‘Los Espookys’ star Julio Torres releases children’s book
Gay writer and actor Julio Torres seems to be everywhere these days. In movies, focusing effortlessly like he did in Nikole Beckwith’s 2021 comedy together together (with trans actor Patti Harrison). On TV, Torres’ comedy writes for SNL earned him an Emmy nomination, while HBO Los Espookysan ongoing project, continues to attract a growing audience.
Now, when you walk into your favorite (independent, preferably) bookseller, you’ll find Torres on the shelf with his colorful new picture book. I want to be a vase (Atheneum, 2022), with illustrations by Julian Glander. Julio was kind enough to answer a few questions for OutSmart before the book was published.
Gregg Shapiro: Julio, congratulations on publishing your first picture book, I want to be a vase. How long did it take to complete the project from its inception?
Julio Torres: Thank you! It took about a year. What took the most time was shaping it and marinating the idea. Once it was clear what it was going to be, it was a pretty quick and easy process. When I say it was a year, that also includes finding and working with Julian Glander, the illustrator.
I’m glad you mentioned Julian. Which made him the ideal choice to provide the images and illustrations for I want to be a vase?
I was looking for the book to have some sort of strange feeling. At first I thought [about] photographs – what if we took interesting photos from revealing angles of everyday objects? I was reluctant to the idea of traditional children’s illustrations because, as beautiful as they were, they didn’t seem to suit the story. Then we found Julian, who really shared the difference between an illustrator and a photographer. When you look at the piston you should see a piston, not so much a nice piston design. Because it’s in the mundane that humor and history really come to life. I love that his work looks like pictures of a dollhouse, or something. Also, I wanted it to look like the kind of images that appeal to kids now, which aren’t tender watercolors. These are computerized images. I thought about accepting that instead of fighting it.
How did you know I want to be a vase was the right form for a book instead of a video performance – something you’ve worked in before?
I wanted the book itself to be a beautiful object. I grew up as a child who loved coffee table books. Take the images on each page and enjoy. I was excited to create an artifact that almost felt like a child opening a coffee table book and taking something away, rather than being looked down upon.
The main character of I want to be a vase is Plunger, whose wish is expressed in the title of the book. Is there any special meaning to the character being a plunger rather than a tape measure or an ice cube tray?
I think a plunger felt good because no one is happy using a plunger. When someone uses a plunger, they wish they hadn’t! [Laughs] Thinking about objects and their purpose or work [they do]i.e. “I really don’t want to do this”.
Plunger’s most vocal adversary is a vacuum cleaner who spends most of the book trying to put a stop to Plunger’s wish for change. Why did you choose a vacuum cleaner to be the naysayer?
If you are a vacuum cleaner, as an object, you work in one of the fiercest industries there is. I feel like vacuum cleaners are constantly on the verge of being replaced by a better vacuum cleaner. A vacuum cleaner is all about efficiency – you are only as good as the job you do as a vacuum cleaner. Every ad is like, “This one’s better. This one is lighter. This one is faster. It’s a very competitive world. To me, someone whose whole identity is tied to success in their industry and maximizing efficiency is very quick to judge those who aren’t happy where they are. If you feel like you’re doing well because you’re working extremely hard, hearing someone going through an existential crisis can be annoying.
The vacuum cleaner has a turning point when he says, “I was worried that something bad would happen if you became what you wanted.” Did this line of thinking, reminiscent of what conservatives in our country would say, inspire the book?
Yeah, absolutely. I was interested in doing a few things with this story. I think the story’s entry point is your hero’s more traditional journey or a kind of storytelling based on the power of the individual, which is what most children’s stories are. It’s based on this notion that you, the reader, are special and different and you will succeed against all odds. I think this way of storytelling is so tied to the American dream and the idea that you, the individual, will work hard and you will succeed. But then I wanted to go further and say to myself: “And the other people around you? They have their own hopes and dreams. I would like to inspire children to seek their own happiness, and along this journey to motivate and help others find their own happiness. I think the “You kid, you’re special” story is wonderful, but I think it should have a comma: “You’re special, and everyone else is too!” [Laughs] You have your own wishes, hopes and desires, but those around you have their own wishes, hopes and desires that are just as precious as yours.
The vacuum cleaner is an important voice because, in your search to find your true self and express who you are (and feel safe doing so), there will be naysayers along the way, and those naysayers are just as complex than everyone else. Rather than making a book that punishes the antagonist, I wanted one that was inclusive and asked the questions: “You say no, but why? What’s underneath? That’s why I felt like the vacuum didn’t need to be defeated, but needed to learn and grow.
Unfortunately, book bans are becoming increasingly popular as a weapon used by the far right. Are you at all concerned that I want to be a diver has the potential to be banned?
Oh my God! I guess that wouldn’t surprise me. It is very disconcerting, because [laughs] a child on the right has as much right to be the happiest and truest himself as any other child.
But parents on the right might disagree.
[Laughs] It’s true, because it’s not the children who buy the books. I think there’s this hysteria around the idea that entertainment and the media want to destroy or permanently change a world that’s otherwise good and perfect. Much like the vacuum cleaner, I think if they take a step back and realize that just because it works for you doesn’t mean it works for everyone else. Also, Is it works for you ? [Laughs] I think this is an important question. The void is overworked. Vacuum didn’t realize vacuum could use some help.
Whether I want to be a diver was adapted for TV or film, who would you like to hear Plunger voice?
It’s a very interesting question. I never thought of that. Maybe someone who when you hear the voice you hear “plumber”. Something a little gruff, so the character has to get over that other part of the expectation. “You don’t look elegant and refined like a vase, so you can’t be a vase.” John Goodman, or what?
Speaking of movies, I loved your stunning performance as Jules in together together. Do you have any upcoming movie roles you’d like to mention?
Thanks! I wrote and directed a film which I am in the process of editing. God knows when it will come out. Other than the new season of the HBO show Los Espookys, this is what is looming on the horizon on the cinema side. We had to stop Los Espookys in 2020 like everyone else because we are filming in Chile. On top of COVID, there were all these international restrictions around it that became an immigration and bureaucratic nightmare that our fantastic producers had to navigate. There were so many false starts for the second season, but we finally finished it earlier this year and are now changing it.
Finally, we speak a few days after the departure of Kate McKinnon, Pete Davidson and Aidy Bryant SNL. Would you like to share your thoughts on this as an Emmy nominee? SNL writer?
I was there. I went to see the show. It was truly magnificent. I have to work with all of them. Kate, in particular, championed my work early on. I always felt so welcomed and appreciated by each of them. I am very happy for them.
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