By PETERSON GONZAGA
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Theo Rossi is no stranger to street life culture. Growing up an avid dirt biker, he later moved on to heavy choppers when he began playing the role of Juan Carlos “Juice” Ortiz in the hit FX series about a family of bikers “Sons of Anarchy.” He’s now an avid fan and admirer of the lowriding culture. His onscreen brother, Gabriel Chavarria, who plays Danny in “Lowriders,” is also familiar with the urban car culture because he grew up in South Central Los Angeles and starred in the Hulu series “East Los High.” He knows about cool cars along with the negative stereotypes associated with lowriders, but didn’t know how much sweat and emotional equity went into the cars until he began researching his role in “Lowriders.”
For both actors, once they were on board the film directed by Ricardo de Montreuil and also starring Demian Bichir, Eva Longoria, Tony Revolori and Yvette Monreal, they learned there is more to the culture than just the cars and the stereotypes of gangs.
The drama tells the story of a father who has become estranged from his two sons. Older son Francisco (Rossi) is newly released from prison after serving a 10-year sentence, and harbors resentment against his father, while the younger boy Daniel “Danny” (Chavarria) doesn’t understand his father’s obsession with his lowrider car. The father, Miguel (Bichir), has little appreciation for Danny’s graffiti, which causes strain within the family. Meanwhile, stepmother Gloria (Eva Longoria, “Desperate Housewives”) is trying her best to reunite the fractured family. Following a violent incident, the story takes viewers on a ride to see if it splits the family further apart or serves as a catalyst to bring them together.
In an interview, Rossi and Chavarria reflected on how the experience of shooting “Lowriders” has affected them and given them a newfound respect for the lowriding culture. Rossi is currently a regular on the Netflix series “Luke Cage” while Chavarria just wrapped production on the upcoming “War for the Planet of the Apes.”
Q: You two have quite busy schedules. How did you fit “Lowriders” into it?
Rossi: “Lowriders” was kind of before a lot of this. It’s been a while (since this was shot). I was finishing up “Sons” and this script came to me. As I got involved with it, it took a little time to progress and before I even knew Gabe, I was rooting for him because I was either in New Orleans doing a film or in New York to get rolling on “Luke Cage.” We were kind of in the middle of things. They wouldn’t tell me who (was playing Danny), but they were down to two kids for the role. They said they got this one kid that looks like you and could definitely be your brother and if the go with him, you’re in for sure because they really wanted me for this role. But if they go with the other kid, you might have to come in and do chemistry reads with him.
I thought we were doing this for sure but they wanted to make sure there was all this synergy of the look in the family and all that. So before even I knew who he was, “Whoever this kid is he better be friggin’ great. Who is this kid? I’m going to call him up and give him a pep talk.” It all ended up working out. I was so hyped when me and him met for the first time. It’s been a brotherhood ever since.
Q: Gabe, how do you feel about that? He was rooting for you even though he didn’t know you.
Chavarria: Man, it feels great. I mean, once after we first met at the Ace Hotel (in Hollywood).
Rossi: Me, you, Tony (Revolori, producer) and Ricardo (de Montreuil, director).
Chavarria: We had lunch and we kind of hit it off right off the bat. We hung out for a few days. We kind of knew we were getting into something that would turn out to be really special. Of course, Theo is Theo. He’s amazing. Knowing that he’s a part of the project along Demian (Bichir), Eva (Longoria) and everybody else, I knew it’s going to be the big time. We’ll do it right.
Rossi: Seeing the world through Danny’s eyes (and) watching this happen all around him (was great). The reason I chased this character and chased this story from the beginning is right, wrong, indifferent, good, bad or the ugly, we all have families. We all have something we relate to with family. There is something between family that’s just a little different than with your friends, best friends or whatever and to see how relevant the story is, and as we progress in a faster society and a headline society, things are moving at a faster pace, the old school like my mom or certain people who can’t figure out the smartphone yet they are living in a very different way. My first thing that was impressive to me was to have someone like Gabe and someone like Demian, who is a titan in this thing, and to see those difference in attitudes. And to also see Francisco come out, whose got this backpack full of resentment and wants to do anything wrong. That right there, that triangle, I’m excited to see the movie again tonight because we see that in our own lives.
Q: There are some intense emotional moments in the film. How did you guys handle that? Did you have to stay in character throughout or were you able to turn the emotions on and off?
Chavarria: It was a quick shoot.
Rossi: We were run and gun.
Chavarria: Once we started clicking, we just found a rhythm and everything just naturally happened. When you’re in these moments with Theo and Demian, you kind of just forget about everything that’s going around you. When we’re in the moment, we’re in the moment. Credit goes to Ricardo and everybody. They understand the characters, especially the crucial moments. Those important moments you’ve seen in the movie that establishes the relationships and clarifies the issues. That’s where these characters are going in these vital moments and the mood.
Q: In regards to actual lowriders, are you guys fanatics of the culture? Theo you’re into dirt bikes and motorcycles. Did you get more into the culture, like going to cars shows?
Chavarria: No, as of yet, but I do plan on hitting up some car shows.
Rossi: I was born in New York City but I came out here and spent 15 years on the eastside of Los Angeles, so I almost naturally gravitated towards it because it’s around you. Especially when I was doing “Sons,” it’s like the motorcycle culture mimics the car culture; they’re very similar in many ways. But what this film taught me is that it’s not just the lowrider going by you. Now, I look at it so differently, what goes into it. There’s so much more and not just in the physical work. There’s the emotions, the passing down of legacy. The murals mean more. There are things that we learned about that now I just have a larger appreciation.
The best films that we’ve ever seen are the ones that bring a subculture (to the surface) to appreciate. I think what this film does beautifully is something that seems normal to us living in L.A. You’re now going to have people all over the world who are going to see a peek at a subculture they knew nothing about. That, to me, is the coolest thing we can do.
Q: Do you think that this film may dispel the myth that lowriders are only about gangsters, graffiti and tagging, and that there is a deeper meaning in regards to family and friends and everyone around that puts blood, sweat and tears into these cars and graffiti art?
Chavarria: Yeah, 100 percent. I mean that’s the biggest part of the movie. Making this film was shining a light on a culture that not too many people may not know about. Even some of my friends think it’s more about gangsters. You automatically think about gangsters but that’s not what it’s about. It’s way more than that.
Rossi: It’s deeper than that. Don’t let the tattoos and the tank tops fool you. I mean there is just so much more and I think we, especially now in today’s society, you’ve got to look a little deeper. You’ve got to investigate on your own. If you see the word “lowriders” or if you see a car that you associate with gangsters because of a videogame or because of a film 20 or 30 years ago that parodied it, you don’t know the truth. That’s why I feel this film is made for the fans and the when the word-of-mouth (gets out about it), viewers are going to be surprised. Maybe they expected lowriders driving down East L.A. with Uzis coming out of them. It’s not that. It’s a family story wrapped in this beautiful wrapping paper of the graffiti world and lowriding world, and basically the art world.
Q: Gabe, you have a number of scenes with Eva Longoria. How was that for you? What did you learn from her?
Chavarria: It was great. Eva’s great. She’s a Hollywood veteran. It was fun working with her. She’s got a presence, just being on set. It’s Eva.
Rossi: Just what she does. Outside of acting. She’s just an entity. When you meet people like Eva, you look deeper. I remember the first time on set and I’ll never forget. We were all sitting at lunch and it’s all the homies, all dudes. The homies have tattoos from the floor up to the neck and she’s at the head of the table like the boss. Everyone’s like “oh,” and she’s just down. There’s no entourage. It’s just Eva. She’s just Eva from Corpus Christi, Texas, and just doing her thing. She’s so incredible what she does for the community, philanthropically, and she’s also a businesswoman and a CEO. That, to me, is someone who is incredibly impressive.
Q: Theo, you recently said she’s the boss in an interview. What makes a woman a boss?
Rossi: I watched my mother create a business out of her house and now it’s literally worldwide and she did that for my sister and me. A woman who is a boss is not looking at it as a man or woman thing. She’s going to get what she needs to get and going to keep moving forward regardless and whatever obstacles are put in the way, it’s irrelevant. That attitude is not just for men and women; it’s for diversity and anything right now. It’s only society that throws a label on it. It’s about the person. The person is just trying get from A to B. With Eva, no matter what it was, she’s doing it whether it’s producing a TV show or doing this movie or networking.
That’s the coolest thing which is why I felt that this film is so special because there are all these different entities from (producer) Brian Grazer conceptualizing this with Cartoon (Jimenez, producer) and all this other stuff, Estevan (Oriol, producer) and coming from that pedigree of “8 Mile” and the “American Gangster,” that’s historical.
Q: Do you think of yourselves as being inspiring, especially to younger people, Latinos and minorities in the industry?
Chavarria: It’s great to be in a position to inspire people in what they do. As actors, we take on a role and we give 110 percent. The words speak for themselves. People enjoy that. I’m Hispanic. I come from a family of 10 brothers and one sister. I grew up in South Central L.A. Being an actor from South Central, I get to show that you don’t have to go that (gangster) route.
Rossi: The first time I met him, I knew he is more than just my little brother in a lot of areas. He was a young kid who is on this massive Jupiter Ascending. It’s like with “Planet of the Apes,” this and everything else and all his other projects coming up, he’s always preached a certain positivity and believed in himself. Believing that there’s a path and there’s a reason and that you don’t have to be a punk. I’m a kid who started as an extra in this business and literally got three SAG vouchers to get into the union. I had one line on a TV show, and then worked my way up. The inspiration comes from your actions. We are exactly who we say we are. I’ve always said, I’m going to say exactly what I want to say and be exactly who I want to be and I’m going to lead by example.” I’ve been fortunate enough in the way I was raised that I can say, “You can do anything.” I do that for my son and I do that for the community. I’ll do that for anybody to say to them, “You can do absolutely anything no matter what.” If you just do the old saying, “Treat people the way you want to be treated” and do your best at all times.