There’s a reason everyone loves Pose’s Lil Papi. Played with grace by Angel Bismark Curiel, he’s sweet and emotional. He loves his partner Angel (played by Indya Moore) with a level of tenderness not typically displayed on television toward trans women of color. Perhaps the most fervent example of his adoration—and Bismark Curiel’s growth as an actor—is shown in Sunday’s episode when the pair get married. We won’t spoil it, but make sure to have tissues close by.
On paper, Pose is a show about the impact of the AIDS epidemic on the LGBTQ+ community in the ‘80s and ‘90s. If we’re going off of outward appearances, it’s about the ballroom scene and the glamour that permeates within it. At the core, though, it’s about love, joy, and chosen family. It’s the latter Bismark Curiel is going to miss the most about the show. "I'm going to miss the dynamic of showing up on set and seeing my cast members… and cast member doesn't even feel like the right way of describing them. They developed into this community with this sense of family," he says. “I'm going to miss that. I get to spend 15 hours with them and shoot the shit and talk about dumb stuff, but then also share really beautiful, vulnerable moments with them on camera as well as off."
Ahead, we chat more with Bismark Curiel about his time in quarantine, the strength and softness of Lil Papi, and what he's looking forward to doing next.
Are you in L.A. right now?
I'm in L.A. right now, gearing up to go back to New York in like a week. So a lot of back and forth.
Are you going to New York for work or fun?
A little bit for fun. The last few times I've been in New York for a long span have been for work, and I realized, every time the weekend came around, and I wasn't working, I was always doing walks at the park or going to a museum or enjoying some of that beautiful culture New York has. I realized it's not fair to myself to just be there for work and then come back to L.A.
New York has always felt like home for me. If you're asking me to choose between L.A. and New York, it's always going to be New York.
The city is more open now with the mask mandate loosening.
Yeah, New York got hit hard, and they got hit first, so it makes sense they're bouncing back. People elsewhere are still trying to figure it out.
That is a whole other conversation.
Yeah, don’t even get me started. I was raised in Florida for some time in Liberty City, and my family’s still there, and I’m just like y’all are whylin'.
I know this is a vague question, but how has this past year been for you? How has the beginning of 2021 been for you?
It's just a blur. I feel like it went too quickly. At the very beginning of 2020, I think we were in L.A. at that point, [we were] getting ready for this wave that was just hitting. It was really hard because I was at home for six months looking for work pre-pandemic, and then finally got the gift of being back on a set—and be creative and feel fulfilled in that way and find stability in that. Then not too long after, COVID starts happening.
Those first couple of months were hard. I always tell all of my cast members and crew I feel like my best self when I'm on a set. I think a large part of it is because I feel sane when I have something creative to focus on. But those six months forced me to dig deep and be like: "Okay, work is great, bro. But what, what about everything outside of work? Are you taking care of yourself in that aspect? There's a reason why you feel good on the set, and that's because things start to piece together for you."
I really have to take care of myself, so I can show up to set, be healthy and do all these things that are required of me both physically and emotionally. [I had to realize] my mental health, physical wellbeing, and spiritual wellbeing are just as important when I'm not working on a character.
That was a big lesson that I needed to learn. And so, in a sense, I was very grateful to have the six months off that we had. I was able to say, "Not everything revolves around work. Your worth doesn't rely solely on your occupation. There's a value that you can find outside of that, too." A big part of that was slowing down and being present—and not worrying about email, or an audition, or what my lines are. There’s peace and joy in indulging in whatever moment you're in.
Have you leaned into anything specific in terms of self-care?
There's one particular third-eye guided meditation I love to do in the mornings. If I forget, I think the whole world is collapsing. I started doing yoga three times a week recently, and I realized my body is really happy doing that. Particularly, my back and my spine are really happy. My favorite thing to do in the morning right now is to wake up, sit down on the couch, and have a nice cup of coffee and not be quick to pick up my phone or open my laptop.
I love washing my face in the morning after I have my coffee. It's therapeutic to wake up and put a nice splash of cold water on my face, then some warm water, and scrub my face. Then I’ll wash that off, get a nice towel, dry my face, and put Tend Skin's Liquid Tend Skin Care Solution ($18) on. It's this liquid that helps with the ingrown hairs I get when I shave. Then, I'll apply some moisturizing toner. From there, I'll apply some vitamin C, eye cream, and a little moisturizer to start the day. After that, sometimes, if I'm feeling adventurous, I'll do a little reading.
Lately, I’ve started feeling really grateful for my food, which sounds ridiculous, but I used to live in a shelter with my mom when we first came to the States. I know what it feels like to be hungry, you know? And now I'm at such an abundant place in my life that I forget I need reminders. I have to tell myself, "Nah, man. You get to eat like a king right now. Whatever you want, you can order it. You can order Postmates, or if you want to eat at a restaurant right now, you can do that. You can enjoy things that you want to eat without feeling guilty or feeling like you can't afford that right now."
I've been there. A lot of people have been there, and there's a level of gratitude and excitement that comes before I put anything in my mouth. That feels like self-care in and of itself because then I'm not quick to scarf food down my throat.
Are you reading anything particularly exciting right now?
Well, It’s exciting for me. I'm reading a book right now by Will Esper, who is a [Sanford] Meisner teacher. Meisner is a technique of acting, and I've been drawn to it because it requires being completely vulnerable in front of your scene partner and listening—to not just the words but to the emotion that's attached to those words. It's all about listening. They question what acting is. And, for the most part, we don't know what acting is. But to me it means living truthfully under imaginary circumstances. I'm an actor playing the role of Lil Papi, and that's an imaginary circumstance, right? But the level of truthfulness attached to that comes from diving deep into my emotional well. I can only do that if I'm available to receive whatever the person in front of me is giving me.
It sounds deep. You mentioned vulnerability, and what makes people drawn to Lil Papi is his vulnerability with Angel and their relationship. Have you learned anything about yourself through playing him?
Yeah, I’ve learned a lot. I came in at 21, 22 years-old, and now I catch myself as a 25, 26-year-old young man. I feel like there's still a lot I have to learn before I can really feel comfortable calling myself a man, but a lot of my growing on this show has been trying to be the kind of man I see Papi as. He's really sweet, very open, and very willing to remain open despite difficult times.
I'm still a human being, and I catch myself being closed off when things get hard. I have my insecurities, and I shy away from emotions sometimes, too. But, one of the most refreshing things about playing Papi is it gives me this outlet to be open. I get to hide behind this character and put what I’m feeling on the line, whether it has something to do with the scene or not. Part of being an actor is committing to a certain moment. I don't have to be polite or shy away from that level of emotion. I've come to understand all those little things as best as possible and grow from that experience as much as I can.
Part of being an actor is committing to a certain moment. I don't have to be polite or shy away from that level of emotion.
The final episodes of the show are airing now. Are you watching as they air?
I do, but sometimes I'll go in and out because it's hard to watch my material. It throws me off. There's a level of closeness I have to the show because I'm on it. I give a lot of myself to the show, and I sometimes fail to recognize I'm not a robot, you know? I look at moments and beats, and I'm like, "Oh, why didn't you do this, as opposed to this?" Part of it is good because it can be a learning experience as I go on and do more projects, but it's hard. It's hard to look at myself on screen. I'm very picky and very hard on myself.
I'm going to hop around a little bit because you mentioned your skincare routine earlier, and I feel like I'd be remiss not to ask about your hair routine. Do you have one?
Funnily enough, as I've gotten a little more involved with what I like and self-care, I realized that I take great pride in keeping my hair healthy. Once a week, I use a dandruff shampoo. When I get out of the shower, I'll put some leave-in conditioner for the day, blow dry it a little bit. And then, sometimes, I'll add in a bit of pomade or something like that, if it’s going to be a snazzy day or if I have an audition and I want to look as clean as possible.
You also mentioned being on set is when you feel you're most creative. Now that you’ve finished filming Pose, where are you turning now for that creative boost?
Part of it is extending myself to my friends and community and pouring my creative point of view into them as much as they allow me. The other day, a cousin of mine was chopping up a film he was working on, and I went into producer mode. He let me watch it with him and give notes. I think that was the first time I was ever given room to do that, and I remember feeling so creatively fulfilled. It was, for me, just as exciting to be looking at this film and saying, ‘Hey, do you have this shot? Or what if we cut around that so that we can protect the actor? Or what about a different sense of music style?’ I felt just as creative doing that as I did when I picked up a script and worked on a character.
Another thing I love to do as of late is picking out my clothes. I realized it’s just another form of creatively expressing myself when I get to see what colors are popping for me that day or what silhouettes I want to wear. If I’m wearing sweats, how do I want to piece it together so it looks nice? What kind of shoes do I want to wear? And even that is a privilege.
Then there's my writing, well, rather, it's personal journaling. I do three pages in the morning or in the afternoon or whatever ends up working out. And then doing bits and pieces of a script that I've been working on for far too long.
What's next for you, either fun-wise or professionally?
Professionally I feel like I'm in such an interesting position right now. I always felt like, when you get your big break, that's it, right? You're going to get the calls and the offers and stuff like that, but I realize I'm still very much in my building phase. I'm still auditioning. I just happen to be in a different tier of auditioning. And I was having a hard time accepting that. But, I realize I just need to pump the brakes and enjoy the process of where I'm at right now, so whenever my goals are met, I fully understand that they came from the work that I'm doing now. I'm just another working actor, trying to find my next gig and make sure the next one is on par with the level of work that I've been given the gift of doing already.
Fun-wise, I just want to stay connected with my friends and family and do my walks in the park and go to the Whitney museums and do all that good stuff.