Candido Tirado, Teatro Vista’s newest resident playwright has delighted Chicago with this masterful play, Fish Men. “The play plays out in real time on a hot summer day in New York City’s Washington Square Park, where Rey Reyes, a survivor of the Guatemalan genocide, who is going through his personal hell, gets snared by a group of chess hustlers.” I got a chance to chat with Raul Castillo who plays the role of Rey Reyes, now playing at the Goodman Theater through May 6, 2012, and here’s what he had to say:
Madeline Rodriguez: Tell me, what are you most comfortable with, filming or theater performance?
Raul Castillo: I enjoy both of them for very different reasons and I don’t want to stop doing either. I enjoy doing film, being on location and going to different places. In theater I love the experience of sharing something with an audience. It’s a very unique experience and I don’t think film compares to it, you know? Film is a wonderful thing. You are together with the cast for a couple of weeks. You go away…The directors do their thing; you come back a few months or a year later and you view it with audience members and experience it together. But in theater you share something very special with an audience in a special kind of way.
M: I would think in theater, the work is more challenging. There’s no retake. If you make a mistake, you can’t take it back, correct?
R: Yes, you’re right. I mean, they both present their own challenges. I think that they both kind of help each other out. In filmmaking, you shoot it out of sequence. One day you’re shooting a scene from the beginning of the film. The very next day, you’re shooting the very last scene, and then you shoot something in the middle. It’s all out of sequence. So you really have to know your character and your character’s journey in order to film authentically. In a play you have the great comfort of knowing what moment is coming before the moment is playing; you’re playing the whole song in a sense.
M: Speaking of which, I saw Fish Men and I loved it. After the play, I reverted to your suicide scene and I remember seeing tears streaming down your face, you were imbedded in the moment. I have to ask, where do those tears come from? Is it the character, or are you in a personal space of pain?
R: I’ve never been the type of actor that can conjure up tears. For me, I’ve always had to understand what the character’s going through; I have to empathize with the character; and I really have to understand where they’re at, really connect with them. When I get to that place and I fully understand what he’s going through, and what the stakes of the moment are and what it means to the character, then I can’t help but to cry. Even to pick up a gun and imagine what it’s like to want to end it; it’s a big moment in a person’s life – huge moment. You really have to sit down and take the time to examine the character from all the points and everything that’s going on in the character’s life – everything the script indicates. From the script you then built yourself up. I mean, when I cry, I feel people in the audience cry. I believe we are all capable of it, when we feel connectivity…
Sure, I cried, it’s because the characters make us identify with the moment and we feel what the character’s feeling. I’ve seen plays where the portrayal of the moment got lost; the connection with the audience did not occur. You as an actor were able to connect, your tears drew and so did the audiences’. I think it’s a fascinating attribute for an actor to possess.
M: What, besides acting do you do in your personal life that makes you happy?
R: I am really close with my family, so I try to spend as much time with them as I can.
M: Did you relate well to your character “Rey”?
R: I absolutely related to him. Where I related with Rey the most was in the fearing of being taken advantage of. Sometimes we reach a point in our lives when we say “enough-is-enough.” That, to me, was what I connected to the most. But I loved all of the characters, there’s something to be learned from each of them. But I was very happy playing Rey.
M: Do you perform any rituals before a performance, for good luck?
R: No, not really.. I do drink a lot of coffee, I am also trying to cut back on cigarettes; I don’t do that anymore… really. What’s been really nice about this production, is having someone like Howard Witt to act alongside with. Howard and I along with Ricardo Gutierrez, who I respect tremendously, all enter from the same side of the stage in Fish Men. So every night during the show, upon entering, we support each other… We tell each other “good show” and keep up each other’s spirits that way. I also listen to music and I try not to get distracted by the stuff that’s going on backstage or in the dressing rooms. I just try to concentrate on Rey and what’s going on in his life.
M: At what point in your life did you decide acting was for you?
R: I’ve been doing theater for years, went to school for it; but I was more of a writer but always a very good performer. But I never felt that “someone like me” would have much of a future in theater, film and tv because when I looked at tv and film, there weren’t many people that looked like me, you know? As a teenager I used to watch John Leguizamo’s one-man shows and I remember being inspired by him. I identified with what he was talking about, and back then, he was doing it in a big scale.
Right after college I was doing theater with some friends in Austin, Texas and we were doing a play, I was right for the lead in “Santos & Santos” I got a lot of encouragement from this production and it was then I realized I had something special. I always knew I had it, but I second-guessed myself quite a bit.
M: Many great artists say that… I remember Oprah being interviewed by Barbara Walters back in the 80’s, and I always remember Oprah saying “somewhere in my heart I always knew I was destined for greatness.” Do you feel that way too?
R: Oh yeah; absolutely, absolutely.
M: I say a couple of your movies on Netflix, particularly “Amexicano” where you played the roll of a hard working, undocumented man who was very protective of his sister. In Fish Men you are also very protective of your uncle who raised you. Who are you must protective of in your personal life?
R: My parents. They came to the United States and worked really hard to get somewhere in this society. The fact that they were immigrants, I feel; through much of their lives, they second-guessed themselves (their abilities) a lot of times. I guess what I am really trying to say is that “entitlement” isn’t one of our strongest suits in a way. Although it’s an amicable quality, it holds you back. I believe we all have to feel a sense of entitlement to have basic things in life, without abusing it, of course. However, for my parents; because they were humble to a fault, it held them back. Because of it, I feel I have to be protective of them. I would give my life for them.
M: Raul, tell me about a childhood experience that you always remember?
R: An experience in my childhood… Funny you mention that. Just yesterday I was coming out of the subway and I smelled a sort of shoe polish substance in the hair that took me back… When I was little boy, I grew up in a small town in Texas called McAllen, right on the border. My parents are from a town called Reynosa which is right across the border of Mexico. For the first fourteen years of my life, my father, my brother and I got our haircuts at the same place by the same barber. The barber was across the border near family we would often visit. So once a month we would head out to this shopping area that was sort of an enclosed market. In it, were different shops and shoe shining stalls. The barber shop was inside there. It was a pretty interesting environment. Similar to this play because there was always allot of men running numbers; watching soccer games; listening to music and allot of harmless trash-talking. So that scent really made me reminisce.
M: Do you maintain childhood friendships to date? If so, who?
R: Yes, quite a bit of them. One of my closest friends is Roy Mitchell-Cardenas and he plays bass for a band called Mute Math. We met in the 6th grade. We started a band together and before I got into theater, I played bass in a couple of punk rock bands with him. Roy and I started off together, he played drums then, and I, bass. To this day whenever his band plays in my home base of New York, we get together, hang out and I go see his shows. Last time he was in town he played at Madison Square Garden with Alanis Morissette and that was very nice to see. Our career paths have kind-of taken off together, so yes that friendship is pretty strong. Another good friend of mine is Tanya Saracho, a Chicago playwright. I’ve known her since the age of fourteen, we met in high school, went to college together and to date we remain really good friends.
M: You went to Boston University, is that right?
M: What was your major?
M: I lived out in Boston when I was little… Although, I don’t remember much..
R: Yeah, but Chicago is a way better town than Boston.
M: Oh yes, a whole lot of liveliness here, plus better food..
M: Are you currently writing anything?
R: I am. I am currently working on a new play which we are having a reading of here in Chicago called “Between You, Me and the Lampshade.” I am also working on a screenplay with my friend Cruz Angeles who directed “Don’t Let Me Drown,” a film that I was in.
M: Where do you get your hair cut? In Fish Men, a comment is made about what a great haircut you have, as your character walks in, and you do have great hair.
R: Oh, thank you. There’s a guy in New York named Dave Hickey that cuts my hair, but I do have to give credit to the Goodman stylist, Holland. She should get the credit for this latest cut.
M: I just thought it was funny; the comment being part of the play and all. As it was being said, I looked at you, and thought; “Man, he really does have nice hair.”
M: Are you married?
R: Nope, single; I do have a girlfriend.
M: Likes/Dislikes in a romantic relationships?
R: I like adventure, a woman who can make me laugh. My girlfriend is very good at making me laugh a lot and it’s one of the things I love most about her. I love someone that likes food and music because I love both of those things. And, yes adventure is a great thing for romantic love.
M: What would make you run from a woman?
R: The opposite of that; someone who’s judgmental. I like strong women; assertive women. I am attracted to inner strength. I dislike, I don’t know; people who can’t seem to enjoy life.
M: So what you are really trying to tell me is that your girlfriend is Puerto Rican, Right?
R: She’s not; but I’ll tell her that; she’ll get a kick out of that… I am sure she’ll say she’s Puerto Rican inside.
M: Too funny. I hope you enjoy the rest of your time in Chicago, and I wish you much success in your artistic and personal endeavors.