Movie fans will tell you the best revenge stories are served cold. But for Laz Alonso and Raúl Castillo, Guy Ritchie’s new armored-truck thriller “Wrath of Man” has also served a warm payback for them as Latino actors.
“To be able to see yourself represented, it validates your existence. It validates that you belong,” Alonso told NBC News.
The actor, who identifies off-screen as Afro Cuban and Afro Latino, said visibility on the big screen encourages viewers to “own every bit of who you are.”
Fans may remember Alonso as Tsu’tey in James Cameron’s science-fiction blockbuster “Avatar” or as Fenix Calderon in the street-racing franchise “Fast & Furious.”
In “Wrath of Man,” the actor plays Carlos, a key member of an ex-military team who plants the idea of doing a heist. While his identity doesn’t always define him as an actor, Alonso said it informs the way he sees and plays his characters.
“If you go to Cuba and you ask a Cuban, ‘What are you?’ they’re never going to say, ‘Afro Latino.’ They’re going to say, ‘Soy negro,’ ‘I’m Black’; or, ‘Soy blanco,’ ‘I’m white,'” Alonso said. “I have adopted ‘Afro Latino’ because here in the States we’re all one big melting pot of different cultures, different nations and different origins.”
At times, hyphenated identities can make you feel like both an outsider and an insider, Alonso said, and the big screen can help actors and viewers embrace that in-between reality.
Castillo, who plays Sam on the military heist team alongside Alonso, similarly described “Wrath of Man” as a career milestone for his Mexican American identity.
“I grew up in McAllen, Texas. I’m first-generation Mexican American. I got to go to London to make a film,” he told NBC News. “It was like a dream come true. It was a real pinch-me moment to be in a Guy Ritchie movie in general.”
Castillo is known for his acclaimed performance as Diego Hernandez in the independent superhero film “El Chicano” and as Richie Donado Ventura in HBO’s popular LGBTQ series “Looking.”
In “Wrath of Man,” Latino viewers will also recognize Cuban-born actor and Grammy-winning musician Andy García, who plays a government agent named King.
While Ritchie’s heist thriller is supported by a diverse cast based in the U.S. and the U.K., only one woman — Niamh Algar’s character, Dana — shares the spotlight briefly, and other female characters have less-developed roles.
“Wrath of Man” is anchored by British action star Jason Statham, who plays a tough, closed-mouth armored-truck driver taking on Alonso and Castillo’s highly skilled heist team with deadly precision.
Viewers find out early that Statham’s character wants to avenge the murder of a loved one. While revenge stories can sometimes look and feel predictable, Alonso said Ritchie relies on improvisation to get both actors and viewers to react to the shifting lines between good and bad.
“What we have come to accept as a society as a hero isn’t always packaged beautifully,” Alonso said. “Justice isn’t always clean.”
The Afro Latino actor said blurring the boundaries of morality makes characters more relatable as imperfect people.
“Everybody has something that they’re bitter about and something that makes them feel like they’re disenfranchised,” Alonso said, referring to the members of the ex-military team. “Their way of dealing with it is to strike back and do what they know.”
Comparatively, Castillo said blurring the lines of identity also makes characters more relatable to mixed audiences.
“I was really excited also that my character was just a guy named Sam who was part of this military unit,” Castillo said. “I want to play Juans and Pedros and Miguels. But I also want to play Sams and Nicks and Arthurs. I think it’s important to navigate this industry and diversify.”
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