Also, a pro-tip if you ever need to keep a straight face opposite Brett Gray on On My Block or otherwise.
This interview contains spoilers for season 3 of On My Block, streaming now on Netflix.
Over its three seasons, On My Block has easily solidified itself as one of the most beloved Netflix Originals. First premiering in the spring of 2018, the show follows Cesar, Monse, Jamal and Ruby — a “core four” if ever there was one, navigating life and high school in South Central Los Angeles. By season 3 though, the teens’ world has expanded in big ways and small, especially as it relates to one Oscar “Spooky” Diaz.
Spooky, ne Oscar, is first introduced in season 1 as Cesar’s gang leader older brother but was quickly revealed to be more complicated than the the stereotype suggests. In season 3, Oscar’s story and complexity is developed even further, as is his role as sneaky comedic relief. (Who knew someone nicknamed Spooky would be afraid of ghosts!)
Julio Macias, who plays Oscar, spoke to FanSided on a production break from filming Netflix’s Selena biopic series to talk about the latest season. Here, he tells us all about the x-factor he brought to his audition, how much he knew about that time jump and sharing scenes with Brett Gray (he had a trick to keep from breaking).
This interview has been lightly edited and organized.
I want to talk about Oscar’s arc in season 3, because I felt like you got a really thoughtful and powerful storyline, both with his father and also his role as a father figure to Cesar and then kind of towards the end, exploring his own identity as an individual separate from those relationships. So I’m wondering what you sort of can tell me about how you prepared for story and how much you knew sort of going into the season?
Oh, yeah, absolutely. So, we got most of the scripts except for the last one. So I kind of knew where everything was going. Both nervous and excited to meet Ian [Casselberry], the actor who plays my dad, our dad.
“I do this for the love of my brother. For fear of what might happen if I don’t. For the hatred I have against everyone who made me this way. I’m not paranoid, I’m ready.”
I came in kind of thinking, Oscar’s very intelligent. After what goes down on season 2, he’s not going to stay complacent. Not the way that Lauren and Eddie [Gonzalez] and Jeremy [Haft] have been writing, you know. Something had to change after season 2, and that was either: I’m going to take over this whole neighborhood or I’m going to get out. You know, those seemed like the two strongest choices. I personally didn’t see it — not that I have any input on writing, but I’m glad that it was mirrored by the writers — he wasn’t just going to stay in line. So, I already knew that there was going to be some sort of shake-up. And when I read the scripts, and I saw that it was kind of leaning towards him getting out, even though I never saw the last episode, I started thinking of, okay, what is that? What is it like to grow even bigger animosities to something that in a way that you hate it, you know? I repeat this mantra every time that I kind of go into [character]:
”I do this for the love of my brother. For fear of what might happen if I don’t. For the hatred I have against everyone who made me this way. I’m not paranoid, I’m ready.”
You know, even the way that he treats his own people, the Santos…Spooky’s unhappy, you know.
He’s not doing this because he thinks it’s cool. He didn’t join up to, you know, pretend that he was tough. He joined up to protect his brother. And then he moved his way up through the ranks, if you will, to again protect his brother and if he hates, if you want to use that word because I think he uses his language, his vocabulary, a lot more than people give him justice for, I mean, you know, even when, when Ruby was like yelling let’s go get the Santos and whatnot in the second season, you see, Spooky is kind of disappointed like, you know, it took me forever to talk and come up with that peace. I don’t want to fight. I don’t want to kill anybody. I just want to intimidate people enough so that they don’t do their shit.
So, amping that up, playing with that idea of like, you know, I don’t like what’s going on these younger kids are coming in. I don’t like that the younger kids are coming in, but no one’s in power here. And then here comes the L. You know, Ray comes in and just uproots his whole life. And it kind of, for a moment, it brings him back to the gang. Like you know, my dad got out. I hate you. So I’m going to do everything opposed to you, but then there’s an internal struggle where I want to get out. But if I get out, then I’m just like you and then does that mean I’m gonna continue being just like you? Does that mean I’m going to be a deadbeat? If I have a family, am I’m gonna disappear on them? You know all these insecurities.
So for me, the preparation was just the two years that I spent On My Block with the cast and creative team and then just jumping in and trusting that the process that we had done for the past few years was going to pay off in this third season, which I think is so far. I like it.
I would agree with that assessment! You also shared a number of scenes with Brett Gray who plays Jamal and is like, absolutely hilarious. How hard was it not to break during scenes with him?
Impossible. Impossible. Impossible. So, Brett and I — the whole cast really got close, but Brett, he crashes a lot at my place when he comes into Los Angeles so out of everybody, I think that the one person I have spent with most time these last couple years has been Brett. And so we already have our inside jokes and we’re always coming up with funny little tunes and just you know, laughing at our own, inside jokes.
So when we’re on set sometimes, like it happened in the graveyard, and I mean, I noticed it because I was like Julio, you’re clenching your fists. And that’s kind of something that I do when Spooky’s supposed to be angry or something, but there it was just a total crutch of like, anytime you want to laugh, just squeeze a little bit harder. Which I guess ended up being funny because it looked like Oscar is incredibly pissed at Jamal.
But yeah, no, no, Brett’s phenomenal, he’s incredible. When I was watching the third season, because I hadn’t seen anything, I laughed out loud. I can just see him leading a film and you know, no one’s really gotten to see his dramatic chops yet. I helped him do self tapes and I’m like, boy, when you get that part that breaks people’s hearts in and you’re just gonna rise to the top.
Yeah, it’s, it’s really great to work with him. He’s not only hilarious, he’s an incredible human being. He’s got a phenomenal voice. And I can’t say enough about Brett Gray.
That’s awesome. And if On My Block was casting like five or so years ago and you could play one of the younger characters, who do you think you would most want to play?
Who would I want to play? I would want to play Jamal. That’s just, that’s just fun. Just seems like a blast for me to do. Who I would most likely get cast to play? Probably Cesar.
Season 3 ends with a time jump and a teaser of a suburban Spooky. What do you think is his favorite thing about his new life?
If that’s what Spooky’s life is gonna be from now on, love. I don’t know if he’ll ever stop looking over his back — I don’t know if safety or comfortable would be the right word, but that reciprocating love. Even though he knows that Cesar loves him and, for better or worse, almost everything that Oscar’s done for Caesar has been for the love of him, we very rarely see Cesar be grateful or even emotionally positive towards his brother so I’m pretty sure that he’s just happy that he has a second opportunity.
You know, like he tells [Cesar] in the third season, he pretty much raised him, but [he] still had that animosity. I think there’s always, you know, if you have brothers or sisters, you grow up and, I mean, I love my sister to death, but when I was a kid, you know, there were certain things that I would do, or certain things that she would do, that would make me jealous. I think absolutely Spooky, when he saw the life that Caesar was having, at some point, he had to have felt some sort of animosity. You know, dude, I gave up all of this for you and you’re not really taken advantage of it. So it’s for him to be sort of like a second chance to do that.
And the curls: Was that a wig or did they just have you come back when your hair had grown in?
That was written — that was actually the very first scene that we shot of the third season. I had been growing out my hair. They didn’t really tell us what it was. We don’t usually get to the last episode until well into filming. So, I just knew that at some point there was going to be — I didn’t know if it was a dream sequence, they didn’t really tell me, they just said hey, this is, you know, Spooky as if he would have gotten out. Or you know, if he started on a different life.
So it was interesting. The direction was, when you get slapped on the butt turn around like you’re gonna kill someone. And then you realize it’s the love of your life. So that, those are my, my actions if you will.
I was, I don’t know, I hadn’t necessarily completely dropped into Spooky. So the smile is just very, just kind of how I smile and yeah, it was a nice performance, but I didn’t know how it fit in because it didn’t feel 100 percent Spooky. It didn’t feel like me, but it didn’t feel you know… and then when I read the last episode, and then I saw like, oh, that’s what you were doing Lauren [Iungerich, the showrunner].
What are you most interested in exploring in a potential season 4? What are your hopes and dreams for Oscar?
Yeah, again, at the end of the day, it’s up to Lauren and the creative team. I trust them. If I had to give my opinion on to what I have questions about
more than anything, how exactly did Oscar get out? If he is even out?
You know, I — even though I’m very happy and proud of Spooky and Oscar for taking that step in that time jump, him saying, if they want — because he doesn’t let go of the reins of power at the end. He’s just saying, hey, I’m still in control, you stay in your territory and we’re good. He didn’t leave, he’s just saying that that’s going to be the new paradigm.
And then, two years later — he seems like he’s out. He got tattoo removals. But we don’t necessarily know. So for me, it’s how did Spooky get out, if he did get out? He might still be in.
If he’s still in, in what capacity? How is he still running things? Did he climb up to being a mob boss and making his story that much more complicated? And you’re like, ah you’re doing all the right things the wrong way, or you continue to do the right things the wrong way.
And also, you know, what’s his deal with Cesar? It can go one of two ways. Either he’s out and he has no idea and he wants to help and save Cesar. Or, the other one is, maybe he’s in control of Cesar. You know, in a lot of ways, the way that he handles his neighborhood is a lot about protection. And money buys protection. So, that’s why he wants to have the biggest control of the cash grab. So that he can, you know, in a way have as many soldiers as he can patrolling in his neighborhood.
If he’s gonna get out, the same way that we see issues right now, in Mexico, when yes, and we should, we should take out the, you know, people like Chapo and his kids and people that are heads of these cartels. What happens when you remove the head? You either have another general that’s going to step up and keep control or you’re gonna have warring factions between themselves which is going to cause more violence, which is bad for business. So if Spooky were to stay on and he would want to have a general, he would want to have a level-minded intelligent general, why not put Little Spooky there? So, these are all just hypothetical questions that I had in my head, but that’s what I’d be interested in finding out.
Going back further, can you tell me a little bit about how you came to the project back in season one?
Yeah. I have always wanted to be an actor. That’s kind of something that I’ve always wanted to do. But I thought, you know, the same way, that a lawyer or a doctor, you know, spends a dozen years pretty much studying their craft to be the best, I thought that I was going to do the same thing.
So I assumed that I was going to go to college and then grad school, and then maybe get a master’s or something, just, you know, really, really study it. You know, life happens and I ended up going to film school instead and dropped out of college, started auditioning six years ago. And I did a couple of little things here and there, short sketches. And then I did a play called The Mexican Trilogy.
I was born in Mexico, raised in Los Angelos and that play sort of reinvigorated my Chicano-ness, my identity with what it was to be a Latino here in the United States. And when I got the audition for On My Block… I guess, you know, we all have prejudices. My parents coming from Mexico always wanted us to be better, you know. So, they would see the roles that I would take not as particular characters outside of myself, but just a representation of their son.
So, when I told my mom I’m gonna go up for a gangbanger, she was just like, no, you gotta play like a lawyer or something. But I read the sides and there was more — you know, the scene that I had to do for the audition was the beach scene, when I’m talking to my brother Cesar, and I saw something in there that I hadn’t seen in a lot of shows. Even though the casting call was for intimidating, the lines didn’t 100 percent reflect the description and that’s what really, really intrigued me and said, oh, they’re trying to depict this in a different way, what can I do to bring for it?
I mean, I know there’s going to be hundreds of people that are going to come in here, just, you know, mask-facing casting directors, I’m just going to try to bring in some love, see if it works here. But yeah, that’s kind of how I came in. That’s what Lauren told me that she liked about my audition, was my ability to physically embody this Spooky essence, but also vulnerability to open up and explore how painful that existence can actually be.
You mentioned your mom’s concerns, but did you personally sort of have any reservations about taking the role of a gang leader, even though I think as you said, the script and the show handles it so delicately?
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I don’t think that she had particular reservations about the material. There was more just, oh, that’s my baby. Why are they putting a tattoo on his face? It was a lot more instinctual than particularly unsupportive. Once they saw the show, they were just intrigued. They finished watching the third season last night, and both my mom and my dad are crying, you know, at the end of the day, they felt like a relief. For them, it’s yeah, they’re watching the show like everybody else, but for them, it’s their son.
So, since I end the season exactly like Oscar Diaz, my parents felt relief at the very end when they saw that, they thought that was a nice conclusion. We don’t know if it’s going to be a conclusion — right now we’re just happy with the results of the third season. If there is a fourth one, we’ll see where that, you know, that storyline goes.
For them, they just felt relieved and secure and their idea of: move forward. You know, that was a conversation with my mom, when she said, I wanted better for you, doesn’t necessarily just mean more money, more accolades, a better title, it’s just moving forward with your life in a positive manner. And even though Julio is doing that in real life, she saw a representation of that on film, or on screen. And then she felt doing that because she’s like, wow, Oscar is moving forward, trying to change his circumstances.
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