Rising Hollywood star and McAllen native Raúl Castillo (HBO’s Looking) is no stranger to CineFestival.
“I’ve been going to CineFestival for years,” Castillo said during an interview last month. “It’s really special for me to be coming back. San Antonio is a second home to me in many ways.”
In years past, Castillo was seen in CineFestival films like the 2002 short Abuela’s Home and the 2009 feature drama Don’t Let Me Drown. This year, he is featured in three of the five Premio Mesquite Award winners — We the Animals (Best Feature), Atlantic City (Best Short Film) and As I Walk Through the Valley (Special Jury Award).
In We the Animals, Castillo plays Paps, the father of three young Latino boys exploring the world around them. The film is adapted from the 2011 coming-of-age novel of the same name by Justin Torres.
What resonated with you about We the Animals that made you want to be a part of the film?
I missed the book when it came out. I got this script for We the Animals and started reading it, and it blew me away. I connected with it on a lot of levels. It explores masculinity and family and these other themes that are universal.
Did you search out the novel after you read the script?
When I read the script, I thought, “This has to have some source material,” so I turned to the front page and saw that it was based on a book by Justin Torres. I picked up a copy of the novel and read it in a sitting. Even though we’re from very different worlds, I think they’re very similar. Growing up in upstate New York isn’t too dissimilar to growing up in McAllen, Texas, in some ways.
The story is told from the perspective of young Latino boys. Did it transport you back to your life as a child? Did that come across on the screen or page?
Absolutely. I have an older brother. I grew up with a lot of male cousins. The film was very evocative of childhood and what it is to be a boy and to explore. I found the novel to be very similar to A Portrait of the Artist [as a Young Man] by James Joyce. It’s about the awakening of a consciousness. In We the Animals, sexuality plays a part of the story, and I thought Justin captured it beautifully in the novel. I thought if we could do that with the film, we could do justice to the novel.
Your character Paps is the father of three young boys. Did you pull from any male influences in your life to create him?
My dad passed already, but before he passed, I had a conversation with him about his own upbringing and his father. Our conversation revealed how sometimes abuses are passed down or are in cycles. What I learned from that conversation with my father is that everyone is trying to do the best they can with what they have. In that way, I can understand that Paps is human and has these flaws and is imperfect. Even though he does these horrific things, I felt it was written with a lot of love. I thought I should approach the character with that love and understanding.
One of the themes in We the Animals is machismo in the Latino culture. What are your thoughts on that specific personality trait?
Most men adopt their roles from the social structure they were born into. Latinos definitely have a special kind of machismo. I think Justin captured that with his characters — the flaws and the virtues of that machismo. Someone explained to me once that machismo is inherently a negative thing. Any machismo is too much machismo. It’s just another way of saying toxic masculinity.
People are calling the movie the Latino version of Moonlight. Are you OK with that comparison or would you rather have the film stand on its own?
It’s flattering because Moonlight is an impeccable film. At the same time, you want your film to stand alone. If it helps it find an audience, that’s fine, but it’s its own film. Personally, I wouldn’t call it that.
Why is it important to have festivals like CineFestival that feature Latino filmmakers and Latino-themed work?
I had a professor tell me once, “If they don’t let you in the front door, go find a window.” It’s an analogy for institutions that [Latinos] sometimes don’t have access to. I think when we’re limited [in] access, we have to celebrate our own work and recognize it. I love that CineFestival has continued to do that over the last few decades, which is why I continue to go back when I can. In a city like San Antonio that is so heavily Latino, I feel proud to go back and represent in this way.