HomeTVInterview: Henri Esteve reveals which 'Primo' character he originally auditioned for and...

Interview: Henri Esteve reveals which ‘Primo’ character he originally auditioned for and talks about the show’s reception

If there’s one new comedy series you simply have to watch in 2023, it’s the heart-warming and very funny Amazon Freevee show ‘Primo‘ from creator Shea Serrano and executive producer Mike Schur (‘The Office’, ‘Parks and Recreation’).

Telling the story of five uncles who are trying to help their sister and her son, the show features a fantastic cast and plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. One of the uncles, military trained Mike, is played by Henri Esteve who manages to steal a lot of the scenes he’s in and is getting to show off his abilities as a comedic actor.

I spoke to Henri to find out which ‘Primo’ character he originally auditioned for, discuss showing a different side to his abilities and to talk about the reception the show has had from critics and viewers…

What attracted you to ‘Primo’ and why did you want to get involved?

First and foremost, when the email came in about the project (I saw the show was from) Mike Schur and Shea Serrano. When I read (the script) I fell in love with all of the characters, but Mike specifically, and the dynamic between the family. The initial audition that came in was for Mondo. As soon as I read those audition sides, I called my manager and asked him if they had cast Mike yet, and they hadn’t. (I asked them to) send me Mike’s audition scenes and I sent both tapes in. It was love at first read with Mike.

I couldn’t imagine you as Mondo. You are so perfect as Mike and he’s such a funny character. What’s it like for you to be able to show off your comedy skills?

I appreciate that. It’s fun, man. I think there’s such a great chemistry between all of us on set that it really felt like you could just go play and try things. I’m not really a comedy dude. This is my first time playing a character who’s getting laughs. I would go to Carlos Santos a lot, who plays Ryan, and he’s a stand up and is a huge comedy buff and a great comedian. I would go to him a lot to work stuff, pitch stuff and try ideas.

Primo
Credit: Amazon Freevee

You seem like such a natural at comedy to me so it’s funny to hear you saying that you’re not really a comedy guy. You get some of the best scenes in the show and one of my favourite episodes from season 1 is when Mike gets revenge on Jay for a ladder prank from years earlier. Your comedic abilities really shine through in that episode…

Thank you. As soon as I read that script, I was so excited. I think that is probably my favourite bit in the season. Shea and I had spoken about it. Shea has got such a great sense of humour. I haven’t seen it so I don’t know what take they ended up using but I kept trying to do like the Gary Oldman scream he does in ‘Leon’ (laughs). I pitched him to Shea and that was the exact reference he wanted to use. I think it was just on the page too, it was just a really well written and fun. I’m also a big fan of petty, smart revenge pranks. Getting to do one that took 10 years for Mike to do is just really fun for me.

Mike’s relationship with his nephew Rafa feels different than the other uncles. He gives him some terrible advice over the course of the season – fashion advice comes to mind – but he seems to want Rafa to grow up and discover who he is. What’s your take on the relationship?

My take, with all the uncles, is we are all almost trying to validate our own experience through Rafa. We obviously want the best for him, that’s first and foremost, but I also think we know that Rafa is the best of us. He is very obviously the break in the generational cycles. If (Rafa) goes to the military and then goes to college Mike feels better. Mike feels like he did the right thing with his life and it influenced Rafa. I think they all have that, which is why they’re all fighting and trying to push Rafa to do what they think is best. For Mike, the military is so far removed from the family – there is so much chaos in that house – and Mike went away and went to this epitome of discipline. He left San Antonio and then came back. I think he tries to put some discipline into the household but obviously he doesn’t succeed and just creates more chaos with everyone.

One of the reason the show succeeds, beyond the great writing and the laughs, is that the chemistry between the cast is fantastic. There feels like a natural rhythm between you all and this doesn’t feel like your first season. What was it like working with this ensemble?

I think that’s a byproduct of great casting, everyone in the cast is genuinelly really great as a person and we’ve all become really close and much quicker than I have with any other cast. It was really immediate with this cast. Having people like Mike Schur who have done it so many times, on board… I think Mike just knows what’s going to work and what pieces are going to work together. We shot in Albuquerque so everyone left their lives for three months. We went to a small city where we didn’t know anybody and just had so much time together. We hung out so much and created those bonds in real life.

That really does shine through. When I was talking to your cast mate Johnny Rey Diaz, he was telling me that you can see some of the cast breaking in some of the scenes as you try to hold it together…

Yeah! Apparently we don’t have a blooper reel but I really wish we did. We had a lot of great bloopers and the cast breaking with each other. There was one scene where where Mondo has a friend who helps him sell the sculptures. This actor came in and he was doing so great, and at some point I couldn’t get through some of my lines because I just kept laughing. I was like, “bro, I’m so sorry. I can’t look at you when I say ‘bro you’re so creepy’.” I kept laughing and I was like, ‘I can’t look you in the eye. I’m sorry’. I apologized beforehand (and said) ‘I’m gonna look at your ear this whole scene, otherwise we’re never gonna finish’.

Primo
Credit: Amazon Freevee

I can imagine that was a difficult scene to film…

Yeah, that scene… we were dying!

The show has only been out for a couple of weeks but the buzz around it is so strong. How do you feel about the reception it’s had?

It’s crazy. Running the risk of sounding almost ungrateful, because I’m not, I love this show and I’m super happy people like it (but) it doesn’t change anything for me. We finished filming almost a year ago. Last night I was asked how I’m celebrating or if I’ve celebrated the reviews and the reception that the show’s gotten and I haven’t. I think it’s because we celebrated when we finished. When we wrapped production, we celebrated. I had such a great experience making this that the fact that everyone else likes it is just a cherry on top it hopefully means we get to do more. The work is where I’m really happy and I think I try to stay focused on that.

We, as viewers, often forgot that these shows we’re watching may have been filmed a while ago. With the reception so positive though, how are you feeling about a season 2?

I feel good. Like you said, we’ve gotten nothing but great responses. Amazon seems excited. The writers’ strike is is happening and I think once that gets sorted, and the writers get paid what they deserve, hopefully we get to move into making another season.

Could you relate to any experiences in your own life when it came to the uncles or the other characters in this show?

That’s a good question. I related to Rafa a bit more than than the uncles. Mike was very inspired by a distant family member I grew up with so that was my relation to Mike initially. I started off stealing things from a family member and started to build a character around that.

Mike is interesting because he reminds me of some members of my family. Especially in the terrible advice department…

That toxically masculine advice, I think is so funny. Mike’s inability to be wrong or get anywhere in the vicinity of vulnerability, I think is so fun to play with. There’s just so much humour and I can laugh at that so much. It reminds me of a lot of the old like grandfather Cuban men that I grew up around in Miami (laughs). Vulnerability just wasn’t in the conversation ever.

‘Primo’ season 1 is streaming on Amazon Freevee now. Watch the trailer for the show below:

Pip Ellwood-Hughes
Pip Ellwood-Hughes
Pip is the Editor of Entertainment Focus and the Managing Director of agency Piñata Media.

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