From director Ben Hernandez Bray and producer Joe Carnahan (who developed the script together), the indie drama El Chicano is a very different kind of superhero story about a masked street legend who fights the evil that lives in the East Los neighborhood that’s stuck in a turf battle. When LAPD Detective Diego Hernandez (Raúl Castillo) is assigned a career-making case investigating a vicious cartel and learns that his brother’s supposed suicide might have actually been a murder, he becomes torn over the best way to seek justice.
At the film’s Los Angeles press day, Collider got the opportunity to sit down with co-stars Raúl Castillo, George Lopez (who plays Diego’s boss, Captain Gomez) and Aimee Garcia (who plays Diego’s love, Vanessa) and talk about why it’s both about time and the right time for a movie like El Chicano, their reaction to the script, telling such a personal story, getting to explore their character through the relationship dynamics, and having a bad-ass superhero look. Lopez also talked about his experience working with director David Ayer on The Tax Collector, while Castillo talked about making Knives Out with director Rian Johnson, and Garcia talked about her upcoming projects, including the 4th season of Lucifer (available to stream at Netflix on May 8th).
Collider: Does it feel like it’s about time for a movie like this, or does it feel like the right time for a movie like this?
RAUL CASTILLO: It definitely feels like it’s about time, and that it’s the right time.
GARCIA: I feel like people are just tired of the same old thing. When people take a tried and true formula and break the mold, it just blossoms into success. You take Crazy Rich Asians, which is a classic, typical, old school romantic comedy formula, and boom, it does gangbusters. You take Black Panther, which is a superhero formula, and boom, it does a billion dollars in 26 days. You take Into the Spider-verse, you put an Afro-Latino as the lead and you even have a female Spider-Woman in that movie, and boom. You take Coco, and boom, it does $800 million dollars. People love it when it’s something fresh and so personal that it’s universal, and that’s what I think El Chicano is.
I would imagine that when it comes to scripts, you also get a lot of stuff that is formulaic and stereotypical. When something like this came your way, what was your reaction?
CASTILLO: When I got the script, I felt like I was being duped, in some way, and like this couldn’t exist because it hadn’t been done before. We don’t live in a world where I’ve seen this as a reality, so it was more of a mystery than anything to me, when I started reading the script. But the minute that I met Ben Bray, our director, it all made sense. Once you meet him, you understand that it’s fantastical, but it’s really rooted in family, in pain and in love, and those real human elements elevate what could just be an average superhero film.
LOPEZ: Before, if you threw a lot of money at a movie, it would be successful because it cost so much to make, and that’s not necessarily the case anymore. You can have a small movie become a big movie, just by the connection of it with the people that go see it. This could be one of those, like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, that comes out and the story was just about love, and love doesn’t have a color. In this particular example, it’s almost what makes Alcoholics Anonymous so successful. If you take people who have been beaten up and torn down and are weak, in some spots, and you try to get them to understand that life can be better. In Hollywood, if you get a group of actors who have been around for generations and a movie like this comes by, it makes you see that it is possible and that we do matter. Our lives matter, our stories matter, and our movies matter. We can play this game, too, given an opportunity. That’s exciting.
What was it like to walk onto a set like this, where you’re not the only one, and everybody looks like you?
GARCIA: I’ve been lucky enough to just go from show to show to show, and from to project to project to project, and usually there’s maybe one or two people that you can speak Spanish to, who are Latino. So, for me, it was so refreshing to see not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, but 10 flushed out characters, who just happen to be Latino. That was mind-blowing to me because I had never seen that. I remember going to see Wonder Woman, and there was a transitional scene, where she was in the forest with the guys and her horse was in front of the guys’ horse, and I started crying because I’d never seen that before. I’d never seen a girl in front of the guys. It wasn’t even a big scene. It wasn’t a big action scene, it was a transitional scene, going from point A to point B, but it was the first time that I’d ever seen a woman lead guys, and I just started crying. At that moment, I thought, “Oh, my gosh, I really am affected by what I see!” It was so powerful to see that and feel validated. So, I hope that when people see their family, their brother, their uncle, their mom, their girlfriend, their fiancé, and their childhood friends, who they lost for whatever reason, in this film, they’ll feel connected to something bigger and think, “I’m not alone.” For me, the best stories in movies make you feel less alone.
Raúl, anytime you do a movie like this, or you play a character like this, you want a cool costume or look to go with it. What was it like to see what all of that would look like?
CASTILLO: It was like being a little kid. You’re putting on 60 pounds of leather, running around doing all kinds of action sequences, and rolling around in the rain, at three in the morning. It was physically demanding, in a way that was really, really exciting, and that was a great way to connect into the story and into the physicality. But I only had to wear the El Chicano costume so much. He only becomes it, at a certain point in the film, so I cherished those moments. Those were really fun. It was really hard work. This entire team, in front of and behind the camera, worked really hard to make this film, but we had a lot of fun doing it. There was a lot of love in the room. There was no room for cattiness or pettiness. We were all working together towards a common goal. The fact that it was rooted in this genre film was really exciting for me. I’ve never done anything like this, so I was like a little kid in a candy store, just getting to do this awesome stuff. It was fun.