Frankie J Alvarez plays Augustin in Looking – SoHo’s comedy drama about three gay friends in San Francisco.Looking is Alvarez’s first major screen role, although the Cuban American actor has guested in TV’s Smash and played Hamlet in English and Spanish.
FJA:Augustin is 31, and I think he’s in crux in his life. In his career, he’s an artist’s assistant working for this prominent Bay area artist named Steena Lieberman. I think he has a deep intense fear that he doesn’t have art of his own. Plus he’s in this long term relationship with Frank, his boyfriend, and they’re trying to inject some new life into it. They’re about to move in together – then they engage in this threesome in the pilot and I think he’s trying to figure out how can we keep things fresh and exciting. Things have come to a stale place and he’s trying to take the next step.
Q:He feels to a degree like someone for whom a train wreck is on the way. Without doing any spoilers, do we start to see things go …?
FJA:Well I don’t want to reveal too much but, yeah, his arc isn’t resolved in ep 2. We’re on the way to a crash. It’s going to happen.
Q:And the Internet always lies but you’re the straight guy on the set?
FJA:Yeah, I guess so.
Q:In as much as if you were playing a fire fighter you might look at what life at a station was like, is this a research based role for you?
FJA:I’ve been acting since I was six or seven and my mum and two of my three sisters are dancers so I’ve been around gay men my whole life. Plus I went to college so … you know what I mean? There are certain experiences that I’m drawing from personally and then there are things about how much research do I do. Michael and Andrew were really great, sent me a lot of research materials – some steeped in gay culture, some theoretical papers… Augustine fashions himself as an intellectual.
Q:How did you get the part?
FJA:I graduated from Julliard in 2010 and I was doing a show in Louisville when I got the audition. There was something about the script and the writing that felt zeitgeisty – something that could change the world. I finished the show, I flew to New York, I made love to my wife, I watched the Super Bowl, Monday I flew to LA, we tested Tuesday and I got cast on Friday.
Q:Quite a week.
FJA:Yeah. Andrew and Michael were huge champions for me. You see a movie like Weekend and you know that you’re in good hands with somebody like Andrew and Michael is such a magnanimous, open hearted human being. They really helpful for me, not only being the straight man but also having this as my first on camera thing.
Q:The fresh thing about the show seems that being gay is kind of incidental to the characters.
FJA:My character – who is Latin American – isn’t defining his whole lives through the prism of what it means to be gay or what it means to be Latin. I think there’s often a tendency in Hollywood to assume that a minority must be living their lives through the prism of … ‘oh my god, I’m such a minority!’
Q:Did you all live in San Francisco during filming?
FJA:When we came for the pilot in March, they put us up in a hotel in the financial district but Murray got a place in the Mission. We spent a lot of nights hanging, little sleepovers and stuff. We really get along well. It’s nice to see that the love is translated on screen. And then when we came back in the Fall I rented a spot in the Lower Haight. A beautiful neighbourhood. You’ll still see the hippies, it still reeks of weed when you walk out there, but times have changed a little bit.
Q:Yeah, it’s all dot comm billionaires.
FJA:The good thing is we’re not telling the story of elite San Franciscans. We’re telling the sort of the blue collar side too.
Q:Talking of accepting and more open, how have the locals responded?
FJA:For the most part everybody was welcoming. Our last night’s shooting, I had an outdoor scene in the middle of the Castro and we did have to deal with like some drunk people yelling. I also think there was a little bit of online trepidation about the depiction of San Francisco. Like when I watch a film like Bad Boys, say, I think that’s not the Miami that I was raised in. But I’m hoping that once they see the show they realise, oh my god, this is my town, not a glamorised version of it.
Q:With all the shirts off action did you have to buff up?
FJA:Andrew and Michael were searching for regular people so they didn’t want to change any of that. That being said, this is a show about men hooking up with other men, you know, and you want to look good. So when we showed up on set, the producers were like, oh my God these guys are 10lbs heaver in terms of muscle and all look a little bit more chiselled. I mean, if we’re going to be naked, we might as well look good. I mean I didn’t do any manscaping. I’m a Latin man and I’ve got hair and I embrace that. (Laughs)
Q:The banter between the three of you seems real – do you improvise any of that?
FJA:We definitely do have scripts but they really encouraged us to improv and it’s been really nice to watch. Episode two where we’re on the phone Patricks eating mac n cheese that was not in the script. We actually were on the phone. The last line ended, there was a pause and him eating sounded really funny on the phone. So I improved, “What are you eating? It sounds weird?” And then Jonathan rolled with it that whole ‘it’s kale salad’ riff. (Laughs)
Article | Oliver Hall
The entire first season of Looking will be screened from 12.30pm on Saturday 14 June on SoHo.