May 2013 was a “life-changing month” for actor Frankie J. Alvarez, best known for playing Agustín Lanuez on the HBO drama “Looking.” He turned 30; he got married to actress Leah Walsh; and, the pilot of “Looking” was picked up by HBO.
On Saturday night, one of those journeys will end. “Looking: the Movie” will wrap up the loose ends that were left dangling when the series was unexpectedly cancelled after two seasons. The two-hour series finale premieres July 23 at 10 p.m. on HBO.
For anyone who needs a refresher, “Looking” follows the romantic and professional lives of three gay men in San Francisco. Patrick (Jonathan Groff) is a video game designer. Dom (Murray Bartlett) wants to open a restaurant. They’re the nice guys.
Agustín is the mean guy. As Alvarez is the first to admit, Agustín was often the character that fans loved to hate, especially in season one. As the series started, Agustín is a frustrated artist in a shaky relationship with Frank (O.T. Fagbenle). He relies on sarcasm, sex, drugs and alcohol to get by, but he quickly spirals out of control and loses his boyfriend and his job as an artist’s assistant, and alienates his friends. When season two opens, Frankie is found passed out on the sidewalk and has to be carried home.
“The first season was difficult,” Alvarez says. “I always want to play a guy who’s furthest from me as possible. I like to see what similarities I have and build a bridge with my imagination the rest of the way. It couldn’t get any further away from me than Agustín. It really excited me.”
Alvarez realized early on that his character was not a fan favorite.
“People hated Agustín,” Alvarez says, “but I don’t think anyone hated Agustín more than Agustín himself. There’s a lot of self-loathing there, and a lot of fear of failure. Instead of owning it, he lashes out at his friends. By the end of that first season, he reaps what he sows. Coming into season two, he’s much more aware of his destructive effect on his relationships and he starts to make amends. It’s a learning curve for him and he applies it to his courtship of (season two romantic interest) Eddie.”
Alvarez credits the writing staff with the character arc.
“I am grateful to the entire writing staff who crafted this arc with such nuance and such care for the character. I think it was always in their minds that he was going to start in a flippant place and that he would grow and learn and evolve. I just feel incredibly blessed that I was given this journey to go on.”
Another challenge for the straight actor was filming the gay sex scenes. The challenge, he says, had more to do with his lack of screen experience than with the sex of his on-screen partner.
“I haven’t had a sexual situation with a woman onscreen yet, so we’ll have to have this conversation at a different time. I have no basis for comparison. … This is my first big TV role and it just happened to be a gay role, so I approached it with the same kind of curiosity and excitement as I would if my co-star were a woman. I wanted Agustín to feel as authentic and real as possible. If people are surprised by my sexual orientation in real life, then I’ve done my job right.”
As for what happens to his character in the movie, Alvarez is sworn to secrecy.
This fall, Alvarez will return to his theatrical roots. He’s headed to the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, N.J., where he will appear in the world premiere of “Bathing In Moonlight” by Nilo Cruz, the openly gay playwright who won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for his play “Anna In The Tropics.” Alvarez is playing Tabiano, the gay son who comes back into town to cause trouble for his extended Cuban-American family.
In the meantime, Alvarez will be doing publicity for “Looking: the Movie.” Alvarez has been moved and supported by the support of the show’s devoted fan base.
“When you have a big experience like this and then the rug gets pulled out from under you, you kinda feel alone. I took solace in how the fans lamented the loss of the show as much as we did as a cast. It made me feel that we were doing something right.”