Karla Souza on ‘HTGAWM’: ‘Laurel Wasn’t Supposed to be Latin’

by Stacy Lambe 5:05 AM PST, February 12, 2015
Photo: Getty Images

When it comes to ABC’s TGIT lineup, there are always surprises -- and How to Get Away with Murder is no different.

Each week its ruthless lead lawyer and her five ambitious law students continue to defy what fans think they know about the series and its cast of characters, including the once-idealistic Laurel Castillo, played by Karla Souza.

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Since the murder of Annalise Keating’s (Viola Davis) husband, Sam, the students tasked with covering it up are all beginning to crack under pressure – except, it seems, Laurel. Her steely strength has made her a newly valuable asset to the team.

And in episode 11, Laurel’s Latin background was revealed for the first time — though her last name, Castillo, is the Spanish surname meaning “castle” — when we first met her Spanish-speaking Florida family. The show’s passionate live-tweeting audience was pleasantly surprised.

“I think that’s exactly what Pete [Nowalk, the show’s creator,] and I were going for with people not even knowing,” Souza tells ETonline.

But she admits that it was news to her as well. “When I was cast, Laurel wasn’t supposed to be Latin at all,” she explains. “Then when Pete and Shonda [Rhimes] had that conversation about making her Latin, it was very important to have that be something that ‘could or couldn’t be,’ that wouldn’t ‘make or break’ the character, that it wasn’t the label of the character. She just happened to be Latin -- and we could find it out later on.”

Photo: ABC

It’s certainly a welcome development for the 29-year-old Mexican-American actress, who spent her first year in Hollywood going on auditions that called for stereotypical characters. “I realized [casting directors] didn’t believe I was Latin until I did a little bit of an accent,” Souza reveals, “and I was like, ‘Wow this is crazy!’”

Now that she’s on HTGAWM, she’s hoping Laurel will change how Latin characters are shown on TV. “I hope it’s opening the door for different looking Latins out there,” she says. Laurel’s father is played by Honduran actor José Zúñiga, but audiences may have continued to assume Souza and her character were Caucasian if the show had never more directly shown them speaking Spanish.

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And Souza’s character comes at a time when the TV landscape is changing dramatically. HTGAWM along with Empire, Fresh Off the Boat, and the Golden Globe-winning Jane the Virgin not only are giving fans a diverse range of characters but also are huge hits.

“It’s an extremely exciting moment for TV because you might see these things on cable,” Souza says, “but when you have these things on mainstream network TV, the doors are being opened for a lot more people.” She adds that it’s changing the “dialogue within our society as to what we think is commercial or sellable.”

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“People are being able to watch themselves,” Souza says. And now, at least on Thursdays, Laurel adds to that diversity seen on TV.

How to Get Away with Murder airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on ABC. Watch the video below to go inside TV's sexiest show.