This Wednesday, April 1, the MTV networks debut Pedro, a biopic about Pedro Zamora, the openly gay, openly HIV-positive Miamian who rocked the world in 1994 on the landmark third season of The Real World before he died of AIDS complications, at 22, later that year. Handsome, charismatic and just a touch diva-fied despite his self-described "butchness," Zamora humanized being a gay, HIV-positive immigrant (he'd come as a child from Miami to Cuba on the 1980 Mariel boat lift) with a jolt that shot all the way up to President Bill Clinton, who called him shortly before his death to thank him for helping to destigmatize AIDS. (In a very special meta-moment, a recent Real World episode had its Brooklyn-based cast -- whose gay Latino J.D. and transgender Katelynn have brought back some of the meaty issue-y-ness of TRW's early, best years -- sat down to weepily watch a screening of Pedro.)
We checked in with fellow Miami-bred Cuban-American Alex Loynas, 27, who plays Zamora (It's his first feature film!) in the biopic, which has a screenplay written by Dustin Lance Black before he nabbed an Oscar for his Milk script.
OutSo you were only 12 when the Real World season with Pedro aired. Do you have any memories of it?
Alex Loynas: I remember watching it because it was a big deal in Miami and Pedro was on the news all the time. It was kind of hard to understand at that ageof course you knew that HIV and AIDS were out there. But it was amazing to see this guy that was so young and strong and brave fighting for what he believed in.
Did you know anyone gay growing up?
Um -- let me think -- no, not really.
I'm trying to think. Of course, I probably did.
So the scene where you and DaJuan Johnson, who plays Pedro's boyfriend Sean Sasser, first make out is very hot and very moving. Have you ever had to do a hot stage or screen kiss before?
No, I haven't. I really didn't think about it much. It was just, Okay, I just gotta do this. When I'm working, I'm working. I take it very seriously and just get lost in the moment. DaJuan and I felt really comfortable with each other.
So you watched the whole season with Pedro for research. What did you make of this guy and what about him did you want to get across?
One of the most fascinating things about him, and one of the biggest challenges for me, was that he never wanted any pity. He opted for activism instead of depression. I couldn't have made a decision like that at 17, like he did. I felt like it was very honest and real and I wanted to make sure that that came across.
If you'd had five minutes to talk to him, what would you have said or asked?
I would've asked for his blessing. And I'd ask him what he wanted people to get from seeing the film. And I'd ask him, if he could have changed something, what would it have been? Not saying that he had regrets, but what would he have done differently, as far as the decision to be on The Real World.
It's also very intense how the film intercuts him as a teenager sitting in classes hearing prejudiced lectures about gays getting AIDS with scenes of his furtive hook-ups. What do you think compelled him to put himself at risk when he knew AIDS was out there?
He was human. And when you're young, it's like, you hear it but you don't pay attention. You feel invincible. And I think Pedro knew he was a good-looking guy and he kind of liked it. He was a confident guy. It's unfortunate I guess that hooking up with different people had to lead to what it did, but he really was a person who liked to have fun and enjoy life. And there's nothing wrong with that. We all have our needs, some more than others.
You are really amazing in the later scenes where Pedro is really sick and can't talk and can only communicate with his eyes. And the scene where you have a seizure in the hospital is wrenching. Did you talk to a medical expert about what having a seizure is like?
No, I was actually kind of nervous because I didn't speak to anyone before. I've never had one myself, so I just went and ran with it. I did do some searches online about having a seizure. There was a doctor on set usually to make sure that everything was accurate, but not that day.
Justina Machado, whom most people know as Vanessa Diaz from HBO's Six Feet Under, is amazing in this movie as Pedro's sister, Mily, the closest person in his life. What was it like working with her, because you two have some very intense scenes together.
She's just awesome. She takes her job seriously but she knows how to have fun, too. We hit it off at the [first] table reading [of the screenplay]. People cried at that reading, but not me. Pedro wouldn't have cried. His sister, the real Mily, told me that he asked her to go casket shopping with him. That's the kind of person he was. But Justina and I had a brother and sister relationship, so I felt comfortable and safe working with her. We didn't even talk much about it; it was just one of those things that worked out beautifully without having to push it.
You're very good-looking but then, when we see the real Pedro at the end of the film, you're reminded, Oh, he was really good-looking, albeit different-looking from you. Do you think Pedro would think you were good-looking enough to play him?
I don't know. [laughs] I hope so! He'd probably make a joke about it and say he wanted Brad Pitt or somebody playing his part. [pauses] That's a tough question. I mean, come on, you're killing me here.