On Narcos he was a cruel druglord; on Broad City he was a doting and beloved best friend. On Alternatino with Arturo Castro, Arturo Castro gets to play both archetypes—and many more. Though Castro toiled in shorts and indie films and bit TV parts for years, his career took off over the past five years in both the Colombian jungle, as cartel leader David Rodríguez in Narcos, and New York City’s concrete jungle, as Ilana’s roommate Jaime in Broad City. Now, he has his first starring role—well, lots of roles—in the new sketch series he created and stars in, premiering on Comedy Central June 18.
Castro originally created Alternatino as a web series in 2015 as a way to show off the startling range of talents he picked up over the years as a dramatic stage actor, comedian and TV host. The new series places him in an array of absurdist situations: In one, he plays a spurned bridesmaid, in another, a bewildered father giving the sex talk to his woke child, and in yet another he’s a time-traveling Che Guevara who becomes seduced by his own marketability in 21st-century capitalist America.
But each episode is anchored in a series of sketches in which he plays a version of himself: an anxious Guatemalan immigrant named Arturo trying to combat and transcend the dominant Latino stereotypes in American culture. “I’ve never seen a neurotic Latino dude on television,” Castro said in an interview in Manhattan in early June. “White folks think they have the monopoly on neuroses. I’m like, ‘No, dude! I’m neurotic as f-ck!’”
In the interview, Castro talked to TIME about the show’s relationship to Donald Trump, the untapped power of Latinx voices and the end of Broad City.
You began developing Alternatino with Arturo Castro before Donald Trump was elected. Has the concept of the show shifted since then?
The narrative that’s out there about Latinos is so politicized. When somebody in politics says “Mexicans,” they don’t mean Mexicans: they mean anybody Latino, it’s all the same. It really did spark something in me—that Latinos aren’t aware of their own power, politically and economically. [Almost a quarter] of all movie tickets are bought by the Latin community. If 24 percent of people went, “We want this!” Hollywood [should be scrambling] all over itself to create something to cater to that.
There’s such a toxic narrative that I wanted to provide an alternative version to that. I didn’t see myself identified onscreen, and I think there’s a lot of ignorance. I would like to believe it’s not mean-spirited—people who vote for these policies, I don’t think they’re bad people. I just don’t think they’re exposed to different types of Latino culture. I realized the best thing I could do to counteract this hatred is to build empathy.
And I want Latinos, as well, to be like, “We can retake the narratives ourselves!” On the show, we don’t really deal with Trump. We deal with the policies. Because dealing with the micro, or trying to respond to a tweet, is too [minor]. You deal with the macro, you deal with the poison.
Do you hope that Trump supporters watch Alternatino?
I do—even if they hate-watch it at first. I think they’ll find that it’s not attacking them, it’s attacking the policies. I’m not trying to demonize them. I think comedy can be a real instructive tool. I hope they watch and realize, “Not everybody’s out to get me.”
I try not to read comments, but in the trailer there was one I read that said, “Here comes another Republican-bashing show.” But that’s so interesting you think just because it’s a Latino show, it’s anti-Republican. That’s sort of the associative power, the Pavlov’s Dog that the Right has.
But I only saw one “build that wall” in the YouTube comments, so I think we’re good. I was really expecting a lot more. And I came on an airplane, so joke’s on you, motherf-cker!
You’ve worked in so many different mediums. Why are you devoting your energy to sketch comedy?
It sort of married all of those things that I really like to do. What fascinates me about sketch is, first, the opportunity to play with a bunch of different characters and styles, and second, because it takes a lot of skill to write. And if you were going to write a show about what it means to be Latin, there’s so many different types of Latinos. I thought sketch would be a great way to show so many facets.
Who are your sketch comedy idols?
Obviously [Dave] Chappelle. Amy Schumer, Key & Peele. But really the first person I loved in comedy was Eddie Izzard. He’s in drag but that has nothing to do with the show, and he goes on these World War II rants. I remember I was 12 years old and laughing so hard: I didn’t know you could be smart and also funny.
In previous interviews you have talked about your early career struggles—including having to choose between food or a Metrocard.
My mom gave me sh-t about that. She was like, “I sent you FreshDirect!” My mom paid for my schooling and helped me out a lot. But in 2009, I was like, “You have to cut me off. Otherwise I’m not gonna make it.”
I would be remiss to say that I was starving or begging—but I did eat $3 falafels every day for one year. I couldn’t do anything but exist and audition. There was one girl where it was like, “I can’t afford to date you.” I wanted to buy her some shoes and they were $60 bucks—but I couldn’t afford them.
It’s really limiting to not be able to do anything, but it makes you focused on the one thing you can do. It made me have to do five or six characters in short films [each] month in order to make ends meet. And I felt like if I hustled enough, my work was going to take me traveling. And sure enough, my work is taking me to Atlanta and Hawaii and Morocco.
Do you look back on that time with any fondness?
Yeah, with rose-colored glasses, in a sense, but I much prefer this. But you never lose that hustler spirit. I attack life now as if I was still living in a basement. I’m never satisfied with doing just one thing. I think that’s why this show is so good for me, in that sense.
I remember even when they called me the night I booked Lady and the Tramp [the forthcoming live-action remake of the 1955 animation]. I was like, “That’s great, but what about this other movie I auditioned for?” They’re like, “Can you just take a win?”
What was your Disney experience like?
I have a story about that: Lady in the Tramp was supposed to shoot one week and then I was supposed to shoot the last episode ever of Broad City the next week. But there was a hurricane in Savannah so they had to push for a week. The dates conflicted and Disney was like, “We can’t move the dates. It’s us or them.”
Everyone told me I should take Disney, but I thought, “If I take Disney instead of Broad City, that’s the person I’m going to become: the dude that takes the best opportunity and f-cks my friends.” I wouldn’t be able to look Ilana [Glazer, Broad City’s co-creator and co-star] in the eye. I said no to Disney.
But a few days later, they told me, “Disney thought it over and they’re gonna make it work.” It was one of those instances where doing the right thing worked.
What was it like wrapping Broad City after six years?
It really felt like the natural ending. We’re all getting older and more successful and we’re like, “How long can we tell these stories about broke kids in their 20s?”
It also felt like we captured a snapshot in time of our youth and the movement that was happening. I’d never seen people in New York on TV be broke—everybody had sick apartments. I could really identify with the hustling on the show, like looking for jobs on Craigslist. Because I was a street performer: I had to perform in front of a bus.
What did Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer teach you about running a show?
About how to treat people on set. Everybody that came onto Broad City set, whether a day player or an extra, you were treated like a human. Which is not always the case. They also taught me that you can’t afford to be in a bad mood, because it trickles down. You have to remember that everybody there is pursuing their own dream, too.
What are your big goals going forward?
To wear more wigs [laughs]. The careers I really love or identify with are Steve Carell or Jonah Hill—people that can go between drama and comedy. I want to write and direct my own film. I want my platform to grow and use that to bring other people up.
If I can get a big enough platform and inspire this Latin renaissance of thought and unity, that could change things around for us. But in order to do that, I need to get higher and higher. You think I’m not scared? I’m painting a giant target on my back. But I can take it.
There’s always “success” guilt. Nobody ever tells you about that: feeling bad, especially with other actor friends like, “How can I help you?” And eventually I was like, “I can help you! I have my show!”
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