Star of NBC’s sitcom Superstore talks about being a homosexual Filipino playing an openly gay Filipino character in a successful network TV series
Born in Manila, Santos moved to the US with his family when he was 16. His passion for comedy and performing eventually led him to Los Angeles, where he picked up small roles in Hollywood features before landing the role of Mateo on the NBC sitcom Superstore. Santos talked to Southeast Asia Globe about his career so far.
How did you get started in Hollywood?
I gave myself six years in LA, and if I wasn’t happy with where my career was, I was going to move to a different city and try comedy there. The year I got cast in Superstore was my sixth year in LA.
What has been the feedback from the Filipino community to your character?
I’ve heard nothing but positive things. In the second season when the Olympics episode came out I spoke Filipino onscreen, and I thought: “Oh, what a cool moment. I’ll get to speak my native tongue.” But the response I got from the community was really mind-blowing. I’m not only honoured to play a Filipino but also an out, queer Filipino who is undocumented, so the show is really blowing a lot of doors open.
Were you able to add your own twist to the character?
Yeah, initially Mateo was written as a straight Latino who was this sort of tough guy. They weren’t counting on me walking in.
How did you convince the producers to change Mateo’s ethnicity and sexual orientation?
There was so much in the writing that really spoke to me. I saw him as a really shady, stab-you-in-the-back kind of person. So instead of playing him tough, I played him as conniving and manipulative – and I guess they liked it.
Do you think he’s evil?
No, but he will do whatever needs to be done. Like myself, Mateo is an immigrant, and you have to do the hustle and make things work. You’re in this new country in search of a better life, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes.
There are two types of Filipinos – those who eat balut [embryo egg] and those who don’t. Which are you?
I’m in the middle, because I love the broth, but I don’t eat the chick part. The soup inside is delicious and I will drink a whole bowl of it. The chick part, I’m like: ‘Uh, no thank you.’