Guillermo Díaz is infinitely likable, even while face-licking and teeth-pulling his way through a torture scene as Huck, the CIA-trained psychopath on the television show Scandal. It is a quality that has been apparent since the early days of Díaz’s acting career, when he was living in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City and a regular of ’90s independent filmmaking with scene-stealing comedic and dramatic performances in Fresh, Party Girl, Stonewall, Girls Town, and Nowhere. The 2011 Britney Spears video for her song “I Wanna Go” referenced his role in the 1998 Dave Chappelle stoner classic Half Baked and culminated with Díaz sensually dousing himself with a carton of milk before telling Spears that he loves dreams and seashells.
Beyond Scandal, Díaz just appeared in Run, the Jay Z and Beyoncé mini-movie from the duo’s On The Run stadium tour, and directed Valley of the Undocumented, a short film released during Immigrant Heritage Month. When we met for breakfast in West Hollywood, Díaz admitted to already having eaten a Sausage McMuffin. He is a handsome mix of goofy and polished, never more so than we he recounts recently recognizing Madonna’s daughter Mercy James while browsing greeting cards at the Aahs!! gift store on Sunset Boulevard—a fortuitous encounter, as Díaz is a profound Madonna fan with an upper-arm tattoo of the pop star borrowed from the singer’s 1992 Sex book.
– Mark Jacobs
dot429: What kind of Madonna fan are you?
Guillermo Díaz: Last night I was watching the MDNA tour at midnight just before bed. Because when there’s nothing else on TV, I’ll just throw on one of her concerts. And it’s funny because all of these things keep happening that make me feel like I’ll meet her one day, but part of me doesn’t really want to meet her because I love her so much. I was in a store the other day when I saw Mercy, her adopted daughter from Malawi, and I thought, “Oh that’s Mercy.” And then I was like, “Oh my God, this is Madonna’s daughter.” I stayed next to her”Š—not in a creepy way”Š—because I was in the same greeting-card area, and then I hear who I’m assuming was her nanny and this other guy who looked like her bodyguard call her name, and I was like, “Oh, my God.” And then as I’m looking at her some people recognized me and asked to take a picture with me, and I thought, “Oh, cool, maybe theyíll look over and be like [affects silly, self-deprecating voice]that’s Guillermo from Scandal!” And I’ll get to meet Mercy. But it didn’t happen, and then I go upstairs to pay, and they’re in front of me”Š—”ŠMercy and the nanny and the bodyguard”Š—and the nanny turns around and goes, “You’re in the movies! You’re that actor!” And flips out over me. And Mercy is just kind of looking at me, and I’m thinking, “Oh my God, it’s happening.” [laughs]And I don’t know why, but I look at Mercy, and I go, “Hi, Mercy, I know who you are”—”Š”Šlike, what am I saying?”Š—and she just stared at me. The nanny was really nice and asked to take a picture of me. And then I say to the nanny that I have a tattoo of Mercy’s mother on my arm. [laughs]And she’s like, “Let me see!” And I’m showing the nanny, and the nanny is like, “Mercy, look!” And I’m showing Mercy the tattoo of her mother, and Mercy just stares at me and stares at the tattoo. It was crazy. I was like, what the fuck? I just showed Madonna’s daughter a tattoo of her mother.
dot429: I first saw you in Party Girl. You were pretty crushable.
GD: I remember auditioning with Parker [Posey], and she just sort of threw her pages on the floor and was kind of like, “Let’s do whatever.” We improvved, and I got the role. I had such a blast with her. We would go to the Tunnel with Bill Coleman, the movie’s music supervisor who was a DJ in New York, who would take me around to clubs so I could get a feel for the DJ booths. I remember Parker dancing. She had on an oversized white men’s dress shirt and these really short shorts and big, platform wooden-heeled shoes and a peppermint lollipop”Š—”Šhow do I remember this shit?”Š—”Šone of those clear, big peppermint lollipops that she sucked on all night long.
dot429: You were also in Nowhere.
GD: I played a guy named Cowboy. I was gay, and my boyfriend was played by Jeremy Jordan. My character had suspenders and no shirt throughout the whole movie. I had a tattoo that said “Fag” on my hand. I got the role because Gregg Araki had gone to a screening of Party Girl with Parker because Parker was in Doom Generation. Parker called me and was like, “Gregg loves you.” It all went through Parker. But Gregg Araki”Š—oh man. He’s a bucket-list director. I would love to work with him again.
dot429: You’ve had a number of Caesar cuts in your career.
GD: I did have a Caesar cut in Nowhere. I had a Caesar cut in a few things. I’ve had a lot of Caesar cuts. [laughs]I kind of have a Caesar cut now, no?
dot429: What about the Britney Spears video?
GD: Dude, that shit came out of nowhere. The director is a big fan of Half Baked and Weeds. All I was supposed to do was the beginning of the video where she spoofs Half Baked. But the night before they called and said the guy who was going to play her guy dropped out, and will I do it. So there I was playing Britney’s dude in a car with her, pouring milk on myself.
dot429: So you think it’s as demented as I do.
GD: Absolutely! If not more.
dot429: You weren’t out when you did publicity for Stonewall. How did you handle that?
GD: Probably not very well. It was the first time I was really doing press for anything. I was really nervous, and I didn’t really know what to say. And I’m not a big talker as it is. And people were asking me all of these personal questions.
dot429: Is that when you came out to the press?
GD: I did it a couple of years later for a magazine called Genre when I was doing press for Just One Time. I had done a bunch of local publications and some interviews where I was out, but it never made it to the mainstream because no one gave a shit that I was out or in the closet or whatever because I wasn’t anybody. I was worried about it, but I was also so driven and focused on acting and my work that I knew it wasnít going to fuck my career up. That thinking pushed me through. And then nobody really cared. It wasn’t a mystery anymore. Nobody really talked about it, and if they did, they didn’t talk to me about it. It never affected any auditions that I know of. I continued to get straight roles and thug roles and bad guys.
dot429: The naked shoot you did in 2012 for Pinups was interesting because while hearing that someone is gay is one thing, witnessing their gay life—beyond comfortable norms like marriage—is a whole other challenge. Plus, Pinups speaks from a gay experience that is apart from the Bravo TV gay minstrel.
GD: I get off on pushing people’s buttons sometimes. For me being naked isn’t a big deal. It’s a very tasteful magazine. It’s very sort of artsy. And it was hot. I was like, “I want to be in that magazine!” I did it and never told my managers I was doing it. It’s hard to remember when you’re trying to be creative to include managers or businesspeople. I don’t like that. So I just did it on my own.
dot429: I’m fascinated by Scandal and its new model of television storytelling that will jump the shark five times in an episode. It’s like a Japanese energy drink.
GD: I totally agree. But because Shonda [Rhimes, its mastermind] is so smart and such a great writer, it still draws you in. You’re still invested in the characters and the story, as crazy as it all is. And you just want more. The stuff they write for me”Š—”ŠI’m a huge horror-film fan, so I love playing this dark, broken, psycho guy. It’s so much fun, and I get to pull teeth and torture people and do all this cool stuff. And yet he’s still emotional, and you care for him. It’s the role of a lifetime for me. I can’t believe they chose me.
dot429: What is it like to receive so much mainstream affection at this point in your career?
GD: I don’t know if I would have been able to handle it as well ten or twenty years ago. It’s cool, and it’s fun, and it’s exciting; but I know it’s about the work. I feel like it’s happening at just the right time.
dot429: How did Valley of the Undocumented come about?
GD: Russell Simmons’s company contacted my managers about these PSAs that they were getting all of these actors and celebrities to direct about undocumented families and the Dreamers who are the children who came over with their parents and have been left in limbo. I’d never directed before. I was scared, but Michael Skolnik, who is Russell Simmons’s right-hand guy, was the best, and we got together and came up with the concept. And he knew this poet named Lemon Andersen from the Def Poetry Jam era, who wrote this amazing poem for the piece, and we wanted it to specifically be about the mothers of these children.
dot429: Are there projects that you could do now that you might not have been able to do before Scandal?
GD: I would love to do more horror films. I’m really hoping something great in that genre will come along. I want to be the bad guy. I want to be the killer. I would love to do something with clowns. Some sort of demented clown.