Rafael Casal Travels In Search Of Art

Photographed by Danielle Kosann

It seems everywhere we go, people are talking about the movie Blindspotting. The 2018 Sundance opener – written by Rafael Casal and Hamilton’s Daveed Diggs – is a film that everyone should see. We sat down with one half of the dynamic duo behind the film, Rafael Casal (writer/producer/star of the film), who shared stories from the set, favorite restaurants in the Bay area, and his best advice…

From start to finish, what would be your ideal food day?

Easy – A day where everyone has something healthy to eat, and clean water to drink.

What personal grooming items can’t you live without?

In an apocalypse scenario, I’d imagine that anti-bacterial soap would be the most useful for survival, and something for dental hygiene. I’d bring a blade of some kind for hair and nail trimming, and…this isn’t what you meant, is it?

What was the most memorable thing that happened on the set of Blindspotting?

Ironically the moment I remember least – a concussion that briefly took away my memory of the last two years of my life, and put me on a one-minute loop like the film Memento (Or for the rom-com lovers, 50 First Dates). But I hear that every time I was told by Daveed that we were in the middle of making a movie, I was again overjoyed by the surprising news.

What was it like collaborating with your close friend Daveed Diggs on this project?

Imagine you won the lottery, then ran to your best friend’s house to share the news, only to find out that they too also just won the lottery. It’s like us getting a matching set of jet skis, and then finding out that those jet skis also can fly. Whichever of those two scenarios gives you more joy, go with that one as my answer.

Why do you think this film is important right now?

The same reason art always has the potential for social “importance” – when it captivates and challenges the status quo to think deeper and more fully about ourselves, we evolve. Artists are just mere merchants of empathy; here’s hoping you’re in the market.

What’s your personal definition of great content ?

The content of the content.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? The worst?

Advice only works if you know and trust the person delivering it – and no good or bad advice is as potent when it is secondhand. But here is direct advice to you, reader, from me, writer: No path I’ve walked, of any worth, had certain footsteps for me to follow. For me, life is a thinning fog, art a blind certainty, and everyone must be cartographer to the world the way they see it. I hope we help each other find our way.

One thing women should know about men, that they don’t…

I don’t dig the Heteronormative specificity of the question. And that is perhaps the best answer for it.

Most memorable meal you’ve had and why…

Growing up, my family were regulars at a spot called Burger Depot – a mom and pop burger joint, grill behind the counter, plastic chairs sort of place. I was there so much growing up that they had my picture on the wall. My pops and I would just wave to the counter as we sat down; our orders hadn’t changed in 20 years – so this meal memory spans 2 decades. The owner, Dave, hosted a birthday party or two for me there, took care of my family and friends any time we came by, and watched us grow up. Restaurants like that felt like our home away from home. They were safe and filled with love.

Then it was shut down to make room for an upscale vegan ice cream parlor.

What issue are you most passionate about right now?

This week it is the murder of Nia Wilson – the way it is being represented by the press and how it has effected my community back home.

Where do you love to travel? What won’t you travel without?

Everywhere, but Barcelona is my favorite city outside of the Bay. I have never been much good at vacationing – my trips are always about making or researching art. Every time I leave the US, I try to leave the “me” I am at that moment behind and allow myself to exist free of who I am expected to be. No one knows me there, you see, so I can vacation as another kind of person. When I come back, I add the new parts I loved to be to the person I left behind.

What are your favorite cities for food?

I’m such a Bay boy…all of my favorite food is back home in Berkeley and Oakland – Gordos Taqueria, Philly Cheesesteak Shop, Sinaloa Taco Truck, Lakeshore Cafe, Gilman St Diner (Can’t fail diner), and any Thai place, really. Those are my first stops when I go home.

If you could host a dinner party with any five people living or dead, who would be there? What would you cook?

This feels like such an aristocratic question. The truth is, I wouldn’t throw a dinner party – and I certainly wouldn’t cook. But if I could right now be in a room with any five people, it would be myself, Janina Gavankar, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Daveed Diggs and Utkarsh Ambudkar – the cast of Blindspotting. I would pour each of them a drink of their choice, raise a glass, thank them from the bottom of my heart for telling this story with me, and would cheers them in the hope that we get the chance to tell many more.

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