Ricardo Chavira in The Motherf**ker With The Hat is unrecognisable. The US star making an impression at the National Theatre was, between 2004 and 2012, one of the stars of Desperate Housewives, the US comic drama that was a colossal global hit viewed by approximately 120 million people. Roughly speaking that’s akin to the entire population of Mexico sitting down together to watch the same show.
You’d think, then, that the star, who played Carlos Solis in the televisual tale of suburban intrigue, back-stabbing, friendship and family life, would be easy to spot. But he’s dispensed with his goatee and that changes everything.
That, of course, is the point. The chin furniture is inextricably linked to the outlandish drama of Housewives, which Chavira is striving to leave behind, forging his way forward in other avenues.
This includes his current role at the NT, where he leads the dynamically titled show as a man with a dubious past trying to play life straight, but in love with a woman not pushing for the same things. When he notices the titular headwear – not his – in the apartment, his urge to know which other man has been spending time with his addict partner kicks in and it all kicks off.
On a gorgeous summer day – the day on which many a glowing review of the show was published – we met Chavira to take in the sun on one of the NT’s glorious balconies and talk about the show, flying to New York to audition for a London production, beards and golden handcuffs:
I first read The Motherf**ker With The Hat with the ball game on. My wife came in 30 minutes later and asked, “What’s the score on the game? WHAT’S THE SCORE ON THE GAME? Hey!” She looked down at the script, she looked at me, she asked, “Is that good?” I said “Yeah.” She said, “So you’re going to New York?” “Yeah.” She said, “You’re going to get it.”
When I read it, I just got it. When I have that kind of reaction, I will pay for the flight, I will fly out to New York, I will walk in the room and I will win that job.
I’ve read hundreds of TV scripts that I’ve lined the fireplace with. When you read something that’s written the way Stephen [Adly Guirgis] writes, with the style and the calibre, you feel, “If I have the opportunity to do this I have to do it.”
There’s many things in the play that struck a chord with me. I lost my mother at an early age; Jackie’s struggling with the loss of his mother. Jackie has a dysfunctional relationship with his cousin; I have many dysfunctional relationships with family members, I think we all do. Jackie has a long time on again off again girlfriend; I’ve been with my wife since the end of high school and at the beginning it was on again off again. There are many similarities, but what attracted me to it was the level of despair. There’s so much love in the play and there’s so much animosity and bitterness and hate.
The opposite of love is not hate; it’s indifference. If you hate something, if you have the feeling of hate, there is love inside of that. It’s doing something to you. I’ve felt someone be indifferent to me and it’s not fun. A lot of that exists in this play. Everybody’s trying to find out how they matter to the other person when the first thing they should be working on is how they matter to themselves.
I originally auditioned for the role of Cousin Julio. Indhu [Rubasingham, the director] was sat there smiling after I finished. I could tell she liked it. She said, “I think I need to read you for my lead.” I said, “I thought it was cast already.” She said, “All things change.”
I knew the reputation of the National Theatre. I didn’t in my wildest dreams think that I would ever be over here working. It wasn’t an idea that I entertained. Then all of a sudden it became a possibility and a possibility became a reality. Next thing I know I’m jumping on a plane and I’m over here.
I miss the smell of my daughter. I miss my son’s face very much. I miss my wife. My wife and our children are accustomed to me leaving. But in the past I would always make it a point that I would never be gone for more than two weeks, now it’s been more than a month and a half. It gets stressful, but we have texting, phone calls, emails, FaceTime, Skype and all that. It can be difficult. I think my wife’s happy; she’s gotten rid of that big animal that runs around the house.
This is not just an opportunity for me, it’s an opportunity for my family. I’m looking forward to introducing my children to London and specifically the international feel and sensibility that exists here that is very unlike what we have in Texas. I hope they gain an appreciation for being outside of the United States.
With golden handcuffs TV deals you’re making a wonderful living, but you’re playing the same character day in day out for five, six, seven, eight years. It takes away the opportunity for an actor to diversify themselves by playing different roles. It started to frustrate me a lot. I was thankful when we ended the entire run of the show, because then I could strip myself of that character.
An actor friend of mine said I had the most famous goatee in all of show business. I’ll never grow that goatee again. I was clean shaven, doing a production of A Streetcar Named Desire right before season seven of Desperate Housewives so they had to build one for me. I didn’t keep it. I should have kept it and framed it in my house somewhere.
I don’t think anybody could every really wrap their mind around being part of a show as big as Desperate Housewives. I don’t think anybody ever should try. I think you’d very much lose sight of who you are and who you should be. I saw it first hand with some of the other people on our show. That’s why I kept home base Texas. That’s why I’d fly home. If my head started getting a little too big, I had my father and my wife, her family, my extended family to say, “No, we know you. Let us remind you about who you are.”
I don’t really read reviews. I skimmed one or two so I’ve got an idea of where they’re all at. We all felt we’d worked on something very special, so I don’t want to say we’re not surprised; we’re very surprised. We’re very thankful. But now it’s “That’s great, let’s keep doing the work and keep it going until we get to August.”
The Motherf**ker With The Hat is playing at the National Theatre until 20 August. You can book tickets through us here.