To imagine Arturo Castro as the next big thing may not be so crazy. The Guatemalan-born actor is best known for playing Ilana Glazer’s hyper-neurotic drug-dealer roommate Jaimé on Comedy Central’s “Broad City,” which returns Sept. 13. He’s been called “the Carson Daly of Guatemala,” after hosting a “TRL”-ish Saturday morning show there, which got him noticed.
But it’s his latest gig in the searing Netflix crime drama “Narcos” that may bring him more attention. The show’s third season, which starts streaming Sept. 1, finds the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency turning its sights on the Cali Cartel in Colombia. Castro plays David Rodriguez, son of a major cartel figure who’s unsure if he’ll follow in dad’s footsteps. Expect a lot of bloodshed as he makes his decision.
So how does a guy go from the crazy comedy of “Broad City” to the drama of “Narcos?”
Isn’t that an obvious career progression? [He laughs.]
Not so much, no.
I did mostly dramatic theater Off-Broadway for several years. “Broad City” was my first pilot audition. I was never a stand-up comic or anything, but I’ve always been sorta funny. So I kind of learned comedy on the job. As for “Narcos,” it helped that I did a film with [director] Ang Lee that nobody saw called “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.” I guess the people at Netflix were like, “If Ang Lee thinks he can do drama, then let’s give him an audition.” And it worked out. So then I was shooting both series simultaneously.
Is the vibe on the sets different?
On “Narcos,” there are more days when it’s quiet. But it can also be hilarious. The producers ask me, “Are you kind of a psychopath?” We’d be doing a torture scene, and right after, I’d laugh — here I am, a grown man, and this other guy’s screaming for his life. I mean . . . [He chuckles.] Sometimes it feels a little surreal and I think, “How the heck did my life end up this way?”
Your “Narcos” family is brutal — and male-dominated — in stark contrast to the household you grew up in with your mom and three sisters.
I don’t know what it’s like to grow up in a house of macho dudes, but I imagine it’s a complete 180 degrees from my upbringing, where I was taught that vulnerability is my strength — empathy is the thing to have. I grew up in Guatemala City. It was a very suburban life. I’d ride my bike to school, though there were elements of violence and crime. It’s gotten way worse in recent years, but in such a small country, when violence hits, you know somebody who knows somebody who’s gone through it.
What do you miss the most from back home?
Besides family and friends, I miss this sense of . . . belonging. There’s a beautiful lake called Atitlán. Cat Stevens lived there, Bono from U2 — it’s a magical place. I go there once a year and I realize, no matter what happens, nobody can kick me out. This water belongs to me and my ancestors. I love New York, it’s my home now, but when you’re an immigrant, in the back of your head, you know you always have to prove yourself that much more. I don’t think my shoulders ever relax as much as when I’m just chilling in that lake with my feet in the water.
I read you were going to law school before show business.
Yeah. I come from a family of professionals. My dad was a psychiatrist before he passed away. My mother’s a successful businesswoman. But to their credit, there was never a moment where they said you should stay with something safe, what you have is a pipe dream. As soon as they saw me act, they knew this is what I needed to do.
That’s great. What’s next for you?
I’m shooting my own pilot for Comedy Central, a sketch show called “Alternatino.” I did it on their website before, and we’re trying to take it to the next level. I’m trying to change the narrative of what it means to be Latin in today’s world. There’s a certain negative connotation out there about us right now.
So how do you change that?
Comedy can be a startling tool. It’s all about finding middle ground. What do we all laugh at? Everybody knows what it’s like to feel awkward, or to be afraid of your mother if she catches you cursing. I’m trying to find those moments to help people realize the “other guy” isn’t much different than themselves. Look, at the end of the day, I’d like people laughing and clapping.