A pastor hires a team of special effects artists with a special set of skills to conjure up a fake demon possession and exorcism to upstage the new star priest at his church. This is just another day at the office for the oddball gang of friends at the center of Los Espookys, the new HBO comedy series produced by Lorne Michaels and Fred Armisen.
Renaldo (Bernardo Velasco) is a horror fan with a talent for simulating the macabre. His Uncle Tico (Armisen) advises him to turn his passion into a career just as he has done. Tico is already living his dream of being a valet driver and is the only valet in the world who can park two cars at once.
“The original incubation of [Los Espookys] came from a trip that Fred and I went on to Mexico City,” says producer Alice Mathias. Armisen was inspired by the attitude of the city. “I love that Mexico City does not care what the rest of the world thinks of them,” Armisen told me at the show’s premiere in New York City. The people there, he says, were indifferent to tourists. “What I saw there was this real love of, like, goth stuff and monsters. And I’m like, this is really cool.”
The setting eventually moved to Chile, but Co-Executive Producers Ana Fabrega and Julio Torres — who also play Tati and Andrés respectively — maintained Armisen’s idea that the majority of the dialogue be in Spanish.
“It’s a very peculiar comedy about four friends who are following their passion, which happens to be, like, a pretty unusual passion,” Mathias explains. The four lead characters stage supernatural and paranormal happenings according to their clients’ needs.
“I would say it’s like Scooby Doo meets Addams Family,” says Cassandra Ciangherotti, who plays Úrsula on the series. Úrsula and her sister Tati form one half of the main quartet, and they couldn’t be more different from one another.
Úrsula, a dental assistant by day, is tough. “Tati is a lost soul and is looking for meaning in life; she is very naïve and optimistic and only sees the good in people,” according to Fabrega. “She’s very sweet and just trying to find her place.” Despite Tati’s flaws, Ciangherotti says “[Úrsula] loves her sister. And she’s very compassionate and loving towards her.”
Then there’s Andrés. “My character is the heir apparent to a chocolate fortune with a mysterious past and a beautiful boyfriend he dislikes,” says Torres. “I think it’s a couple we see all the time where it’s like, why are you together? We all know one of those couples.”
This group of misfits is led by Renaldo, played by Bernardo Velasco. “I think my character is a really refreshing discovery for me in this part of my career because he is literally the opposite as me in this part of my life. He reminds me of when I was younger in high school. Everything made me feel emotional.”
“I’m not a really, really big fan of horror,” Velasco says, “but I spent my childhood every year waiting for Dia de Los Muertos, The Day of the Dead, waiting for this day to get a costume to go out in the streets to scare people.”
Renaldo’s valet driver uncle floats in and out of the group’s adventures on an occasional basis, which was Fred Armisen’s idea and which he says was inspired by Danny DeVito’s character in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. As for the decision for Tico to be a valet, Armisen says, “They’re always running, and they’re well-dressed. I thought I’ll be that guy.”
Throughout the season, the Los Espookys team delivers a variety of mock paranormal events, and I asked the cast and crew their favorite spooky gags. “I really like Bernardo’s interpretation of the hunchback,” Ciangherotti says. Armisen and Mathias particularly love the sea monster creation. “I like the aliens that we built,” says Torres. Fabrega is torn between the sea monster and the aliens, while Velasco’s favorite is their take on a haunted mansion.
Julio Torres says the show mostly followed the script but allowed some room for actor improvisation:
It really depended on the approach of the actor. And Fernando [Frias], the director, was very accommodating of that. We have some great comedic actors who were very comfortable with improvising. So they did a little bit of that. But, for the most part, I will say that the actors were very committed to the script. But we welcomed the input.
Ana Fabrega hopes to meet more of Los Espookys’ clients next season. “I would just like to continue exploring these people’s personal lives, the type of clients that are approaching them for work because, as the series goes on, the jobs get more and more abstract.”
Though he isn’t a believer himself, Torres says he’s “attracted to believers of the supernatural.” That fascination with the people who do believe in the supernatural or the paranormal seems to be at the heart of Los Espookys.
This becomes especially clear in Fabrega’s beautiful and concise description for the show: “It’s about a group of friends who make horror for people who need it.”
Los Espookys premieres Friday, June 14th on HBO.