Rafael Cebrián tells us of filming Apple TV+ series, Acapulco, “We’re in a resort- it’s so hot outside, it’s humid, it’s sunny, it smells like salt…I let all of that atmosphere permeate me and affect me. It’s not like I’m trying to act out an atmosphere, I just live in it. It surrounds me. It embraces me. And I just get to be.” He is a story’s vessel, and in Acapulco, it is one infused with hot pink paint, sloshing mango margaritas, splashing salt water, and spritzing sunscreen. Like a mixed drink, Cebrián becomes Hector, with tight pink shorts barely covering fluid-like hips and tennis shoes bouncing in a staccato rhythm as he spews “very” like a faucet around the very, very, very 1980s pink Las Colinas resort. Cebrián tells us about working outside in, however in Season 2, we see a lot of what is inside Hector like his hopelessly romantic bright pink heart beating only for Diane [Jessica Collins].
Cebrián has a warm and inviting presence, and there are truly not enough “verys” in the world to express how much love he holds for Acapulco. Just as quickly as Acapulco’s atmosphere seeps into his skin, it just as easily ripples out of him in punchy pink passion. Along with Acapulco, you can also watch him in Peacock’s The Calling.
In his Schön! interview, Cebrián takes us back to a past he misses, a present he takes day by day, and a future he couldn’t be more excited to see. We also talk about filming Acapulco in all of its solid writing, improv, and funniest scenes!
Before we get into Hector, I want to take some themes from the show and have you relate them to yourself. Older Máximo is the narrator and he’s bringing his nephew to Acapulco years later. So, if you could go back to one place from your past or one memory what would you go back to?
Really anywhere with my grandfather. He passed away when I was 15 and I got to enjoy him and share a lot of meaningful moments in life with him, but I also feel like I didn’t get enough of him, and I would have liked to at least experience part of my adult life with him- like get a drink with him. I never got to do that. I think my grandfather is really, to this day, the best person I’ve ever met in my life. I just miss him.
On that same topic, I think a lot of people are asked what they would tell their younger self, but I wanted to flip that question a bit. Is there any quality that you feel like you had as a child that you wished stayed with you in adulthood?
Halloween just passed and I used to love to dress up. I don’t like that anymore and I really wish I would because I remember the excitement and everything that surrounded dressing up was so much fun for me. I do think it has to do with my job. I feel like I play dress up a lot and pretend, so then for Halloween or Carnivals in Spain, when I have to dress up, I don’t want to. I kind of miss that excitement around it. I try to keep on having that dreamer spirit. When I was a kid, I would just go for things without really thinking that much. I would just do them. As an adult, you start overthinking. Obviously I get in my head, but I try to let my mind not sabotage my decisions and my actions. I try to keep making decisions from my gut with a kid-like instinct, but I have to be aware.
There’s also this constant theme of learning to live in the present. I would imagine as a musician first and as an actor, it would be hard to live in the present because you’re sort of in a constant shift. Is this something you can relate to?
I guess I’m used to it now. It’s the nature of my job and the life I chose. I just try to make the most out of the present moment. It’s funny, whenever I’m working, I feel like I’m on holiday and when I’m not working, or not on set, is when I work the most because I’m in the daily hustle of finding the next gig, or writing, selling my own show, developing and producing my own projects. That hustle is very intense in comparison to when I’m on set. When I’m on set I just get to enjoy it. And yes, I work long hours and I work weird hours, but to me that doesn’t really feel like work. So, I’m just grateful that throughout a year I have little windows of time where it’s like now we’re playing on set, now we’re pitching, now we’re writing, and I just try to make the most of it. I take my life a day at a time. It’s hard for me to plan a week in advance or two weeks in advance. My friends get a little frustrated at me and I get it because it’s hard to plan things. I’ll be like, ‘yeah I’ll be there in January,’ but then January comes, and I have to go to set.
I saw in an interview that you said it’s the first time you’ve worked outside in. Can you talk a little bit more about this process?
Yeah, well I said it’s the first time also working outside in, as opposed to just inside out. I let my atmosphere affect and unleash packages of feelings. What I mean by that is that the hair, the shoes, the costuming, obviously affects the way Hector walks, the way he talks. When I wear short shorts, I feel very weird as Rafael. So those short shorts are releasing packages of feelings that I immediately translate into my character. I also think Acapulco is a show that allows you to do that- to just explore freely from the outside in. And I also let the atmosphere of where we’re shooting affect me. At the end of the day, we’re in a resort- it’s so hot outside, it’s humid, it’s sunny, it smells like salt. You smell the salty water, it’s windy. I let all of that atmosphere permeate me and affect me. It’s not like I’m trying to act out an atmosphere, I just live in it. It surrounds me. It embraces me. And I just get to be. Everything that comes out- every feeling is real, and I just follow it. It’s hard to play happy. It’s hard to play sad. You can’t play emotions, you just live in the emotions. I just let the outside world affect me.
When you’re working outside in, how do you navigate the line between character and caricature?
In terms of not playing a caricature, I think you just really have to take it seriously. As long as you’re telling a story truthfully, you’re good! That’s why I think the best comedy, for me, comes from just being very serious. You never play the comedy, you never play the joke, you just play the truth. At the same time, I think Hector is a character that allows you to be a little bit bigger. He falls into the higher concept comedy world and Máximo or Julia are characters that are more grounded. When you have characters like that, you are allowed to have characters like Hector or Diane who are the biggest comedic characters in the show and I’m flying overboard around them.
Hector is a character that the audience watching is probably particularly reactive to. You’ve said in other interviews that you love having live audiences whether that’s in music or theatre. How do you imagine your portrayal of Hector would change if you had a live audience?
I started in theatre, and life took me to TV and film. I know they’re different mediums, but I’ve never been like, oh this is a film, I need to act like this. When you’re on stage, you have to project a little more and there is an audience, but when you’re on film or TV there’s a camera and that’s the audience and you have to take that into consideration. It’s pretty much the same thing. I do miss doing theatre because I miss the live aspect and instant feedback with the audience. So, how would Hector be different? I would listen to the audience, and I would feed them more of what they want at that moment, or I would shy away from it. I don’t know, it’s a live conversation with an audience and I miss having that.
A lot of actors say that, for them, theatre is the core of acting and most are most nostalgic for that part of acting even when they’ve drifted far from it. It’s interesting that that tends to be a common thread among actors.
I mean, I think theatre is at the core of acting. I love theatre as much as I love TV and as much as I love film. I just haven’t done theatre in such a long time that I miss it and want to do it again. But I wouldn’t say film and TV is great, but I really love theatre. No, my real love is storytelling and that’s it. Now, I haven’t done theatre in 10 years so I miss it. It’s funny because Acapulco is a comedy and we’re all so close together. It’s a big ensemble show so even when we’re not all in a scene, you have your peers walking on set and they watch you work. I feel like I kind of get a little bit of that back and forth as if it were an audience from showrunners, producers, writers and my peers. Sometimes you’re even acting and you hear a big laugh coming from video village and it’s one of the producers and you’re still in the scene but obviously you’re aware of it. That’s when I realized the joke landed.
Was there any scene that you found particularly hard not to laugh at?
(laughs) more than one! With Chord [Overstreet], in Episode 4, when we’re at the pool sitting down and I’m telling him that I’m in love with a woman and he’s like ‘who’s the woman’ and I say, ‘I can’t’ and it’s back and forth, that whole scene was reworked. It was beautifully written, but the writers wanted us to rework it and put it in our mouth. We also improvised a bit, and there’s a moment when he goes, ‘get her hoo-elry (jewelry)’ and I’m like ‘hoo-elry?’ And he goes, ‘yeah, the j is silent with you guys,’ and I just cracked! I couldn’t pull it together. Directors and showrunners told us, ‘Now you have to keep that part in there,’ and I was like ‘no way!! I can’t do this without laughing!’ So, I had a bunch of moments there when I just couldn’t keep it straight.
Also, in Episode 9, there’s another with Chord. We had a scene with Fernando [Carsa] and Chord just did something and I couldn’t stop laughing. It was a three shot, so I was on camera and I was thinking, now I’m messing up my peers’ shot! It was just so hard. It’s so hard! We have a lot of fun and I’m just grateful that I get to work with actors that are so generous, first of all, but also so talented. I’m inspired by them on set every day. I’m truly blessed.
There are so many moments in the show I’m thinking of that I would imagine it to be really hard to not laugh!
Oh! In Episode 3, when I walk in and Chord is there with all the Chads and I’m kind of babying him, that was the first time that I started breaking. I was just corpsing (breaking character.) I was so embarrassed because there were so many people in that scene and I would come in every time and try to keep a straight face, but I couldn’t! But that was because of Chord! He was laughing at what I was doing, and I was like ‘Don’t laugh! Don’t laugh! You’re gonna make me laugh!’
You said in another interview that going into Season 2, the writers knew your voice, so they were able to tailor the characters more to you personally. How do you feel Hector is tailored to you this season?
First of all, I think that this doesn’t just happen in Acapulco, I think it’s just common sense and it’s normal when you come back for another season and they know you – your strengths and your weaknesses. You want to play to your strengths, you know? So, they did that for all of us and a very clear example is from day 1, in my audition tape, every time there was the word ‘very,’ like ‘it’s very hot,’ I would repeat that word 20 times. I just did that in the audition tape, and I just kept it throughout Season 1, but it became a thing where everyone on set would be imitating me and repeating ‘very’ over and over again. So then, when I got the script for Season 2 and I had lines with the word ‘very,’ they wrote it 6 or 7 times. So that’s kind of cute (laughs)!
So because they already knew you in Season 1, did you feel like you had less improv in Season 2?
No! I would say it was the same. At the end of the day, it all starts with the writers. I’ve said this a million times, but if it’s not on the page, it’s not on the stage. We have a very, very solid script that is our jump board really. We usually do a take as it’s written, then a second one trying something different. Then we might do a third take trying something else and then a fourth doing whatever we want. I would say it’s a set where there’s always room for improvisation, but not as much as we would like to because we are pressed for time. I’m in awe at how we can film so much in such little time.
I read that you only had 2 weeks before filming Season 2, right?
Yeah, we got greenlit and then it was 2-3 weeks, and I was on set.
I was watching one of your “Room Service” conversations with Kendall Schmidt and you said that you approach life and acting through music, and in acting there’s a rhythm that drives a scene or a character. How would you describe Hector then in musical terms?
If I had to pick a very specific musical term for Hector, it would be staccato. When I was talking to Kendall, I was saying how I think every actor is a musician, but not every musician is an actor. My musician friends will kill me for that because I’ve said that a million times as well. But I think acting is music and they walk hand in hand. There are silences, rhythms, beats, cadences. I did a TV show once and there was a director who would sometimes direct with his eyes closed and I was like ‘what are you doing? You’re not seeing what’s on screen.’ And he said he needed to hear it sometimes to make sure it’s good. He said he knows what’s on screen is beautiful, but he needed to hear it to make sure that it’s there.
You film the series in a hotel, do you have a favorite part of the hotel?
The pool scenes are always cool because they film them as a big oner (one take) and there’s so much involved with choreography. Speaking about improvisation and figuring things out at the moment, those are scenes that are very hard to do, but we have freedom to play. They let me get a feel for the space and stage. I’ll be like, ‘I want to take tips here. I want to put sunscreen here. Let’s get a beach ball in the middle of the frame and I’ll pass it over!’ All those things that you see, that choreography, happens 10 minutes before we film. It’s not written in the scripts. It’s a collective effort, and by ‘collective’ I mean every single actor, the directors, writers, showrunners. It’s a joint effort.
Last question- is there anything you want to add, anything you feel most excited about in the future?
I’m most excited about telling stories and to keep on acting. Again, I started in this business because I’m a storyteller- that’s what I like to do. At the same time, I’m developing my own projects and my own movies. I have a script that I wrote – a romantic comedy. It’s a feature film that I’m trying to get up on its feet. And then, I have a bigger project that I’m working on. It’s a TV series that I’m developing. It’s very close to me and very personal. I was able to acquire the IP and I’m just developing it and I hope that that is my next big thing or one of my next big things!
Thank you so much for the interview! It was so nice to talk to you, and I wish you the best of luck in the future. I love Acapulco and I can’t wait to see what’s next!
It was great talking to you. Those were great questions. I had a blast. Thank you for having me and helping spread the word about this show that I so dearly love…I’m proud of my work but I’m very, very, very proud of the show. I think it’s one of the things that I’m most proud about. I’m proud of my peers and just what the show is doing, so thank you for spreading the word!
Acapulco is out now on Apple TV+.
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