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How Julio Torres Created New HBO Show ‘Fantasmas’

How Julio Torres Created New HBO Show ‘Fantasmas’

When Los Espookys was cancelled in 2022, a chorus of disappointment rang out through the industry and from fans of the beloved show. It was the kind of news that threatened a certain sense of disillusionment, but unbeknownst to its fans at the time, creator Julio Torres had a lot up his sleeve. The writer, who first became known for his work on Saturday Night Live digital shorts like “Papyrus” and “The Actress,” was already hard at work on his first feature film and a new series. Problemista hit theaters this spring, and the new series became Fantasmas, which will open ATX TV Festival on May 30 before premiering on Max June 7.

The series, which Torres wrote, directed, and stars in, follows a character of the same name as he follows the trail of a lost earring. Torres spoke to The Hollywood Reporter ahead of the premiere about navigating the industry’s fickleness and the real-life events that inspired the new show.

From the outside it seems like an odd choice for HBO to cancel Los Espookys while also greenlighting another show of yours — Did you have conversations about why they moved forward with one and not the other?

It definitely felt like very separate things to me. Each show has different executives attached, and while they know what the other team is doing, one decision didn’t seem to inform the other. I actually got the idea for Fantasmas while I was attempting to write the delayed second season of Los Espookys. We had to pause production during the pandemic, and I had a week of terror and sadness and mourning what I thought life was going to look like, and then I started to write Fantasmas. It gave me something to look forward to every day.

Do you always have ideas flying around in your head? How do you know which to pursue and when?

I feel attached to all of my ideas, I love them all, but I leave it up to the industry to see which one flies first. I’ll do work wherever they’ll have me. I have lost a bit of my naïveté in terms of the commerce of art. The strikes, and Problemista coming out, gave me a window into it and I’ve started to understand how to see my own work in the context of the media landscape. I still think that it’s miraculous that any of my projects happen, because I don’t think something like Fantasmas is fulfilling any kind of corporate mandate. When executives sit down to think about, what is the ideal product, the answer will not be Fantasmas. It feels untethered from market or corporate expectation.

How did you start developing what became Fantasmas?

I missed the kind of short-form writing I did on SNL. I wanted to have what is technically a sketch show, but I was thinking what would my version of that look like? As I was thinking about that I literally lost an earring at a New Year’s Eve dance party, and realized it was an interesting through line to go in and out of different stories.

Julio Torres


I feel like I can pick out what feels like a “Julio” sketch from SNL, but did you come into your time on that show with your particular style honed?

When I started doing stand-up, at the very first open mic, I did what I thought a comedian should sound like. And then I did something similar when I started at SNL, I wrote a couple of (failed) versions of the kind of sketches that felt like SNL. I didn’t feel like I was doing it quite right, so then I thought, what if I used my own humor, like what I was doing in my standup at that point? It really worked. So I sort of carved out a little corner for myself — everyone else is doing something, and I’m over here doing something else.

How did your creative partnership with Dave McCary start to form?

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The producers at SNL have a good instinct for which director will work best with which script, and they paired Dave and I together time and time again and we became friends. A lot of what I learned about directing, I learned from watching him direct my digital shorts. So when I got the chance to do my own directing, it just made sense to have him there, as an ally on set every day.

What did you learn on Problemista that influenced how you made Fantasmas?

I brought back a lot of the same collaborators — our composer, our editor. I had a sense of cinematic momentum, and learned how to make the show feel free and instinctive but not disorienting. Or at least that’s what I aimed for. I also just learned the really technical stuff like knowing what to prioritize on set and how to best direct myself.

Is there one actor you were most psyched to cast?

Tilda [Swinton] does a little voice cameo. There was a moment where we thought she could do a full cameo, but she’s so busy and she was shooting something. We premiered Problemista together at SXSW in 2023, and we were talking about just getting a green screen and shooting something for Fantasmas in between doing press. Everyone got so excited about it and then I was like wait, what are we doing? We cannot film here, for so many reasons. But there are lots of actors in the show that I love. I’ve been a fan of Rosie Perez for forever. And I love working with Alexa Demie, we really hit it off. I think she’s brilliant. Julia Fox was such a treat. And Dominique Jackson was also someone I had never met, but had been so intrigued by her work and she was a true and total delight.

What are you most hoping for in the release of this show?

The question of how I measure success is one that I’ve been asking myself recently. I think that doing the kind of work that made me want to do what I do — if this becomes someone’s special little thing it will be a good rubric of success for me or if any Halloween costumes come out of it.

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