Although actor Alex Castillo is immediately recognizable due to his appearances in dozens of films, television shows and stage productions, it’s his unforgettable, wrenching performance in Chinonye Chukwu’s 2019 Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning death row drama, “Clemency,” that will make him a household name. In “Clemency,” Castillo leaves behind his clean-cut looks and transforms himself into the character of Victor Jimenez, a death row inmate facing execution. VENTS went behind bars with Castillo — also the founder of Castle2000 Films, a production company with the mission of delivering groundbreaking socially-conscious projects that entertain, inspire and promote social and cultural diversity — for an exclusive interview:
VENTS: Tell us about “Clemency” and what drew you to this important, timely film.
CASTILLO: Clemency is writer director Chinonye Chukwu’s award-winning death-row drama. It’s about prison warden Bernadine Williams (Alfre Woodard) and the toll that years of carrying out death row executions have taken on her. As she prepares to execute another inmate, she must confront the psychological and emotional demons her job creates, ultimately connecting her to the man she is sanctioned to kill. Chinonye’s exceptionally well-crafted script is what drew me to this film. I googled her and found her TED Talk on-line. After I watched it, I was sold, and I knew I had to be part of this film. I needed to help her, and the filmmakers, tell this important, timely story. The rest, as they say, is history.
VENTS: We are lucky to have received a sneak peek at your jaw-dropping transformation for this role — tell us about it in your own words.
CASTILLO: I normally play dads and cops, or victims that are dads and cops. To have the opportunity to play an inmate on death row and to transform myself into the character of Victor Jimenez is an actor’s dream. Chinonye provided me with a blueprint for the character and it was my responsibility to personalize him and make him come alive. I also lost 20 pounds, shaved my head and got ripped for the role.
VENTS: Alfre Woodard and you left us speechless — is that a mission accomplished on your part?
CASTILLO: Thank you so much for your kind words. The opening sequence of Clemency will forever be my greatest acting accomplishment. We shot it nearly two dozen times. I remember telling Chinonye the day I wrapped, “if I never act again, I’m good. Thank you for trusting me to bring Victor to life.” Acting opposite legend Alfre Woodard was a gift. More importantly, her kind gestures between takes kept me on track during the shoot. I will forever be grateful to Alfre for her kindness.
VENTS: What is the take-away that you want for audiences after they watch Clemency?
CASTILLO: I would like audiences to think long and hard and take a position against capital punishment, mass incarceration and the death penalty. More importantly, I would like for audiences not to focus on my character’s reprehensible acts (which were based on those of a real person) but instead concentrate on his relatable humanity. Yes, Victor committed a heinous crime, but in the end, he is still a human being.
VENTS: Is this the year of Alex Castillo?
CASTILLO: I certainly hope so. From your mouth to God’s ears!
VENTS: What’s next for you after Clemency?
CASTILLO: I’m currently promoting “Clemency” during its film festival run ahead of this December 27th theatrical release. The film will continue to open theatrically around the world throughout 2020. Up next for me, a role in Kate Johnston’s “Turn Left”, an indie drama set in 1979 where I will play the managing partner of a prestigious law firm. On the producing front, I am currently in development on two feature films under my Castle2000 Films banner.