America Ferrera and cast of Netflix's Gentefied on the magic of the Morales family
Joaquín Cosío is a longtime actor with countless credits in mainstream films and television shows, but none have been like Pop — his newest role on Netflix’s Gentefied. Working on the show has earned him at least five honorary grandchildren — costars JJ Soria, Karrie Martin, Carlos Santos, Annie Gonzalez, and Julissa Calderon — something not too common for the Mexican-born actor known for roles like narco boss Don Neto in Narcos: Mexico.
“As an actor, playing Pop gave me the opportunity to play a role completely different to what I’m used to,” Cosío tells EW during a recent conversation with the cast, before moving on to his next role in The Suicide Squad. “Most people recognize me for the violent and rude characters I’ve played — although, I must say, they all have had a very human side to them. I love Pop, he’s a good man who stands by his family and is ready to defend them at all costs. He cares about his community. I fell in love with how he is written, and how much he reminds me of my father.”
The series follows three Mexican-American cousins, Erik (Soria), Ana (Martin), and Chris (Santos) and the challenges they face while finding their place in the world. They live in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights, where Pop owns a local Mexican restaurant.
Erik and Chris live with grandfather Pop; the former serves as Pop’s right hand while the latter follows his culinary dreams of becoming a chef. Erik has a baby on the way with his girlfriend, Lidia Solis (Gonzalez).
Ana, an artist, lives with her petulant mother (Laura Patalano) who has no patience for her daughter’s artistic dreams and wants her to get a real job so she can help pay the bills. She’s also not too fond of her daughter’s girlfriend, Yessika Flores.
“This show helped me realize that I’m enough, that our stories are enough,” Martin says. “That’s what resonated to me the most with Ana, she knows her worth regardless of whether her family believed it or not. She just needed that one chance to be able to stand in that power.”
Calderon adds, “I love that we are seeing two worlds combining, with Yessika being Dominican and Ana, who is Mexican. I love that I get to play a Dominican girl in this story about a Mexican family. No matter what is happening around her, she’s authentically herself. That’s what I hope people take from her. That no matter where you are, always be authentic to yourself.
The series, created by Linda Yvette Chávez and Marvin Lemus, caught the attention of America Ferrera when it was web series — she now serves as the Netflix drama’s executive producer. The Superstore star also has a tiny cameo in the series.
“One of the most important things about this show is the multigenerational aspect, which is so ingrained in the Latino experience and, I imagine, the immigrant experience,” Ferrera says. “Our families and our lives are multigenerational. We live with our tías (aunts) and our abuelos (grandparents) and there is a deep commitment and honoring of the many generations whose decisions have completely impacted the lives of the younger generation. It would not be authentic to Linda and Marvin to tell a story about young Latinos without having the stories of the many generations of the family.”
She adds, “We had an extensive search for the right actors to play this family. As a Latinx community, our pool of talent is rarely tapped for projects that are deep and interesting and authentic. We have so much undiscovered talent in our community. It was so great to be able to find faces that yes, may be familiar to some of us in the Latinx Hollywood community, but are probably new to most people. We got to see so many talented actors in the span of our search, and we’re really proud to have found these incredible actors to be our family and bring them to life.”
When Soria isn’t working out at the gym — Cosío teases that it was Soria who trained him for his now-infamous scene in his underwear on Gentefied — he’s been working constantly in Hollywood with roles in Crackle’s The Oath, Lifetime’s Army Wives, and one-off appearances on Sons of Anarchy, Dexter, and The Shield.
“What jumped off the page to me when I read for the role on Gentefied was that the cousins on the page reminded me of my cousins, same for the grandfather. I saw my family on those pages and I saw myself,” Soria explains. “I felt the power of bringing that authenticity to the screen and the impact that it could bring to our community. To be a vessel of that inspiration is priceless.”
Santos is one of the fresher faces Ferrera was talking about, but he’s hardly new on the scene. Santos, and his fellow Latinx cohorts Raiza Licea and Tony Rodriguez, elevate Latinx talent at their recurring Spanish Aquí Presents at L.A.’s Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Theater.
“I’m really proud that I’ll be able to play a three-dimensional character that I was able to define, that’s not defined by the violence of the mainstream industry,” he says. “That’s what created for us a space where we could really excel and show people the talent from our community; all we need is a chance.”
He adds, “Joaquin is a legend and his portrayal of Pop really stood out to me. My dad was a pastor, a sergeant in the army, and a lawyer. You would think that that would make him a certain type of way but he was the most loving person you could ever meet. I don’t think that’s a side we see of Latino men, which is something else that the show deals with: toxic masculinity and how that affects people.”
Gonzalez hails from Boyle Heights and is proud that a show like this is representing the real-life struggles and triumphs of her community.
“I’m from the area we shot in and that’s already so powerful for me, and to be able to play someone who comes from an Ivy League education and who feels that her community is worth putting back into,” she says. “That their men are worth pouring back into and that their anger is a sign of their vulnerability. She sees her people and she really wants to uplift them by uplifting herself. I’m so grateful and honored to be able to play a part that will help other people feel seen and heard so they can be self-actualized. If we can inherit ancestral trauma, we can inherit ancestral magic.”