"I never set out to be an actor," Raúl Castillo says. "I just never stopped acting."
The son of Tamaulipas emigrants, Castillo grew up along the Texas-Mexico border and became involved with theater in his teen years. And though he acted in school productions, he saw himself as a writer, ultimately going on to study playwriting in college. He never could remain in the wings, though, and the stage led to his film debut in 2007's Amexicano.
"I never set out with the intention of having a career in acting. It was just an addiction," he explains. "Whether it was onstage and the immediate response from the audience, or when I started working in film and people would connect with the work, it was being able to connect with audiences and for people to connect with the characters that I portrayed, with the stories I'm a part of. That was addictive. And I never stopped."
This year has already seen Castillo act in Peter Hedges' lockdown movie The Same Storm, the Adam Sandler-starrer Hustle, and Cooper Raiff's Sundance Audience Award-winning Cha Cha Real Smooth. His latest is The Inspection, from writer-director Elegance Bratton. And still, Castillo found time to return to the stage for his first production in eight years, the off-Broadway American (Tele)visions.
"The Inspection was closing out New York Film Festival on the closing weekend of the play," he says. "So, I was at Lincoln Center doing press all day, doing the red carpet, getting glammed up, and then, rushing downtown to present the play. And then, after the play, getting glammed back up, hauling ass back up to the Lincoln Center and doing the Q&A for The Inspection. It was one of those days every actor dreams of. I'm doing a play that I care deeply about and I'm presenting a film that I care deeply about, so it's been a really special year in a lot of senses."
In The Inspection, Castillo plays drill sergeant Rosales, who becomes a source of solace and an object of affection for a closeted Marine Corps recruit. As has become a theme in the actor's work, the film is an examination of masculinity, vulnerability, and identity. For it, Castillo earned a Gotham Award nomination for Outstanding Supporting Performance. ("To have my name mentioned in the same conversation as Mark Rylance, are you kidding me?")
"I definitely don't want to repeat myself. I try to challenge myself and find new textures. I think there's going to be connective tissue with my characters, because I bring everything I am," Castillo says of the path he's created for himself as an actor. "It's very much a gut-oriented decision, always. I just try to listen to my gut. Because I know that, when I read something and I connect to it on a visceral level, then my entire being, my heart, my mind, my body, my soul goes into it. When I started as an actor, I really wanted the stories I told to align with my vision of the world and here we are. I'm getting to live out those dreams."
The story of his favorite films is the story of Castillo himself. Below, he shares with A.frame the films that have most inspired him and made him into the actor he is today.
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola | Written by: Kathleen Rowell
We didn't have cable when I was a kid. We had a VCR and we had a handful of VHS tapes. When I was 14, a girlfriend of mine at the time gave me a copy of The Outsiders, because she knew I liked the book. There was a summer where I watched that movie almost every day. I watched it over, and over, and over again. There was nothing intellectual, I just connected with it on an emotional level, specifically with Matt Dillon's character, Dallas. I love Matt Dillon in that film. He's so magnetic and charismatic, and I thought that that bravado is what I connected with. But I was on a flight recently and The Outsiders was on, and I hadn't seen it in years. Re-watching it, he's actually the most vulnerable of all the characters. When Johnny dies, he breaks down.
It's a story about underdogs and, at that age, I was starting to understand the differences between the haves and the have-nots. I was starting to understand that we didn't a have a lot. We had a lot of love at home, thankfully, and I was privileged in certain ways. But I think what I connected with was these characters that were from the other side of town and that didn't have what the people around them necessarily have, but they found the family that they formed with one another.
That was the year that I started doing theater, and I really wanted my freshman year drama director to do The Outsiders for a one act. But as anyone who's in any high school theater program can attest, there are more girls than boys who sign up for theater. So, we could never have done The Outsiders. But I love that movie so much.
Directed by: Martin Scorsese | Written by: Paul Schrader
I used to read a lot and Dostoevsky was a writer who I connected with early on. And Notes from Underground was one of his that I connected with. When I was connecting with Taxi Driver, I never realized that there was overlap between those two stories until someone pointed it out to me years later. Taxi Driver might be my favorite film. It's hard to say what's your favorite film. And I'm more of a Pacino head, historically. I love Dog Day Afternoon and Carlito's Way and, of course, The Godfathers and Scarface. But De Niro as Travis Bickle, there's something about that.
While there's a lot I don't identify with in that character, everyone's been isolated at some point in their lives. That, to me, is very universal. I love all of Scorsese's films, but Taxi Driver, I think, seems to be his most personal in a way. And I love that there's no source material. It's just the story of this guy. It's beautiful. And also, it's a beautiful love letter to New York, my adoptive city.
Written and Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
I strive to reinvent myself the way P.T. Anderson does every time he makes a movie. I feel like he throws the entire thing out the window and starts from scratch with each film. With Magnolia, Philip Seymour Hoffman was such a hero of mine, and to watch him in that movie, his work is so beautiful. And that ensemble — that's probably my favorite of Tom Cruise's work. Julianne Moore does incredible work in that, and John C. Reilly. To see this ensemble, and all these interwoven stories and, again, no source material. Just an original story. I don't know where P.T. Anderson came up with the story for that, I should probably do my IMDB Pro deep dive, but I just love that movie so much. There's so many storylines that I connect with. And I'm sure that he has his sources of inspiration, but, to me, there's nothing like it before it, and there's nothing like it after. It's its own thing. I love that movie so much.
Written and Directed by: John Cassavetes
I was a theater kid, and I was very much indoctrinated in theater. I liked films, but I revered playwrights, and I revered the stage. And then, after college, I didn't know what I wanted to do. My brother was living in Austin, and I had some friends that were doing theater down there. So, I went to Austin and a couple of things happened: I did my first short film as an actor and I saw A Woman Under the Influence.
I was dating a young woman who was in film school at the time, and I would watch all of her homework. Woman Under The Influence was one of her assignments. Everyone in that film is so wonderful, but when I saw Gena Rowlands in that film, she rocked my world. I didn't know that acting could be that. I had this very formulaic notion of what acting was. I was also just starting to come into my own as an actor. I never thought I could have a career in acting, so I never pursued it. But I just loved doing it so much. And, when I saw her in that film, she blew up every notion I had about what acting could be. I had never seen anything like it before in my life, and she just rocked my world. To me, that's a pillar of what it could be. And I wish I could be that free and that electrifying. She's incredible.
Directed by: Alejandro G. Iñárritu | Written by: Guillermo Arriaga
I saw Amores perros when I was still living in Austin before moving to New York. I saw a screening at the Paramount Theater on Congress Street at the Austin Film Festival. And I knew when I saw Amores perros that I was going to work with Gael García Bernal one day. I just knew it. And it became a reality last year. I got to work with Gael on a film called Cassandro. I was too sheepish to tell him. I'd be gushing if I did, and I didn't want to embarrass him like that.
But that film rocked my world. I'm first generation and no one in my family did film or theater or any of this stuff before, but my parents always spoke about the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema. They spoke about all the stars that they grew up on in the '40s, '50s, and '60s. There was this wave of filmmakers and stars and studios in Mexico that really influenced all of Latin America and the Spanish-speaking world, because the stuff that was coming out of Mexico was quite remarkable. Some of those actors like Dolores del Río and María Félix had crossovers into American films, but there was an incredible history and tradition of Mexican filmmakers. And then, there was this barren period for a very long time, throughout the '70s, '80s, and '90s.
And then, you had Amores perros and Y tu mamá también. Both Alejandro Iñárritu and Alfonso Cuarón rocked the world with those two films. But Amores perros, to see Mexican society depicted in a real way. If you look at Mexican television, a lot of times, it's not emblematic of society. And I thought Iñárritu was really telling a story that was emblematic of all these multiple facets of Mexican society. And it was a really honest depiction. It wasn't, for lack of a better word, a monochromatic version of what Mexican society is.
One of the things that's exciting about seeing an actor like Tenoch Huerta in the new Black Panther film is seeing one of our stars and someone that's more emblematic of what we are as a society. Seeing him doing this crossover in that Marvel Universe is really exciting. And I think that there wouldn't be a Tenoch Huerta in Marvel if it hadn't been for Iñárritu in the early 2000s with Amores perros. That film really inspired me to want to tell stories in a new way, to be part of stories that challenged notions of what society could be.