From executive producer Jennie Snyder Urman (Jane the Virgin) and showrunner Alex Herschlag, the CBS comedy series Broke follows what happens when suburban single mother Jackie (Pauley Perrette) suddenly has her life disrupted when her estranged sister Elizabeth (Natasha Leggero) shows up on her doorstep with her outrageously wealthy, charming and big-hearted husband Javier (Jaime Camil). What Jackie doesn’t know is that the couples’ money has dried up and they need a place to live, which will seriously test the limits of family and the bond of sisterhood.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, Mexican actor Jaime Camil (who is also an executive producer on the series) talked about the honor of being one of the few Latino actors in a starring role on a comedy series on CBS (the second since Desi Arnaz on I Love Lucy), how this show came about and evolved, the lovefest between this cast, playing this character with a genuine sincerity and charm, how he thinks his Jane the Virgin character Rogelio De La Vega would feel about his Broke character Javier, being an actor who’s living the American dream, and what he hopes audiences will get from watching this show.
Collider: It’s definitely nice to have a laugh right now, so congratulations on this show and on being one of the very few Latino actors in a starring role on a comedy series on CBS.
JAIME CAMIL: Oh, my god, I thought it was a joke. [Someone said,] “You’ll be joining a long list of Latin American men who have led a CBS show, including Desi Arnaz . . .” And then, there was a long pause, and they said, “ . . . and you.” I was like, “Come on, guys! That’s a very funny joke!” And the writers were like, “Well, it’s not really a joke. It’s actually a fact.” So, it’s a great honor. I really love that CBS has stepped up to the plate. When we introduced the show, at the Upfronts last year, CBS said that they really want to be inclusive and that they are really embracing diversity. It’s good to know that my network and my CBS family is honoring their word and stepping up to the plate. It’s a true honor to be a part of the CBS family, to be honest.
At the same time, when you think about the reality of the fact that you’re only the second Latino male lead on a comedy series in 70 years, does that just seem crazy?
CAMIL: Let’s concentrate on the positive. It is crazy! It’s not that I want to be tone deaf about the situation, but I do like to concentrate on the positive of things. With this quarantine, you can either be miserable about it and go out and bitch to the world and be rude to people. So it’s about being positive in life. What you’re saying is, of course, super crazy, but I just like to concentrate on the positive fact that it is happening.
How did this show come about, with you not just acting in it, but also as an executive producer on it? Was that something you’d been actively been looking to do, to have more of a say in the development and evolution of the projects that you do?
CAMIL: No. I’ve been producing many things, and this came out of talking to my dear friend and amazing Jane the Virgin showrunner Jennie Urman. We are partners in this venture, with Ben Silverman and Alex Herschlag, who’s the showrunner of Broke, and he was the showrunner of Will & Grace. We have a great team behind Broke, and I’m so grateful and lucky to have this team behind the show. So, we were shooting something from Jane the Virgin and we had downtime, and Jennie and I were talking about the shows that I’ve done in Mexico. I was telling her, “I did Mrs. Doubtfire [in Por Ella Soy Eva], if you can imagine me as a woman. And I did a show about a guy who loses his money and he’s a trust fund baby.” Jennie Urman is one of the most brilliant, intelligent and amazing women that you’ll ever meet. She’s just incredible. And of course, I saw her eyes light up and I was like, “Woah, are you having an idea right now?” That’s when we planted the seed of developing a show that we could pitch to CBS comedy, and here we are talking about it and about to premiere.
Doing a sitcom like this is very different from doing a show like Jane the Virgin. Was there an adjustment for you, at all, in getting used to that difference? Do you enjoy this kind of format?
CAMIL: I adore this format. I love it because I love to do musical comedy and I love to do theater. So, getting to do a mini-play, every single week, is a gift from the gods. I love it. I love when you have to adjust. It’s amazing and stressful, but exhilarating at the same time. You shoot a scene and the jokes land beautifully, or maybe it doesn’t land at all, and you have to adjust. We have eight writers who give us new lines and have us try new things. It’s an amazing creative process that happens in real time, and you have to adjust in real time. We’re very lucky because we had a love fest on Jane the Virgin and an amazing energy on set, and that’s the exact same energy that we have on Broke. Pauley Perrette is amazing. She’s one of the most beloved characters on all of CBS, for 16 years, as a fan favorite on NCIS. So, imagine acting alongside a person that is so loved by America and by the network. It’s just a blessing. And then, Natasha Leggero is just a comedic powerhouse. She’s just incredible. And then, there’s Izzy Diaz, who I believe will be the stand-out character of the show because he’s just super funny. And we have Antonio Corbo. Every time we go to work, we love each seeing each other, we hug each other, we have fun, we laugh. Of course, that energy gets transmitted to the audience, or hopefully it will. They will feel our joy doing this show, and hopefully we’ll be able to spread that joy to the audience.
It seems like this would be a tricky character to play because he’s somebody who’s very charming and big-hearted, but he also has a bit of cluelessness to him, as far as just not getting what it takes to make things work in the world.
CAMIL: Exactly, which is what he has in common with Rogelio De La Vega. For all of the Rogelio fans out there, they’re gonna really love meeting Javier. If they like the specific way I approach comedy, then I think they’re gonna really enjoy Javier. Of course, Javier is less extravagant and cocky. Rogelio was all of that, but Javier isn’t. Javier does have my comedic trademark, which is the way that I like to do comedy. It’s something that I believe the audience enjoys, and they enjoyed a lot on Jane the Virgin. So, that DNA is there. Javier has that DNA. All of the interaction between Natasha and Pauley is great. The upcoming episodes are so funny. The way that Javier starts to bond with Jackie, Pauley’s character. As you see in the pilot, they don’t really get along, but when you see the progression of how they start to love each other, it’s so funny. You’re gonna love it.
It definitely helps that the charm that Javier has is very genuine because otherwise he could easily become a very annoying character.
CAMIL: Oh, totally, yeah. You have to approach comedy with sincerity and with honesty. How many pies can you throw at someone’s face before it gets boring and you want more? As an audience, you want to be connected and invested, emotionally, with the characters, even if you’re playing the comedy. If you don’t like the characters as humans, then you don’t really get the comedy. That’s what I love about my characters. I always try to give them heart and feelings, and true and sincere emotions. Then, when they make you laugh, you enjoy that laughter so much more.
You talked about the similarities between Rogelio and Javier, but what do you think they would think of each other? Do you think they would get along and be friends, or would there only be enough room for one of them?
CAMIL: Javier would embrace Rogelio and say, “You have to be my best friend,” and Rogelio would feel a little intimidated by Javier because Javier has way more money than Rogelio. Rogelio is a new money guy, and Javier comes from a long lineage of money and fortune with his family. He comes from old money and not new money. So, I think Javier would be way more patient with Rogelio and he would show more friendship, and Rogelio would be completely intimidated by Javier.
There’s a fun dynamic between Javier and Luis because Luis is really being paid to be Javier’s friend. What do you enjoy most about getting to explore that relationship and what can we expect to see between them?
CAMIL: But at the same time, he’s a true and dear friend. I think Izzy Diaz is gonna take the world by storm because he’s so funny. Like Jack, the Sean Hayes character on Will & Grace, I believe, deeply in my heart, that Izzy will be the Jack of our show. He will steal the show. He’s funny, he’s hilarious, and he’s always on point. We compliment each other very well. We respect each other, as performers. Whenever he needs to shine, I make sure that I set up his moment of shining, and vice versa. Whenever I need to shine, he sets up my moment, very generously. As performers, Pauley, Natasha, Izzy, even the little kid, Antonio, and myself, are all very generous with each other. It’s not a competition to see who gets the last laugh, or who steals the scene. There’s no nonsense. I’m sure you’ve heard many Hollywood horror stories about leads that can’t stand each other, how they hate each other, and how they fight about who has the biggest dressing room. We don’t have that stupidity on this show. We love each other, sincerely and honestly, and we’re always trying to make sure that our fellow actor shines and has a great moment. That generosity and that beautiful energy that we have will be transmitted to the audience, without a doubt.
You are certainly the definition of the American dream, having been born in another country, coming here and making a name for yourself, and finding all of this success. What does that mean to you personally? How do you feel about being able to represent that for other people who wonder whether it’s possible?
CAMIL: Well, it is certainly possible, obviously. Without a doubt, it’s possible. But it doesn’t happen magically. I’ve been working for 27 years. I’ve been very disciplined. I’ve had perseverance. I respect myself, and I respect my audience and the fans. I’ve been working, non-stop, with an unbreakable moral and ethical compass. Eventually, after 27 years of non-stop work, karma needs to reward you, in some way, shape, or form. It’s a combination of luck, of being at the right place at the right time, and uninterrupted working discipline. It’s a mix of many, many factors that eventually pay off.
What do you hope audiences get from watching this show?
CAMIL: I really hope they will connect, emotionally, with the characters. I think we need that. We need a beautiful family show. This show is about a family that has to stick together, living under the same roof. It’s exactly what we’re living right now, with this quarantine. And we need a show now that will make us laugh. We’re living in very, very difficult times right now, so we need humor. We need comedy because life, as it is, is a tragedy right now. But we need comedy that will connect via the heart, and is not just throwing pies at people’s faces. You need to connect, emotionally, with the characters, and then laugh out loud with them. I really hope that the audience gives Broke a chance, and not only laugh with us, but also connects, emotionally, with the struggles and the challenges of the characters. I just want them to have an amazing time. We were super lucky to have the first season in the can, and to have our wrap party. We finished the season a couple of months ago, before they shut all production down. Thankfully, we have the whole show in the can, and that’s a blessing.
Broke airs on Thursday nights on CBS.