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'Looking's' Raul Castillo talks season finale: 'I was proud of Richie'

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He’s a guy who knows how to make an entrance and an exit.

In the pilot episode of HBO’s“Looking,” barber-and-bouncer Richie came in by way of  Muni Metro—his flirtatious charm enticing Patrick (Jonathan Groff) to step out of his comfort zone by episode’s end. Over the course of the eight-episode season, their relationship would swipe left and right like an extended session of Tinder, all the while Patrick’s hunky boss Kevin (Russell Tovey) settled in as a point in a love triangle—unbeknown to Richie, who is played by Raul Castillo.

Spoiler alert:  In Sunday’s finale, Richie ultimately decided it was time to walk away from his rushed relationship with Patrick with his dignity intact. But it won’t be the last of him. “Looking” was recently renewed for a second season, and Castillo will return as a series regular next go-round.

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We spoke to the New York-based actor by phone just after he got done parking during a recent trip to Los Angeles — “No one honked, so I feel good,” he said. Read on to get Castillo’s thoughts on whether viewers should be sad for Richie, what song he found himself singing in front of Groff and the “Looking” crew, and his mom’s thought’s on that scene (you know which one).
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Can I just say, when I watched the finale, I had an overwhelming urge to scream, “Richiiiiieee!”-- like in the last scene of “La Bamba.” It ruined me.  What went through your mind when you read how things would be playing out?

Richie articulates his most vulnerable feelings in the season in that scene, I thought. And I just wanted to honor that, and what he was feeling. It was this great moment for this character to reveal something very truthful and, at the same time, something incredibly profound. I just wanted to treat that moment with care. And I also was proud of Richie for facing the reality of the situation and, as much as it hurt, stepping away. I was excited, in a weird way, to hear him assert himself. And, you know, he has asserted himself throughout the season, but I think there was something really kind of incredibly human about the feelings that he articulates in that moment.

Heading into the finale, viewers were picking sides: Team Kevin or Team Richie. Have you heard some of the chatter about how people are reacting to these two characters? 

Yeah, yeah. My girlfriend couldn’t understand why anyone would be Team Kevin. I told her that’s because she roots for the underdog. So do I, I gravitate to that. But that’s how it is. Some people are for the Yankees, and some people are for the Mets. I get so excited when I hear that the audience is polarized. I wouldn’t want it to be easy for Richie.

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I want it to be easy for Richie! 

Ha! But that’s dating! It’s about negotiating. I think the writers did a great job of portraying that.

Let’s talk about Episode No. 5, or as I like to call it: “romcom heaven.”  It was an episode entirely centered on Patrick and Richie. Was that daunting? We see intimacy on a conversational level as well as on a sexual level. 

Once we had a table read and we read the script, I was just excited. It’s a very kind of human story—that episode. It shows a real special time in a budding relationship. It’s that moment where people start revealing their private lives to each other and start assessing how another person’s world goes with or against what they thought they wanted. Jonathan and I had such a great time working together.

Well, one would hope you two didn’t hate working together when you have to deliver a sex scene like that.  I think some people wondered how you might feel filming that scene as a straight man. I mostly wonder if you beg your mom not to watch.

Ha! I'm laughing because my mother's reaction to me was, “esta fuerte, mijo” (you’re virile, my son).  When I read the scene, I knew it was going to be intimate. Real intimate. But I’m a huge fan of Andrew Haigh’s film “Weekend,” and he knows how to shoot those kind of scenes. Because sex is often awkward and almost too intimate across the board, regardless of sexual preference. And no one talks about that. Everyone thinks it's like porn. That’s not the reality.

But yeah, filming a scene like that requires a good sense of humor when you’re sitting around in the socks you have to wear down there. It’s a totally ridiculous situation, it definitely helps when you can laugh about it.

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People seemed to really appreciate, too, the conversation about sex the episode touched on —the whole top and bottom business.

Yeah, I think it’s important to introduce those conversations into popular culture because those are conversations that are happening.  And we’re not seeing them on TV. 

How about the evolution of Patrick and Richie’s relationship — from that fateful meeting on public transportation to breaking Yvonne’s heart.

It starts in this very un-traditional sense, on a public transportation system. I think Richie sees something in Patrick. He recognizes something that is deep and not just superficial. He follows his gut in the moment. I never saw it as him just picking someone up for a hook up. Someone mentioned this to me recently, which I hadn’t thought of, that Patrick is coming away from a situation where he was really vulnerable and embarrassed from this date gone wrong and he’s open in a way that he might not have been otherwise.

And in that pilot episode they meet up at Esta Noche. Did you hear they’re closing it?

I did hear that! I did hear that. That’s really sad. I live in New York and I know cities go through constant periods of gentrification and tremendous change. And I know how people in communities feel about their institutions and I think Esta Noche is an institution for San Francisco. It’s really sad.

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Let's talk about who you think Richie is--we know a bit about him, but who is he in your mind?

I mean, I think he’s interesting because he’s a byproduct of immigration and a cross-border life. He mentions having spent part of his youth in Mexico. That was really interesting to me. I grew up in a border town in Texas; and my parents were from a town called Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico, which is right across the border and I spent a lot of time going back and forth. And I had very much a bicultural upbringing. That’s one part of him that I connected with immediately. But he seems to be at a point in his life where he knows what he wants and he knows what he doesn’t want, and he’s very clear about that.

Right. And Kevin seems to embody what Patrick thinks he wants in a guy. The scene where he introduced Richie to Kevin and the whole hair cutting thing gets mentioned… oy.

Yeah. Patrick has all these preconceptions about what he wants from life based on his parents’ wants and needs, and he’s at that point where he’s coming into his own and he has to figure out what he wants. I think Richie and Kevin pose great alternative paths. I like that Richie is always honest. What you see is what he is. He’s not a dude who plays games. He’s straightforward. And there’s many levels to him. He’s a strong male.

Have you cut hair in your lifetime? My brothers and his friends were always cutting hair in the garage growing up. I feel like it was the thing to do.

Totally! I’ve been known to cut my hair. It’s been a long time. In the past, I’ve definitely gone down with some clippers.

Do you do a good fade?

I do a good mohawk. A rustic mohawk. But only on my hair!

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There’s a lot of talk on the Internet about how Richie is Patrick’s version of Mr. Big. What do you make of that?

I’ve heard friends say that, or they want it to be that. It’d be great to follow this character over the course of several seasons. There’s so much to reveal. He has a lot to offer. I do think the fact that Patrick keeps trying to fight it in these subtle ways speaks to how much he really wants it. He fights it pretty consistently but I think it says a lot about he wants to like it.

Well, you were bumped to a series regular, so you're on the right track.

It's very exciting. I have a supportive family who are very happy about it.

What's it like knowing so many guys wished you were on their team?

That’s flattering!

Should we be sad for Richie?

No, I don’t think you should be sad for Richie. He’s a fighter. I think when people are initiating a relationship, it’s always tricky. Even the best relationships, I mean when you’re trying to create a life together, everything doesn’t always fall into place. Both characters did a great a job of being true to themselves. I definitely felt emotions playing those scenes, but I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for Richie. He knew he had to walk away from the relationship at that moment, and a lot of people struggle with finding the strength to do that.

Do you think he’s the type to go home and cyberstalk Patrick as he tries to move on? Or is that more Patrick’s style?

Ha! I’m sure. Don’t we all fall into that temptation? But I don’t know. Richie doesn’t strike me as someone who has a Facebook. So maybe he’s saved from the pull.

Now I have to ask the question I've posed to nearly everyone on "Looking": Have you seen "Frozen"?

I have seen “Frozen"!  I took my 5-year-old godson to see it. It was awesome. It was so fun to see the kids interacting with it. I loved [Jonathan’s] character.

Did he ever get you to sing anything -- the guys showed me some fun videos of them singing on set?

Um, no. Except, the first time I met Jonathan when I flew out to shoot the pilot. I got there on a Sunday, a day we weren’t working. They were getting together—the whole crew—for karaoke. I don’t do karaoke. I don’t sing in public, much less in front of a Broadway star. But they were passing the microphone around during Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” I had to! I couldn’t not sing. So the first time I did karaoke was in front of the crew and cast of “Looking" ... singing "Girls Just Want to Have Fun."

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yvonne.villarreal@latimes.com

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TelevisionEntertainmentJonathan GroffFrozen (movie)New York YankeesRussell ToveyNew York Mets
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