Before he was tapped to audition for HBO’s “Looking,” a new show about the lives of three young gay men in San Francisco, Frankie J. Alvarez had never acted in front of a camera. A recent Juilliard grad, he’d been working the regional theater scene. But when HBO calls, you answer.
Did you go into the audition process with the beard, or was that something you already had?
It’s so funny, the beard. Michael [Lannan, the show's writer] has a massive beard [see cut above], and since I was playing this Civil War Soldier [in a play called The Whipping Man about the end of slavery], I had this huge beard when I sent in the tape.
And after I closed the show I said, ‘hey, I really want to get rid of this beard, is that all right?’ They said, ‘No, no, no, no! Please come to the audition with the beard!’ So I trimmed it, and kept it, and it just became a thing. 2013 was all beards for me.
San Francisco is known for the kind of men who have beards and they’re not perfectly coiffed so I love that that is a part of the show.
Totally. The beards, and the tattoos, too, is a big part of the culture as well…I’m straight, but this is the second time – first London and now San Francisco – where I found my head turning for the guys more often than for the girls. [laughs] Seriously, all the good-looking guys, they end up in San Francisco. Or if they’re British, they’re in London. That’s what I’ve found so far.
I’ve read some complaints on the Internet along the lines of, ‘Here’s another show about white gay, privileged men, etc.’ — and it’s funny because you’re not even white…
It’s a little bizarre, because it feels like people are making a rash judgement based on a one-minute-and-a-half-long trailer.
You have some nice intimate scenes with O.T. Fagbenle. How did you guys work on that level of closeness both physically and emotionally?
The scene in the pilot, where we’re in bed was the first scene I had ever filmed on camera where I spoke dialogue. You can imagine it was like baptism by fire. And from that day on, O.T., he’s a little older, and he graduated six, or seven, or eight years ago. He was really tender with me and understood the fears of the first time being on camera. Not only am I on camera, but I’m butt naked with a cock sock on, in the room with my boyfriend ready to go. It really was a lot, quickly. He was so sweet, and I think from that day on we got to cement a really good bond.
What kind of research did you when you were getting into your character?
... for me, the singular most important intellectual thing in terms of research, was this beautiful book by Patti Smith called “Just Kids,” about her friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe. And just seeing this young man struggle with his sexuality and struggle with his art in his 20s and 30s in New York, I sort of saw a lot of Agustín in that, and that sort of proved to be a big inspiration point.
P.S. Looking premieres this Sunday night!