Blast Beat, a film about a Colombian family struggling to adapt to their new life in Atlanta in the summer of 1999, is both by and about brothers. Writer-director Esteban Arango and his co-writer Erick Castrillón drew from their experiences with their own brothers to craft the tale of Carly, a brooding and wildly gifted metalero (metalhead) who’s dead set on becoming a NASA engineer, and Mateo, a rebellious and wildly talented artist who resents his family’s decision to leave Bogotá behind to seek asylum in the U.S. Tracing their family life first in Colombia and later in Atlanta, Blast Beat sketches Carly and Mateo’s story as twinned coming-of-age tales framed by a tender immigrant drama that takes a dark turn once their father (played by Wilmer Valderrama) is suddenly deported.
For Arango and Castrillón, there was no better fit for these siblings than Moisés Arias (Hannah Montana, The Kings of Summer, Monos) and his brother Mateo Arias (Kickin’ It, Good Kids), two electrifying Colombian American actors on the rise. In Blast Beat, both bring a crackling, lived-in energy to their roles as two teenagers whose visions of the American dream quickly sour on arrival, once they’re faced with impending deportation and ignorant prejudices at school.
Ahead of the film’s debut, Vulture caught up with the Arias siblings to talk about acting in Spanish, the impact shows like Narcos have had on the U.S. entertainment industry, and bringing to life a Colombian American family that feels as close to their own as anything they’ve done before.
One of the things that’s striking about the film is how you’re both playing against type — playing versions of one another, almost.
Mateo: Let me start with this: Moisés is the older brother. So our dynamic has always been like that of twin brothers.
Moisés: Because I’m shorter.
Mateo: Because of the height difference, yeah. We’re basically twins. In the film, his name is Mateo and I play the older brother. So that automatically just creates a certain friction, because it goes against our nature. We had to flip our dynamic, and I know Esteban and Erick did that on purpose. It was so interesting figuring out the dynamic. Esteban pit us against each other in certain ways and then he’d help us befriend each other again. We went through a crazy roller coaster of emotions. At times we literally wrestled right before we would be rolling. We’d wrestle for maybe 15–20 seconds, get roughed up, and Esteban would put us right in there.
You really get a feel for the kind of brotherly chemistry you bring to Carly and Mateo. But it sounds like you were creating a bit of a distance between your own relationship and what we see onscreen even as your own dynamics helped make it feel authentic. How did you build to that?
Moisés: I mean, me and Mateo’s relationship — I hope it doesn’t show up in the film at all.
Mateo: Let me share something: The most essential thing is that we speak to each other in English. Speaking to each other in Spanish — we only do that when we want to talk shit about someone. So speaking to each other in Spanish, our psychology already knows, “Okay, something’s different here.” So, foundationally, that was the most different and difficult part of it.
Moisés: I think the idea was to separate ourselves. For me, I wanted to be as removed from myself as possible. So when Esteban was like, “Yo, can you shave your head?” I was like, “Fuck. I don’t want to, but yes, sure.”
Mateo: Oh, and you got a piercing on your eyebrow!
Moisés: Oh yeah, he pierced my eyebrows. I mean, not him, personally. But all of that completely changed the dynamic when I would talk to people in the street. It’s like, the shaved-head kid with the piercing, is he stuck in 2001? Like, what is he doing?
Between that and Carly’s love of metal music, both brothers have an almost confrontational aesthetic, but there’s a tenderness and a warmth in the film — especially in those scenes with [Orange Is the New Black’s] Diane Guerrero as your mother. How did you find that balance between the hardness and softness of these characters?
Moisés: I think the Colombian culture is very united, very warm. When we were kids, we would say, “What’s up?” to American girls, [going in for a] handshake, but coming in for the kiss and a lot of people thought that that was very funny. We slowly became Americanized. But I think that’s what comes naturally, this wanting to touch and feel. There’s a lot of people that doesn’t fly with, especially here in the States. The mix is that; it’s the clash of the American and the Colombian.
Mateo: It was really easy also because we connected with Diane so quickly, not so much as a maternal figure, because she was just like a really good friend. She ended up being like such a special person that we both vibe with very easily. She was very silly and very quickly tapped into our stupidity and our sense of humor. There was a lot of emotional chemistry there.
You mentioned the struggle of acting in Spanish. That was one of the things that really stood out to me: There’s a texture to the Colombian slang you hear throughout the film — words like parce and cucho took me right back to Bogotá. How much did that add to the feel of the film on your end?
Moisés: For years I’ve been a part of a lot of Spanish-speaking stories, but what I like about this film is that it shows the variety of Latin America. You know, I think Narcos really opened people’s eyes to what the Colombian culture is.
Mateo: It’s not the end all and be all of Colombia.
Moisés: Yeah, it’s not only that. But our friends would start talking about the show and I’m like, “You guys know that we’re Colombian, right? Like, yes, we know this story (and there’s an even better version of it called Escobar, el patrón del mal).” Narcos started the conversation, but this has nothing to do with Narcos; it’s a different drama. It’s a different conflict that a lot of people live with.
It was just nice to use the accent that we have always heard from our home, from the paternal energy in our life. Because our Spanish is de la casa, you know? It’s literally from home. I say sayings my dad said to me when I was a kid. I don’t say parce because my mom hates that fucking word. So to be able to be in a film with your brother, in your mother tongue, and in Atlanta where you’re from, where he was born — it was just a really crazy mix of elements to make this movie. It sort of hit differently than other projects that I have been a part of.
This film is being released while Colombia is making global headlines again for nationwide protests, and for violent police brutality — how timely does it feel to shine a light on a story like Blast Beat right now?
Mateo: The story touches on such an authentic … you know how we were talking about Narcos and whatever? It’s like, there’s that side of the story and then there’s something like Blast Beat, which the essence of is so pure. And it tells such a unique story that’s also very universal. And it’s told by people who have experienced that, told by people that are actually of the culture and that represent the very beautiful side of that culture as well. So I feel like it brings in different dimensions.
Moisés: It’s also timely in the fact that we need to have this conversation. We need international coverage on what’s happening in Colombia right now. We did a video a couple days ago [on this couch], and the amount of people that have reached out to my mom, to our stepdad, to people we don’t know, is truly magical. Because Colombia’s in a position right now where they’re trying to silence freedom of speech. Essentially, they want to cut out the internet and not let real videos go out into the world. So, I mean, it just shows, you know, where countries will go to keep their power. It’s not great to again be in the news with something so violent and tragic.
Mateo: But something so human, too. Like, in different ways, the States has been going through its own turmoil. So on some level there’s empathy there. It’s amazing the amount of people that after we posted our video — our friends here in America and in Europe or whatever hit us up like, “Yo, I had no idea what was going on, I’m doing research, like, this is crazy!”