Jonathan Groff And Raúl Castillo: 'Looking' Ahead
What differentiates the HBO series Looking, which follows a group of gay men navigating life and love in San Francisco, from other TV series depicting same-sex relationships? According to Jonathan Groff, who plays Patrick on the show, Looking's goal was "to make a show about gay people where they weren't tragic figures and they weren't the comedic relief, and they weren't sexually sensationalized but they were human beings." His character's romance with Richie, played by Raúl Castillo, is meant to be a soft-spoken and endearing relationship with ups and downs, not a stereotypical gay couple often seen on television.
The two performers came together from different parts of the acting world. Before Looking, Groff starred in the TV series Glee, the Broadway musical Spring Awakening, and voiced Kristoff in Frozen. Castillo studied playwriting in college before taking on dramatic stage roles, picking up television credits on Blue Bloods, Law and Order and Nurse Jackie along the way.
Before shooting their first scene together, the co-stars broke the ice with an embarrassing night of karaoke singing in which Castillo, a karaoke virgin, chose an ambitious first song: "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." From such humble beginnings, the two built an off-screen friendship which informs their on-screen relationship. Castillo said, "[they] were really lucky to find great screen partners in each other." Groff agreed: "I found an instant connection with you."
That is good news, because they'll have to be on the same level for their VIP game. One of them has to prompt the other to guess TV shows famous for their "will they, won't they" relationships. But here's the catch: they can't say any of the words in the television show's title, or the names of the couple.
On Looking's portrayal of gay men
Groff: Michael Lombardo, who's the head of HBO, made a speech on the stage of the Castro Theatre when we had the premiere of the show. And he said, ever since David Fischer, played by Michael C. Hall in Six Feet Under, I've been waiting to make a show about gay people where they weren't tragic figures and they weren't the comedic relief, and they weren't sexually sensationalized but they were human beings, which is what that character on Six Feet Under was and why that was revolutionary in its way.
On people's reaction to the show
Groff: People on the street will come up to me and talk about open relationships and having affairs and they feel this sort of openness with us because we're dealing with all those things on the show and I love it, I'm all about it.
On buying scapular necklaces for the cast and crew
Groff: I went to the Dolores Chapel in San Francisco and I didn't know what a scapular was and I went and I bought a hundred and fifty of them and they were so excited, they were like, are you Catholic and I was like "nooo." They thought I was converting all these people.
OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:
I am delighted to welcome our very important puzzlers. They play on-again, off-again couple on the HBO series "Looking." Please welcome Jonathan Groff and Raul Castillo.
EISENBERG: Now, you both - you've done Broadway. You've done theater. You've appeared on network television, Raul, you've been on "Blue Bloods," "Law & Order," "Nurse Jackie." Jonathan, we know you, of course, from "Glee."
EISENBERG: And the voice of Kristoff on Disney's "Frozen."
JONATHAN GROFF: (Laughter).
EISENBERG: So the show follows a group of gay men in their 20s and 30s trying to navigate through their life in San Francisco. Jonathan, you play Patrick. Raul, you play Richie. You meet in the very first episode and it is a - you meet on the train. It is a really fun, flirtatious pickup scene. Had you ever met each other before you were working on this?
RAUL CASTILLO: We met the night before.
EISENBERG: That was it?
CASTILLO: Yeah (laughter).
EISENBERG: What happened the night before?
CASTILLO: Karaoke happened.
EISENBERG: Oh, yeah.
CASTILLO: I sang karaoke for the first time, and I don't do karaoke, and I had sang "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" for Jonathan.
CASTILLO: True story (laughter).
EISENBERG: That's great. Do you have a great singing voice, Raul?
CASTILLO: Oh, it's lovely yeah.
GROFF: We kind of, like - we got, I mean, I don't know. At least from my perspective, we never really talked about it with each other, but from my perspective, we - there was an instant sort of - I felt an instant connection with you.
CASTILLO: You don't get that all the time, so, you know, it's a blessing when you find it and especially when you're in a - I mean, we didn't know what it was going to become. And we shot the pilot and then you go away and you hope that it gets picked up and then it did. And the way that the relationship, you know, involved in the season was pretty amazing. But we didn't - we had no idea at that point what it would be and - but I think we were lucky, in some ways, that we found great scene partners in each other.
EISENBERG: And when you're sitting down to shoot the first scene like that, are you saying, like - or, Raul, you're like, OK, just, you know, something I want you to know about me - I grew up in Texas, or you're letting him know...
CASTILLO: No, but I did - I sort of came out to Jonathan as a straight man and then...
CASTILLO: I don't know if you remember but...
GROFF: I remember.
CASTILLO: We were shooting the scene - actually, the scene that you're talking about on Muni in San Francisco and we had this train and we were going back and forth. And we were talking about the relationship and the way that people that when they meet and that kind of chemistry. And I had just met Alexis, my girlfriend, so I was kind of making an analogy to that. So that's how...
CASTILLO: That's how I came out, yeah.
EISENBERG: And when he came out to you as straight, you were like, we know.
GROFF: I cried a - I had a little single tear fall.
EISENBERG: Do you feel like you were expanding people's ideas of what it is to be gay in America? Are you getting letters from fans that say these kind of things?
GROFF: It's interesting. Like, Michael Lombardo, who's the head of HBO, he made a speech on the stage of the Castro Theatre when we had our premiere of the show. And he said ever since David Fisher - played by Michael C. Hall in "Fix Feet Under" - I have been waiting to make a show about gay people where they weren't tragic figures and they weren't the comedic relief. And they weren't sexually sensationalized, but they were just human beings, which is what that character on "Six Feet Under" was and why that was sort of revolutionary in its way. And so I think - I think it's what we're trying to do is show these gay men as human beings, you know, ultimately. And it's been amazing to have, like, people - like, strangers on the street will come up to me and talk about open relationships and having affairs and they feel this sort of, like, openness with us because we're dealing with all those things on the show. And I love it. I'm all about it. I love talking with people about this...
EISENBERG: You're like, bring it on.
EISENBERG: Raul, what kind of fan mail do you get? I'm sure they send you these sort of things like keep going and let me know if you ever decide to get rid of your girlfriend.
EISENBERG: Are you inundated with that?
CASTILLO: I get a little bit of that, yeah.
EISENBERG: A little bit of that.
GROFF: Mostly from me.
EISENBERG: We always ask our VIPs to provide a prize to our final winner.
EISENBERG: And you brought a little bit of the show to our show as a prize. It's an accessory from the show.
GROFF: Yeah. Do you want to talk about the scapular, Raul, and then I'll read this thing?
CASTILLO: The scapular - Jonathan, for the wrap of the first season - of season one - gave everyone gifts.
GROFF: And I got - I went to the Dolores Chapel in San Francisco. And I didn't know what a scapular was before working on "Looking" and then I went and I bought like 150 of them. And they were like, why do you want all these scapulars? They were so excited. They were like, are you Catholic? I was like, no, but I'm working on this...
GROFF: They thought I was, like, converting all these people, but - I was like, don't ask too many questions. Just - I'll buy the scapulars. And so I wrote - so it's got this - so it's this - it's a necklace and then I wrote on here the quote that Richie says to Patrick. He says, quote, "someone has to give it to you. That's kind of" - why don't you read it?
CASTILLO: That's hilarious. The scapular "Looking" episode 106 - someone has to give it you. That's kind of the tradition or whatever. It's for good luck.
GROFF: They all - I gave them all away and I had one left that I was going to keep for myself as, like, a souvenir, but then I was like, live and let live. I want to give it away.
EISENBERG: That's amazing, thank you, yes.
EISENBERG: So before we figure out who is the lucky recipient, would you guys like to play a little ASK ME ANOTHER game with us?
EISENBERG: All right.
GROFF: Let's do it.
EISENBERG: Jonathan Groff and Raul Castillo, your game is called "Will They Or Won't They?" And it's inspired by your characters' relationship on "Looking." Jonathan, you get a list of fictional TV couples who have a will-they-or-won't-they relationship on a television series. And you have to get Raul to guess the TV show but you can't use the names of the characters and you can't use any of the words in the show's title. So if the show is "Cheers" and you have written Sam and Diane on your card, you'd say stuff like alcoholic former baseball player, snooty Boston barmaid, but if you said "Cheers," Sam or Diane you would hear this.
(SOUNDBITE OF BUZZER)
EISENBERG: Yeah, and that means you have to move on to the next one.
EISENBERG: And if you get stuck, you can say pass.
EISENBERG: You have two minutes on the clock
GROFF: Two minutes - OK.
EISENBERG: Yeah, yeah. Let's start it now.
GROFF: OK. Oh, we talk about this couple in episode five.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
GROFF: This was Sarah Jessica Parker and...
CASTILLO: "Sex And The City."
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
GROFF: Oh, OK. So this is Gillian Anderson...
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
GROFF: I never saw the show, but I want to say Joss Whedon. It was a TV series. I want to suck your blood
CASTILLO: "True Blood" - no.
GROFF: No. If I get really strong, I get really...
GROFF: It's four words in the title, not Count Dracula - or Dracula is a...
CASTILLO: "The Vampire Diaries."
CASTILLO: You made me laugh so hard you blanked me.
EISENBERG: You can move on.
GROFF: I'm going to pass for now.
CASTILLO: Pass, thank you, yeah.
GROFF: OK. Oh, this was a TV show, not a river but a...
GROFF: No, another word.
GROFF: No, a running brook.
GROFF: It's like a - it's two words.
GROFF: Yeah, and that - so that word...
GROFF: Is the second word.
CASTILLO: Right, I should know this.
GROFF: And the first word is a name.
CASTILLO: "Dawson's Creek."
GROFF: Yeah. It's Kermit and it's...
(SOUNDBITE OF BUZZER)
GROFF: I said the word.
GROFF: OK, this is a show about doctors.
GROFF: No. It's two words.
CASTILLO: "Grey's Anatomy."
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
GROFF: Lena Dunham show.
(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLE)
EISENBERG: Oh, yeah, that was great.
EISENBERG: You both win a limited edition ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's cube.
GROFF: Nice, thank you.
CASTILLO: All right.
GROFF: Thank you.
EISENBERG: A huge hand for Jonathan Groff and Raul Castillo.
GROFF: Thank you, guys.
CASTILLO: Thank you so much, thank you.
JONATHAN COULTON, BYLINE: (Singing) We work late and I pretend that I don't notice when you're next to me, but I do. I might be mistaken, but I sometimes get the feeling that you notice, too. And I know this place that's near here - quiet, dark and small. When we're finished here I think that I may need a beer. How about you? And it'd be nice to go out drinking with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.