Meet Actor Raúl Castillo, Who Plays Richie on 'Looking'
Article by Jesse Steinbach
It was a blustery Saturday, the day before episode 2 of Looking would air, but it seemed only fitting to drink Blue Bottle Coffee — hailing from San Francisco! — while chatting with Raúl Castillo about his role on HBO's new series. Castillo plays Richie, Patrick's (Jonathan Groff) current love interest—and one of the most intriguing characters we're just getting to know.
A quick refresher: In the first episode the two guys shared a sexy encounter on public transportation. Flirty grins and a fancy business card were exchanged, and Patrick met up with Richie later in the evening. In Sunday night's episode, the duo turned up the heat, grabbing drinks and sucking face at Patrick's place. But when Patrick made a certain distasteful comment, Richie bailed. Poor Patrick was then left alone with the best date-gone-wrong therapy: mama's mac and cheese.
Richie's raising the stakes in Looking, and Castillo is bringing confidence, wit, and a damn charming smile to the screen.
Before Looking, you worked mostly in theater and in small, independent films. Now you're on an HBO show — this is huge! How's seeing yourself on television?
Raúl Castillo: "It's very new and this is just the first couple of weeks, so I feel like it's going to come in stages, and I'm going to see it in different ways. But so far, nothing crazy has happened. But it's great that I get to share my work with family in Texas and all my friends, with everyone who's been supportive of me, even from a distance. Now they get to see me on this kind of platform and everyone is really encouraging and excited about the show."
Weekend is one of my favorite movies of all time. Not because it's gay-friendly, but because Andrew Haigh is a brilliant writer and director and its premise is very simple even though its content is so complex. How was it working with Andrew on Looking?
"I'll take bullets for Andrew. There's a quality in the kind of person he is that makes you trust him. I had faith that we had a very capable and inspired leader, that he's someone who's going to guide us always in the right direction. Sometimes we would do two or three takes, and once he was satisfied, we would move on. When he's happy, I trust we've gotten what we need for the story. I always felt like I was in good hands. And I think a lot had to do with watching Weekend before shooting. They advised us to watch the movie before we auditioned. Once I saw the film — I loved it and thought it was wonderfully told — I wanted to work with whoever made it. Andrew was obviously such a great storyteller and he cares for his characters. They're beautifully drawn and have so many levels to them."
I read that Andrew gave the actors in Weekend flexibility in how they interpreted, and even improvised, the script. Did he have a similar approach to Looking, or was it more structured?
"The scripts for Looking were so good that we didn't need to improvise a lot. But there was certainly a looseness in the way that we shot. A lot of times, he would have us improvise into and out of the scenes. So there was a definite fluidity. They would just keep the cameras rolling at all times. There was an improvisational feel, even if it wasn't entirely improvised. There were moments of spontaneity, and those were encouraged."
I'm sure this spontaneity is what helps make the show feel real, like little snippets of daily life.
Andrew also pressed how important it was that Looking be shot in San Francisco. Do you think it's important the show was filmed in San Francisco? Do you have any personal attachments there?
"My family loves the city. We visited it eight or 10 years ago. I was with my parents and my sister. My sister was there for work and my parents went to go spend some time with her. And my little sister spoiled me. She's an accountant and not in the arts, so she flew me out. But because I was there on their dime, I took it upon myself to be the tour guide. So I got the books, and went online and did research; I talked to friends who had gone to Berkeley. We ate at all these great restaurants. The food's incredible there. So I had that kind of attachment to it."
"I also have a lot of friends from the Bay area, so I tend to gravitate to people from there. I was part of Lorimer, a short that Michael Lannan — Looking's creator — filmed. It was a prototype for Looking. That was set in Brooklyn. We were thinking Richie's character would be Puerto Rican at the time. But San Francisco is more of a Mexican town, so Richie's character changed. Either way, the character had so much potential, whether he was Puerto Rican in New York or Mexican in San Francisco. I think the way Looking explores Latinos in the show is really smart and hasn't been seen before."
Diversity in television is a hot topic. Like you just mentioned, Richie is pinned early on as a Latino character. Then Patrick makes certain presumptions that affect their relationship. How do you think Looking is approaching ethnic representation?
"So effortlessly. It doesn't feel forced, just in the way the story doesn't feel forced. It makes sense. It's similar to how the sex on the show is very story-driven. I think that's the case, too, with these kind of nuances we're talking about. It's not just for the sake of diversity, it's to move the story forward."
"Even the way Patrick and Richie meet on the bus. One of the reasons I'm proud to be a New York actor is that I get to jump on the train and be around so many people. It's not like big cities in the South where there's a lot of segregation. There's no separation. I love how in the first episode these two characters meet in that way. In L.A., public transportation feels like it's just for the economically marginalized. But in San Francisco and in New York, you feel like you see people from all walks of life on public transportation. In the same way, the show deals with sexuality, it deals with race. It feels natural. The characters talk about their differences, but the show isn't about their differences. Their differences are on the table, but it's more about what they share, what they have in common."
"I grew up in south Texas in a place that's 90-percent Mexican-American. My parents are from Mexico. But I always felt very American. When I would go to Mexico, my brother and sister and I would be the gringos. Then I went out to school in Boston and felt so un-American. Everyone always asked, "Where are you from?" I said, "Texas." And then they said, "No, where are you from from?" Then I understood that this is what most of America is like, and that I grew up sheltered. A lot of the storyline between Patrick and Richie is reminiscent of those years in Boston. Patrick, in a very charming way, is trying to figure Richie out."