ABOVE: MIGUEL ANGEL SILVESTRE IN SENSE8. PHOTO COURTESY OF NETFLIX
“It’s very difficult for me—I think because of my English, too—to explain what the show is about, but it is very easy and fun to watch,” says Miguel Ángel Silvestre of his new Netflix show Sense8. Co-created by Lana and Andy Wachowski and screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski (Thor, Changeling, World War Z), Sense8 follows a group of eight strangers connected by the same vision of a woman dying in a church. There’s Capheus (Aml Ameen), a bus driver in Nairobi; Sun (Doona Bae), a Korean business woman overshadowed by her brother; Nomi (Jamie Clayton), an American transgender woman estranged from her family; Riley (Tuppence Middleton), a disillusioned British DJ who plays crowded raves; Wolfgang (Max Riemelt), a German thief who specializes in cracking safes; Will (Brian J. Smith), a Chicago police officer; Kala (Tina Desai), an Indian woman about to marry a pharmaceuticals scion; and Lito, a closeted Spanish movie star living in Mexico played by Silvestre.
Born and raised in Castellón, Spain, Silvestre is most famous in the U.S. for his role in Pedro Almodóvar’s I’m So Excited! (2013). The 33-year-old is very enthusiastic about Sense8 and working with the Wachowski siblings, and understandably so. “I can remember exactly where I was when I saw The Matrix for the first time,” he says. “I was with my roommate saying, ‘What the fuck? This is super cool and amazing!’ When I remember that moment now, it’s a joyful sensation,” he continues.
EMMA BROWN: How did you get involved in Sense8? Did you audition or were you approached?
MIGUEL ANGEL SILVESTRE: I did four auditions, and the last one was in London with Andy and Lana. I remember calling [casting director] Carmen [Cuba] after doing three auditions, and she said, “You finally are going to meet them, but I want you to know more about them. You will enjoy the process more.” I started to read interviews from them. I saw the statement of Lana Wachowski at the Human Rights Campaign and I started to fall in love with her. I really want to be close to people who surrender that much to be authentic, to follow your personality, to be as transparent as possible, to not be scared about who you really are and to show your vulnerabilities and shadows. I really wanted this to happen, so I kept my fingers crossed. Every day, I was thinking, “Please life, surprise me. I want to be there.” So I met them and I did the audition in London and it went so well. After doing it, I spoke with my agent from Spain—it’s a very small industry, so she is one of my best friends. I went to her and I said, “Beatriz, please choose a place, I am going to treat you to dinner because something happened in that room, I promise to you.” She said to me, “Miguel, it’s too soon to celebrate.” And I said, “No, no, no, no. We have to celebrate, trust me. I am positive.” I was waiting for a month. I thought, “Yeah, they are going to call me.” Carmen—she is very, very nice—she told me to come on Skype and I thought maybe she wanted to say face-to-face, “Look, Miguel, in the end it’s not going to be possible. We are sorry.” She told me, “Miguel, do you mind if I record this conversation? They want to see your face when I tell you that the character is yours.” It was so nice.
BROWN: Where in the world do you film? Because everyone films in different locations, right?
SILVESTRE: Yeah. I filmed in San Francisco, Chicago, London, Iceland, Korea, Berlin, and Mexico.
BROWN: Wow. That must have taken ages.
SILVESTRE: Yes, a lot of time. You are having so much fun just covering the world and I love that but you end up feeling exhausted of visiting.
BROWN: How much did you know about your character, Lito, when you auditioned?
SILVESTRE: I knew everything. One of the questions they asked me is, “Do you mind to kiss men?” And I said, “No, not at all.” I think in Spain, homosexuality is completely different than in Mexico. In Spain, after the dictatorship, thanks to Pedro Almodóvar, many artists put on the streets through art a big explosion of freedom. I was born in 1982, so I was raised feeling that culture—the culture of freedom. Now it is not an issue to be gay, lesbian, or transgender in Spain. Also there’s many people from my family, so I could understand perfectly what Lana was trying to say because I could see how many of the people that surrounded me had problems for being themselves, and I know what repression means, or what it meant for them. I was familiar with the issue because I was raised watching this. But I belong to a generation that hasn’t lived the [repression] when people were hiding. I belong to a generation that has seen the explosion of freedom, the celebration of freedom.
BROWN: I heard that you wanted to be a tennis player when you were growing up, but you were injured and couldn’t pursue it professionally anymore.
SILVESTRE: In many interviews they said that I was injured. The real truth is that I found out that I was never going to get what I wanted. I gave my best, but I wasn’t talented enough to become the tennis player that I dreamt to be. It was very sad quitting something that you’ve focused a lot of your life on, but life surprises you again and gives you more chances. I studied physical therapy and I started to study theater because my aunt is a theater director. Everything came easier than I thought because I was used to trying and losing on the court. I remember my father, when I was studying physical therapy, he asked my aunt, “Can you please do something with him and tell me if he can be an actor?” So my aunt told me, “You are going to study these lines from American Beauty“—[the scene] where the guy says to her that the father has beaten him and all of that. At Christmas time, my aunty came home to stay with us. We went inside of my sister’s room and we started to run the lines that I was given. I was putting a lot of effort [into it]. My father said to my aunty, “Tell me, is he gifted?” and she said, “I cannot tell you if he is gifted or not. What I can tell you is that he is going to fucking try his best because this guy doesn’t get tired. I was giving him directions and he had his eyes open waiting for more.” I guess that is one of the things tennis has given me—when I feel passionate about something, I can work very hard.
BROWN: What made your dad think of acting as a potential career for you?
SILVESTRE: I wanted it. I saw my aunt’s rehearsals and I thought [about] what it would be like to be an actor and to play and to fight with someone inside of a play. My family was saying, “Please Miguel, focus on your studies.” Because [before], I was spending all of my time playing tennis. I said, “Father, I need to do this. I need to move to Madrid.” So I moved to Madrid, I rented a room, and I started to study in the capital of Spain. I [performed at a] theater for amateurs—me and my friend did a small piece of a play. [Afterwards] I said “Nobody gives a fuck of us. Nobody was listening.” She said that there was a girl that was listening. And I said, “Come on. We are fucking boring.” [But] that one girl is my agent now. She told me, “Look Miguel, there is a film audition. I am not going to send you, but you should go because maybe you’re what they are looking for.” I went and they gave me the role. I went to her office and I said, “Please, I beg of you, I want you to represent me. I got this job and I want to start with you.” And now she is my best friend and my agent.
BROWN: Did you grow up watching a lot of movies?
SILVESTRE: Not when I was growing up—mostly when I decided to be an actor. I don’t want to lie; this is not something I felt from the very beginning. [When I started studying acting], I had to see a lot of films because I had only seen Pretty Woman and Home Alone.
BROWN: If you could play any other character on the Sense8, who would you want to play?
SILVESTRE: Sun, because I love martial arts and I think it is one of the best things that the Wachowskis do—shooting fights. The way they see the violence is very stylish, and Sun has to deal a lot with that. As you will see, all of us have a bit of that.
BROWN: You get a fight scene?
SILVESTRE: I do. But maybe they don’t end as good as Sun’s scenes end.
SEASON ONE OF SENSE8 IS AVAILABLE ON NETFLIX AS OF TODAY, JUNE 5.