After two seasons on HBO, Looking came to an end this weekend with a film, concluding the stories of a group of gay friends from the San Francisco area. As audiences are watching to see how the show will finally end, actor Raúl Castillo, who portrayed Richie Ventura, is already looking beyond the film and its reception.
"I'm excited for what comes next and what young Latinos, or young people of color, that are being exposed to these kinds of characters, like Richie, will bring to the table," Castillo tells The Advocate in a recent phone interview.
Castillo is straight and Richie is gay. But the two share some indistinguishable qualities. The actor and the character were both raised in small towns — Castillo in McAllen, Texas and Richie in San Leandro, a suburb of the San Francisco Bay Area — before moving to big cities to pursue their dreams.
Castillo, the first in his family to attend college, moved away to Boston for college. In New England, he first learned to "navigate environments where I wasn't part of the dominant culture," said the Looking actor. Castillo grew up feeling a part of "the majority" in his hometown, where he was raised in a bilingual community made up mostly of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. The actor says he felt "somewhat alien" when he first moved to Boston.
Richie, who Castillo describes as "fearless," left his hometown for San Francisco, where he met Patrick, the man who becomes his boyfriend. Eventually, Patrick breaks Richie's heart.
The Texas actor felt drawn to Richie's character for many reasons, but what interests him the most as a writer and an actor in any character is, "What haven't I seen? What's new? What's going to get an actor excited about playing this role?" Richie, who is also Mexican-American, is a character who lives up to all of those expectations for Castillo.
"People are hungry for representation that are more indicative of their own experience and not just tropes that are safe for straight, white audiences," Castillo says.
As a straight man playing a gay character, Castillo admits that he's "come up against some discomfort, on the part of people that I grew up with, people in my family." Despite stereotypical expectations people might have about how a Latino family may respond to having an LGBT son or daughter in their family, or in Castillo's case, playing a gay role, he says he was "surprised by the level of support" he received from his family about his character.
This is one reason why Castillo says he is grateful for the Looking writer's room, which is not interested in creating archetypes of Latino characters like Richie. Instead, it is inclusive of "real, deep discussions about what the best choices were for these characters and what was the most refreshing representation, and what haven't we seen before."
Castillo has had interactions with his family about the LGBT community that he says he wouldn't have otherwise had a chance to have. "Looking opened up a space for that," he says. "There are characters and real-life people that paved the way for him to be possible on this kind of show."
It's impossible to imagine what impact any character on television will have on culture, but that doesn't stop Castillo from asking, "Now that we’ve seen Looking, what’s going to come after that?"
Wilson Cruz, the My So-Called Life actor and activist, posed a similar challenge to LGBT filmmakers and content creators, when he gave a speech about the Orlando victims at the Outfest Los Angeles LGBT Film Festival. Cruz lost a relative in the Orlando shooting that claimed the lives of 49 mainly LGBT and Latino people at Pulse nightclub on June 12 during the club's weekly Latin night.
"I hope that upon this scorched earth we have planted the seeds of ideas that will bear the fruit of more diverse and inclusive stories that include people of color in the LGBT community," Cruz told a packed house in Los Angeles. "If you do that, if you do that, their lives will not have been lost in vain. This is the challenge. And I know many of you. I believe you are up to the task."
"I do have hope," says Castillo, about Hollywood becoming more inclusive of narratives that center both LGBT people and people of color. "We're going to have to suffer through many losses for every win that we get, but I think there's a lot of people out there in the trenches making it work."