ANGEL BISMARK CURIEL [POSE]
Interview by Denise J. Mallabo
The critically acclaimed drama series Pose never skimped on entertaining its audience and at the same time, educating those who need to be educated when it comes to tolerance, equality, and being true to oneself. Dominican-American thespian Angel Bismark Curiel, who plays the fan favorite Lil Papi in the show, has been learning so much through it. “By far the biggest thing that I've learned from Pose is inclusivity and how I can use my privilege as a straight man to be inclusive in rooms wherein I don't see a lot of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters. It has taught me to stand-up for people even when they're not around,” shares the 23-year-old actor.
He was thinking of joining the military after high school but someone told him otherwise. “I was juggling what it is that I wanted to do after I finished high school, one of those things was that I was going to enlist; that's my only option, my only choice. Ms. Perkins sat me down and very sternly and lovingly she said to me "Angel, you can do better in this life with a script in hand than a riffle" and here I am,” says Angel. He was caught skipping school by English teacher Ms. Perkins and it was either he attends her class or go to the principal’s office. Angel ended up attending the class and read as Alvaro from the play Rose Tattoo. He enjoyed that experience so much that he signed up for the drama department and during that time, found his passion in acting.
A Book Of caught up with the charming thespian and tells us what he loves about theater, his audition for Pose, and what’s he looking forward to this year.
What were you doing before this interview?
I was listening to an audio book. It's called “Can't Hurt Me” by David Goggins. It's a lot about mental toughness. It's callusing your mind so you can do things that you're too weak to do. But then you get over the physical aspect of weakness and tap it to pretty strong parts in your mind and get you through a lot of things.
How young were you when you realized that you want to act professionally?
It was never a thought that I could do this professionally, more so a thought that I'm going to try and do it. But I was probably 18 or 17-years-old when I said "I'm gonna try."
What part of doing theater do you like the most and why?
I love how nerve-wracking it is. It's very different than being on a film or television set. It helps so much in your acting when you can take a step back, pause, reboot yourself, and then target those things that you want to target as an actor. But when you're in theater and you're just going straight through, it's so raw; there's nothing else like it. When you step out and you're looking at the people that are around, you want to show up for them and for yourself.
We, for ourselves, have to make each other smile, that's our responsibility to one another on set, or at least it's mine. When I show up on set, my biggest priority is how can I connect with at least one of my cast members or crew members on set.
What would your dream role in theater be?
I've always wanted to play Angel in Jesus Hopped the A Train, that's a Stephen Adly Guirgis' play. That would be a dream.
POSE is such a hit show. Tell us how was the audition like for your role as Lil Papi in the show.
My audition was funny. I showed up wearing an oversized brown hoodie and teddy bear sneakers thinking that that's going to help me get the part. I got there and there's something about that day wherein I settled in to myself and I said "what it is that I'm wearing doesn't really affect the outcome, it's really what it is that I'll be bringing into the room." I have very small moments when I feel like I nailed something, and that was that day.
I never go into an audition thinking that I'm going to book it. There are times when I'm like "Oh, this role is so right for me, I have to nail it" and there are times that I'd nail it and those times when I do nail it, I'm like "Oh, there's a chance that I could probably walk away from here today and maybe they'd call in a week or two."
What traits do you have that you see yourself in Lil Papi?
A lot of the vulnerability that I share through Papi is very, very close to my own. That's one of the most exciting parts about acting is getting to share that vulnerability inside of yourself. As a young kid growing up in Liberty City, you're not taught to be vulnerable, specifically as a young man of color; you're taught to be hard. I never really wanted to be hard, I want to be vulnerable and so Papi is a gift because I get to be vulnerable, I get to do it every time I walk on set, I get to show that piece of myself.
With the seriousness of the topics featured in POSE, how do you and the rest of the cast keep it light on set?
You have to crack up, you have to make jokes. You have to mess up so you can laugh at those. You have to because we're telling stories that go deep into some trauma. We, for ourselves, have to make each other smile, that's our responsibility to one another on set, or at least it's mine. When I show up on set, my biggest priority is how can I connect with at least one of my cast members or crew members on set. More often than not it always ends up not being more than just one person. I'm sitting in the corner, cracking up, telling jokes with or whatever it is. It makes the job a lot easier for me to go to work and a part of that is connecting with someone in some special way whether it's to make a conversation, talking about spirituality, making a joke, laughing about yourself about some weird crazy thing that you decided to do on a take.
What has being on POSE taught you the most?
I do these things in the morning called morning pages. I do three pages of stream consciousness, and part of that is diving a little deeper on what it is that I'm learning and obviously Pose is such a huge part of my life right now and a lot of my learning is coming from that. I had an incident wherein I was shooting a film and it had to do with a lot of black and brown boys; it was telling more of those kinds of stories. It was different in the sense that a lot of these kids were very much like me growing up. I had no deep, in bridged interactions with trans people, specifically. These kids had the same experience and upbringing as me. One of the things that I was able to do because of Pose was to sit them down and educate them and allow them to ask me all the questions that they wanted to ask but were too scared to ask. But when they saw that we were related in so many things, they can sit down and ask me those questions and I'm not even the right person to ask these questions to but because I have the gift of Pose in my life and having that so close to me, I can share those experiences and the things that I learned on our set with these young kids that don't get that same privilege. I make sure that I stand on the right side of things.
There's an incident when one of the drivers said something extremely transphobic and I was asleep while that happened and my cast mate pulled me to the side and said "you know, man, you were sleeping so you really didn't hear what so and so said this and that." I felt like it was my responsibility to say something and make sure that something was done about it and so I did. When I did it, my cast mate was confused because he didn't understand because he was more scared for a person losing their job than getting the message across that those things are not okay. Part of that experience is to sit these young men down and tell them why it's not okay.
The fact that Pose is mainstream and people are watching it and it's critically acclaimed, it makes it a lot easier to spread the message.
What are you most looking forward to this year?
I'm looking forward to diving a little bit deeper in myself; exploring different parts of my creativity. And writing, I want to do a lot of writing.
If you were a book what book would you be and why?
I'd be Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas. I took a Latino voices class in college and that book specifically changed my whole outlook on life. It talks a lot about the message that I want to start spreading which is very much about these men growing up thinking that they have to be tough for no one. When you reach that point in your life when you decide to say I think there's more strength in my vulnerability, in my ability to connect with other people, that's special. That book had a lot of that.