HOLLYWOOD -- When Nico Santos was cast in the NBC sitcom “Superstore” in 2015, he had the honor of giving his character Mateo Liwanag his recognizably Filipino last name.
“He was already named Mateo and so Justin Spitzer, the creator of the show, was like, ‘Do we need to tweak the name?’ I was like, ‘We have a lot of Spanish names in our culture because of our history of colonization. But we can change the rest of his name if you’d like to something that's unmistakably Filipino.’ And so I actually chose the name,” he said.
“I chose Liwanag because I was it’s like a bright light and I just sort of figured for me in that moment, this is like a bright light for what was happening in my life and I wanted the character to reflect that.”
The “Crazy Rich Asians” actor said, as a proud gay Filipino immigrant, being able to represent on a primetime show was very special to him.
“Portraying a character that's so close to who I am is so special because growing up, if you're different in any way, if you're a minority, if you're a brown, Filipino, you're an immigrant, you're LGBT, so many times the message you hear is that ‘You're not going to succeed, there's no place for you.’”
“It's always an uphill battle that we have to fight as marginalized people. But the fact that my character’s identity in the show was not only embraced but really celebrated and the driving force of how they told stories. They easily could have just like muted his background,” he said.
One of the show’s most poignant episodes in its six seasons of airing was when his character was detained due to Mateo’s undocumented status.
On their final season, Santos said he’s also happy to get to work with fellow Fil-Am actor and Broadway star George Salazar.
“We already had that instant chemistry and connection so it was very easy to play and be fake sweet to each other,” he said.
“Superstore” is airing its one-hour series finale this Thursday on NBC.