Is Fantasmas Based on Julio Torres’ Real Life?

Image Credit: Monica Lek/HBO

In HBO’s ‘Fantasmas,’ writer-director-actor Julio Torres paints a psychedelic world that walks the fine line between familiar and alien. Set in an alternate version of New York City, the story focuses on Torres’s alternate version and his quest to find his missing oyster earring. While this serves as the running thread of the show, the story expands with several characters, each presenting a different facet of life through a kaleidoscopic lens that could have been presented only by someone of Torres’ keen sensibilities. Interestingly, the conception of the story lies in a real incident that happened to Torres and eventually laid the foundation for what would turn out to be one of the weirdest shows on TV right now.

Fantasmas’ Fictional Premise Came Out of a Real-Life Incident

Image Credit: Atsushi Nishijima/HBO

In ‘Fantasmas,’ Julio Torres presents a fictional version of himself, but the incident that sparks the plot in the first episode is real. After buying an eye-catching earring and receiving a lot of praise for it, Julio ends up losing it at a party. The same thing happened to Torres a few years ago at a New Year’s Eve party. The multi-hyphenated artist revealed that he had bought a beautiful oyster earring but lost it the same night while partying in a club. It was the year 2020, and after the countdown to the following year, Torres realized that his earring was gone. He spent the night looking for it but couldn’t find it. By the time he came home, he had decided to make something good out of losing his favorite earring, and that’s when the idea of making a show about it came to him.

Like in any writing, an author ends up bringing parts of their personality into the story, and the same happened with Torres while writing ‘Fantasmas.’ He has always had a fascination with objects being used as representations or symbols of a person’s psyche. While working on the show, he was diagnosed with OCD, and working on it helped him realize how much the objects in our lives serve as distractions for us. He saw the earring as a “symbol” or a “stand-in for the thing” but not as a real thing or a solution to any problem. Apart from Julio’s character in the show, Torres gave other characters their own things to be obsessed about and reveal their nature.

Torres also added the “proof of existence” demanded of Julio at every turn in the show. It represented something like a credit card or the O-1 Visa, which is given to “aliens of extraordinary ability.” The phrase attached to the latter makes it even more relevant in the context of the show, which appears entirely otherworldly even though it remains eerily familiar to the audience.

Image Credit: Atsushi Nishijima/HBO

Apart from following Julio’s story, the show also gives space for the stories around him, told in vignettes. For Torres, this was the format that the story had always been in his mind. From his days on ‘Saturday Night Live,’ he had honed his craft of telling short stories that, despite (or because of) their limits, were more impactful. Calling himself “the master of ceremonies,” the actor revealed that he was also specific about the half-built sets with nothing in the background. While telling the story of a person, the spotlight would fall on them, illuminating only what was around them and in their immediate vicinity, while the rest of the world fades as if it doesn’t exist.

But this spotlight also brings a sense of loneliness to the character. For Torres, no other place would better present the experience of loneliness than New York City, where, according to Torres, “people can only see as far as their experience.” With the vignettes shifting from one character to another, the spotlight falling on that certain character would momentarily remove the narratives of other characters. Torres wanted to enhance this in the visuals of the show, which led to the creation of unique sets for the show. Things like these make ‘Fantasmas’ an entirely personal show for Torres, told from his unique point of view and harboring several elements of his real personality, even though the story and the protagonist remain fictional.

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