By Aida Toro
When I found out I was going to interview Gabriel Gutierrez, I was super stoked for the simple fact that he stars in one of my all-time favorite shows, Sweetbitter since Season 1. Sweetbitter is an American drama television series based on the novel by Stephanie Danler. Throughout the show, viewers get to follow Tess (played by Ella Purnell), who shortly after arriving in New York City, lands a job at a prominent downtown restaurant and is introduced to the world of drugs, drinking, love, lust, dive bars and fine dining where she learns to navigate the complex, alluring, yet punishing life she has come across. Before the Sweetbitter hype, Guttierez began acting at the age of 13 in Mexico City by chance for an acted out poetry series, since he was actually working as the assistant to a stage director.
“I was actually assisting as an assistant director when I was in Junior high and one of the actors had a family emergency that day and he couldn’t go on stage,” he said. “They threw me into the fire and I had to memorize everything really quickly, jumped on stage, and did it.”
Ever since this experience as a teenager, Gutierrez was bitten by the bug and decided to pursue acting as a career. He was born and raised in Mexico City and moved into the states when he turned 18 to attend the University of Southern California’s (USC) School of Dramatic Arts where he majored in Theatre and minored in Communications. Before landing the Sweetbitter gig, Gutierrez starred in Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series (2014), Blue Bloods (2010) and Mexican Werewolf in Texas.
Gutierrez mentioned he was coming off a time period of heavy auditioning and was lucky to have prominent Casting Director Laura Rosenthal’s casting office reach out to him to advise him that he got a part on the show.
“Her office had seen me three or four times before my audition for Sweetbitter,” said Gutierrez. “I think it was the accumulation of all those different appointments that I had with them that kind of put me on their radar and when it came to seeing who they would cast for this role, I guess they favored me and I was incredibly lucky to be available and jump on board.”
Gutierrez plays Manny in the show, who happens to be a Latin-American immigrant that is a prep cook at the restaurant. He first made his appearance as Manny in Season 1, Episode 5. In this scene, Gutierrez’s character throws a rag at Tess in an aggressive manner and calls her out for her “white privilege guilt” as well as for taking Santos, the other undocumented staff member, to the bank to cash his check.
“I was told that I was going to have a little bit of a scuffle with Ella Purnell and I didn’t know exactly what it was,” he said about the scene. “The scene was great, she let me hit her with that wet rag for about 17 times because I didn’t always get it in the right spot.”
Gutierrez found it to be a phenomenal scene because a character like the one he played got to star in such a meaty scene. Purnell’s patience with the rag being thrown at her was also a plus, he said.
Gutierrez also mentioned that he relates to Manny because he is an immigrant as well. Although he doesn’t have the experience of crossing the border or experience unfortunate situations, Gutierrez identifies with everything there is about being Mexican in the United States, such as prejudice like comments.
“They have been very mindful about flushing those things out for these characters in the series which makes this show incredibly prescient in a certain sense,” he said about Sweetbitter. “Most of the characters working in the kitchen have an unknown migratory status or are undocumented.”
The series features a bit about every character, all the way from the undocumented Latino cooks in the kitchen to the Eastern European waiter to the African American waitress. Overall, everyone has a different journey in the show, said Gutierrez.
“What’s great about the show is that it touches on all these different aspects in the restaurant industry in New York City which is like a microcosmic representation of diversity that you find here,” he said. “The restaurant in the show mirrors all of this in a balanced way because it’s not just about one culture.”
Gutierrez’s character will appear more in Season 2 of Sweetbitter which will air on Starz on July 14.
“The character grew a little bit and so did the character’s arc and storyline that the viewers are following,” he said. “The second season will come out a little more explosively.”
Overall, Gutierrez said he can’t complain about his acting journey, however, it was not all rainbows and roses at the start. When he started out as an actor in Los Angeles, Gutierrez was being pushed to playing gang banger roles due to him being Latino, which is a stigma he’s been trying to get over.
“I don’t really fit into those types of characters because my physical appearance does not match what the industry looked for in those types of characters,” he said. “Just because I have a Latino last name doesn’t mean I have to play an East L.A. cholo who sounds and looks completely different than I do.”
With this being said, Gutierrez forced himself to expand his repertoire and playing roles such as the one he played in From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series. In this role, he played a character that was not of any specific ethnicity. Roles such as this one have been easier for him to land because there are no questions asked about what he is.
Gutierrez career goals consist of doing more television shows and enjoying every single piece of it.
“In terms of storytelling, television is like no other and I definitely think that TV Writers have pushed boundaries and allowed new types of characters to come into play which is very exciting for me as an actor,” he expressed. “I’m an actor that loves to work, so really, if you put me on a stage, in front of a camera, whether it’s for a film or a television show, I’m a happy guy.”