It’s been quite a year for 26-year-old actor Rafael Silva.
After completing a series of auditions for different projects last summer, Silva – a young Brazilian-American actor based out of New York City – received an unexpected callback to do a screen test in Los Angeles for 9-1-1: Lone Star, a spin-off of 9-1-1.
"I was so self-conscious in the audition because I was like, 'This feels like a conversation. I need to act – I need to do something.' So when I left the room, I packed my bags and I went to the bathroom and I started crying immediately. I felt like I did nothing in the audition."
The next day he officially secured his first series regular role as Carlos Reyes on 9-1-1: Lone Star.
It had been quite a journey to get to that point for Silva. Born in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, Brazil, he immigrated with his family to the United States when he was 13 years old. As a "naturally shy and introverted" child, Silva feels that the hyper-masculine culture he grew up in made him even more reluctant to speak up, which was amplified when he moved to a new country with little knowledge of the English language.
"Coming from a very machismo country, what is praised when you’re a child is that the man is supposed to provide. The man that is more quiet and goes through life without complaining is the man to be praised and the ideal to what you should be," he explained.
"As a kid going through all of this, being closeted completely and nowhere near accepting the fact that I was gay, I was just going through all of this quietly thinking that I was actually being the ideal man, the ideal Rafael."
When Silva discovered he had been cast in 9-1-1: Lone Star, he quickly threw himself into preparing for his portrayal of Carlos Reyes – a gay, Latino police officer from Austin, Texas.
In addition to researching the histories of Texas, Tejanos and Mexican Americans, he read the official manual of the Austin Police Department and watched hours of video on how to become a police officer.
In preparation for the action part of his role, Silva trained with retired LAPD Detective Chic Daniel, who taught him the basics of managing a gun and "provided that final presence of a cop" that the 26-year-old has tried to emulate on the small screen.
In their 10-episode debut season, 9-1-1: Lone Star averaged a 1.2 rating and 6.31 million live viewers in the United States, making it FOX’s highest-rated new series of the 2019-20 season. All of Carlos’ personal storylines revolved around his best friend Michelle Blake's (Liv Tyler) desperate search for her missing sister and his blossoming romance with TK (Ronen Rubinstein), the son of fire captain Owen Strand (Rob Lowe).
From the show’s inception, fans have gravitated towards the promising nature of TK and Carlos’ relationship (which has affectionately become known as Tarlos), taking both Silva and Rubinstein by surprise.
"I didn’t really pay attention to what the reaction would be. I mean, I hoped it would be positive and people would like what they saw, but this wave of Tarlos fans – like I have fans now? What? Not ever did I ever think I personally would ever have fans. It’s great and I’m extremely grateful and humbled."
While fans were expecting many more moments between TK and Carlos based on the marketing of the show, Silva still feels that "the creators and the writers did a phenomenal job of creating those small moments that really laid out a foundation for the next season."
For instance, at the end of the season finale, TK and Carlos are seen watching the Northern Lights together after a historic solar storm, hinting that they are both emotionally ready to start a relationship after coming from "completely different points of view and different worlds."
"We learned a lot about TK, [but] we have yet to learn a lot about Carlos or get to know Carlos outside of that uniform," Silva noted. "We already learned that Carlos is this guy that no matter where you are, he’s there with you. He’s there to help you out no matter what, ride or die."
"I think for season two, I want to get to know Carlos. What are his dreams and his nightmares? What is he running away from? What is he running toward? We are just learning about the human side of Carlos. I would like to see the growth between TK and Carlos as they start to learn about each other and how they cope with that individually and as a couple."
Given that both shows in the 9-1-1 universe highlight the lives of first responders, Silva is "extremely thankful" to be on a show that humanises this diverse community of emergency service workers. As someone who actively looks for diversity on television, the 26-year-old also praises the show’s attempts to normalise the representation of minorities, especially the Latinx and LGBTQ+ communities.
"I think that’s what the show depicts so beautifully," he noted. "They’re medics and firefighters and police officers, but what and who’s underneath the uniform? It’s not [just] a firefighter. It’s a Black trans male who happens to be a firefighter [played by Brian Michael Smith], it’s also a young immigrant kid that is training to be a firefighter [played by Julian Works] and it’s a really wired-tight, gay man that also happens to be a police officer. You start to demystify their title and see them as a human being."
In the months since the show first aired, Silva says that he has received numerous messages on social media from fans, including police officers, who have been able to see parts of themselves in his character.
"Even though this show is fiction mixed with reality, I’m representing a real person. I personally wasn’t aware of the importance of this character until the inevitable feedback from fans started to come in," he remarked. "Then, layer upon layer, story upon story starts to get created, and that awareness allows me to see the magnitude of what it means to portray a gay man of colour who also happens to be a cop."
With a season of working alongside the likes of Rob Lowe and Liv Tyler now under his belt, Silva says the whole collaborative process "allowed me to demystify just the entire creation of a television show because it is such a secretive process of how everything is made to the public eye." From a personal acting standpoint, he explained that the elaborate and fast-moving nature of 9-1-1 sets forced him to take the focus off himself and put it exclusively on his work, which has allowed him to surprise himself with his own growth.
"I had to shift this mentality of being prepared does not mean you come in tight, ready to get it correctly but rather to come in to play, to have fun, to learn new things, to really take risks and make mistakes because that’s where spontaneity in life comes about," he concluded.
With both 9-1-1 shows being renewed for another season, co-creator and showrunner Tim Minear has opened up about the possibility of a crossover episode next year, raising all sorts of questions about how the two casts could cross paths logistically. "There could be an internal relationship between one of the characters that forces people to meet," Silva suggested.
"But if there is anybody on the other cast, I would like Carlos to meet Athena (Angela Bassett) and I would like to see how they cop together because I think that would be a lot of fun. I think Athena would naturally be like a beautiful mentor and what I love about Athena is she’s not afraid to get messy. Carlos is very afraid to get messy, he does not want to mess anything up, and I think they would be a great duo."
As he prepares to return to work later this year, Silva has become remarkably outspoken on social media about a variety of issues involving Indigenous rights, the LGBTQ+ community and the Black Lives Matter movement. As a mixed-race immigrant, Silva says his shyness paired with the universal insecurity that all people of colour face stopped him from being naturally outspoken.
However, it wasn’t until Silva saw protests erupting across the world that he recognised the true power of using one’s own voice in a meaningful way to fight against injustice.
"Black Americans need to be in the centre of the conversation right now because we need to dismantle this normalised idea that has perpetuated since people invaded the land that is now the United States, that white people are superior – because people do believe that and that is troubling," he explained. "And it’s especially troubling when people believe that and they are put in a position of power, when they have the ability to save lives but they also have the ability to take away lives."
With the current social climate in the United States, the scrutiny of police officers is now at an all-time high, with recent protests against police brutality leading to criticism of how the entertainment world portrays law enforcement. As an actor that plays a policeman on a major show, Silva offers an extremely nuanced perspective, explaining that he approaches his portrayal of Carlos Reyes not as a cop but rather as "a [layered] person who happens to be a cop, who happens to be Texan, who happens to be gay."
"I don’t see cops as an individual. When you put on a uniform, yes, you are representing what you practice, what you believe in and what you want to accomplish as a police officer. You need to hold that intention and that uniform with integrity, and you are in no way, shape or form to act upon your own selfish desires, your own insecurities to control or to manipulate anyone. You’re there to protect, to serve and to save when people are in need," he explained.
"I think there are cops just like Carlos, who is a good person – that straight-A guy, wired tight, willing to do a super great job and be there for people – but there are also those who are prejudiced against a certain group of people, who happen to wear the uniform and have been taught to believe that they have that power."
While he will not be approaching his character any differently, Silva feels that "the truth of the current situation needs to be told," especially with the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement around the world in recent months.
"I’ve seen a lot of interviews with police chiefs saying the cop that committed that horrible act of violence does not represent us, but when it comes to the point of actually making that person face the consequences of their actions, nothing happens to them," he noted. "In the same way that we expect police officers to be held accountable in real life, that reality needs to be shown in a TV show. If that’s the story that we’re telling, then let’s tell the full story and the true story."
With all the makings of a real rising star in the television industry, Rafael Silva could prove to be quite the force to be reckoned with in the coming years. One thing, however, is for certain: He will remain more committed than ever to authentic storytelling that will give voice to those who need it most.
9-1-1: Lone Star airs on FOX in the US and Sky Witness in the UK.
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