“What/If” Star Juan Castano: Gay Roles Helped Me Embrace My Sexual Fluidity

"I am, as my friends say, on the spectrum."

In the first season of neo-noir Netflix series What/If, Renée Zellweger chews scenery as Anne Montgomery, a manipulative venture capitalist who offers a would-be biotech innovator, Lisa (Jane Levy), $80 million to fund her company in exchange for a night alone with Lisa’s strapping husband, Sean (Blake Jenner).

A self-aware, soapy riff on 1993’s Indecent Proposal (the characters explicitly acknowledge this!) from Revenge creator Mike Kelley, What/If also sees Lisa’s gay brother, Marcos (Juan Castano), face his own crisis of monogamy and trust when he and boyfriend Lionel (John Clarence Stewart) invite charming third Kevin (Derek Smith) into their bed.

Castano, who also appears in Netflix’s upcoming Tales of the City and played Zachary Quinto’s husband in the 2015 ex-gay drama I Am Michael, had a legit revealing chat with NewNowNext about the self-discovery queer roles (and being Quinto’s onscreen bae) have afforded him—even if he didn’t get $80 million in the bargain.

So to get it out of the way, how do you identify as far as your sexual orientation?

I would say that for the majority of my life I identified as straight, but as I got older I think my sexual preference has gotten more fluid. I am, as my friends say, on the spectrum.

Did playing Marcos assist with that fluidity?

Yeah. It wasn’t the first time I played gay, but it was my biggest gay role [to date]. When I first had to kiss another man, it was in a play in New York six or seven years ago, Minotaur. I kissed this guy, and you’re rehearsing over and over, and it didn’t feel that different from kissing a woman. Then on I Am Michael it was the same thing. It feels really nice. I think what’s important is that as long as there is a connection with a human being that feels good it doesn’t make a difference if it’s a man or a woman. I would say playing Marcos solidified that for me simply because spending that much time with a character you fall in love with them and what they’re going through.

What do you like best about Marcos as a character?

I like that he’s kind of quiet.

Erik Voake/Netflix

What | If

How did you and John, who plays Lionel, prepare for this? Did you know each other beforehand?

No, it was the first time we met. We got along great! We ran into each other at Equinox gym, which is funny. I was cast first and had seen his audition tape, so I already knew what he looked like, and we ran into each other and we started talking. We get along very well. All three of us: Me, John, and Derek.

You also have some great scenes with Derek.

Derek and I are great friends. It’s always really nice when you meet someone as passionate and as intense as you are about the work. I loved our scenes together because he would come prepared. He made choices and knew what he wanted to do.

Courtesy of Netflix

What | If

We need to talk about the threeway scene. Would you like that to become an NSFW meme?

I am hoping it will! I also just absolutely love that Mike Kelley didn’t shy away from it. It’s long! That scene is long! Graphic is not the word, but they don’t shy away from everything. People do this, whether other people like it or not. It’s reality. So I love Netflix and Mike said, "This is what this scene will be and look like this."

Marcos doesn’t seem to have any scenes with Renée’s character, but did you get to meet her?

Yes, I met Renée. She’s very sweet. But our stories don’t really cross. I was hoping our characters would meet!

Erik Voake/Netflix

What | If

What can you tell us about Flaco, your character in Tales of the City? We’re so psyched!

I play a guy who is basically hooking up with someone gender-transitioning from female to male, and as they do that their sexual preference is also expanding. As a woman, she was in a relationship with another woman, but as they transition, they become interested in men. This person is going through all of these changes, and I’m there to say, "Hey, it’s all good, whatever you’re feeling, don’t have shame in any of this. I’m here and if you want to have a good time and spend the night, we can."

Finally, how should people approach What/If when settling in for a binge?

I would say be open, and that this show lives in a world of its own. It’s a neo-noir thriller and there’s nothing like it on TV right now. The style can be jarring in the beginning, but once in their world, you can accept it for what it is and it’s a fun ride.

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