Among Sundance Film Festival’s plethora of fantastic new movies is Emily the Criminal, the Aubrey Plaza-starring thriller that follows its eponymous character down the rabbit hole of credit card scams and into the criminal underworld of Los Angeles. Ahead of the film’s premiere, LA Confidential sat down with Bernardo Badillo who talked all about the film, working with Plaza and his optimistic outlook on the expansion of complex roles for Latino actors.
How would you describe your character, Javier?
I work at this catering company, but I also felt like my character was smart. He was from East L.A.-Echo Park area and he worked multiple jobs. So I just felt like he was a hard working man who maybe wasn't the most book smart, but was still intelligent and still had a lot going on. And he was doing it all for his kid. When we just started shooting, I just felt like I was just already in the body of the character. I felt comfortable even meeting Aubrey for the first time. All my scenes are with Aubrey. We work at a catering company together and we're partners. So every time that we go to a location to cater, we're together. In the process, my character needs her to cover a shift because I need to take my son to a baseball game and I give her the number of a hookup. And that hookup basically does credit card scams. So she does the first job and then comes back and asks me, “Have you ever done a second job?”
So it leads her to start digging deeper and diving deeper into the world credit card scams and from there the movie starts to take off and becomes a thriller. It is interesting because I've seen Aubrey do dark comedies before with a little bit of a darker edge, but this one is definitely a thriller, so it's gonna be exciting to see the finished product and to see what happens in the movie.
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What was it like working with her?
Oh my god. It was amazing. It was my first time with that level of stardom and I really felt like she really engaged with me and really wanted to get to know me. In between takes she would ask me questions about myself or we just talk a lot and just get to know one another. And that was, I think, the most exciting part of being on the set, obviously aside from shooting the actual film.
We just had a great rapport and I think that made it easier and it translated onto our chemistry on screen because we are partners in the film until she decides that she doesn't want to be partners and go on and do these credit card scams, which I'm not happy with in the movie. I will say that I did learn a lot from her. I think she's so alive and in the moment. And as actors, we rehearse and practice, we go over our lines and all that, but in the moment things change. Things evolve, and the director, John Patton Ford, was very much open and was asking us to also improvise. So I think having that familiarity in between takes and us just getting to know one another, I think it helped when we had to improvise and just add things he wanted us to fill in the scene and make it our own. We would do a take exactly as written. And then he would say, “Oh, what if you add this or can you guys add that or improvise here?”
What will audiences be captivated by in Emily the Criminal?
It touches on the working class. Everyone works sometimes two or three jobs, and they're trying to survive and they make mistakes and try to do what you can to keep going to feed your family, to make a name for yourself— especially in L.A. I feel like a lot of people come to L.A. for various reasons and they are trying to make a better life for themselves whether it's because you're an immigrant or whether it's because you are an artist of some kind. Everyone comes to L.A. or at least California and one way or another and they're trying to make a better life. And so I do think that this does touch on the temptation that you do have to make quick money because you have to survive. Sometimes the opportunities that you wish you had don't come your way, so you have to take other opportunities.
There's [also] some good action sequences going on that people are going to be surprised and shocked by. It's definitely not for the faint of heart, for sure.
Let’s talk about what’s next for you! What can you tell us about Hulu’s This Fool?
It’s a new show that is starring Chris Estrada. He’s one of the creators; he's a Latino comedian. And it’s executive produced by Fred Armisen, who obviously was on SNL and Portlandia, and it's a predominantly Latino cast. The main family is Latino and I play Julio’s (Estrada) cousin. We have a sort of a family gathering in the show, and so that's where I come in. I have beef with another one of our cousins and so we just go toe-to-toe throughout the whole episode. I'm just really, really excited about the show because it's really funny. Not even just because I'm in it, but just watching an entire Latino cast— they're just hilarious and the family unit that I got to work with on the show, they're just so funny and so clever and clicked. It was just such an incredible experience.
What was great about this is that the creator, Chris Estrada, called me the week that I was shooting and said, “Hey, I just wanted to chat with you quickly about the character and about what we're doing. The only note that I have for you is you don't need to have any accent. You can just be you, be who you are, be yourself. That's what I want to showcase. I want to showcase you as his character.” So it was just so interesting to hear that because a lot of times in my career, trying to be authentically Latino, you feel like you have to do an accent. You feel like you have to act a certain way to be recognized as that role or as that quote-unquote Latin character. But in this instance, I didn't have to, I could just be myself. I could just talk like myself and be in the moment. It was just such a freeing thing that he told me because when I was on set, I just felt like I could do no wrong.
Does it feel like the industry is changing for the better?
Just being a Latino in the industry has been difficult ‘cause I've been doing it for 15, 16 years now. And I feel like, finally, I'm starting to go out for like astronauts and journalists and sheriffs. Before, when I first started off, I was playing a lot of immigrant roles or a lot of the bad guys, quote, unquote. And I'm not saying that there isn’t something respectable about playing those roles or that I am putting down any of the roles that I've played because I'm proud of all the work that I've done. But there's definitely been a change in the industry that has happened in the last couple of years, and it is still changing, thank God, and getting better. The types of roles that are going out for now are much better. I feel like they have a lot more juice, if you will, behind them.
It just is exemplified in even This Fool where the main family unit is Latino, which is rare to see a ton of Latinos doing a comedy. That's something that I always wondered about. I was like, “Why are there so few Latin comedies?”
I feel like finally the industry is catching up to what people want to watch and see, especially with Latinos. I feel like they're finally being reflected in a way that's positive, in a way that it feels well-rounded.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Photography by: Peter Konerko