In the run-up to its launch on HBO last year, Looking was often regarded as the West Coast answer to Girls: an indie film influenced look at a specific community existing within a major metropolitan city. But the series quickly established its own identity, thanks to the beautiful Bay Area locals, the nimble writing, and the great cast, headed up by Jonathan Groff, Frankie J. Alvarez, and Murray Bartlett as three best buddies, who are also single (and looking) gay men. According to Alvarez and Raul Castillo — who plays one of Groff's off-again, on-again love interests, Richie — Season 2 of Looking, which premieres on Jan. 11 at 10 p.m., won't try to fix what isn't broken. On a recent press tour through New York, the actors talked to Yahoo TV about upcoming storylines, hanging out off set and becoming San Francisco celebrities.
The Season 2 premiere kicks off with the central trio taking a road trip to a getaway north of San Francisco. Was that a nice way to begin the season, getting the gang back together?
Frankie J. Alvarez: It was a great way to start; we dove right in. Not to mention that we're all good friends and we're all New Yorkers, so in between the Season 1 finale and the start of shooting Season 2, we'd been hanging out, seeing movies, going to events, and doing yoga together. Everyone's hung out with each other's significant others. My wife had a show in New York while we were filming and Raul's girlfriend and Murray's boyfriend both went to see it. That's a testament to the love in this cast — we weren't even there, and they were hanging out.
How did the experience of making Season 2 differ from the first season?
Raul Castillo: It felt like getting back into the groove. In the first season, there was a kind of settling in that didn't happen for me until late in the game. With the second season, early on I was like, "This feels like home." What's exciting this year is the way the writers have expanded the world of these characters and are introducing new characters that help dig deeper into the stories we're already telling.
Alvarez: There were some strong reactions to Agustin and his actions during the first season and I think the writers were really conscious of that. Everything we set up in the first season starts to really pay off in Season 2. He's lost his boyfriend and has distanced himself from all his friends. He's crazy with the drugs and drinking, and there's more bottom to hit before he reaches an upswing and he starts to take the onus off himself and other people and really makes a conscious effort to be better in his relationships. There are missteps along the way, but it's a really satisfying arc.
How much input do you have into the way your characters are written?
Castillo: I think the writers are open to our input, in the same way that our costume designer will see me wearing something off set and the next thing I know, my character will get something like it. There's something very similar in the writing process — they find out something about us and it becomes part of our character.
Alvarez: We have some leeway in terms of improvisation and moving words around to make them fit the style of how you're playing the scene. But the writing is already great, so there's not much to improve upon. More often than not, if you stick to the spine of what they've created, you'll be in good hands.
Now that the show is on the air, do you get recognized more often when you're out and about in San Francisco?
Castillo: Oh yeah, on a daily basis. It's wonderful — people are very sweet and respectful and there are very few examples of anyone being crazy. Although one night, I was at a bar in the Mission having a drink and in my periphery, I noticed this chick, screaming "Rickie!" At first, it was ambiguous if she was screaming at me, but then I caught on. I was like, "First of all, my character's name is Richie. And second of all, don't address me by my character's name — my name is Raul."
Alvarez: I get people going, "Agustin, you suck!" [Laughs.] No, everyone's been so genuine in their love for the show as a whole. And the people in San Francisco especially are happy that we're showing parts of the city that haven't been shown on film. It's really a love letter to the city, so I'm glad the locals are really excited about it. But in terms of shooting, Season 2 was night and day for us. We were under the radar for the first season and this year, we got a taste of celebrity.
Were any scenes ruined by overeager fans?
Alvarez: There was a walk-and-talk with Jonathan and I that was supposed to be done on a Tuesday night, but something happened to the schedule so we ended up shooting on a Friday night in the Castro. We did 12 takes and maybe two are usable, because people were yelling out, "Jonathan Groff!" or "You're in Glee!" Hopefully, those are released on the gag reel.
Jonathan and I were shooting another scene in the East Bay and some guy came up to us in the middle of the take and said, "Hey, are you the guys from Looking?" I was at a loss for words, but Jonathan was quicker about it and said, "What is that?" And the guy went, "Oh, come on! I was just at the library — I Googled you guys and printed it out. I have pictures. Look, this is you, right?" The crew called cut and wrangled him away. It was pretty hilarious.
What storylines can you tease for this season?
Alvarez: Last year, Agustin discovered that the art world is all about who you know and what people think about you. And I think a lot of his decisions in the first season were based on what other people thought about him. He was projecting a cool version of himself and now that his job has been taken away and he's lost his boyfriend and his apartment, he's left with nothing. He's able to build his personality back up again and in the process discover things about himself he wants to throw away. Those words that he heard towards the end of the first season — "You're a mediocre artist and always will be" — echoes in the depths of Agustin's soul throughout the entire second season and I think that conversation is a motivating tool for him.
Some family issues are also explored with Richie and Patrick in a really exciting way throughout the season. There's not much family stuff with me, but I'm hoping it's going to happen in the third season. When you're around your friends in your community, you're a certain person. But when you go back home, there are always parts of you try to put away that end up coming out. I think the writers are really conscious of that and the way it provides spark to the storytelling.
You mentioned a third season. Do you know for sure that you're coming back for another year?
Alvarez: No, we just have hopes, aspirations, and dreams. I could do 20 seasons. Is 20 too much?
Castillo: To be part of a show like this and to go to work with people like this on a project we completely believe in? There's nothing better than that. 20 years? Please, please.
Looking Season 2 premieres Sunday, Jan. 11 at 10 p.m. on HBO.