Some stars rise, some sneak up on the public. Julio Torres falls into the latter category.
The quirky, handsome queer comic immigrated to the US from El Salvador as a child. As an adult, he studied literary studies at the prestigious New School in New York City with his eyes set on one career: comedy. His prize didn’t elude him for long; he landed a spot in the writer’s room for Saturday Night Live in 2016, a job which earned him four Emmy nominations. He landed his own comedy special in 2019 titled My Favorite Shapes, in which he showed off his peculiar brand of abstract comedy. That same year, he co-created and starred in the comedy Los Espookys for HBO.
2021 sees Torres appear in one of the year’s best comedies, Together Together, which arrives on VOD May 11. The film, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, follows Matt (Ed Helms), a middle-aged, single man who decides to become a dad through a surrogate named Anna (Patti Harrison). In the movie, Torres plays Jules, a spaced-out coffee barista and co-worker of Anna. As her feelings for Matt and his unborn child become more complicated, Jules steps in to offer her moral advice.
We snagged some time to chat with Torres about his newfound acting career and his innovative brand of comedy. Together Together lands on VOD May 11.
So how did you land the role of Jules?
You know, I knew my friend Patti was going to be in the movie. I think that Patti is not only wonderful—company I always crave—but so, so talented in an exciting, sincere way. At some point, someone was like there’s a little part in the movie they want you to do. So I was like Oh? Yeah. Then I read it, and saw it was [a good part].
That’s a good reason. And Patti is wonderful in the film. Watching the movie, your characters also have such a great rapport with one another. Jules is sort of the moral compass in some ways for Anna. As I was watching though, I saw some Julio-isms in the character. Jules wipes his nose a lot, which is something you do in your stand-up to sort of punctuate a joke.
That is very observant. And it was not intentional.
I always keep an eye out.
Well, all that is to ask: did the two of you, because you are friends, improvise much?
You know what the nose wiping is about? I’m very green as an actor. I’m truly in front of the camera thinking what do humans do?
So I’m like, sometimes humans touch their ear. So I count one…two…three…touch my ear. And I’m like I’m fooling everybody. So playing with the nose is probably an instinct of oh yeah, people do this.
We did improvise, actually. First of all, I never assume, as a writer—which is what I find my joy—I try to be respectful of other writers. I don’t assume that people will be interested in actors improvising. But Nicole was extremely giving and extremely trusting. She knew she had packed the movie with comedians, and she did that very deliberately. It showed a lot of confidence. So it was a very, very warm environment to be funny in. Patti and I had a lot of fun.
That’s fantastic. And that’s interesting: there’s a tendency among directors working with people who have a background in comedy to just roll the camera and expect them to be funny. How does Nicole Beckwith direct you?
Again, “giving” is the word that comes to mind. She provided little anchors for my scenes, just to make sure she had footage that was usable.
Other than that, she really trusted me. I certainly felt privileged to walk in there and she was like Okay, do what you think is good. And she didn’t stop me. She was very encouraging and vocal about letting me know she liked what I was doing. That type of role, for some reason, that Jules-type person, keeps popping up in stuff I do. It’s deceptively hard for me because I am not—I present like someone like that, but I’m not like that at all. It’s not super natural for me to be bratty and fast-talking.
We both like sparkly things, but that’s about it. So I’m always worried I’m going to do a terrible job. But Nicole liked what I did.
That’s awesome. The other thing about this film—it’s very queer, but it doesn’t appear to be. It’s about a very hetero relationship, but at the same time, Patti is a transwoman playing a pregnant, cisgender woman, and it’s interesting that the two moral guides of the piece are Jules and Matt’s therapist, played by Tig Notaro; it’s heavily implied that they’re gay as well. Does that make this a covert, queer movie? How do you characterize that?
I think it’s a movie that has caught up with the world. It shows the world for what it is now. I don’t think having a queer therapist is revolutionary, but the movie is very nonchalant and casual in welcoming of queer people. It skips a lot of steps. It’s the world now, and I appreciate it for that.
I have to ask too about your brand of comedy, which is quite unique. Your Wikipedia entry describes it as surrealist, but I don’t know that I’d call it that. Something like “My Favorite Shapes” somehow makes perfect sense. A cactus signifying walking in late to a meeting…somehow it makes sense. Where does that come from? How do you characterize that kind of abstract connection?
It’s sort of the only way I know to successfully tell what I’m thinking. In my day-to-day life, I speak in metaphor a lot, explaining things through other things, or explaining how I feel through symbols. It’s not deliberate, it’s just how it comes out. I take pride in never being deliberately obtuse or odd. I don’t see much value in being a very exclusive artist. Even though I am aware that no one would consider me “mainstream” or “accessible,” I don’t want to exclude anyone from participating in what I’m doing.
You’re also so deadpan in your delivery. Who are your influences? Is that a conscious choice to stay stone-faced?
It’s just the way it comes out; I’m concentrating.
I’m focused. I’m trying to be precise and deliberate. So that really is just the way it comes out. I never thought of it as a persona. If you meet me and hang out with me, I talk a little faster. But that’s also because I don’t think a conversation will be immortalized.
The first time I started doing stand-up at open mics, someone referred to what I was doing as a character, as a persona. And that was meant as a compliment. But I was like no, I’m just trying to say things right. So that’s where it comes from. I am patient because I like my audience to be patient.
What’s great about a patient audience? I’ve never heard it described that way.
Well, I think a patient audience is a trusting audience. I don’t think I succeed, necessarily, in having a hook or something like that. The show I have with my friend Ana, Los Espookys—that show is also patient. It requires patience because it requires people to enter a space where they don’t have all the answers yet. They enter it knowing they may never get the answers, but they enjoy the ride. [That’s different from] watching a show because it tells you what you already know or already like.
That’s really interesting. Since you brought it up, what’s the status of Los Espookys Season 2?
We were shooting, then we had to stop when everyone else had to stop [because of COVID-19]. Every other production has resumed, but Los Espookys is such a logistical nightmare given that we shoot in Chile. They are their own ecosystem in regards to COVID. So patience is the operative word. We’re being patient and can’t wait to get back to it. We were almost done with Season 2. There may be some glaring continuity issues, but we have created a world in which that may not matter at all. Everyone wants to do it—HBO, Ana, Fred, me, everyone on the show—but sometimes a pandemic happens.
Hopefully not again anytime soon.
You don’t want another one?
I don’t like to be greedy. I’m good with one, thanks.
Together Together arrives on VOD May 11.