Arturo Castro on the Persistence of RomComs and Trusting His POV to Connect with the Audience

We chat with the comedian about his new romantic comedy and the pressures of headlining ‘Alternatino.’
Brand New Old Love
Gravitas Ventures
By  · Published on September 1st, 2018

The romantic comedy lives. There’s no killing it. Just when you think there is no more blood from that particular stone out comes another drop. Arturo Castro never doubted the genre. We need it as a society. We need its optimism to block the terror of everyday life.

We have to trust that there is hope for us all. Castro’s new romantic comedy Brand New Old Love positions its audience at the edge of romantic desperation and then pulls them back from the precipice. Castro’s stagnant adult finds new purpose after a chance encounter with old flame Aya Cash. Having misspent their youth believing in the romcom miracles of My Best Friend’s Wedding, the lovelorn commit themselves to each other. Reality kicks in from there.

Castro has appeared in numerous television programs and films, but he is most well known as Jaime in Broad City. Since breaking out there, he has terrorized Netflix as David Rodriguez in Narcos and held his own against Amy Schumer in Snatched. Brand New Old Love offers him the opportunity to showcase his leading man capabilities.

I spoke to Castro over the phone right before he entered the writer’s room for his new Comedy Central series Alternatino. We chatted about the never-ending appeal of romantic comedies as well as their prosperous grip on pop culture. We also discuss his excitement surrounding his new sketch show and his hopes for connecting to a larger audience.

Here is our conversation in full:

The RomCom will never die. Why does it hold so such sway over us?

I think, listen, man, as an audience, and especially because of the times we’re living in, everybody sort of, I don’t wanna say that we’ve become more cynical as an audience, and as a people, but we’ve definitely become more aware that there’s so many issues to really fight for, right?

But what we’ll never lose is sort of like the ability to hope, right. To go to the movie theater with a bunch of people and see something that worked out. Do you know what I mean? Like seeing a story that was like, sort of, a love story with the impossible struggle and then it worked out, and it makes us feel good.

I saw Crazy Rich Asians this weekend, and I remember, walking out of there feeling good man, like, “Aw, that’s fucking lovely.” You know? And I think that feeling will be recreated forever. I mean Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally, they taught us how to be cute and awkward, and weird, and what love was about. And I think that’s the reason why the genre that won’t die.

And with Brand New Old Love, what do you think that film does, that makes it stand out from other films in its genre?

A couple of things. First of all, to me it was a little more of a realistic point of view on love. I don’t know about you, but I did make that promise with my high school girlfriend about when we were 30 because of My Best Friend’s Wedding. And this one sort of explored what would happen if you went through with it, and what happens to childhood promises when life gets in the way.

I think that’s appealing to it, and the reason, one of the most appealing things for me to do in a movie, was, personally, the main characters Latino right, but we never sort of acknowledge that. Nothing about his life or anything, has anything to do with the struggle, or the fairy tale or whatever. He’s just a guy. You know? He falls in love with a girl and he’s trying to work it out. That color-blind casting was really interesting. So that’s what I think the film says. It’s just an exploration of like realistic love.

Well, and, the film is not afraid to show its characters in a negative light. I mean, they certainly do dumb, human things, but they remain likable, and they still hold on to your sympathy.

Sure. Thank you. Thank you for saying that.

Well, from a performance standpoint, that’s what I found so appealing. It could’ve easily gone into a rather unlikable place. How do you ride that line?

Well, I think, you have one through line right. And the through line to keep in mind at all times, I found, was that everybody’s trying their best. You know what I mean? Like it was just, everybody tries their best with what they have, right? And I feel, as long as you see a character, even though whose … execution is not the best, like the intentions were there to begin with, I think that will keep an audience on your side. Because it’s like, what we do as human beings, right? Like we don’t always get it right, 100% of the time, but …

Right. And your chemistry is essential with your partner in the film. Aya Cash. How did you develop your relationship off camera, so that on camera the believability was there?

Well, the thing about Aya is, that she’s just such an incredibly gifted actress. You know? And I was always a fan of her, even back in her New York theater days, so I think it helped me, especially, you know, the first feature film I was the entire lead on. It helped me with the admiration Charlie had for her, the admiration that I had for her in real life.

But as far as chemistry goes, and how you build on that? Aya’s really funny between takes and I think we laugh at a lot of the same things, even though she truly disliked that I like Tracy Chapman covers. (laughs) I just love her, man. Tracy Chapman’s my jam! But yeah, it was sort of a joy to get to know her as human being, besides working with her as an actress.

Right now, you’re working on Alternatino. It was a long development process to get this show going?

Sure. Well most of all, it was interrupted by me shooting Narcos.

Oh yeah. Sure.

So, we got an order to pilot in 2016, right? But I went off to shoot Narcos for seven months. We had to postpone. And then we got back into it. Yeah we shot in January, and then we got approved in April and we started writing in July. So, it definitely was a process, but this is the first show I’ve ever filmed, so I don’t know if that takes long or doesn’t. You know? So, we’re writing it now, to October 15th, and then we go shoot it in New York. Very exciting.

What your point of view with this show? What’s the angle?

I’m trying to create. I’m just human. I feel that there are so many shows about what makes us different, but not enough shows about what makes us the same. And I think, sort of like the international, or the bipartisan, or the global common trade is what we laugh at. You know? As human beings, we have the ability to find certain things funny at the same time.

If you see the online version, that was very specifically Latino and sort of broad. With the television version, a lot of the sketches, you see, will have nothing to do with being Latin. But just by the fact that I have my own show as a Latino man today, living today, is an act of subversion in and of itself. Right? And what I’m trying to do with this show, it’s not create this echo chamber in which only people that agree with my point of view, or share my political beliefs, can come and enjoy. I want to try to build this conversation between both sides, and also break down some of the narrative that is out there about who we are as a people.

I think if you see people going through the same things that worry you, and they look nothing like you, maybe next time you see them, you’ll realize you have something else in common with them.

Everybody can relate to feeling awkward on the first date. Everybody can relate to feeling nervous for a job interview, about what your kids are gonna eat. You know what I’m saying? How you’re going to make ends meet. Everybody can relate to that. And I’m just trying to create a show in which you see somebody in an exaggerated, sort of, comedic venue; but see somebody that sort of understands you or that you can understand them. If we can create that little spark of empathy, man, Jesus Christ! Stick a fork in me, man.

Sure, of course.

I’ll be satisfied with that!

The world needs a lot of empathy right now, and exposure to varying points of view is essential to our development as a society.

I agree, man. We’re all sort of hunkered down in our own corners, right now, politically speaking. There’s such mistrust and such divide; and I think we need to show the media in places where we can go, “ah, wait a minute.” I truly believe that, you know, poor white people have way more in common with Latinos or minorities, than they do with rich white people. You know what I mean?

Oh yeah, definitely.

With the amount of worries we all go through, it’s way more similar on this level, than it is for the one-percenters. Right? So, I want to create a show that you can enjoy as well, man. So, you, as a person on the other side of the political spectrum, not you personally, but you can be like, “oh I guess Mexicans …” (laughs) I’m racist.     Yeah, “they’re uh … they’re living, they play just like me.” You know?

You’ve worked in a variety of environments: TV, various writers rooms, film. How does the experience of headlining a show, yourself, differ from anything else you’ve done?

Well, you have a couple of things. Number one, you get to define your voice. When you’re on another person’s show, you get to have some input and bring the coloratura of your performance to a script or a movie or whatever; but when it’s your show, man, it’s about defining what your voice is. And you know, trying to see that voice through. And then you hire these amazing writers that we have, dude. These truly, truly amazing people, that capture your voice and help you amplify it. Man, shooting the pilot was the happiest week of my life, so far.

I remember when I was a kid in New York, I saw a theater actor, and walking through the streets and seeing these production trucks. They closed off the streets and you’re like, “oh my God, a movie’s shooting here! I can’t wait to shoot a movie so I can be near these production trucks!”

I remember the first day on the pilot, I was walking through the street, and there were these production trucks and they were in front of my show, and I can’t tell you what a dream come true, and how my chest feels like it’s going to explode with gratitude from that.

I want to do for people what Broad City did for me. I want people to be discovered on my show. I want people to make a living out of what they love through my show, man. That is, I think, the best gift about having a show. It’s like being able to provide other people with work, you know?

Well, how’s your stress level around that? That’s a lot of responsibility.

I had a conversation when I was interviewing people for a certain position, and somebody was like, “what are you afraid of? Tell me what you’re afraid of.” And the thing is, I don’t really act from a source of fear or stress. Yes of course, there’s this high bar set. There’s this internal pressure because you have this sort of quality control in your head of what you want it to be; and you feel this responsibility that the show is just more than just you or the sketches. It’s an idea. Right? It’s about representation. So there is this, sort of like, internal drive, but as far as feeling the pressure, man, all I’m anxious about is, I can’t wait to get to the set and shoot it and share it with the world.

The thing is, the problems that arise, and the obstacles that arise, are gonna come to you, naturally. They’re gonna pop up and you’re gonna have to put out those fires, but I am just acting from a place of like, “Nah, let me just be on set. Let’s just do this!” I’m trying to act from a place of extreme optimism. The stress level is definitely there, but like, I feel that the best type of comedy is made when you’re in a happy place.

The exciting aspect to your show is that it is coming from your point of view. I’m trying to think, is there another sketch comedy show like yours? I guess Dave Chappell’s like that –

Yeah, what’s his name, Kroll?

Yeah, Nick Kroll. Right. Do you have an inspiration that feeds this show or your comedy, in general, right now?

Yeah, yeah, man. I mean, listen, to do runner sketches of these shows, and for people to get to know me, instead of me doing stand up, we’re gonna have these runner sketches in which you get to know Arturo as a character; sort of a heightened version of me that is sort of inspired by Curb Your Enthusiasm, just with a lot more Catholic Guilt. (laughs)

Yeah, it’s about this as my point of view as just the position between having grown up my entire life in Guatemala and then moving to the States 12 years ago, and finding, also, a home in New York. And what does that do to you when you’re from … Because, you know, when you assimilate, Guatemalans think that you’ve changed, and Americans think that you’re a little different because you’re not from there, I guess. So like, what is that balance in the middle?

And that is sort of a joyful and awkward thing to watch unfold. I think Arturo, the character, this fictional character that we have, he just really enjoys things like moisturizing his hands and Mumford and Sons. He’s constantly trying to prove that he’s Latino, too. I think that’s sort of like a hilarious thing to watch somebody have to prove their Latin card constantly.

Most of all it’s always an exploration about growing up, man, and growing up and being … what does it feel like to be an actor in today’s climate. You know? What does it feel like to be a person, a Latino dude, in today’s climate? And how do you attack that with empathy?

I really, truly cannot wait for you to see it, dude. I really, truly cannot wait for people see it. And see who it touches, and how it touches them. I’m really excited.

Brand New Old Love is now playing in select theaters and on Digital HD and VOD.

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Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)