Last week, SGS had the opportunity to catch up with Conrad Ricamora from ABC’s hit show, “How to Get Away With Murder.” He dishes with Teriyaki Temple (aka David Luc Nguyen) about working opposite Viola Davis, the hazards of Grindr, breaking down stereotypes for Asian actors, creepy stalker moments and so much more…including his current project that brings him to the Emerald City, his starring role in the hit musical at Seattle Repertory Theatre, Here Lies Love written by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim.
Teriyaki Temple/David Luc Nguyen: Welcome to Seattle,Conrad! What brings you to our neck of the woods and are you enjoying your visit so far?
Conrad Ricamora: I’m loving Seattle and everything it has to offer. I am currently doing HERE LIES LOVE at Seattle Repertory Theatre. (The musical) started at the beginning of March and (was recently) extended to June 18th. We are doing 8 shows a week. There are still some tickets available. I know that it was selling out, especially for the Thursday, Friday, Saturday night shows. But there are still some tickets available.
TT: With such a busy schedule have had much opportunity to check out some of Seattle’s attractions?
CR: I’ve been down to the (Pike Place) Market a couple times…got the grilled cheese at Beecher’s, which is my favorite. Ate at this place called “Sushi Kashiba, I guess, which is one of Shiro’s restaurants.
TT: Can you tell me more about about “Here Lies Love?” I read somewhere that you sing as well.
CR: “Here Lies Love” is musical written by David Byrne who is the lead singer of Talking Heads. Fatboy Slim also did some of the music, too. The show is about the the rise and fall of Imelda Marcos where I play Ninoy Aquino, who’s the Filipino revolutionary leader that helps to try to overthrow the Marcos’ dictatorship. It really focuses on the politics and the human rights abuses that happened in the Philippines.
TT: Do you think themes in this show echoes what’s going on in our current political climate here in United States?
CR: Yeah. I think it– David had the idea to write a show about powerful people that live in a bubble and are out of touch with what regular, normal people are going through.
I mean, if that doesn’t echo what’s going on right now, I don’t know what does. And also shows what happens when powerful people try to be above the law and especially this week, which is really just blowing my mind about how relative this show is right now.
TT: Do you call LA home usually, or where do you call home?
CR: Yeah. Both LA and New York. Right now, like I’ll go straight from here to LA once we start shooting in July. But New York…I’m still doing a lot of work there as well so I’m kind of back and forth between those two.
TT: Nice! Let’s talk, How To Get Away With Murder. Your character, seems like he is the moral compass of the show. You’re surrounded by some pretty dark characters. Do you see Oliver being influenced by his peers? Or do you think that he might help them, raise them out of moral ambiguity or–?
CR: Well, I definitely think he’s being drawn to the dark rise. yeah, I think that he’s making the choice to go over to the dark side a little bit more just by asking for a full-time job with Annalise.
And he’s stepping out of his own boundaries that he sets for himself as a person. Because of his relationship with Connor, I think that whether that turns into something as dark as being complicit in a murder [laughter] which he’s not quite there yet, although wiping the cell phone clean and kind of helping in that way is– he didn’t really know what will be.
He was just helping Annalise. He didn’t really know what he was doing at the time, but yeah. We’ll see how much more proactive he gets in that area, of covering up and being a little– just walking that fine line of being ethical and being a criminal [laughter].
TT: Looking forward to seeing how your character and the show develops. I read that you are of, I believe, Filipino and German descent?
CR: Yeah. Well, my mom is white. She’s from New Hampshire and my dad was born in the Philippines so I’m, yeah, half and half.
TT: Do you think it’s harder to be an Asian-American or mixed Asian-American in Hollywood?
CR: Well, I don’t really know. It hasn’t been for me so far [laughter]. I know that there’s definitely a lack of representation of well-rounded Asian characters….historically that’s been…we’ve been seen as comedic relief and kind of like the clowns and not been seen as fully realized human beings with sex drives, and complicated emotions, and complicated thoughts.
We’ve been kind of portrayed as cartoons, for the most part, in history. And I think that’s changing a lot now. I mean, I think there’s still a long way to go especially when you hear of projects that are casting white people as Asian characters.
That’s especially frustrating. I mean, you would never hear of– and there’s not as much outrage about that happening as it is when a white person would try to play a black person. And so it’s kind of like we still have a long way to go for that kind of equality to catch up. But I think we’re moving in the right direction. We’re just not there yet.
TT: Are you referencing Tilda Swinton from Doctor Strange where she plays the Master?
CR: I heard about it. I haven’t watched it or don’t know it well enough, don’t know the project well enough to comment on it.
I heard Emma Stone was getting cast in “Aloha” as a half-Vietnamese person [laughter].
TT: Oh yeah, I totally see Emma Stone with her red hair and freckles being half Vietnamese [laughter].
CR: So yeah. It’s just like those kinds of things. It’s kind of like, well, can’t you just cast an Asian person? The role is written for an Asian person.
There’s plenty of Asian actors that are looking for work. And if we don’t get seen, some producers and people and Hollywood executives say, “We don’t have an Asian star to carry the film.” And it’s like, well, if you don’t let us be seen, then we can’t be a star.”
TT: I agree! I totally hear ya!
CR: It’s this frustrating cycle of oppression. They’re saying that we’re not stars, but we’re never given a chance to be main characters in– we’re not even allowed to play our own ethnicity sometimes, so– unless it’s a horrendously cartoony version of it. So, I mean, I do think it’s getting better. Like I said, I still think we still have a long way to go.
TT : Let’s talk Stereotypes. So your character, Oliver, is of mixed Asian decent and he’s very tech-savvy and he’s a gay male who’s HIV-positive.
Some critics would say that Oliver reinforces some of the stereotypes that Hollywood portrays about gay men all having HIV and Asians being very smart, techy and nerdy and that all gay Asian men are submissive. What would you say to those critics and how do you think that your character challenges those stereotypes?
CR: I will say that when I went in to audition for the role, I was the only Asian guy in the waiting room. The guy that went in before me to audition for Oliver was black. The guy that went in after me was white, and so in the breakdown for the character, it wasn’t like they were looking for an Asian guy.
They just hired me to do it. And it hasn’t been– I really do feel like I’ve been able to play a really well-rounded character on the show. And a lot of the stereotypes of Asian men being submissive are not at all perpetuated in the portrayal of Oliver or in the way that he’s written. So I don’t agree with some of the stereotypes. If people say that Oliver is perpetuating any stereotypes, I just don’t see it.
TT: Agreed. I also believe that not all stereotypes are bad. I also think that you are a correct. Oliver doesn’t take much off of Connor when he is just looking for a late night booty call. I love how assertive he is (Oliver) in their relationship. I loved it when you slammed the door in his face in one of the episodes and when you let Connor know who was in charge in the bedroom.
Soooooo, moving to the next topic. My friends asked me to ask you if you were seeing anyone [laughing].
CR: Well, I guess it’s complicated [laughter].
TT: To satisfy my own curiosity. How does a celebrity like you date? Do you guys go on Grindr or Tinder or what [laughter]?
CR: No, you can’t really do apps once you have any kind of notoriety because then people are just– you don’t know if people just want to get in touch with you just to– if you’re all of a sudden just some novelty. So your privacy becomes a lot more– you become a lot more guarded in that regard and rely mostly on just face-to-face meetings, and meeting people through friends, and stuff like that. So yeah, I will say that any type of fame or notoriety has made it much more difficult to date [laughter].
TT: If you were to date one of the handsome many candy from the show, who would you probably most like see yourself pairing up with?
Would it be Jack, Charlie, Alfred, Billy, or Matt?
TT: Hahahah good pivot. I can’t say I don’t blame you though. Viola is beautiful and so talented.
CR: She is such a badass to me, and she is sexy and yeah [laughter]. I would skip everyone and jump there [laughter].
TT: How is it working with her? I mean, did you know her work coming into the project?
CR: Yeah, I respected her immensely as an actor, watching her in Doubt and The Help. I was so excited to be able to act opposite her. And she’s just the nicest, realest person, and puts everyone at ease on set. Yeah, still, it’s such a joy to work opposite of her.
TT: Have you had any weird fan experiences so far?
CR: Yeah, when I was doing The King and I, at the stage door a woman that was visiting from another country asked if she could kiss me. And I was like, “Uh, no [laughter].”Yeah, that was probably the strangest thing, just somebody– I was kind of shocked and like, “Wow, that’s bold.”
TT: Who are some of the artists in your current music playlist right now?
CR: Before the show to warm up I listen to Beyonce’s Lemonade album. I listen to the song called– the song “Freedom” and that old George Michael song “Freedom”. I just think a lot of our show has to deal with freedom…freedom for the people. I just feel like that kind of music pumps me up and gets me excited.
TT: So I’m curious. How does a psychology major end up in Hollywood?
CR: I took an acting class in college and then I just kept doing it, and just started doing community theater and found that it was something that I really wanted to do and then it slowly started paying. Then I went back to get my MFA in acting and just kept going. Realized that this was what I wanted to do with my life and just kept doing it.
Yeah, I didn’t know– when I was 18 deciding a major it’s like I didn’t really know who I was or what I wanted to do. It wasn’t until my junior year that I started discovering, “Oh. Wait, this is what I want to do.”
TT: That’s awesome. So I think I read you were from– is it Niceville, Florida? I imagine it’s kind of like growing up in southern Washington, where I grew up. I can’t imagine there is much diversity there?
CR: No, it wasn’t diverse at all. I was one of maybe– I think there were 3 other Asian people in my high school and the high school had close to 2,000 people [laughter] and there were only 4 of us. So it was very not diverse. Very conservative. And we didn’t even have a theater or an arts program. So I wasn’t even exposed to theater or acting or didn’t even know it was possible until I went away to college.
TT : Did you come out when you were still in your hometown? Or how was that process for you?
CR: When I was in undergrad I came out to my best friend, and then slowly just started coming out to my parents and other people.
TT: And how did your parents take it?
CR: Yeah, they took it well. I mean, they were really supportive, and just kind of said that it was okay, and that they wanted me to be who I was, and not try to be what I thought anybody else wanted me to be, or needed me to be. So, I mean, they were just there for me.
TT: So I guess, do you have any other projects coming up? You mentioned in July you’ll be heading back to the set for How to Get Away with Murder. Do you have any other plans in the works?
CR: Yeah, I just shot this indie film that got picked up by Amazon that– I think it’s going to be on Amazon in 2018. It’s called The Light of the Moon and it deals with sexual assault in it, so that just got picked up, but it won’t be available until 2018, so it’ll be a while.
TT: Thanks for time out of your busy schedule to chat with me today and looking forward to seeing more of you and your work in the future.
Readers: Don’t miss this opportunity to see Conrad in “Here Lies Love” at Seattle Rep while its still in Seattle through June 18th!
For ticket info check out: https://www.seattlerep.org/Buy/HereLiesLove/Production/5713
Tags: ABC TV, Asian American Actors, Conrad Ricamora, David Byrne, Filipino-Americans, Gay Characters in Television, Here Lies Love, How To Get Away With Murder, Out Gay Actors, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Stereotypes, Viola Davis