In Netflix’s Wednesday, Tim Burton pays homage to every iteration of The Addams Family, from the original comics to the TV show to the 90’s films to the more recent animated movies. Putting his own signature spin on the franchise, he creates a gorgeous new gothic world as he shifts the spotlight to everyone’s favorite braided bad seed daughter. Fabulous fashion and sumptuous sets create the scene as inventive fiends and “normies” intersect and interact in creepy and captivating ways as we’d expect. But this twisted tale has some real surprises too, especially casting-wise. Jenna Ortega embodies the title role, her striking big-eyed glare and deadpan delivery offering a more cartoonish and maybe even more captivating take on what Christina Ricci brought to the character. Ricci is back as a (maybe or maybe not) well-meaning instructor at the Nevermore Academy, a boarding school for outcasts, where Wednesday arrives as a new student as the series begins. Morticia and Gomez Addams, may not be the focus of the series, which takes place at the school, but they’re essential to bringing a new spirit and vibe to the ghoulish modern family. Catherine Zeta-Jones and Luis Guzmán are pitch-perfect as the patriarchs. Though some questioned the latter choice, the actor brings a brutish sweetness to the Addams’ dad that we haven’t seen before, maybe less suave than Raul Julia or John Astin, but more endearing.
We met up with the busy Puerto Rican actor (who’s from New York, but currently lives in Vermont) doing promo pictures at West Coast Customs in Burbank last week. The shop, best known for tricking out cars on MTV’s Pimp My Ride, created a customized hearse in celebration of Wednesday‘s release. During a break, the prolific actor shared his experiences exclusively with LA Weekly, from working on the new show with Burton to what it was like making movies with other legendary filmmakers, to how he got his start, to Gomez’s Latino origins.
LINA LECARO: Tim Burton is an obvious perfect visionary for a new take on Addams Family characters. Can you tell me a little about how you got the role?
LUIS GUZMÁN: We had a Zoom meeting and Tim asked me if I would be a part of this project. I asked him what’s the role? He said Gomez, and I said, ‘Absolutely!’
So he had you in mind from the beginning? Was he envisioning you as he was putting it all together?
I don’t know that. I just know that he offered it to me. I grew up watching The Addams Family on TV as a kid. I saw the movie with Angelica Houston and Raul Julia. And you know, just to keep the whole generational thing going. When we met, and we discussed that, I definitely said, ‘Man, you don’t even have to ask me twice.’
It’s such an iconic role.
Absolutely iconic. We’re going into the third-fourth generation of it. And so, to be a part of it, I get to just keep a legacy going, a family legacy.
As you mention, there was the TV show, which is still on cable and streaming today. A lot of people know the films with Christina Ricci and Julia as her dad. But it all started with the comics. What did you want to bring to the role that was maybe different from what’s been out there? Were you looking to incorporate the past examples at all? How did you tackle the role?
I think I just thought of it as a continuation of that love and passion that Gomez has, one for Morticia, and two, for his own family. You know, he’s a lover of life. He’s passionate about his wife, his ‘querida.’ [A Spanish endearment that translates to ‘honey’ in English] To me, it was just a continuation of all that. It wasn’t about having to reinvent anything. I did understand from Tim that we’re not doing slapstick comedy. And what really helped me out was how well this was written. When you read the words and how they’re put together, and how they flowed, it’s almost like poetry. You know, in a sinister, comical, dark way. So just the words, and the environment and the situations. It was a really good blend of all these things.
The writing is great. And of course, the visuals and vibe that Burton creates. The atmospherics, sets, it all comes together really nicely.
You’re stepping into the Tim Burton universe. The sets were incredible. And working with someone like Colleen Atwood, who was the costume designer and she’s an Academy Award winner. Every single outfit was built for us. The effort that went into what we wore on this show, that alone was a lot. Then, of course, I must give credit to the hair and makeup people.They created this beautiful wig for me. And my mustache. And the teeth—they were the biggest challenge, though.
You’re not used to wearing things in your mouth like that. The mouthpiece felt foreign. You got to talk in it and you got to get used to talking in it. My son was with me and he was yelling at me all the time to wear them, ‘Are you wearing them pop?” And then after you’re tired of wearing it all day, at the end of the day, they don’t want to come out. You’ve got to press and turn on the right pressure point just to get it to release.
Did it change your speech for the character?
A little. I was singing in them, talking in them. I’d try to do different sounds with them. Just to see what I could accomplish and things like that.
Let’s talk about the controversy over you getting this role. People get so attached to what they expect a character should be like sometimes, and that happened with Gomez. Were you aware that some people felt you weren’t the right fit? How did you feel about that?
I heard some of it. I read some of it. And, you know, I had to dismiss it all. Because as an artist, you’re creating art. I understand some people have that narrow vision of like, ‘OK, it’s gotta be this way.’ But you know, there’s a history and the history was in the cartoon. That’s what the character looked like. In the original cartoon and in the original drawing. I understand the criticism. I just didn’t allow the negativity of some of it. Because some people are just ignorant and some people don’t get it. I just got past that. But also, to my credit, and to the credit of all the people that really do love me in this world— so many people came to my defense and just shut that down. And once it got shut down, that was it. We didn’t hear anymore. At this point, it’s done and I’m grateful. You know, no matter what, you could do the greatest job in the world and you’re still gonna have critics.
True, especially on the internet nowadays. People just want to criticize whatever they can on social media sometimes.
Like I said, people that love me, that know me, they understand the craft, they came to my defense. And I’m not, I’m not going to allow someone’s negativity, to make me want to say, ‘Well, fuck you,’ all that. You know, somebody said, ‘When somebody takes that level down, you take a level up.’ Just stay positive and that’s it. You know?
Tim Burton himself envisioned you as Gomez. That says it all.
Yeah, that’s all I need. The only response that I did have to someone was I said to them, ‘If you could do what I do, then you can own it. But you can’t do what I do, so you can’t.’
Do you do social media?
I do more Instagram. Twitter, at this point is a lost cause. Facebook, I do a little bit because a lot of my old school friends are on it. I like Instagram because it teaches me a lot about, you know, growing food and philosophy, health stuff, and good quotes and stuff like that. I don’t get into self promotion. I like the information, and sometimes you need a good laugh. But to be honest with you, I think I’m coming to a point now that I’m gonna shut it down for a little bit. You know, like, hop on, hop off. Because there’s other things to life—I want to write, photography. I love writing poetry. Books.
Like a biography, maybe?
Yeah. You know, I have a lot of history. I have a lot of stories to tell. And I think people would be inspired. I don’t know if you know this, but I was a social worker before I became an actor and I was never ever looking to become an actor. It was an accident that happened. A friend of mine was writing for a TV show in New York City. I hadn’t seen him in a few years, and ran into him in the street and he said, come with me to this TV show and see if you could get apart. I really wasn’t thinking about doing it. He convinced me so I went in and three weeks later, I’m co- starring on the season premiere of Miami Vice.
So that was your big break?
Prior to that I had done street theater. But it was a hobby. It was all about my friends. And if somebody wrote something, you know, you would do it. You know, if somebody was doing an independent film, and I mean real, independent I’d do it. But I hadn’t done any of that stuff in 10 years, because I dedicated myself to being a social activist and then becoming a social worker.
Did you ever have schooling or take acting classes?
I didn’t. I took acting classes for two years like a year after I got Miami Vice.
To hone your skills?
I will say I was like a dull knife. I just needed to sharpen it.
Well, your career has been amazing. Last year, I interviewed Paul Thomas Anderson which was a big deal to me. Such a huge fan of Boogie Nights and Magnolia, and your roles in both. Do you think those are your most recognizable parts, like what took you to the next level? What are some others?
I think they all have because I’ve done so many things. I always talk about building a foundation. And you know, when you build a foundation out of stones, some are bigger than others, but they’re still part of your foundation. So like, you do a movie like Boogie Nights, that’s a big part of the foundation. Then you do a movie like Confidence. And that’s not as big, but it’s still part of it because it’s like, you don’t build a foundation with one rock.
That’s a good point. Everything counts.
I mean, listen Boogie Nights was huge, but so was Carlito’s Way. So was Traffic, and so was Punch Drunk Love and so Anger Management and The Count of Monte Cristo… and so is Wednesday.
You’ve always been a familiar face in film and TV, in a variety of character roles. But Boogie Nights in particular, you really stood out to me. The character was so memorable and funny and integral to the entire cast, which was strong all-around.
Paul Thomas Anderson, to me, is one of the best writer-directors. He has an incredible vision of what he does. Total respect for him. When we did Punch Drunk Love, the beauty of working with a guy like Adam Sandler…the first time I watched Punch Drunk Love, after five minutes, you forget that is Adam Sandler. It’s like, ‘Oh my God, I feel so bad for this guy.’ Adam Sandler is a genius. He does great comedies, but you know, he can also flip it. And to have someone like Paul write the way he does, but also direct and have that vision… it’s incredible. You know, I also did three films with Steven Soderbergh.
Another very unique filmmaker. Traffic was huge– what do you remember about it?
Traffic, The Limey, and Out of Sight were the three. When we did Traffic, Don Cheadle and I were paired together. You know, we never talked about the scenes. We never rehearsed. We never went over the material. We would just show up and shoot. Half the stuff that we did—I mean, we honored the writing—but we improvised a lot too. Like the scene when we’re listening to Dennis Quaid and Catherine Zeta-Jones in their house? And I say, “They’re conspiring to conspire.” That was me. And when I said the joke about the hurricane, that was like, I asked somebody, can you send me a joke? And that was the joke.
Do you enjoy doing improv more than having to stick to everything on the script?
I will always honor the words. But sometimes, like, I remember doing a project a few years ago, and meeting the producer, the director, and the writer. All three came into my trailer and they were happy that I was doing their project. And then the writer goes, ‘You know, I really wrote this with you in mind all the way. But listen, anything you want to change? Please do because I don’t think I did a good enough job writing for you.’
But still I always want to honor people and their work because I know the effort they put into it. Sometimes my brain will say something in a different way. I’m saying the same thing but the way it was written just doesn’t click for me. So it’s about the delivery.
Your delivery is like nobody else’s. Your characters always feel like real people but they also feel like you’re putting in a little bit of yourself into them.
I did a great film with Sidney Lumet called Q&A. And the assistant director at the wrap party pulled me to the side and said, ‘Just remember this. Your life is your reference.” That has stood with me to this day and to this moment.
I just love that! Perfect closing quote. But I do have one last question about being Latino and representation and entertainment. Do you feel a responsibility to represent Latinos on film in Hollywood?
Number one, I love being Latino. You know, I love representing, I just feel that the empowerment is gonna come from us. I don’t think anybody in Hollywood is gonna empower us, because that’s not their purpose. Our purpose is to be creative, continue creating, and to empower the things that we do. And to own it.
You are doing that. But you play all different nationalities as well. And that’s the thing—you’re representing but you’re versatile.
I mean, listen, you know, it’s a blessing. Early on in my career I’m playing the Mexican. And not to take anything away from my Mexican community, but I’m a representative of all of the Latino community. We all speak the same language. We might come from different places. But our roots are very similar.
Speaking of which. People might have debated this in the past, but Gomez is clearly Latino. In Wednesday, the dialogue cements this. Morticia references Gomez’s Mexican ancestry and Wednesday even mentions Dia de los Muertos. This coupled with Jenna Ortega’s casting and yours—it says a lot about Burton’s intentions and it’s a win for representation.
Yes he is! You know, the fact that I call and I refer to my wife as Mi Querida… That did not come from an Anglo place. Yeah, that came from a Latin heart.