Q&A with Raúl Castillo of “The Inspection”

Jeremy Pope (left) with Raúl Castillo in "The Inspection."
Jeremy Pope (left) with Raúl Castillo in “The Inspection.”

Raúl Castillo gives an affecting performance as Rosales, a drill hat in a boot camp, in “The Inspection,” out gay writer/director Elegance Bratton’s fantastic drama, based on his own life.

Ellis French (Jeremy Pope) enlists in the marines after living on the streets for nearly a decade because his mother, Inez (Gabrielle Union), kicked him out of the house for being gay. Once at boot camp, French is subjected to physical and psychological pain, such as getting beaten by fellow recruits after he is caught fantasizing about Rosales in the shower. Rosales, however, sees something in French, and helps him channel some of his anger to get through training. There is palpable sexual tension between the two men. Rosales winks at French during one exercise, and a hand he places on French’s thigh during a heart-to-heart is also suggestive. And French is supportive towards Rosales when he overhears a tense phone call the drill hat has with his wife.

Castillo proves to be a strong moral center and provides a guiding light for French. The actor recently spoke with Gay City News about his role in “The Inspection.”

Why is Rosales so kind to French? What does he see in him?

Rosales sees potential and a fire in French that perhaps he recognizes as familiar. I had a Rosales in my life —not in boot camp, but in theater school, which is sort of a boot camp. I had an African American professor by the name of Jim Spruill when I was an undergrad at Boston University. I was the first in my family to go to college, as a first generation American from a border town [McAllen, TX]. Leaving my community, which was incredibly homogenous, and going to New England, which is incredibly homogenous in a totally different way, I stood out like a sore thumb. My first year there was difficult for a lot of reasons. I felt the culture shock disillusioning. James Spruill took me under his wing, and he taught me a lot about the craft and acting but also what it means to be a man of color in this country, and he helped contextualize the society I was stepping into having left the border. I don’t think I’d be here today were it not for Jim. When I read this story, I connected with that, and I understood where Rosales comes from. Rosales must have had someone looking out for him. He is a Brown man in the military. We find each other and look out for each other. This was a beautiful opportunity to tell the story of an intersectional relationship in the marines.

There is a very interesting relationship that develops between French and Rosales. What were your thoughts on the sexual tension between these two men?

It was so beautifully teased out in the script. Elegance was very clear about how he wanted to draw the tension of the relationship out. The wink is in the script, if I’m not mistaken. I love that Elegance doesn’t answer the question for the audience, but he lets the audience deduce things or question it. I love characters that live in the gray zone and a storyteller lets the audience interpret it.

There is a scene of Rosales on the phone with his spouse, that reveals his frustrations about being separated. This provides a glimpse into his personal life. What backstory did you give Rosales?

Elegance and I did speak at length about the Rosaleses in his life. He did take the name Rosales from someone he served with, but the character is a composite of several people Elegance came across as a marine and in boot camp. I loved having access to Elegance before we started filming and while making the film, he shared his personal anecdotes. He was an incredible resource. I’d never worked on a film where you had the greatest expert on the story behind the lens. We discussed the character at length. Elegance helped me draw up a backstory to serve me and establish that relationship.

Rosales also gives a few very moving speeches in the film. There is one where he is ironing and explains he hates bullies, and another with French where he talks about acceptance. What accounts for his character’s code of ethics?

In a sense it comes out by design. Laws (Bokeem Woodbine), the senior drill instructor, is there to break these recruits down. Brooks (Nick Logan) is the kill hat to scare the recruits and help break them down. And Rosales is the drill hat to nurture and instruct and teach these recruits. But at end of the day, Rosales is looking out for the underdog. I identified with that when I read the script. This is a story about underdogs. I’ve always had an affinity and I’ve been an underdog. I joke about this, but I was voted most popular my senior year of high school because in any classroom, I would befriend the most unpopular kid. I was friends with everyone because I hated when people were ignored and left behind.

Did you get to do much of the physical boot camp exercises?

We had a couple of weeks with a drill instructor named Octaya Jones, who was our military consultant. She served with Elegance, and he brought her on for two weeks to whip Bokeem, Nick, and I into shape in the intense Mississippi summer heat, running drills and getting into the physicality and the vocal quality of it. She worked with us very intimately to get us into that space.

Given that this film was based on Elegance’s experience, what did you bring to the character?

I love depictions of masculinity that challenge the audience and non-traditional depictions of masculinity. I’ve been lucky that a lot of the characters I’ve played in my career don’t fit into the tropes we see in films and television. Most of that is in Elegance’s writing. But you bring yourself and entire instrument to a character and your own life experience and your own psyche and emotions and passions. We need stories like this out in the world. I’ve seen things like this, but not with a Black queer character, or a Brown man.

While Rosales is not queer here, he is a gay man’s fantasy. You have developed a gay following from “Looking.” What observations do you have about being a gay heartthrob?

The “Looking” audience is the most sincere and supportive. We got cancelled after two seasons because we didn’t have a huge following. I run into “Looking” fans everywhere. I was in Portugal this summer at a Strokes concert with my fiancée; this woman asked to take my photo because her friend was too embarrassed. Everywhere I go, people who watched that show and cared about those characters. It was an honor to be a part of “Looking” and be considered to be a queer heartthrob. [Laughs.]

“The Inspection” | Directed by Elegance Bratton | Opening November 18 in select theaters | Distributed by A24.