Miami, Florida, is known for its extraordinary nightlife. The sexy come to ready to mingle, and it just escalates from there. In “South Beach,” however, the sexy not only mingle, but begin to play dirty! The HULU series, which was created by Brian Hurwitz, sets the story of two rival record companies going head-to-head, and blossoming Latina starlet Carmen Suarez (Ana Villafane) enjoying her time in the spotlight! However, other stories come into the mix, including one with Isaac Santiago (Jordi Vilasuso), a crime boss who goes to great lengths to get what he wants.
Recently, we caught up with both Hurwitz and Vilasuso to chat about the series, including how Vilasuso came into the role, how long the project has been in the works, and possible hope for a season two! Check out the interview below:
Na’Vell J. Lee: I’m so excited to talk with both you. Jordi, we have had the pleasure of speaking before, and Brian, great to meet you to talk about “South Beach.” I watched all six episodes in one sitting, and it was a great ride. Ana Villafane, my gosh, was amazing as Carmen on the show. She was definitely the standout character and actress on the show. I loved her.
Brian Hurwitz: She’s great, and is an equally loving person.
NJL: Casting Ana on this show, how did you guys go about finding her?
BH: She was actually represented by Dolphin Entertainment. She was one of the jewels in their crown, and we actually tailored the role FOR her. We were impressed so much by not just her acting, but also her singing. That was one of the easier parts to cast because it was so obviously her. I can say the same for Jordi as Isaac. As soon as we saw him, it was a no-brainer. He was the living embodiment of what I imagined for the character. I couldn’t ask for any more from either.
NJL: Jordi, how did this come into play for you with the character of Isaac? As I mentioned, it brought back some memories of Tony Santos a little bit. However, Isaac was a bit more verbose with his actions than Tony ever was.
Jordi Vilasuso: A little bit, you think? It’s funny, I don’t think I killed anyone, really,in my other soap roles, but that’s not to say I didn’t get my hands dirty. I actually was made aware of this a couple of years ago. I knew the head of casting at Dolphin, and was in a meeting in Miami with my wife and newborn. They said, “There’s a show coming down. You interested?” I said, “Sure. Let me know when it happens.” I sent them my tape, and from the minute I read the script, I KNEW I had to play this part. From that first scene, I was so intrigued. There’s not a lot of opportunities to do something like this on-screen. I found this really compelling. I really wanted to do it, and they wanted me to do it. It organically worked out. It’s a really fun and entertaining ride. Credit to Brian for what he was able to do on the page. You are just waiting for that next season, and what is going to happen to these characters in South Beach. That’s something for me where you have a show that is worth watching, and you’re salivating for that next part of the series with their story.
NJL: For those that have not watched this yet, I will say that the season finale ties in everything that you can’t wait for the next season to begin. I was on the edge of my seat, and when it was over, I said, “That’s it? I’m done?”
JV: Exactly. There you go!
NJL: Brian, how long has this project been in the works?
BH: It’s been a few years. This has been in incubation for a little while. Everything was pretty much in place in terms of character development and scripts for maybe three years. Bill O’Dowd (Executive Producer), Emerson Davis (Creative Producer), and myself were working on it for almost five years in terms of getting everything down straight. There are 21 characters that in some way, shape or form play into everybody’s lives. Storylines will only get more interwoven, so we had to take as much time as we needed to make absolutely certain we knew exactly where we were going. Easy way to say it is that it took about two and a half years writing, but it has been in incubation about five years.
NJL: One of the biggest draws that I loved about this show is that it was filmed in South Beach. Most shows that say it takes place in particular area, it actually was filmed somewhere else. Loved how this was filmed in Florida.
BH: It sets the entire tone. You see a lot of productions that say that it takes place in Los Angeles, but shoot in Vancouver, or it takes place in New York and they shoot in Toronto. It made a huge difference to not only the actors, but also those behind the camera, to see those sets and the sights. It has the South Beach feel to it. It really made a big difference.
NJL: What was it like being there, Jordi, and filming there?
JV: I loved shooting in my hometown. I’m a big fan of Miami. For me, this character was like…I kind of knew guys not of Isaac’s severity, but you meet people who hang out in those circles…well, at least I did…that perhaps Isaac was a part of. It was a slam dunk for me, at least. I would love to live on the east coast, particularly in New York or Miami. My family lives in Miami as well. As a setting, Miami has so much to offer from the beach, the nightlife, and the multicultural parts of it. There’s just so much going on. If you’re there, you can experience it so much more. Being able to film a scene in Calle Ocho was just…we were stationed right there before we went to the actual set where we did the confrontation. Brian, who does Isaac confront at the end of the show? I am drawing a blank…
BH: Oh, it was one of the Cordero brothers.
JV: That’s who it was! That scene took place in Calle Ocho, and that was not a built up sound stage. That was a real cigar lounge. From the minute we went in for rehearsals, there was smoke still inside. They were still dressing it, and characters walking in and out. It gave you that taste of, “This is really going down.” It didn’t feel that fabricated. If I walk into a soap set, the coloring is all there and they do such a good job of it. However, it’s not that authentic. When I am in a place I spent so much time in like Calle Ocho, I just think it is so cool! You can tell by my enthusiasm that I think projects that take place in Miami should be shot in Miami. However, it’s a hard thing to do with the current state of affairs with television and production. The bottom line is the dollar. How do you make it work? To Bill O’Dowd’s credit, he really wanted to shoot in Miami, and he did. So, I give him mad props for that.
BH: It looked and felt different. Even the the extras in the background gave it that natural feel. It was a pleasure to shoot them there because it sort of added an extra character to the show.
NJL: It’s ironic how many other outlets have been comparing this show to “Empire” and “Nashville.” Have you guys seen the comparisons being made, and calling it the Latina version of those shows?
BH: At least 3/4 of the articles that were written did compare it to “Empire.” I guess it’s only natural as “Empire is about the music business with African-American driven music. Our show is about the music business, to a certain extent, with Latin driven music. It’s a flattering comparison. “Empire” is a phenomenal show. As a writer, I couldn’t be more honored to be compared to something like that. So, I’ll take that!
JV: (laughs) Ditto, sir! Ditto!
NJL: For somebody who has not seen “South Beach,” what would you say, Jordi, that would make them want to see this show? How would you get persuade them to get the urge to watch?
JV: There’s so many things you can pull from. I don’t want to give too much away, but there’s murder, political intrigue and corruption, a lot of sexiness, and just a lot of talent. From my point of view, there are two things that sell and that’s sex and violence. Unfortunately, those things sell, and I think this show does it in a smart way. I think the characters are written in a way that shows how interesting they are. The music is also fantastic. Listen, I haven’t watched MTV or a music video in ages. This kind of captures that stuff in a way that you’re following the music. You’re listening to it, and interested in this musician’s life. They did a music video, and part of it is shown in the show. You can watch the whole thing as an extra, I believe. Ana Villafane has a great, great voice. Ultimately, the hook at the end, and I am going to be redundant, but that will leave you wanting more. So, if you want sexiness and characters you may be interested in following, you would want to check it out. You’d have no other choice but to.
NJL: Aside from new faces in the show, we must tie in our soap roots. We have some familiar faces that appear in the show. Jacqueline MacInnes Wood (“The Bold and the Beautiful”) appears in the show. Marc Menard also has a part in the series, and some may recognize him from “All My Children” as Boyd. It was great to see them pop on my screen, and you all played it so well. Especially you, Jordi. It’s so funny how I was watching it and went, “There is no way he can escape the gangster mold!”
JV: Now, wait! Let’s not forget I DID play a doctor on “All My Children.”
NJL: Yes, I am sure that was a facade.
JV: (laughs) Yep, I’m sure! Hey, listen, that’s my bread and butter. At the end of the day, I guess I have that look. My wife is like, “You got to smile! Your face is kind of mean when you don’t.” She screamed at me going, “It’s intense!” I have an intense persona, I guess. I think I am a passionate person.
NJL: I’ve seen you smile! Kaitlyn, there is nothing intense about him! I’ll stick up for you on that front.
JV: See!? There you go. Thank you!
NJL: When you do play the parts you play, you ARE intense. Mind you, that’s not a bad thing. Remember, I grew up watching you as Tony Santos on “Guiding Light,” so I was all about that life.
JV: What a great thing, and what a great character that was. People still talk about “Guiding Light” to this day. It was such a great character and experience. I loved Tony. He was so much fun to play. As you get older, when you get these opportunities like “South Beach,” you jump on them. It works out. The writing is really there. I was very excited! Isaac has his own story outside of everybody. What’s been told to me is that Isaac will interact with the other stories. At the end of the day, these worlds are not just black and white. Everybody is getting their hands dirty in this piece. As human beings, it’s not just, “He’s such a straight-shooter.” There’s no straight-shooter in this piece. I think that exposing those things in our human behavior is a lot of fun to play. I’m looking forward to that hopefully, and WHEN, the new season comes.
NJL: After watching the first season, I sat here and wondered, “How much further can you go?” There seems to definitely be more story to tell, and it’s just going to get even more intense.
BH: There’s a ton more story to tell. We haven’t even scratched the surface. I absolutely guarantee that Isaac will be interacting with the other storylines. Otherwise, that wouldn’t be any fun. We created it so that all of the worlds would be mixed in with each other. The music world absolutely bleeds into the crime world. The crime world bleeds into the police world. It’s all related. Hopefully, we get to do another five or six seasons and explain it to everybody as it was planned.
NJL: I can’t wait to see where exactly you can go and take this. I am crossing my fingers that the show does indeed come back for a second season, because it deserves it. This is one of those shows that needs to be seen. I’m all for it.
BH: I can tell you we just finished the outline for the second season, and in the midst of writing. So, we’re very optimistic. We are looking forward to telling the rest of the story.
JV: Beautiful! I love it. There we go!
NJL: That’s one of the beautiful things about HULU, and even Netflix, is that you can do more with story that you can’t find on network television. I don’t think it has been this explosive on cable television since “The Sopranos” ended. I think it’s needed, and you guys are bringing it.
JV: Very cool, Na’Vell. We appreciate that.
BH: Absolutely. We love hearing that. Thanks!
NJL: Of course. Keep us posted, and we’re very proud of you, Jordi, as well.
JV: Thank you. I really appreciate that. I am grateful for the work, and for staying busy. I have a movie that just came out on Netflix called, “Circle,” and another one coming in March. There’s plenty to talk about soon, and hopefully “South Beach,” Season Two, will be a part of that.
NJL: Definitely, and Brian, I would love it if you came back when we learn more.
BH: Of course. I’d be honored.
Follow Jordi Vilasuso on Twitter at: @JordiVilasuso.
To watch “South Beach” on Hulu, visit http://www.hulu.com/south-beach