If your first reaction to seeing Jigsaw from “Saw” is “this guy is a camp icon,” you might vibe with HBO’s “Los Espookys.”
Currently its second season, “Los Espookys” is doubling down on the show’s hallmark scares. They’re always sophisticated in effect, but low-rent by design, and create (mostly positive) outcomes for the people who ask for it.
Julio Torres shot to fame as a writer at “Saturday Night Live” when he penned the mega-viral send-up of the papyrus font used in James Cameron’s “Avatar.” He’s also known among gays who came up in the early aughts for another “SNL” video, “Wells for Boys,” starring Emma Stone, who’s also producing Torres’ new movie for A24. He created “Espookys” with fellow Brooklynite and writer/director/co-star Ana Fabrega and Fred Armisen.
A quick recap of “Los Espookys”: the show follows Bernardo Velasco as Renaldo, leader of the group, whose “Los Espookys” business is like “Ghostbusters” but in reverse. Renaldo’s friends Andrés (Torres), Úrsula (Cassandra Ciangherotti), and her sister Tati (Fabrega) help scare people in their unnamed Latin America town. Fred Armisen rounds-out the cast as Renaldo’s supportive and selfless uncle Tico, who deals with a real-life horror of his own: a dependent adult daughter Sonia, played by River Ramirez.
Although “Los Espookys” create their own horror, the supernatural in their world is very real. For instance, La Sombra del Agua (Spike Einbinder) is a demon who lives in Andrés’ head. The show blends the spiritual world into reality without spelling out how the two co-exist. Dialing back its logic to the background is one of the things that makes “Los Espookys” special. Everything in the world of the show is matter of fact without being heavy-handed. And it’s a world populated with loveable weirdos who live their “horrific” reality like a gender-queer “The Addams Family.”
Brooklyn Magazine spoke with Torres and Fabrega about resurrecting the show from its pandemic slumber, casting actress Isabella Rossellini to play herself, and how Torres may have shamed director James Cameron into changing the font for “Avatar.” They also tell us where to find the best vegan burrito in Brooklyn, and why Jigsaw is pure camp.
Was there ever a point you thought “Los Espookys” may not come back because the pandemic created a three year gap between seasons one and two?
Ana Fabrega: When the pandemic started, we had already shot almost all of the first four episodes of season two, and just had episodes five and six and a few scenes to wrap up. HBO kept telling us, “Don’t worry, you’ll finish.” My worry was when will that be? Because it was dependent on how covid was going, and especially with the protocols of filming in Santiago.vOnce we hit the two year mark, I thought “oh, man, if we don’t go like soon. It’ll be three or four years since season one.”
How was it having Isabella Rossellini on set and working together on the new season?
Torres: Ana directed her!
Fabrega: She’s great, she’s such an icon and she was so funny. She really gets the show. We’re both such big fans of hers and she very much feels like part of the world of the show, she belongs there. She plays herself on the show, fighting with Sonia over her website domain.
Were there any differences in terms of the production or writing from seasons one and two? Did you have a bigger budget or did you aim for different types of storytelling in the second season?
Torres: More than anything, having developed a closer relationship with our production designer and wardrobe designer, we were inspired by what they could do. And also knowing how to film in Chile allowed us to maximize what we could do. I think the show became more itself, it became more fully realized, and the world is more fleshed out. I think this season doubles down on the things I love about the first.
Julio, do you think your SNL video “Papyrus” — that made fun of the font James Cameron used in the first “Avatar” movie — influenced his decision to change the font for the sequels?
Torres: I wonder, because I know they changed the font, and that sketch got a lot of attention, so maybe?
If you run into him you can ask.
Fabrega: He’d be scared. He’d be like, “Oh my God, that’s the guy who humiliated me!”
Torres: I know he loves his blue people. [Torres’ character Andrés has blue hair.]
Julio, did you ever write a sketch for SNL that was too out there for the show?
Torres: You know how “The Flintstones” have appliances that are animals? And there’s a pig that’s a garbage disposal? I wrote this long monologue about the pig telling Wilma Flintstone, “You were gonna promote me and I don’t want to eat garbage anymore.” It was pages long. And it’s like, yeah, of course they wouldn’t use this. Why would they?
Ana, you said in undergrad you became a queer, vegan, democratic socialist. Did the liberal Jesuits at Fordham in Bronx transform you into one? Since half of America is afraid liberals do that kind of thing to kids.
Fabrega: I did not know what Fordham was until I got a thing in the mail that was like, “You can go here for free because of this test you took in high school.” I was like, “Oh, it’s in New York and I don’t have to pay tuition? Great. I’ll go there.” And then when I got there, I was like, “Oh, this is not right for me, but I don’t want to pay to go to NYU, so I’ll stay here.” It wasn’t until I was out of school that the things about who I am started to take shape. In college, I was somewhere between straight and asexual, focused on school and work, and no play.
Since both of you live in Brooklyn, what are some of your favorite places to eat, etc?
Fabrega: When we write, we both order vegan burritos from Border Burritos.
Torres: I kid you not, I order there four times a week. Oh yeah, big fan. I’ve only ever had one thing there, which is the vegan burrito.
Fabrega: One time I tried the nachos and I was pleasantly surprised they could they do a vegan version. But you really go there for the vegan burrito.
Torres: They know me so well that one time, when I moved and ordered my same burrito to a different apartment, they called and were like, “Hi Julio, just making sure that you didn’t put in the wrong address.”
Let’s talk about your show at the Bell House over the summer, “Ana Fabrega & Julio Torres: An Hour of Your Time.”
Fabrega: Yeah, we each did 30 minutes.
Torres: I was aching to perform some stand-up and have some new ideas out there. Maybe
we’ll do more.
Fabrega: To be quite honest, the impetus for the show was that I wanted to pitch something and as part of my pitch I want to include some stand-up. So I wanted to record a half hour set because I hadn’t done that. And then I was like, “Oh Julio, do you want to do this show with me?” Then we find out that Greta Titelman, who plays Ambassador Melanie Gibbons in our
show was going to be in town, so we had her open both shows.
Are both of you working on Julio’s A24 movie?
Fabrega: No, that’s Julio’s movie.
Torres: But Ana gave me notes! I don’t know when it comes out because I’m not done editing it, so it definitely won’t come out this year.
Is there anything you can say about it?
Torres: I really like it! Tilda Swinton’s in it, she’s fantastic. I don’t have a title yet. Like “Los Espookys,” it’ll come when you least expect it.
Ana, you’ve said Jigsaw from the “Saw” movies is a queer icon, but you haven’t said why.
Torres: [Laughs] The interviewer didn’t ask why? They were like, “Okay, next question.”
Fabrega: First of all, Jigsaw is very campy. Coming out as a little doll on a tricycle is very campy.
Torres: It’s a very Katy Perry thing to do. [Both laugh.]
Fabrega: He marches to the beat of his own drum. He does his own thing. He comes up with these elaborate ways for people to kill themselves. It’s very camp. It’s theatrical.
So if someone asked you to make the next “Saw” movie, would you do it?
Torres: Oh, that’s fun.
Fabrega: Yeah, that would be more up my alley than a Marvel movie.