Fred Armisen, Julio Torres and Ana Fabrega on Bringing the Wonderfully Weird ‘Los Espookys’ to HBO
HBO’s “Los Espookys” turns the tables on your average TV spook fest. First it’s bilingual, in Spanish and English, with a Latinx cast, and second, this time it’s the heroes who provide the scares. Think of this hilariously inventive show as a cross between “Scooby Doo” and Mexican telenovela trends, with the kids riding in the van being the source of all the creepy mayhem.
The brainchild of Fred Armisen, Julio Torres, and Ana Fabrega, “Los Espookys” follows a group of friends who put together the strangest kind of business. Andres (Torres), Tati (Fabrega), Renaldo (Bernardo Velasco), and Ursula (Cassandra Ciangherotti) are at first glance your typical Latinx millennials. They hang out, listen to music, attend coming of age rituals like quinceañeras and watch the days pass by. But after successfully turning his sister’s 15th birthday party into an elaborate horror motif, the gothic Renaldo decides there’s money to be made in scaring the daylights out of people. He convinces Andres, the bored heir to a chocolate empire, to follow him in establishing “Los Espookys,” a service that will bring horror to whoever needs it. Recruited to do the logistics of the operation is dental assistant Ursula, a straight-arrowed type, and her sister, the whacky Tati, who doesn’t care much for spookiness but loves the sense of trying something new. Armisen himself appears as the recurring Tico, Renaldo’s uncle who has made himself into an L.A. parking valet legend.
What follows is a fantastic romp combining the classic humor of shows like “The Munsters” with a fresh, contemporary vibe. Among the clientele of Los Espookys are priests who need staged exorcisms to be respected again and a local town that would like visitors to believe there’s a local sea monster roaming to boost commerce. The gang crisscrosses between a fictional Latin America country and Los Angeles, not only providing surreal and visually wild adventures, but becoming satirical embodiments of everyone who does what they love on the side, while dealing with soul-crushing work to get by (like Ursula at the dentist’s office). Other life problems include Andres’s boyfriend only seeking beauty in life, so he naturally gets turned off by the whole business of providing horror as a lifestyle. The whole cast brims with infectious energy. Even Armisen’s Tico is a loveable side character, the kind of uncle many Latinx viewers will instantly recognize.
Armisen, Torres, Fabrega, Velasco, and Ciangherotti sat down with Entertainment Voice to discuss the fun ride in making “Los Espookys.”
“Some of it would be from the ’70s, cartoons like ‘Scooby Doo,’” said Armisen when discussing the influences on the show. “I lived in Brazil for several years when I was a kid, so the ‘novelas’ were also an influence. They were a little haunting, they had a morbid feeling to them. A lot of funerals in those.”
Having finished “Portlandia” it might come as a surprise that Armisen decided to do a Spanish-language show as his pitch to HBO. “It was nagging at me,” he said. “It’s almost like I want to pitch it to get out of me. Something in Spanish, I just needed it to get done…I wanted to pitch to some Spanish channels and then someone at the production company told me they don’t invest in the same way. So that narrowed it down. HBO was really receptive, they had no issue for it to be in Spanish.”
But why this particular language? “It’s a cool language. It sounds cool. There’s something about it that’s part of American culture. It seems very American to me. Every city I go to, it’s just part of our culture.” Armisen even points out that the rise in popularity of Kpop proves U.S. audiences are ready for entertainment in languages other than just English. “There’s a lot of music where I won’t understand the lyrics, even if they’re in English, but I’ll like the feeling of it.”
“Fred pitched the show, and they liked it,” said Torres. “I feel like Fred, because he has such a track record that it’s not a risk to a put a Fred Armisen show on TV. It feels nice that his presence and talent ushered in something new. There is something very segregated, for lack of a better term, with a lot of the media being put out there right now. Even with say, like Netflix, they’ll have some stand-up comedy in Spanish but they’re like ‘oh but this is for your guys.’ Now we’re seeing more things where we can actually all watch the same things and enjoy it. That’s why it was important for us that even the scenes in English have subtitles in Spanish. So I can watch it with my mom for example.” Andres emphasized how even his character’s gay relationship has a particular kind of universality, “it’s just as toxic as a heterosexual relationship,” he said with a chuckle.
“I don’t think there was anything that we police’d ourselves on,” said Fabrega. “Ursula hooks up with whoever she hooks up with, there’s no need to explain why she does it.”
In real life what actually spooks an actor might not be ghouls or pranks. “It’s finding out my work isn’t good,” said Velasco. Fabrega added that it’s the same with her.
“Now that I’m realizing it, my character is obsessed with things being right. They’re like a little production company within themselves,” said Torres. “I learned not to read reviews,” he added.
“It always stayed light, all the way through, the whole thing is bizarre but in a positive way,” said Armisen. “I just wanted to do something about the love of horror, as opposed to just horror, the love of scaring people. And then the optimism to make a business out of something kind of bizarre. It could’ve been any other kind of job, like fake food, like what you see in Japanese restaurants and stuff.”
“That’s the profundity the show has,” chimed in Ciangherotti. “At the same time it’s light and funny, but it has such profound layers of how people can be represented. It’s one of the things I love about this show. It has many layers that you wouldn’t think about, but they’re there.”
“The whole world outside of the United States consumes things that are in English,” said Torres. “From a very young age children learn to engage in a language not of their own…but now the Americans are learning that it should be a conversation that goes back and forth.”
For Fabrega there’s also a universal link in how Los Espookys are just like so many people living on the gig economy. “Ursula has her dentist job, Tati is doing a lot of work because work comes and goes…then they’re looking for gigs to do together.”
It took Ciangherotti a while to truly get a sense of who her famously lively co-star Fabrega, the show’s main scene stealer, was. “Ana was quite hard to read at the beginning. I had to look at her many times like ‘what is she thinking?’ Then I got to know her and her mind. She’s in a peaceful state of mind and she can be creative. Julio is playing around all the time.”
Armisen had already worked with co-creator Fabrega on “Portlandia” and a web series. “I’m a fan of hers. I felt a great, spiritual connection with her comedy wise. Same with Julio. When you find someone with the same sense of humor it’s almost like a war, like we’re in battle and this is what we should fight for. We need to fight for this kind of a voice in comedy.”
“Los Espookys” season one premieres June 14 and airs Fridays at 11 p.m. ET on HBO.