This interview was conducted before the start of the SAG-AFTRA strike.
As Jaime Reyes comes into his own as a bonafide superhero in the eagerly anticipated film Blue Beetle, he faces off against the ultimate supervillain in Carapax. Played by Raoul Max Trujillo, Carapax is the right-hand man to the villainous Victoria Kord, who targets Jaime and his family after he bonds with a cosmic scarab to inherit the powers of Blue Beetle. Possessing a super-powered exosuit of his own, Carapax pushes Jaime to his limits as an unrelenting adversary in the new DC Studios film.
In an exclusive interview with CBR conducted before the start of the SAG-AFTRA strike, Blue Beetle star Raoul Max Trujillo talked about leaping into the role of Conrad Carapax, working closely with the cast and crew to bring a movie celebrating Latin American culture to life, and hinted at what fans can expect when Blue Beetle opens in theaters everywhere this Friday.
CBR: Raoul, how did the opportunity to become a comic book supervillain for Blue Beetle come about?
Raoul Max Trujillo: I learned after the fact that Ángel is a huge fan of Apocalypto, and he went into Blue Beetle wanting me for Carapax. This is what they all told me afterward. They were like, "You were always our choice." But I did still have to audition for it, for the studio. That's one thing I have to say about Apocalypto, it's always been an amazing calling card for me. I had no idea what I was even getting into because it was all top-secret in those days. You didn't know what the project was. You just knew it was going to shoot in Puerto Rico, and I knew the outside dates. That's all I knew. I had to do this audition in Spanish and English, but I had no idea what it was.
I just happened to mention it to friends of mine, saying, "I'm up for this project that looks really interesting. It shoots in Puerto Rico." They were like, "Sounds like Ángel's project." They're really close friends with Ángel. They sent a quick text to him that I'm a really close friend of theirs, and Ángel knew that because that's what we had in common. They said, "He's up for this role. Is it yours?" And he said, "Yep, he's who I want!" That's how that ended up coming my way, and I was absolutely thrilled.
I knew nothing about Blue Beetle or Carapax, but once I started getting into it and read the script, he's definitely a different variation than you are used to in the comic books, but it seemed super exciting and had a lot of meaning for me, personally. I was stoked!
With it being that secretive of an audition process, was there anything in the character description that helped inform how you approached the audition?
I got nothing! That's the thing about these. They're so top-secret that you don't get a script. You get sides, and the sides weren't even from the script. [laughs] I just knew the stuff I was doing in Spanish and English. I had a director friend of mine visiting from London, and I said, "I've got to do this audition. Do you want to help me?" I thought he'd read with me and help me film it, and we did, and it was super safe and typical, but then he was like, "No, you've got to do it like this, bro." He moved the camera around the hallway of this house that I was renting, and whatever it was, they fucking loved it.
It just goes to show you that sometimes you need to play against that whole formulaic audition because this one had so much emotionality to it, and there's a twisted mind to this character, even though it didn't make it into the script. I think they just wanted to see a level of depth and torture in this character. The audition made everyone go, "Yeah, that guy." [laughs] We went for crazy. What can I say! [laughs]
In all the trailers and promotional material, Carapax is a presence physically. How did you want to approach the way he carries himself and get into character with all those tattoos?
Before I became an actor for film and television, I was a dancer and choreographer in New York with a company that traveled all over the world. I have movement already in my body as information. When I approach any character, the first thing I decide is how he walks -- how he gestures and moves through the world. Carapax having a prosthetic arm and leg -- even though it's not really there, it's just green sleeves -- you take that on. I always approach every character with movement.
The tattoos were written into the script. That's one thing he was written as. I just happen to have a lot. They still had to add ones that were very specific to the character in terms of his history. The fact that he was trained by the School of the Americas [is] definitely a real place that existed to train young kids to be soldiers -- something that happens all over the world. Once you sit in a chair for five hours of prosthetic makeup, you're given a certain look with all the scars. With each scar, comes a history. All the tattoos come with another layer of history. Then you throw on the wardrobe, and boom, there you are. You inhabit [the character].
For me, it's definitely less of a heady process. I've heard actors talk about projects, and they're all in their heads about it. No judgment because they come from that place. I never came from that place. I remember when I studied at the Actor's Institute in New York City when I was segueing out of becoming a dancer and started taking acting lessons at the very prestigious Meisner School. I did one master's program, basically over a long weekend, and they said, "Don't bother studying. You're a natural. You're so organic in your choices. Just stick with it!"
And these were top instructors in New York City at one of the most prestigious acting schools that were like, "Don't even waste your time. You're already there!" I always took that as a go-ahead to trust my instincts and trust my choices to use my movement information as preparation for a character. Carapax was fun. He was fun to inhabit, and I had a blast.
You've worked with Mel Gibson, David Twohy, and Denis Villeneuve. How was it working and collaborating with Ángel Manuel Soto?
Ángel, I think, is a genius. He has a strong background as a storyteller because the two films he did were very story-based and character-driven. With Blue Beetle, I think the expertise of his technical knowledge within animation and motion-capture -- I don't even know all the terminology anymore because it's changed so much since I started 32 years ago with early sci-fi. Even Riddick didn't have what we have in Blue Beetle. I'm in costume in front of these motion-capture cameras from every angle, taking it so that they can use that information to inform every scene. That was new to me.
Ángel's knowledge of it was so profound, and the fact that he's a storyteller innately, the fact he had such a strong passion for this story, his version – which is really a story about colonization, imperialism, and the military-industrial complex -- made him perfect to be a director. For me, it was so much fun to be on set with him because his innocence and childlike approach are so contagious when you're on a set. He allows you to play, and yet, he knows exactly what he wants.
In the opening scene, when Victoria Kord and Carapax meet in the Andes and find the scarab, you'll see that whole scene play out with crane cameras and everything else. When we shot it, he pulled out his iPad and said "This is exactly what it looks like." Even though it was animated, you're able to see exactly what the camera movement is and how it informs all the steps of me coming out of this tent, her coming out of a helicopter, us joining, and walking into a close-up.
Because he's able to share his knowledge with us, it became so much easier. That's how he approached the whole film, letting us see what it looks like because he had already mapped it all out because of an animation process and his technical skills. He's amazing. I love that guy and would love to do his next film.
Speaking of Victoria Kord, you get to share scenes with Susan Sarandon. How was it having her as a scene partner?
I didn't think it was possible to die twice and go to heaven. The first time was in the film Love Ranch with Helen Mirren, who is one of those forces. Susan is just a gift to work with as an actor. Her generosity, her honesty, and her eyes... You can see the chemistry that the two of us had. It was real because when we met, we had this incredible human connection, and she's just an amazing human being. We're both very similar in that we're activists. We really care about the world.
To approach a scene where we're both coming from this human place that we've seen outside but are now these two villain types, the connection still has to remain truthful. For her and I, the chemistry was there just from looking into the eyes of one another and seeing such honesty revealed. She's just one of those amazing human beings, and every actor loves her. I felt like I died and went to heaven. I loved to work with that woman. She's amazing.
This is one of those projects where the real fight that happens are our stunt doubles doing the really big stuff. We had to come in there to film close-ups and get the real emotionality out of it. That kid wears his heart on his sleeve. He really does. He can access such emotion so quickly over and over again. It's a marvel to watch, especially from somebody so young. He's done a few things, but I think he was able to rise to this occasion and deliver such honesty, such innocence, and a playfulness that's just him naturally. Working with him was a little tough because he's such a sweet guy, and you've got to say and do some nasty things. [laughs]
I think that's what makes it really fun as an actor in these things. I watch a lot of things, and I learn from watching shows that I love. When you watch heavy scenes like that, you know that after it's done, they're all breaking out into laughter about some other nonsense. We were able to turn that shit on and off, and it came so easy. It was a thrill working with him and all of them, the whole cast. Watching the family, with such heart, all these people.
I'm so proud of this film, I really am. I had no idea what I was getting into, but the script was really good, and I knew we were safe in the hands of Ángel. I think fans are really going to be taken by this version of the story and hopefully be moved in a really big way because it's deep and profound in so many ways.
Outside of Miles Morales, there aren't many mainstream Latine superheroes in movies today. Did you feel that greater sense of community in Blue Beetle's story and across the production with the cast and crew in Puerto Rico?
Absolutely! That's one thing I can say about [producers] Zev Foreman and John Rickard. They both knew that this [was] a special project, and they wanted to be able to bring the culture into this. Even though we were all from different parts -- Ángel being puertorriqueño, the writer [Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer] being Mexican, and all these young actors from Mexican-American and the mother and father being amazing Mexican actors, like Elpidia Carrillo who plays his mother, and I've luckily been able to work with before -- they're all these powerhouses.
To see all these brown people assembled from different parts, what we share is culture. We all come from cultural backgrounds that are not typical white America. To see that in filming and in the final version of the film is such a lift and relief. I've been doing this for 32 years and have been on so many projects where I've had to learn other languages and open doors for indigenous representation.
What I think this film does now is open the door to true representation for any Hispanic-speaking people and show the culture. People are going to love what they see because there's some funny shit. George Lopez is funny as hell. The family, the love, and the heart that they walk with are just so contagious. I think people are going to love it.
Throughout your career, you've done things as grounded as Mayans M.C. and as hard sci-fi as Riddick. How do you see the superhero and sci-fi genre as a fan and an actor?
Personally, my favorite genres are sci-fi and horror thrillers because it's the furthest away from the reality we know as human beings. I love this kind of work. There is something to be said, as well, about period pictures, which I also love. When the writing and directing are good, and it's cast really well, I think, as a fan, you appreciate that because there's nothing worse than seeing a project and walking away from it disappointed because the casting was off or the writing didn't justify the story.
In Blue Beetle, most of the movie between the family is all in Spanglish or Spanish. Carapax, at one point, mutters something in Mayan. The Mayan thing follows me throughout my whole career somehow. [laughs] I think it's just important for fans to see that there is a world out there in film that represents [different] cultures and uses other languages, and you're seeing it more and more. I watch a lot of stuff on Netflix, and now they're finally making them where there are four or five languages spoken in the shows because they're finally giving credence to the fact that we're not a Euro-centric story to be told and reiterated forever and ever on film and in television.
That, for me, is important. As an actor, I love being part of projects that represent cultural specificity. I'm able to do what I love, and sci-fi is right at the top. I go into it with such excitement every single time. I just hope there's more of it because, to be 68 years old and finally get cast as a supervillain, it's like, "What?! Took you long enough!" [laughs]
Raoul, what else can you tease about Blue Beetle and Carapax?
I think what fans are going to be able to witness, especially die-hard fans of the comic books and the story, they're going to be able to see a twist on the evolution of Carapax just within this film that is going to be surprising, but I think in a really good way because it's going to take the archetype of villain and multi-dimensionalize him and bring humanity to the character in a way that rarely gets seen in villains. Villainy is not just a simple thing, it's very complex. The characters have to have that complexity, and I think everyone did their best to bring that to Carapax.
As a film itself, I think people are going to be surprised at how the culture outside of mainstream white America can be in a really successful, entertaining film and that we've finally reached a place in Hollywood where we can see and experience more of that. That's what I'm hoping for!
Directed by Ángel Manuel Soto, Blue Beetle opens in theaters on Aug. 18.