country has to resolve and learn to heal from in terms of racial politics. These types of stories allow people to process what’s happening in this country and perhaps provide a bit of catharsis, and I think that’s necessary.

On the Lengthy Process of Making We the Animals

I read for them in the summer of 2015: director Jeremiah Zagar and Justin Torres, the novelist, who I didn’t know was in the room. I’m so grateful I didn’t know he was in the room because I think I would have been really nervous. For me writers are like rock stars. Jeremiah and I had some mutual friends in the filmmaking world and that summer he got my email, reached out to me directly, and invited me out for coffee. He said that he and Justin were interested in me playing the part. At the time they hadn’t found the kids, specifically Evan Rosado, who played Jonah. They hadn’t found him and the company would sign off on me until they cast the main character. They had to push the shooting for another year because of the search for the kids. They looked at 1,000 kids before finding who eventually were our children in the movie. We shot in the summer of 2016, six weeks up in Utica, New York. We went back in February of 2017, in the winter when the boys had grown up a little bit and the environment looked very different. It’s been a lengthy process and to premiere at Sundance is just a total dream come true.

‘Seven Seconds’ still courtesy of Netflix.
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On Trying to Understand His Character’s Trauma in the Film

I think there are people in my life or whom I’ve encountered that have elements of Paps. I think I always try to understand where people are coming from and not judge them, even though it would be easy to judge this guy. When I read the script, the character jumped out at me at first. He does such terrible things. I was unsure if I even wanted to play that kind of character, but as I continued to read the script I just fell in love with the story. I wanted to be a part of it so bad, so by the time I got to the audition I was excited to get to portray this guy. I knew from the beginning that I had to try to understand where he is coming from and I know that abuse is something that is inherited and passed down. I think I just tried to come from a place of understanding in terms of why he acts the way he does and why he does the things he does, and not judge him as much because there are people in my life who have elements that are similar to Paps’.

On Exploring Masculinity Through His Characters

I love stories that explore masculinity in its real form and not some glorified version of it. I think partly the reason we have so many of the issues we have now is because popular culture glorifies these false images of masculinity. I’m much more excited by filmmakers and storytellers who are really digging deep and telling stories that really explore masculinity. I know that Jeremiah was really influenced by Lynne Ramsay, who is a filmmaker that I love as well. I feel like she explores masculinity in such a great way and I hope our story did too.

Raul Castillo and Evan Rosado appear in We The Animals by Jeremiah Zagar, an official selection at 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by Zak Mulligan.
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On Working With the Young Cast in We the Animals

We were at the house where we shot the film, where the family lives, one night before we started shooting. It was Sheila, the kids, Jeremiah, Zak our DP, and me. The goal was to rehearse and to start improvising and building chemistry as a family. It was sort of disastrous [laughs]. They are kids, so they are very whimsical. The three of them had never made a movie and it was a really new experience for them. They are not child actors. They were found on the street. It was a whole new experience for them and I think they were juts trying to figure things out. You could sense them trying to figure out what was the film and what was real. Children’s capacity for imagination and play is profound. Shelia and I are so lucky because we had three of the most amazing scene partners you could ever ask for.There kids are living, breathing, and being these characters. They didn’t have to try to act. That night we spent at the family home we got frustrated with each other and we had like a big family fight, and it was good. I think it kicked things off and it sealed our relationship and by the end of the shooting it felt like a real family. They felt like brothers. Shelia and I felt like we had a little bit of ownership over them. The whole process was so different than anything I’ve experienced.

On His Upcoming Superhero Movie El Chicano

I have a Latino superhero film coming out later this year. I recently shot a movie called El Chicano by director Ben Hernandez Bray, who is a longtime stuntman and TV director. He’s done a lot of stuff and he co-wrote the script with his producing partner, Joe Carnahan. We shot it last August and September with an entire Latino cast: George Lopez, Aimee Garcia, and David Castañeda, among others. We have so many great Latino actors in this film. I’m so excited about it. It’s set in East LA and it’s a really exciting project. I haven’t seen it yet but I had a great time working on it. It’s a noir story about a homicide detective named Diego Hernandez, who is born and raised in East LA and works in his old neighborhood as a homicide detective. He has to solve this murder that may be linked to his dead twin brother. He uncovers a character that’s been passed down through history, a sort of mythical, crime-fighting character, named El Chicano.

Seven Seconds is currently streaming on Netflix, We the Animals opens theatrically in the fall, and El Chicano is slated for release in late 2018.