'SNL' Writer Julio Torres Talks Ryan Gosling, Creating 'The Actress' and His HBO Special (Exclusive)

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Julio Torres HBO
HBO

There’s no doubt that Julio Torres, who broke out as a writer on Saturday Night Live and is now starring in his first HBO special, has a unique style of comedy that brings unexpected humor to even more unexpected situations.

As soon as the 32-year-old comedian joined the SNL writers’ room in 2016, his distinct voice and specific point of view -- a cross between observational humor and stream-of-consciousness -- quickly landed with audiences. In his first few months writing for season 42, he became recognized for writing “Diego Calls Home” starring Lin-Manuel Miranda, “The Sink” voiced by Emily Blunt and “Wells for Boys.” 

It was “Melania Moments” starring Cecily Strong as the oft-silent wife of the current U.S. president, however, that became his first signature hit and recurring sketch. It’s that moment when he notes things really started coming together at SNL. “That was stuff that I’ve been doing in stand-up and I was like, ‘Oh, that was fun. Maybe that’ll happen again,’” Torres recalls to ET, citing the music,  tone, cinematography and acting for being exceptionally great. “We were very lucky to have Cecily on it.” While it continued to amuse audiences, it came to an end a year later after the first lady wore her now-infamous jacket reading "I really don’t care." For Torres, “Melania as a subject matter changed,” he explains. “So if I were tasked to do a skit, it wouldn’t be a princess trapped in a castle.”     

Three seasons in, he doesn’t need to rely on recurring sketches. Instead, Torres has established himself as a go-to writer for unexpectedly, laugh-out-loud viral sketches, from Ryan Gosling as a mad man disturbed by the Avatar franchise’s font choice (“Papyrus”) to the most recent season, when Sandra Oh romanticized about writing checks (“Cheques”) and Emma Stone played a struggling actor trying to find her character as a straight woman appearing in a gay porn in “The Actress.” 

Perhaps what connects these seemingly random ideas are Torres’ love for the collaborative process and hosts who come in with a familiarity with his work. “Papyrus” was developed from one of Torres’ tweets that Gosling liked, while Kumail Nanjiani came in wanting specifically to work with Torres. “It’s been such a dream. I love tailor-making a role. I think the most successful sketches, a role has been a collaborative process and made with an actor,” he says, adding that when it came to Gosling, “we collaborated in such a fun way with ‘Papyrus’ and he just played that so beautifully. That sketch is so much in his acting [wheelhouse].”

When it came to the “The Actress,” Torres said the concept “about how weird and funny that trope is” had been floating around until he learned Stone was appearing that week. “It was like, ‘This idea is funny.’ But also, ‘What actor is coming?’ And then it’s like, ‘Oh, this suddenly [works],’” he recalls of bringing it to the The Favourite star.

That collaborative process is also what led to Los Espookys, a sleeper hit comedy series on HBO about a group of friends who turn their love of horror into a business of scaring people. It was co-created by Torres, Ana Fabrega and SNL alum Fred Armisen, who invited the two comedians “to create this world from an idea he had,” Torres says. The series, which debuted to critical acclaim and a 100 percent ranking on Rotten Tomatoes, recently finished airing its first six episodes and has already been renewed for a second season.

The series is followed by the new HBO special My Favorite Shapes by Julio Torres, which sees -- or rather, hears -- the comedian reunite with Miranda, Gosling and Stone, all of whom lend their voices to inanimate objects. The show itself is a humorous presentation, in which Torres explains his fascination with certain objects while the three actors narrate inner dialogues of three specific items, a cactus (Miranda), a heel-shaped shoe rack (Stone) and a blue toy penguin (Gosling). 

The idea for the narrations came from Dave McCary, a segment director on SNL who has worked on a number of Torres’ most popular sketches and helms the HBO special. He suggested they “have a few select moments in the special where we bring in voices,” Torres says. 

And when it came to the penguin, which is part of a vintage race toy that sees three plastic birds on an endless loop that goes from a escalator to a track at the top of a mountain and the back around again, Torres immediately knew Gosling was the only person who could play the part. “Everything changed the day I realized I was racing on a preset track,” he can be heard saying as the blue penguin is having an existential crisis.

“It just had to be him because he has the raspy melancholia, that wondering, that pained [voice],” Torres says, adding: “I’m very proud of that casting.” 

My Favorite Shapes by Julio Torres premieres Saturday, Aug. 10 at 10:30 p.m. ET on HBO.

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