In the seductive gay erotic drama, “The Trace of Your Lips,” out Dec. 19 on DVD and VOD, Hugo Catalán plays Román, an actor first seen in the B-movie, “Human Trash, Beware!” as a tough cop who fights, kicks and shoots his way through a criminal lair. However, the rest of the film has the actor playing tender; he connects virtually with Aldo (Mauricio Rico), his neighbor, during a pandemic. But these two horny guys cannot meet in person and act on their pent-up desires.
Out gay writer/director Julián Hernández makes this romance sizzle with gorgeous shots of the handsome actors experiencing loneliness and longing. A sequence, where the guys kiss passionately and have sex, may be a fantasy. But the strength of the film is Catalán’s interior performance; the actor conveys so much emotion just gazing out a window.
In a recent Zoom interview, Catalán said that Hernández wrote the character for him because of how anxious the actor was during the pandemic. He is grateful for the opportunity and acknowledges, “I think this is the film I like the most of those I’ve made with him.”
Catalán’s first collaboration with Hernández was for a project that went unrealized because a producer objected to the dark-skinned actor being cast as a rich entrepreneur from Monterrey. Hernández quit the job as well, a decision that Catalán respected.
The actor discussed his working relationship with Hernández, which began in 2014 when they made “I Am Happiness on Earth” together. He praises the director for his distinct brand of queer cinema.
“I love how he uses the camera, and how he works ‘making cinema,’” Catalán said. “He has taught me about cinematography, and directing, and is a master of knowing where to place a camera.”
But he also indicates drawbacks of the director’s approach, which focuses mainly on posing his actors in various stages of undress and appreciating their beauty. “Working with Julián is not that easy. He knows cinema, but he doesn’t direct actors. I would love it if he could be more communicative with the actors and explain what he needs. He plays with us as mannequins, or puppets.”
As a result, Catalán has developed what he calls “a rebellious attitude” that works in his favor, because he performs his role as he sees the character, admitting, “I try to fill the void that Julián is not telling me.” He added, “I try to improvise a little in the space that Julián gives me.”
In making “The Trace of Your Lips,” the actor admitted, “When I shot the beginning of the film, I tried to portray Román as a bit of an asshole. I did it on purpose, perhaps unconsciously. I did it to magnify the way Julián thinks about me as Hugo. Since I don’t know what he wants as an actor, it allows me to be freer.”
Catalán did get support from his costar, Mauricio Rico, who is more outgoing than the observant Catalán, a homebody, who likes spending time with his dogs, cooking and watching movies.
Fun Facts: Rico starred in “Pusilánime,” a short Catalán wrote and directed, and Rico, a dancer, helped Catalán learn to “move his hips” when the actor had to dance for his role in the series “The Key Game” (“El Juego de las Llaves”).
The confidence that Catalán has developed over his career is part of why he is so appealing on screen. “It wasn’t easy at first, and now that I understand more about filmmaking, I feel empowered.”
Frequently cast as a sex symbol, the actor claims he “loves being naked in front of the camera,” and “The Trace of Your Lips” offers copious amounts of sex and nudity, a Hernández trademark. But Catalán wants to explore other parts — and would love to play a role like the cop in “Human Trash, Beware!” Given his charisma, his attitude, and his swagger, Catalán would also make a great villain.
The actor becomes effusive at the suggestion, “I’m very badass! I grew up watching Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris. I do kickboxing and drive dirt bikes, and rappel and climb and drive fast and jump…” but then he laments, “In Mexico, we don’t make that many action movies. I would like to work in the United States. I have an agent, but nothing has happened yet.”
While he waits for that break, Catalán will next work in a TV soap opera, which will help increase his visibility. It prompts the actor to reflect on his career and the industry. “I have suffered a lot of racism in the beginning, and maybe now things are changing. I can access projects and characters denied to me years ago. That made me a better performer. I know the actor I am, and the work I can do. I was idealistic, but now I’m more realistic. I’m going to do indie films every chance I get because I love them. But I also need to produce more. I can do anything. I feel I am at the right moment in my life.”