To play Latino characters who just happen to be Latino — without the plot resorting to Hispanic stereotypes — is rare, says actor Arturo Castro. That's exactly why he was excited to play Victor in Apple TV's new show “Mr. Corman."
The comedy-drama follows Josh Corman, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who also directed and produced it. Corman is in his thirties teaching fifth graders in California's San Fernando Valley after his music career fails to pan out. After his fiancée breaks up with him, he lives with his high school friend, Victor, who's there for Corman who struggles with anxiety and loneliness in this coming-of-age show.
Audiences get a glimpse into Victor's life in episode four when Castro, 35, known for his roles as Jaimé in “Broad City” and David Rodríguez in Netflix’s “Narcos,” plays a proud UPS driver and loving father. He's divorced from Vanessa, played by Michelle Ortiz, and struggles during a weekend to connect with his teenage daughter, Gabby, played by Miley Delgado.
Victor's warm presence is undeniable, as are his humorous antics in the series, from acting as a weight blanket to comfort his roommate to making a makeshift warm compress to help Gabby's cramps when she gets her period.
When the opportunity presented itself to audition for the show, Castro said he jumped on it. Since his teen years, he had been a fan of Gordon-Levitt's role in the TV sitcom "3rd Rock From the Sun."
Now the Guatemalan actor gets to play Victor and, though he is Latino, Castro said, he was relieved to see how the character was written.
"He happens to be Latin and it has nothing to do with his life or with the struggle of it or the violence of it," Castro told NBC Latino. "A lot about this character goes against stereotypes. He gets along with his ex-wife and he isn't an angry Latin dad with his kid."
That openness is shown throughout the series, distinctly toward the end of episode four when Victor is driving Gabby to church, asking her a series of questions about a pair of Jordans he found in her bag. Eventually, she caves and admits that she stole them from a friend. Victor expresses his disappointment but Gabby is quick to respond back.
“At least I’m not some driver that can’t even afford his own place,” she says.
“I am proud of my job. You understand me? And I’m damn good at it too,” he tells his daughter. “And the only reason I live with Josh is so I can give you everything that you need. You look at my life and you think it’s sad. Nah, mija. No, that’s not it.”
Victor's happiness about his life, Castro said, also appealed to him.
"Everyone is sort of obsessed with upward mobility," he said. "This is a character that has just figured out what happiness is and I think it's being at peace with yourself."
The actor admits roles like this are hard to come by unless one is making their own content or someone is writing that character, but he's appreciative of streaming services like Apple TV, with a global reach and a more diverse audience, especially as stories become more three-dimensional.
Don't get him wrong, Castro said, he still enjoys Latino roles that play into stereotypes.
"When I play a stereotype, I'm poking fun of it. There's a project that I'm attached to and it's sort of poking fun at that macho narco situation by making this big, ridiculous character," he said. "So as long as it's with a purpose with a teachable moment, I don't mind it."
His Comedy Central sketch series, “Alternatino,” which premiered in 2019, follows the actor as he plays off of misconceptions and stereotypes that surround Latinos.
"Mr. Corman" often uses magical realism, blending fantastical elements as its main character struggles through hardships. Castro loved the show's use of the device, referencing Colombian novelist Gabriel García Marquez‘s famous use of it and believes Latin America is talented in being able to create magical worlds.
"OK to not be OK"
"Our relationship with spirits, the world, and imagination in Latin America is because we've also lived through such hardships. There are ways to not escape reality but, to make sense of our reality, we go to the farthest realms of our imagination," Castro says. "In this show, when life gets too much, it breaks and you just go through a journey that explains what you're feeling — it's awesome."
The actor cited Guatemala, with its rich Indigenous culture and great storytellers who have created epic poems like Popol Vuh, which explores the world's creation from the perspective of the K'iche' Maya people of Guatemala.
One thing Castro particularly appreciates about the show is how male vulnerability is displayed. He believes that especially in Latino culture, a man is taught to always be OK. But this show showcases "it's OK to not be OK" and to explore living in that discomfort.
"I hope that message comes across about giving yourself permission to not always have all the answers," he said, "and it doesn't make you less of a person or less worthy."