'Looking' Star Frankie J. Álvarez on Filming Gay Sex Scenes As a Straight Man & Augstin's Season 2 Journey

To say that Agustín was the most divisive character of Season 1 of HBO's comedy Looking would be an understatement. It's easy to love goofy protagonist Patrick, played by Jonathan Groff with an affable naiveté. Older, mustachioed Dom is quietly approachable, possessing a relatable aura of arrested development by actor Murray Bartlett. But as the third member of the show's core trio, Agustín is the sarcastic, prickly one who's hard to like when he's constantly lashing out at others to mask his own insecurity surrounding his unfulfilled artistic life and his shaky relationship with his boyfriend.

Imagine my surprise, then, when Agustín actor Frankie J. Álvarez turned out to be his character's complete antithesis. He's not artistically frustrated (he's a Juilliard grad starring on an HBO show); he's not in a tempestuous relationship (he's married); and, oh yeah, he's straight. I got the chance to chat with him about Looking 's upcoming second season, and he had quite a lot to dish in regards to his character, his cast mates, and what it's like filming HBO's notorious sex scenes.

Many viewers will be pleased to know that Agustín is a lot more tolerable in Season 2: he's given up his art, he's moved back in with Patrick, and in general he's much more humbled by the hand that life dealt him last year. But that doesn't mean everything is sunshine and roses for him now. In fact, he's replaced all the drama with a cocktail of drugs and a heavy dose of self-pity. Should we be worried about Agustín? "Yeah, I think so," replies Álvarez bluntly. "And especially in the first couple of episodes. Where we left Agustín off, it feels like he's hit rock bottom... And actually, he has a little bit more bottom to hit." (No, that's not a euphemism.)

For the record, Álvarez knows that not everyone likes his character. "He provokes a really strong reaction, and I think that's my favorite thing about him. It was tough to adjust to it in the first season. I wasn't really prepared for it," he confesses. "Because it's TV and it comes right into your living room and you feel like you're related to these characters... People take it really personally." Since the show premiered, Álvarez has learned how to take the good with the bad: "That was a big surprise last year, when people were like, 'Oh my god, Agustín is the worst,' and complaining and being upset about it — but then also hearing, 'I have a friend just like that. He can be such a pain in the ass but I value his friendship.' He can be a tough guy to be friends with," the actor admits. "But there are positives to that friendship." (So basically, don't feel bad about ragging on Agustín. Álvarez knows everyone's been doing it.)

Since he seems so different from Agustín in real life, I asked Álvarez if the actors largely fill the same roles in their friendships off the screen as they do on it. "Yeah, there are moments where Frankie can be Agustín and Jonathan can be like Patrick. But we're also astounded when just the opposite occurs," he says before launching into an embarrassing story about a field trip he took with a couple of his cast mates. "I took the boys to a [San Francisco] Giants game early in August, and — I can't believe I'm telling this story — I went with Russell [Tovey] and Jonathan [Groff]. The three of us are watching the game and the two of them are asking me questions about baseball. Then Brandon Belt comes to the plate, [Buster] Posey comes to the plate, and they're like, 'Oh, he's cute' or 'Would you [perform a sexually explicit act with] him?' I was like, 'Guys, we're at a ball game, can we let it go?' That was a funny moment where it was like... This feels like what it would be like if these three characters came to this baseball game. They wouldn't even be paying attention to the game! They'd sit there talking about who's cute, who's not cute, who's checking us out."

Schooling his uneducated cohorts on the nuances of baseball must not be the only time Álvarez feels in the minority on the set of Looking. What's it like for a married straight man to film the show's graphic gay sex scenes? "It's a super vulnerable thing, but it's also very technical. 'Okay, he's gonna pull out and you're gonna take off the condom and then you're gonna look into each other's eyes.' When it's blocked out so specifically, there's no room for romance or that kind of nervousness." And, according to Álvarez at least, being straight is helpful when simulating gay sex. How's that?

As a straight man, I'm not worried that I'm going to get hard or something. It's a fear that happens, the gay men who are on the show can attest to that. For Daniel [Franzese], who plays Eddie on the show [Agustín's Season 2 love interest], I think he actually was relieved that I'm straight, because then there's no romantic tension; he's not worried that I'm thinking about what he looks like, or 'Are we gonna hook up later?' or 'Is this gonna affect our working relationship?' That tension is all gone — it's purely professional. We became really good friends, and you can build from that friendship into a kind of intimacy.

Álvarez isn't sure if he would feel different filming a love scene with a female partner. "I've actually never done a sex scene with a woman," the actor states. "But if I'm making out with Carey Mulligan one day, ask me again. We'll see."

Images: Richard Foreman, John P. Johnson (2)/HBO