Words: Tim Heap/Will Stroude
After doing the film festival rounds since 2018’s Sundance, queer coming-of-age tale We the Animals finally arrives in UK cinemas on 14 June.
Based on a semi-autobiographical 2011 novel of the same name by Justin Torres, it’s an arresting, beautifully shot film that focuses on a mixed ethnicity (half-white, half-Puerto Rican) family living in upstate New York.
The story is told from the perspective of the youngest of three pre-teen boys, Jonah (Evan Rosado, just nine at the time of filming), as he begins to discover his queer identity and grows apart from his family, including his surly, macho father, Paps, played by former Looking star Raúl Castillo.
Raúl Castillo (Paps) witt Evan Rosado (Jonah) in 'We the Animals'
As Looking’s earnest Richie Ventura, Castillo was immediately taken to heart by fans of HBO's slow-burning drama about the lives of a group of gay men living in San Francisco.
In one episode of the second season, viewers saw Ritchie open up about his relationship with his father, who doesn’t accept his sexuality. In We the Animals, we see Raúl cast as the latter side of that dynamic.
"So, it’s interesting that the work I’m now getting allows me to navigate both sides of that.”
He continues: “I never saw [Paps] as a bad guy, that’s the kind of work that I’m drawn to, stuff that’s not black or white but sits in a grey zone, where you’re not sure how to feel about things. I think that’s life.”
Raúl also saw himself reflected in young Jonah. Although straight, he says he’s always been the more sensitive one in his family, “a bit of a sensitive soul in a macho environment.”
“Acting became a source of solace for me as someone growing up in a very macho environment,” explains Raúl.
“That’s why I turned to theatre and film: it was something that saved me.”
Raúl, who had mostly appeared in independent short films before landing his breakout role in Looking, feels that stories from the Latinx community are increasingly finding ways to be told on the bigger stages.
Raúl as Ritchie with Jonathan Groff's Patrick in HBO's Looking
The 41-year-old says he has seen significant improvements in opportunities coming his way, and playing gay in Looking did the opposite of pigeon-holing him.
“Richie is a romantic lead, specifically Latino,” he explains.
"And to be quite frank, a lot of Latino actors don’t get to play those kinds of roles because they are few and far between. So, it opened doors for me.”
Read the full interview with Raúl in Attitude's July issue, out now.