Though we have chatted before with the affable Brandon Larracuente (who plays Emilio Acosta in Freeform and W Network’s Party of Five), it was a thrill to receive the chance to speak on the phone once again with the accomplished actor. This was especially true when we discovered that landing the role of Emilio was massive in Larracuente’s development, both as an actor and also as a person. The reimagining of Party of Five finds the Acosta siblings (Emilio, as well as Lucia, Beto, Valentina and Raphael) facing the challenge of growing up quickly as their parents are sent away (instead of the previous version in which they die in a car crash). The series is very much of the moment and Larracuente was a wonderful guide. He gave Brief Take an insider’s look at the Santa Clarita-shot show, from creators Amy Lippman and Christopher Keyser.
The following is a condensed and edited version of a reflective one-on-one conversation with Brandon Larracuente.
Brief Take: As a viewer, you can feel the authentic connection between the members of the Acosta family. What helps to contribute to the chemistry within the family?
Brandon Larracuente: I think the fact that all the actors, and the crew members involved, too, it was really a collective effort from everyone. We were all very, very committed to bringing this project to life as authentically as we could, and I think that everybody’s commitment to this project really is what shone through the camera and what people are seeing. On top of the fact that everyone is such kind and caring individuals, they gave just as much as I did every single day. When you have a project like this in which everybody is willing to go above and beyond, I think that is when the work really, really shows.
BT: You’ve spoken about getting typecast. How did this role help you to transcend that barrier?
BL: 13 (Reasons Why) was one of the biggest professional blessings of my life because it opened up a lot of doors for me as an actor, but also at the same time, every time I would go into an audition room, I would think that I crushed the audition and it was like: “Oh great, oh great! By the way, we love you as Jeff Atkins”, and to me, every time I was in that room, I would go in for the rugged guy, just the complete opposite of Jeff, and all they could see me as was him. I was like: You know what, I need to do something drastic in which people can’t recognize me. So I grew out some facial hair, grew out whatever little facial hair I could grow, I grew it out. I grew out my hair for a couple of months, which took a very long time, it felt like forever. I went through some awkward phases, so it worked, I went to a few rooms and I could see in their eyes, looking at me, it was like: “Do I know you from somewhere?”. That’s exactly what I wanted – I wanted them to separate, I wanted them to see the character for which I was auditioning in front of them, not this beloved character on a show that they had watched months ago. And it worked. I walked into the Party of Five audition and they saw me as Emilio, they didn’t see me as Jeff Atkins, and that’s what I was going for.
BT: What have you enjoyed most about playing Emilio?
BL: From the moment I read the pilot, I clicked with the Emilio character. I went in for the Beto character as well, just because I was reading everything for everybody, but I really clicked with Emilio because he takes on the leadership role. In my opinion, that’s something that I take on naturally in my life, the role of this leader, and for some reason, I really connected with him. I internally related to the struggles for which he was facing as a character. And that idea of not ‘wanting’ to do something, but ‘having’ to do something, he has to take over the father figure role in the family, and it’s something which I really connected to from day one. As far as the musical aspect of Emilio, prior to the role I had done some musical theatre as a kid, but really, I kept my singing to the shower, so for me, this is very challenging, but also very fulfilling in the end. The role really pushed me to places in which I never thought that I could take my acting abilities and skills, so I’m grateful for this one because it really challenged me. I’ve grown so much and I have connections to the first pilot, because we filmed that last, last December (2018). I hope that as many seasons this show goes, I continue to learn and to grow as an actor and as a human being.
BT: What was the experience of living in Florida like for you on your acting journey?
BL: It was great. I mean I moved to Florida when I was ten years old, so I went from middle school, up until the beginning of college for when I was there, and I learned so much about who I was. I started to become comfortable in my own skin, as I grew into becoming a teenager, so I went through a lot of ups and downs in Florida, as we all do in life. I learned so much, I built so many relationships, hopefully I think that I’m a lot wiser than I was as a teenager, but Florida was great to me. Florida is where I sort of sunk my teeth into the whole film industry; I started out in commercials there. And I did a ton of Disney and those sorts of commercials there. And that led into finding a theatrical agent in Florida, which is how I booked Bloodline, and that opened doors for me, and then I booked 13, which forced me to move out to L.A. a bit sooner than I had expected, but Florida was great to me. We always make an effort to go back home every holiday season because our family’s there.
BT: How was your experience working on Bloodline?
BL: It was wonderful, but it was something that I seriously really, really wished that I had paid attention more when they had showed me. At that point I was really young, I was about 13 when I was cast, and I really didn’t understand the presence of the actors that I was around. Legends, like Sissy Spacek and Sam Shepherd, and looking back, I wish that I would have enjoyed it a bit more and learned a bit more. I was naive and a kid, you don’t understand the impact of the show that you’re on or the people you’re surrounded with, so I look back and it’s really an experience that I have tons of pictures from that set, but I wish that I hadn’t lived my life through my phone. I wish that I would have enjoyed more moments or lived in the moment when I filmed the show. But it has taught me a lot, it’s taught me so much. I learned from the likes of Kyle Chandler and Ben Mendelsohn when I got to work with them, day in and day out, and see the way that they conduct themselves on set and how committed they are to their work, that’s something that I’ve taken with me. I always try to take something with me from every project that I’m a part of, no matter how big a reception it gets, whether it’s a low-budget indie film or a high-budget television series, it doesn’t matter. I think that every project you can learn something or take away something from it, and that was one of those projects which I certainly took a lot from.
BT: What does being a part of Freeform’s awesome array of shows meant to you as well as the Summit?
BL: It’s so cool. Freedom is huge on inclusivity and diversity, and that’s something that I think the world, not just Hollywood, but the world needs more often. To be a part of a network that promotes that and encourages that is a privilege, it’s a true honour and I’m grateful. Discussing issues of diversity to me is a true honour. As a second generation Latinx, to be chosen as the one to portray that story, that I think so desperately needed to be told, but it’s something that we take very seriously and try to do as much homework as possible, that way we can try to portray the characters as honestly as possible because unfortunately, there are people who are going through this every day. This is not a fictional story. This is ripped straight from the news headlines, so we try to portray these characters as adults as authentically as possible, by doing our homework, by doing our due diligence in the days leading up to filming each episode.
BT: In the era of reboots, this show has brought back its original creators, but it’s not a copy of the original series in any way. Do you feel like you’re building a world?
BL: Absolutely. It’s creating this ultimate reality. For me, I wanted to bring something new and authentic and not try to replicate or duplicate a show that was done so well, many, many years ago. Like Amy and Chris have said before, this is its own show. Same title, same writers, but it’s a different storyline, different characters. There are some nuances, yes, that do pay homage to the original, that Amy and the rest of the writers have kind of thrown in there, some Easter eggs. But it has been really cool to receive positive feedback from not only new fans, but fans of the original. That means the world to me. I would obviously be very skeptical of a great show and to find out that they’re going to reboot it. Half of the time reboots don’t always go as planned, but it’s been a really, really warm and welcoming reception from original fans, so we are grateful.
For me, each character is trying to find their footing in the world without their parents basically there to hand-hold them or to coddle them or to guide them through difficult times. They have to rely on each other, and I think that’s something which we’ll definitely see more of as the season progresses.
BT: Perhaps this shines through in how you treat Ella, who was about your age at that time?
BL: Mmm hmm. Yeah! That’s what I try to do, not just with the Party of Five cast members, but anybody that comes on our set, I just wish that I had paid more attention. Like whenever Ella and I are on set, I point out things to her that she wouldn’t know, about how the director is doing this or something, in order to get this particular shot. And at the same time, I am trying to learn myself, no matter how far you get into a career, you are always trying to learn something. You never stop learning and you should never try to stop learning and learn something valuable every single day, even if it’s just one thing.
BT: What’s something that you haven’t had a chance to do on screen that you’d like to do, and what’s something that you have done that you really enjoyed?
BL: I would love to do a war movie. That’s on my list of things that I would either love to produce myself one day or for which I would like to be a part. Something that I have done on screen that I’m proud of is that I was in a film called Bright, with Will Smith and Joel Edgerton, and I got to play an orc, which I had a mask for. I was in about six hours of prosthetics and they would mould the mask to my face, and every day on set, it was about an hour in makeup to get the mask on and an hour in makeup to get the mask off and that was one of the most gratifying projects for me as an actor, because it really challenged me. Every day on set, you were in that mask and you couldn’t take it off for about 16-hour days, and on top of that, I had to learn this made up language called Orcish for which one of the dialects coaches on set came up with in his bedroom. It really challenged me, and I was like: “Wow, if I could do this, I could really sink my teeth into anything!” So I don’t know if I will succeed at everything, but I will certainly try. I appreciate when actors go out on a limb and try something different. So for me, it was really cool. That is the most different and diverse project of which I’ve ever been a part.
BT: How will this role assist you in your potential directing career?
BL: You never know who you’re going to be surrounded with. Sometimes you’re working with crew members, who have been working on sets for years and they have so many stories to tell you, but sometimes they don’t want to tell you because they’re like: “This young kid doesn’t want to hear my boring stories”, but that’s quite the opposite for me. I want to hear everything that you know. Please, feed me knowledge, I’m hungry to learn more, I’m always looking to better myself. So any time that I have the opportunity to talk to somebody who has been around the industry a lot longer than I have, I try to soak it all in and I ask them questions. I’m a firm believer that there is no such thing as a stupid question and I think a stupid question is the one that’s not asked. And sometimes I will ask certain directors who come on for maybe just one episode about the way that they see the scene or why they want to shoot it this way. For me, it’s been a joy and a privilege to work on sets in which there are legendary filmmakers and actors. It’s a really big melting pot and filled with tons of talented people. To your point, I try to soak it all in and I hope to pass this knowledge on to the younger generations that come on. And also to incorporate this into, as you said, projects that I know that I want to develop in the future. When I decide to start directing or not, I hope to have learned a lot, and that way I will be able to incorporate that into my own work. But I still think that I have so much to learn and I will never stop learning.
BT: How does being charitable off screen reflect on being a decent person on screen?
BL: Well I’m a firm believer in giving back. There was a beautiful monologue that one of the characters in our show recited last episode. We were talking about immigrants, but I think that this refers to everybody: “Today’s a beautiful thing when you get somewhere in life and you fully comprehend that you didn’t get there alone, you got there with the help of other people”. It’s our obligation, in my opinion, to acknowledge that and to also reach back and try to help others who are struggling. We should be helping each other. Nobody gets anywhere in life alone and I am a firm, firm believer in that and that’s something that I try and take with me every single day, whether it is on screen or off screen and that is charitable work or simply talking to my friends and family.
Party of Five airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on W Network and Freeform. Watch this new series from the beginning on W Network On Demand.