Metro Weekly

Julio Torres: A Comic Genius with a Unique Voice

Julio Torres brings his unique comic vision to the big screen, writing, directing, and starring in the hilarious "Problemista."

Problemista: Julio Torres
Problemista: Julio Torres, Tilda Swinton

“There’s nothing calculated about the way that I operate,” Julio Torres told Metro Weekly in 2019 to discuss Los Espookys, the HBO comedy series, which the former Saturday Night Live writer created with co-stars Ana Fabrega and Fred Armisen. “I think we just do things the way that we know how and like to do them. And in my case, I feel like I don’t know how to do it any other way.”

Torres’ singular comic voice and vision — highly conceptual, sardonic yet heartfelt, and shaped by his experience as the queer Salvadoran immigrant son of an artist — registers in all he does. The humorous threads connecting his signature SNL sketches, live standup, and Los Espookys are unmistakable in his new film Problemista, Torres’ feature filmmaking debut.

“[That] sort of snuck up on everyone, I think,” Torres recalls of his path to the director’s chair. “Because it’s like, ‘Oh, he’ll write it, maybe be in it. Oh, okay, he’ll be in it. Oh, and now he wants to direct it, and Tilda’s on board, so I guess we’re doing it.'”

Tilda, of course, refers to Oscar-winner Swinton, who stars in the film alongside Torres, who plays aspiring toy designer Alejandro, the queer Salvadoran immigrant son of an artist. The film, set in New York City, satirically depicts how Alejandro and other immigrants often find themselves chewed up and spit out by the grinding inefficiency of an arcane, unfeeling system.

Problemista: Julio Torres
Problemista: Julio Torres

Desperate after losing the job that was sponsoring his work visa, Alejandro clings to one ray of hope: a gig as an assistant to unfathomably combative art world pariah Elizabeth, embodied by Swinton in a tour de force of entitled obnoxiousness.

Swinton got her hands on the script, “through just the machinations of Hollywood, that I don’t understand how they work still,” says Torres, demurring somewhat on the particulars of landing a cinema icon for his first film as a director.

“Her agent got ahold of the script, and she was familiar with my work, and really was immediately so interested in collaborating. Then, once we found the accent, and we started talking about the character, it was like, ‘Okay, we’re swimming now.'”

Swooping into Manhattan restaurants and galleries, with her shock of magenta hair, and attitude always dialed up to 11, Elizabeth is the Problemista. Single-mindedly dedicated to preserving the legacy of her cryogenically frozen artist husband Bobby (RZA), she doesn’t give a shit about anyone else’s feelings.

Ever ready to rage and shout a victim into silence, before demanding them to “Stop screaming at me,” Elizabeth is ridiculously unpleasant, yet Swinton makes her an unending pleasure to behold. The film’s colorful design, with eye-catching costumes by Catherine George, enhances the view.

“We knew that at one point she was embodying this idea of a dragon, a hydra,” says Torres, painting the picture. “So it was a lot of pleats, a lot of very scaly wardrobe, dark maroons and spiky textures. It was just so fun to be, ‘Okay, what if a dragon were an art lady?'”

Conversely, what if an art lady were a guardian angel? In endearing contrast to Elizabeth, Alejandro’s artist mom Dolores, portrayed by Rotting in the Sun scene-stealer Catalina Saavedra, cares deeply about her son being free to thrive and create. The unconditional love she instilled might be what makes working for Elizabeth tolerable for Alejandro.

Torres recalls first seeing Saavedra years ago in The Maid, Sebastián Silva’s dark 2009 comedy about a family housekeeper fighting to maintain her status in the household. Like many who saw the film, he was blown away. “I just love that movie so much,” he says, lighting up.

“I watched it when I was still living in El Salvador, and it just moved me so, so much. Then years later — many, many, many years later — I came to befriend Sebastián Silva. And, he directed the second season of Los Espookys. Through him, we got Catalina to have a one-episode part.”

Silva also directed the Chilean actress in Rotting in the Sun, one of 2023’s best queer features. Saavedra, again portraying a secretive housekeeper, “absolutely ran away with that movie,” enthuses Torres of her performance. “It’s her movie.”

So when he was casting Problemista, he thought of her. “I needed someone who would be able to be a mother, but not be too soft, to not play the trope of, ‘Aw, poor mom,'” he explains.

“But [Saavedra] carries so much strength in her face — I love her jaw, and the shape of her face…. Even just within a couple of scenes, you can tell, ‘Oh, this is a strong woman. You don’t want to cross her. So he was also raised by a strong, fearsome lady.’ And yeah, I’m just dying to work with her again.”

Problemista is playing in theaters nationwide. Visit

Los Espookys: Seasons 1 and 2 are available for streaming on Max. Visit

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