Thursday, May 28, 2020
Text Size

20180831 Raul-Castillo-Headshot-1---Stephanie-DianaWith parents from Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Raul Castillo recalled always feeling like he was part of two worlds whenever he and his family crossed the border as a child.

“Being from the Valley, I always thought about where we as border residents belong on the fabric of this country,” Castillo, a McAllen native said. “We’re very much Americans and yet we’re surrounded by so much biculturalism that growing up down there I think creates a certain kind of character in us.”

That biculturalism shaped Castillo into who he is today as an actor and because of it he carries the Valley wherever he goes, he said.

Now, after years of supporting roles in television, film and theater, the 41-year-old actor is about to experience a turning point in his career with his new movie, “We the Animals.”

Based on the 2011 semi-autobiographical novel by Justin Torres, “We the Animals” centers on Jonah, the youngest of three rambunctious boys in rural upstate New York as their family struggles to get by during the 1980s.

Castillo plays the boys’ father, known as “Paps” who has a habit of lashing out against his family.
Castillo said signing on to the project was an easy decision.

“The novel is incredibly beautiful so to be part of an adaptation that I think remains loyal to the vision of the novel was a no-brainer for me,” Castillo said. “The story at large is dear to my heart but as far as playing a man like Paps, the character is so complex. There’s so many layers to the character. It was not going to be an easy feat but it was a challenge I wanted to take on.”

“We the Animals” explores what it means to grow up biracial and come out as a queer boy, Castillo said adding that these are themes that people in the Valley can relate to.

“It’s about a boy trying to understand his own sexuality and where he falls in the place and spectrum of masculinity and what it means to be masculine,” Castillo said of the film. “It really explores the toxicity that can derive from overt forms of masculinity and tropes that we’re taught, I definitely think that’s a big theme.”

“We the Animals” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last January where it received rave reviews praising the cast, direction and the storyline that earned it comparisons to Oscar-winning films “Moonlight” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”

Castillo recalls turning to acting at the age of 14 as a student at McAllen High School when he joined the school’s theater department. Theater, he said, ultimately led him to pursue a higher education.

“Arts gave me something to be passionate about, it was really the driving force to push me to a greater education,” Castillo said. “I got my bachelors in theater but it was very much motivated by my love for the craft and that began at McAllen High School. The lessons I learned there are ones I still carry a lot with me.”

Castillo would then go on to study playwriting as an undergraduate at the Boston University College of Fine Arts before eventually moving to New York in 2002. After years of appearing in off-Broadway productions and on television and independent movies, Castillo had a breakthrough moment in 2014 when he was cast in the HBO comedy “Looking.” The show, which ended its run in 2016, follows three gay friends in San Francisco and Castillo played the love interest of the show’s main character played by Jonathan Groff.

Recently, Castillo has appeared in the Netflix shows “Atypical” and “Seven Seconds.” Ultimately, Castillo is drawn to roles that challenge him.

“It’s important for me to participate in stories that are saying something about the world we live in in a new, fresh way,” Castillo said. “For something like “We the Animals,” I was so excited when I read the novel and the script because, I’d never been involved in something like this before. It felt so incredibly universal.”

Castillo is already looking ahead into his career.

Upcoming projects he has slated include “El Chicano,” a movie that will premiere at the LA Film Festival next month. The film features a cast completely made up of Latino actors that includes George Lopez and Kate del Castillo and features the first onscreen Latino superhero, Castillo said.

“There was something really special about that project,” Castillo recalled, “It felt like we were creating something that was bigger than all of us. I believed in the story.”

Castillo is currently filming a recurring role in the STARZ dramedy “Vida.” The critically acclaimed series follows two Mexican-American sisters who return home to take over their mother’s bar after her death.

Castillo is set to play the bar’s new handyman with a “questionable” past according to an article from Deadline Hollywood.

Like “We the Animals,” “Vida” deals with themes of sexuality and family. “Vida” was created by Tanya Saracho, a McAllen native and former classmate of Castillo, he said.

“Tanya and I have collaborated since we were teenagers at McAllen High School so it’s special to join her show,” Castillo said. “Latinos are hungry to see their stories on screen and “Vida” and STARZ are supporting Tanya’s vision to see these stories. It’s an exciting project to be part of.”

“We the Animals” is currently going through a nationwide rollout and is set to come to Texas via the Angelika Film Center and Café in Plano, TX next weekend and at Austin’s Arbor Cinema the following weekend. Castillo said he is talking with the film’s distributor to get it to play in the Valley.

“I really want to bring the film down there,” Castillo said. “I’m talking to the distributors to even do just a weekend screening of it, I’d love for people back home to see it.”