‘Cassandro’ director Roger Ross Williams talks biopic

It’s Cassandro’s time to shine.

The latest biopic from Amazon Prime Video tells the fascinating origin of Saúl Armendáriz or, as he is better known to the world, Cassandro.

Coming up in a time when homophobia ran rampant in sports and culture, “Cassandro” tells the story of Armendáriz and his rise to become a beloved exótico luchador and one of the lucha libre world’s most flamboyant and iconic out icons.

Filled to the brim with queerness, the film also stars a bevy of names, including “Y Tu Mamá También”’s Gael García Bernal, “Looking” heartthrob Raúl Castillo, and, in one of his very first acting roles, Grammy-winning popstar Bad Bunny.

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Out got the chance to speak to “Cassandro” director and co-writer Roger Ross Williams about crafting the film, working with the likes of Gael García Bernal and Raúl Castillo, why he wanted to tell Cassandro’s story, being Bad Bunny’s “first,” and more.

Out: Even before you had written the film and even before you were set to direct it, when was the first time you heard about Cassandro and learned about him and his story?

Roger Ross Williams: I did a short documentary for The New Yorker Presents series on Amazon Prime Video, and that’s when I first met Cassandro. The New Yorker came to me and said, We have this great story. It was a story in The New Yorker magazine. I went and I said yes immediately because I read the story. I was blown away by Cassandro’s story. And then I went and met Cassandro and I just couldn’t believe he radiates this energy, this sort of charisma, this positive energy. He’s so positive and confident, and his flamboyance, and he just loved himself. We sat down and we started doing the interview and he was telling me his story and we both started crying and I was like, This is my first film. I have to tell this story.

Cassandro Bad Bunny

Bad Bunny, left, stars with Gael García Bernal, right, in “Cassandro.”

Love that. So what was the genesis of you going from documentary shorts and documentary-style filmmaking to a narrative feature? And what made you want to, for your first narrative feature, tell Cassandro’s story?

I am always wanting to challenge myself. I’m always wanting to do something new and different as a storyteller and use different types of storytelling. I work in VR and different forms of storytelling. And so telling this story was important because for me there’s just too many sad stories about the LGBTQ+ community. And I just wanted to tell a very uplifting story about us and not a depressing, sad story. And I think we need more of those stories and that was really why I wanted to do it.

I think one of my favorite aspects of the film is Cassandro’s relationship with women, especially with his mother and his trainer. For so many queer people, gay men especially, we know that women are often our first allies. So can you talk about the intentionality of that? Why did you want to highlight all of that, especially the relationship with his mother and the woman in his life, who helped uplift him and made him who he is?

Well, you’re right, they’re such key allies to us, and I had a very special relationship with my mother, and so it really was personal to me, but also the real Cassandro, his mother was everything to him. His mother was how he created the persona of Cassandro, through his mother. His mother taught him how to do his makeup when he was a boy. His mother taught him how to dress and gave him his flamboyant fashion sense. That was all his mother. The way he would talk about his mother, I was like, This is the emotional part of the story. This is the important relationship in the script. So when David Teague and I were screenwriting, we really were like… because the flamboyant fights and everything, that’s always going to be over the top, but it was really these intimate moments, these important moments. His mother, that relationship with Sabrina (his trainer who nurtured him), was really key to that balance in the film of the emotionality and the big spectacle of the fights.

I also liked Roberta Colindrez’s character, Sabrina, as you mentioned. She was giving me queer vibes too. I hate when movies only have one queer character who has no queer friends, but I loved their dynamic. They were giving me two queer besties.

Yes. Well, that’s true. It was so important that they were portrayed as besties and that relationship also was key. And the queerness was just taken… I didn’t want to make a big deal. It wasn’t a coming-out scene or anything. He’s been out since he was a boy. His mother accepted Roberta too. It’s just like that’s who they are. The arc is really him learning to love himself enough to be himself. And that was really important.

Can you talk a little about Gael García Bernal being cast and how exciting that was? He’s an icon and he’s done other beloved queer titles, “Y Tu Mamá También” especially. I know the gays love him in it, so can you talk about having him in your first narrative film?

I know, how crazy is that? I stalked Gael, I chased him all over until I finally got a real meeting and he said yes. There was no one else who could play this role in my eyes because of “Bad Education.” I knew he could do it. But also, he’s a great actor. He’s one of Mexico’s greatest actors. He’s the same size as Cassandro, which is so great, and I knew that he would put everything he had into this role. I know that’s what makes him a great actor because he did the physicality of it. He did the stunts. He was so into the wrestling portion of it, and he had the acting chops to pull off the emotional scenes.

Love that. I’d be remiss not to ask about the gays also loving Raúl Castillo and Bad Bunny. So how exciting was it to work with them too?

I mean, I love Raúl Castillo so much. Obviously, I’ve seen him in Looking and he knows how to do a sex scene, that’s for sure. But also, Raúl is from the border. He’s from the Texas border, and he knows the culture of the border. And so he has an authenticity.

He’s hot, he can pull off the sex scenes. He’s great in bed naked. And I was like, Oh, I can’t wait to shoot this sex scene. But I love Raúl. I think he’s just fantastic. On top of it all, he’s a fantastic actor, just as just a spectacular actor. And all the actors were just amazing and just amazing to work with.

And Bad Bunny, who it was his first time acting because we shot before “Bullet Train.” I was his first. I always say I was Bad Bunny’s first.

This article originally appeared on Out.com, and is shared here as part of an LGBTQ+ community exchange between Q Voice News and Equal Pride.

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Raffy Ermac

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