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As much as Showtime’s Queer as Folk and The L Word opened the door to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community’s world, HBO’s second-year comedy Looking is taking the logical next step.
The series, which is toplined by Glee‘s Jonathan Groff, depicts the honest — and funny — lives of three gay friends (including Murray Bartlett and Frankie J. Alvarez) in San Francisco. Last season, new series regular Raul Castillo broke out as Richie, the love interest for Groff’s awkward video game programmer Patrick. The straight actor brings an earnest portrayal of the Latino gay community to the screen, and come season two (bowing Jan. 11), Richie’s complex relationship with his family (and Patrick) take center stage.
Here, the actor talks with THR about shooting sex scenes, how the LGBT and Latino communities have responded to the series and how Looking stands apart from its predecessors.
How did you prepare to play Richie?
I watched [Looking EP] Andrew Haigh‘s Weekend, and that was a great barometer of how I should approach the work. But I didn’t need to bring any affectations. I just brought my own sense of love and emotions to the character. It’s funny, I was just emailing with a guy I did a short film with several years ago who is a gay Latino tattoo artist in L.A., and we became friends. His astuteness and self-assuredness became a gauge for how I approached Richie. It was being myself and also having someone in real life who was confident, strong, complicated and self-assured; that was the best [preparation].
As a straight actor, what have you learned about the gay community from working on this show?
I think the gay community is underrepresented. People are starving for stories, and that elicits so many different reactions. And Looking elicits so many reactions because of that. There’s a real need for stories that represent the LGBT community because there aren’t enough, and we need more. Looking can’t fill in all the voids, but we do a good job of telling some stories.
Shows like Queer as Folk, The L Word, Grey’s Anatomy and Modern Family have put the spotlight on LGBT relationships. How do you think Looking stands apart from them?
I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I’ve watched Modern Family and think Grey’s Anatomy is a good show. But our representation is more frank and sincere. Looking isn’t trying to do anything outside of itself. Andrew’s form of storytelling is so subtle.
HBO has a very niche comedy brand. Why do you think people should watch Looking?
In an era where we try to mask so much of what real life is with complicated tales of reality, I think Looking is trying to be authentic, to be real and portray real human stories. I think people respond to that, and the people who have responded to our show so far appreciate that kind of frank approach to storytelling. HBO takes risks on shows, and they’ve really gotten behind the show in an incredible way. That’s allowed us to tell some really great stories that wouldn’t be told because people don’t tend to take those kinds of risks in the television and film world. The writers and creators of the show are really given a lot of freedom, and that’s a testament to everyone at HBO, that they trust the people they employ to create their shows.
Richie is a very different character than audiences have seen before, a Mexican-American, out gay man whose family doesn’t accept him. What kind of feedback have you gotten from your community about him?
The writers did an incredible job of giving him a dignity and humanity that people are responding to. Latinos in the U.S. and in Latin America identify with the character a lot, and they’re refreshed to see someone like him on TV. That’s very exciting when you get to portray a character who means so much to so many people.
This season explores Richie’s strained relationship with his family. Is that the biggest change for him this season?
The first season was about his newfound love for Patrick, and this season is much more about how they’re going to negotiate a friendship after their split and what they’re going to be in each other’s lives. Patrick gets to know some of what makes Richie work and what created him. We’ll see Patrick and Richie get to know each other on a deeper level and continue to challenge each other.
The series isn’t shy when it comes to its portrayal of sex. What’s it like filming those scenes?
In the first season, my stuff with Jonathan — we found ourselves laughing a lot and having a good time and being silly because it’s so clinical. You’re trying to portray deep intimacy, but you’re doing it with a group of people all around you examining it like doctors and picking it apart. So you have to have a good sense of humor about it because it can be incredibly awkward. But fortunately we have a lot of fun and good laughs doing those. The show is a real portrayal of sex; it’s not glorified. I appreciate when sex is approached in a real, raw and authentic way. That’s what I’m drawn to in stories, and I appreciate the way that our show uses sex to push the story along. It’s never sex just for the sake of it; it’s always moving the story forward.
How has Looking helped your career? What do you hope to do next?
I definitely want a season three. Looking has opened so many doors for me. To get to play a three-dimensional character that people identify with — I’m essentially in a romantic comedy and there are so few Latino leads [in those]. I feel like I snuck in the back door and I got this great juicy role. It was so unexpected; people didn’t know what was going to happen with Richie when they saw the first episode, where he flirts with Patrick on the train. They thought this guy would be in a few episodes and that would be it. But the way he snuck in and became such a part of the world and part of the show is pretty amazing. It’s given me a great career profile. I hope to continue to do more film and television. I’d like to do some films this year. I did a couple of plays over the hiatus, between seasons one and two, and I’m going to focus on film this time. I’d like to continue to build on what I’ve established with Looking.
What kinds of shows do you watch?
I’m enthralled with Peaky Blinders on Netflix right now. I’m tearing that show apart! I love the acting, the period and the world. I always love watching Orange Is the New Black. I have a lot of friends on that show, and it’s great to see so many women on one show.
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