Nico Santos as Mateo and Ben Feldman as Jonah in SUPERSTORE - Season 4 - "Minor Crimes" |©2019 NBCUniversal/Trae Patton

Nico Santos as Mateo and Ben Feldman as Jonah in SUPERSTORE – Season 4 – “Minor Crimes” |©2019 NBCUniversal/Trae Patton

NBC’s half-hour comedy SUPERSTORE, now in its fourth season on Thursday nights, follows the employees of the big-box retailer Cloud 9.

Nico Santos plays Mateo Fernando Aquino Liwanag, a sales associate who is gay and Filipino. SUPERSTORE’s portrayal of the character and other LGBTQ people has earned the series a GLAAD Media Award nomination for Comedy Series.

Santos, who was born in Manila, came to big-screen attention last year as Oliver T’sien in the hit romantic comedy CRAZY RICH ASIANS. He says that when he auditioned for the role of Mateo, the character was neither gay nor Filipino.

ASSIGNMENT X: When you came in to read for SUPERSTORE, did you think you weren’t going to get cast as Mateo because you were so different from what was on the page, or did you think, “I can do something with this”?

NICO SANTOS: I definitely thought there was something I could do. There was something about the material and the show that really resonated with me. I know the character was originally written as this straight, tough Latino family guy, but there was something in the text that immediately in the text that I latched onto, and that I related to right away as a queer Asian person. And so that’s what I really latched onto, was Mateo’s need to succeed, and his willingness to do that at any cost. That’s what really attracted me to the character. And so when I was reading for it, I knew that I was very different from what they had envisioned, but at no point did I think that it couldn’t go that direction.

Nico Santos as Mateo in SUPERSTORE - Season 4 |©2019 NBCUniversal/Justine Lubin

Nico Santos as Mateo in SUPERSTORE – Season 4 |©2019 NBCUniversal/Justine Lubin

AX: Besides the positive reaction from the LGBTQ community to Mateo, have you gotten a reaction from any undocumented immigrants to Mateo’s undocumented status?

SANTOS: Yeah. It’s been tremendous, actually. I never thought in a million years I’d be involved in a project that sort of celebrated the fullness of my identity of being queer and Asian. And certainly, being Filipino, I know a lot of members of my community [in the U.S.] who are undocumented. That’s so relevant right now. I’ve gotten so many messages from everybody. People stop me wherever I go who are just really appreciative of the fact that we’ve tackled the issue, because they themselves are undocumented, or a family member or a loved one is undocumented, and that we’ve been able to bring a closer look and portray undocumented characters with dignity and respect, which is an opportunity that we are very thankful to do in the show. Mateo is an everyday American. That’s what I love about Mateo’s character so much. That’s why I came to this country. I moved to this country when I was sixteen in search of a better life, and the fact that all of this is happening is so surreal. But yeah, there are millions of undocumented immigrants in the country right now, and they are all contributing members of society, not like these criminals and murderers the President makes them out to be.

AX: You performed at the Bridgetown Comedy Festival in Oregon. Have you been back to Oregon recently?

SANTOS: The last time I was in Oregon was for Bridgetown. I would love to go back. I would love to go back to Portland just to see friends and family. I still have friends in Ashland as well, which is where I went to college, and I worked at the festival for a few seasons. But yeah, I would love to go back. It’s been a while since I’ve been back to Oregon, and I miss it.

AX: Have you ever had a weird experience in real life at a big-box store?

SANTOS: It’s always hard going to big-box stores now, because people watch the show, and so inevitably – Lauren [Ash, who plays Mateo’s coworker Dina Fox] we’ll go to Target sometimes and people are like, “Are you guys doing research? What’s going on here?” I just want to buy my toilet paper in peace.

AX: Do you like the scenes where the entire SUPERSTORE cast is together?

SANTOS: I love it. The break room scenes are the best.

AX: What can you tell us about a CRAZY RICH ASIANS sequel?

SANTOS: All I know is that it’s being written. They’re writing it right now, but the director [Jon M. Chu] is very busy, he’s directing IN THE HEIGHTS, so who knows when we’re going to be able to shoot the second movie? But we are all eager to go back. Just like with the SUPERSTORE cast, the CRAZY RICH ASIANS cast, we’re very close, and we would love the opportunity to go back and work together again.

This article is a combination of a one-on-one interview with Nico Santos and his comments during a Q&A session for SUPERSTORE during NBC’s portion of the Winter 2019 Television Critics Association press tour.

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Article: Interview with Nico Santos on season 4 of SUPERSTORE


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