Fil-Am on the relevance of his gay immigrant ‘Superstore’ character
I lost my accent pretty quickly, so everyone assumes I was born and raised in America,” Fil-Am actor-comic Nico Santos told the Inquirer in a recent e-mail interview. “But I’m very much still in touch with my Filipino roots. That will never go away. Marunong pa rin akong mag-Filipino, and I make a mean adobo!”
Santos plays the sneaky and competitive sales clerk, Mateo Fernando Aquino Liwanag, in the sitcom, “Superstore” (Sony Channel, Sundays, 7:30 p.m.). The show, currently on its second season, stars America Ferrera.
The comedian-actor, who was in “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2” and appeared as a roundtable guest in “Chelsea Lately,” declared a continuing connection with Philippine customs and culture.
“That’s the thing about being Filipino, though; even the ones who were born here will always be loud and proud,” said Santos. “Pinoy Pride, always! Kung hindi, sasampalin ako ng nanay ko with [her] tsinelas!”
Santos moved to the States with an older brother when he was 16. They left Manila to live with his father in Oregon. “We had visited the US before, but it was still a complete shock when we moved here. Our past experience was as tourists. It was all fun and games—Grand Canyon! Disneyland! I had this picture in my head that it was going be like ‘Beverly Hills 90210.’ Instead, we found ourselves living in an unassuming, sleepy town called Gresham.”
Excerpts from the interview:
How did you become a comedian? I actually started out as an actor. I was very involved in drama [class] and choir in high school. I was in all the school plays and musicals. I majored in Theater in college … [but] I was told by my acting teacher that I was never going to make it. “You may love the art but the art doesn’t love you” was something he said in class often.
I was really discouraged and decided to switch my major from Performance to Costume Design. Eventually, I found myself working as a wardrobe assistant for The Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
One of the actors I was in charge of dressing asked me if I’d ever thought about doing stand-up comedy. It was like this lightbulb moment for me. That’s what made me go on this comedy path.
I had spent the [early part] of my career as a stand-up comic and that’s such a different process.
How different is television now, compared to when you started? The biggest differences are diversity and authenticity. We still have a long way to go. Now more than ever, though, we see more representation in the media [of] the Asian and LGBTQ communities.
There’s also a movement of telling stories from their experiences and perspectives rather than just throwing them in the background. If you told me years ago that I would end up playing a gay Filipino character on network television, and not an extra, I would have told you, you were crazy. That notion seemed impossible before, but here we are!
In what ways are you like, and unlike, Mateo? We’re both gay Filipino immigrants who came to the US in search of a better life. We’re both hardworking and ambitious. I’m not mean and shady like Mateo. Unless you cross me … then I can be a bigger b*tch than he is (laughs).
What is the importance of “Superstore’s” humor these days? The best comedy is based on truth. Having a show like ours in today’s political climate is important. It provides an escape, but also makes you reflect a little.
It’s also very diverse, and that’s important because representation matters. It reflects the real racial landscape of America, which is rare.
How would you describe working with the cast? “Superstore” is the most amazing work environment ever. Every single person on set is someone you’d call a friend. We have the best crew, as well, and we all hang out even when we’re not working. We push each other to be better, and we bring it out of one another. I have learned and grown so much.
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