The actor: Although his breakthrough came via Dave Chappelle’s 1998 stoner comedy Half Baked, Guillermo Diaz had a respectable history in independent film and television before he became one-third of that film’s stoner triumvirate. After a couple of attention-getting parts—the lead in 1995’s Stonewall, a good supporting gig in the beloved Parker Posey film Party Girl—Diaz landed a slew of film and TV roles, including one of Walter Matthau’s final films (I’m Not Rappaport) and cameos on The Sopranos, Law & Order, and Third Watch. These days, Diaz is best known as Mary-Louise Parker’s frenemy dealer colleague Guillermo on Weeds and nurse Angel Garcia on the NBC medical drama Mercy. This week, he appears in the new Kevin Smith film Cop Out as Poh Boy, a ruthless drug dealer (and baseball fan).
Cop Out (2010)—“Poh Boy”
Guillermo Diaz: It was just another audition like any other. I was in the middle of doing Mercy, and I got this audition. I remember actually being kind of frustrated, like, “Oh my God, I can’t,” because I was so busy doing the show, and I don’t like to audition while I’m working. I remember putting up a big stink. I went in and I read for Kevin Smith, and I was like, “Aw, I’m not gonna get this.” He called and said he wanted me for it, so it was great. It was actually a really quick process. It was great working with Kevin Smith—just a dream.
The A.V. Club: Was that the first time you met him?
GD: It was. I’m a huge fan of his films, so obviously I knew him and his movies and all that. He was one of those iconic directors you just want to work with. Like, I love Rob Zombie—I’d love to work with Rob Zombie or John Cameron Mitchell. There are just certain directors who I’d love to work with, and he’s one of them. Now I can cross him off the list.
AVC: He said on Twitter this was not his movie per se—this is the first film he directed but didn’t write. Did he seem at ease on the set?
GD: He was, he was pretty loose. He let us improv a lot. A lot of the improv actually came from him, because I would be doing a take, and he would yell something from behind the monitor for me to say, and it was so much funnier than what I was saying. I saw the film last night, and a lot of it ended up in the film. He’s such a witty guy, and he’s so smart, and he knows exactly what he wants. Yeah, it was great. Even though he didn’t write the movie, I feel like it has his stamp on it, like it’s a very Kevin Smith movie. He edited the film himself, and the music is amazing, all this old ’80s sort of hip-hop stuff. It’s a great score.
AVC: It seems like only a Kevin Smith action movie would have a baseball card at the center. It’d only be more perfect if the big McGuffin were a comic book.
GD: Exactly. Yeah, but it’s really quick, the movie is really quick and fun. I wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I did, and I’m in it.
AVC: What improvisational stuff made it in?
GD: Well, the part where they come to question me about the baseball card, and I’m in my memorabilia room. They point their guns, and then my guys all suddenly come out of nowhere with guns, and I say something like “Do you like that? We practiced that shit for an hour!” I was doing the scene, and I was done with my line, and Kevin yelled that out from behind the monitor. I said it and that ended up in the film, and it got a huge laugh.
AVC: Do you worry that you’re getting too many of these roles, like, “Oh hey, another Mexican thug!”
GD: At first when I read the script, I was like, “Oh God, another one? What the fuck am I gonna do to make this shit different?” [Laughs.] Kevin is so great, and he gave me so many great tips. And even Bruce [Willis] directed a lot as well, directed us on set while we were there. So that helped me out with stuff.
AVC: So you don’t worry about being typecast?
GD: I don’t really anymore. I did, but not really anymore. Now I’m just grateful that I’m working. I try to make everything different, and if you think about it, look at even Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan. Nobody asks them, “Are you tired of playing the hero cop?” Bruce Willis is Bruce Willis in every single movie I’ve seen him in, except Death Becomes Her and Mortal Thoughts, which is another movie he was in that was very different from what he normally does. But Tracy Morgan, too—Tracy Morgan is that character in 30 Rock, and he’s that character in everything he does, and it’s great. But it’s funny that nobody asks “How does it feel to play the funny black guy?” As long as people are enjoying it and it’s fun, it’s all good.
GD: It was supposed to be just one episode, with the possibility of three more. The character was already named Guillermo—a lot of people think it was named after me, but that’s not the case. That’s just a coincidence. So I did my four episodes, and I guess they liked them. The writers liked me, and I guess they liked the chemistry between me and Mary-Louise, and they kept writing. Then cut to me doing—I’ve done 22 episodes, which is crazy. I never expected that. Guillermo is so prominent in the Weeds world. So it’s amazing to be a part of that, because I’m a huge fan of the show.
AVC: How much do you know about what’s going to happen with Guillermo ahead of time?
GD: Sometimes they’ll do what’s called, they’ll put a pin in you. They’ll put a pin in him for two or three episodes or whatever. But that’s as much as I know—how many episodes I might be in. Then I’ll get a script maybe a week or a week and a half before we shoot, and that’s when I’ll find out what I’m doing in that episode. I know Mary-Louise has the outline for the season, so she sort of knows what’s gonna happen. But not me, so it’s a big surprise to me when I get the script.
AVC: So how’s his relationship with Nancy now? Do you feel like they’re even?
GD: I feel like now that he’s out of prison, he’s sort of back to feeling like he’s in charge and kind of the boss again, even though Esteban is obviously the boss boss. But I feel like now they are gonna have more of a connection, and I don’t think he’s gonna be that nasty to her. I think he’s gonna be cool, at least I hope he is. Because he’s out now, so I think he’s like, “It’s all good, she ratted me out, but you know…” I think he’s just gonna have some fun with her, maybe scare her. I feel like they really, really like each other—not sexually, but just really like each other. We’ll see. Maybe Guillermo will get Shane out of the bind he’s in for murdering Pilar with a golf club. Maybe I’ll help them out with that. Who knows, maybe I’ll fly them all to Mexico or something.
AVC: Your character in Cop Out, Poh Boy, is like Guillermo a little further down the road, and independent of Esteban. Does it feel similar to you?
GD: It did at first. When I read it, I was like, “Oh this is so much like Guillermo,” but when I started doing it—at least for me, in my head, I felt like we were different. I feel like Poh Boy is a lot angrier and nastier and just ruthless. Guillermo is sort of crazy and ruthless too, but I’ve said it before that it seems like he’s kind of giggling inside when he’s saying stuff. He’s a lot more jokey about things. I tried to find things that made Poh Boy very specific or just different from Guillermo, and I hope that came across, but it’s hard when you are playing the leader of a gang again, with a shaved head and scruffy beard. But I feel like they are really different, like Poh Boy is angry and pissed-off all the time, and Guillermo is more cool and chill about it—like, “I’m gonna kick your ass!” said through a smile.
AVC: Poh Boy has a permanent scowl, and occasionally the same kind of “Guillermo Diaz crazy face” that you do on Weeds, where it’s almost like a frown, but with violence behind it. Are you conscious of that?
GD: I think sometimes I’m sort of conscious of it, but if I’m doing good in the scene, I’m hoping I’m not conscious of it, because I’m not thinking about what my face is doing. But sometimes I’ll catch myself, “Oh I’m doing that thing.” I come in and out of consciousness of it.
GD: I had done student films for the School Of Visual Arts and for NYU and all these schools in New York, so those were my first film experiences, but they were student films, so I guess they don’t really count. But Fresh was my first—well, Green Card was the first extra work I did, where I was featured. You kind of see me in this one scene, which is so funny. And that’s how I got my SAG card. I was just so thrilled to be doing an actual movie that was gonna be released, and I had lines. It was a great script. Boaz Yakin directed and wrote it. Sean Nelson, the kid that played Fresh, was so good. It was a great story. I love that movie. Even the score is beautiful.
AVC: How much did you shoot for it?
GD: I shot probably about two weeks, because I only have a few lines, but I’m it a lot. I’m in the background and stuff. Took about two weeks. We shot it all in New York.
AVC: Samuel L. Jackson was in that—he wasn’t as big of a name then, but you were there with professional actors. How green did you feel?
GD: You know, I felt like I paid my dues. I didn’t feel green at all, because I had been part of a theater company for a long time called The Lab, which is The Labyrinth, a big theater company here that Philip Seymour Hoffman is actually the head of, and Sam Rockwell is in it. We all started—not Philip, Philip sort of came in later—but me and Sam Rockwell and John Ortiz and Lauren Vélez, Daphne Rubin-Vega, all these great actors, we all started this theater company. So I had done a bunch of plays and student films and shit like that, so I felt like I was ready. A couple of scenes that I’m in in Fresh were with Yul Vazquez, who’s also in the theater company with me, so I knew him. It felt very familiar and good, and I felt like I nailed the character. It was exhilarating rather than me feeling green about it.
Stonewall (1995)—“La Miranda”
AVC: How much downtime was there before you started working on Stonewall after Fresh?
GD: Not very much. I did Fresh, and then shortly after, I got Party Girl, and then like right after that, I got Stonewall. It was probably three, four months at the most between Fresh and Party Girl and Stonewall. Yeah, that was when all those indie films, they were cranking them out. I acted in Girls Town and this different [Gregg] Araki movie called Nowhere. Now, looking back, I’m like, “Oh my God, those were such fun movies.” And they were all at Sundance. At the time when it’s happening, you’re not really thinking 10 years ahead. Looking back, this is such a cool experience—working with Parker Posey, making Stonewall, which was about the Stonewall riots, so it was important.
AVC: Did you personally feel closer to the subject matter?
GD: Absolutely. I was a lot younger, so I wasn’t really thinking too much about it, but I remember just being so excited that I was the lead drag queen in this movie. It was about the ’69 riots, and I’m gay. It was just so exciting. Our director, Nigel Finch, was so lovely, so creative. He was so passionate about it, and he passed away shortly after the film was done. It was an amazing experience. In the midst of all, that I had broken my hand right before I started shooting Stonewall. [Laughs]
AVC: How did that happen?
GD: Um, I got into a stupid fight. And I never fight! That was like the one and only fight—it was so retarded, and I was like, “Oh my God, my hand is fucking broken.” So I went off looking for a doctor that would give me a removable cast. Christine Vachon was producing Stonewall, and she had produced Kids, that Larry Clark movie, and I remember her saying that one of the kids on the film got a broken leg or broken arm, and he got a removable cast from a doctor. So I finally found a doctor that did it. So throughout Stonewall, I had to take my cast off and do scenes and put it back on. It was a crazy shoot. And I had to shave my whole body and all this stuff. [Laughs.]
GD: Yeah, yeah. There’s a very sweet poster, and there’s another one with the queens all looking glamorous. I wish the movie would have been seen by more people, but you know, you can’t control that stuff.
AVC: Do you think with today’s political and cultural climate, the film could have had a larger impact?
GD: I think so. I think it would. I wish it would play on LOGO and stuff. I haven’t seen it on LOGO or Here! or any of the gay channels. But yeah, I definitely think it would have a larger audience now. I mean, there’s Netflix and stuff. People come up to me and say they love the movie, so I think people still enjoy it and are still renting it and getting it on Netflix. It’s still out there.
Party Girl (1995)—“Leo”
GD: I think we shot for, I want to say 19 days. It was a really quick shoot. It was low-budget, so it was not tough to shoot.
AVC: Leo’s a DJ. Did you have any DJing experience?
GD: No, I don’t. The music supervisor on the film, Bill Coleman, took me out to all these underground clubs in New York and put me in the booth. I would hang out with him and other DJs. He would bring me to his house, and he had all his own turntables set up. So yeah, he really helped me out with that a lot.
AVC: Were you a part of the short-lived TV spin-off?
GD: No, I wasn’t.
AVC: There isn’t much information about it, but apparently only three episodes aired.
GD: Really? Was that it? I know Christine Taylor was in it. John Cameron Mitchell was in it too. I remember it was a time when TV was kind of frowned upon, if you had done some movies. I remember back in the early ’90s, people would just talk shit about people who would do TV over movies. I don’t know why I listened to whoever told me not to do it—I mean, I would have made some money, and it would have been canceled anyways. [Laughs.] I still remember thinking that the movie was so good, and I thought it was kind of cheesy that they were making it into a TV show, and it was being shot in L.A. I remember saying if Parker Posey did it, then I would do it. But she said no, and I went, “I’m not doing it without her.” She was such the party girl—she was such that character. I mean, Parker, she makes a movie.
AVC: Was she like that in real life?
GD: She was like that in real life—such a unique bird. She’s just so different, so great, so much fun. Just intense and really intelligent and creative. I’ve never met anyone like her. I remember reading for Party Girl auditions with her and thinking “Oh my God. This girl is so strange and amazing. So her and so Parker.” That’s what makes her great, and that’s why people love her. She’s not just like your regular, pretty-girl lead actress.
AVC: The mid-’90s were particularly busy for you. Do you think either of these movies started a domino effect as your career began to take off?
GD: I remember after I did Party Girl, Parker Posey had done The Doom Generation with Gregg Araki, and Gregg liked me in Party Girl and asked Parker to put us in contact. Then Gregg cast me in Nowhere, so that was a connection there. Then Party Girl went to Sundance and did well there, and I think—work brings work—more people saw me in films. It was easier for the next director to be like, “Oh, I’ll take a chance on you.” Then I did a movie called I Think I Do, and that director, Brian Sloan, had seen Stonewall, and he had seen Party Girl, and he was a fan of those movies. So yeah, it definitely all helped me get the next job. Even with Cop Out, I know Kevin Smith is a fan of Weeds, so I think he knew my work from that.
Mercy (2009-present)—“Nurse Angel Garcia”
AVC: You’re currently working on Weeds and Mercy. What’s it like balancing those two shows?
GD: Well, the good thing is, they’re on opposite shooting schedules. Once I’m done with Mercy, I’ll just go back to L.A. and wait to see how many episodes they want me for on Weeds. So luckily for me, it’s been pretty easy to deal with the two shows. I’m going to be tired with doing 22 episodes of Mercy. We’re on episode 18 right now. I’m a little bit tired, but I’m good. I’m excited to be doing both. Mercy is so great. It’s so much fun, and I feel like Angel, the character I play on Mercy, is so much different from all the other stuff I’m really known for—all these thug characters. It’s fun to just do something that’s completely different from these bad guys, and I’m a nurse, which is so crazy. I don’t even know how to spell frickin’ “hospital.”
AVC: Angel is also gay, right?
GD: Yeah. Gay and so much fun. And the girls are so awesome: Michelle Trachtenberg, Jaime [Lee Kirchner], and Taylor [Schilling]. And Michelle is in Cop Out as well.
AVC: Was Mercy filming after you finished shooting Cop Out?
GD: We had done the pilot, but we hadn’t started doing the series yet. Michelle and I don’t have any scenes together in Cop Out, but it’s funny that we’re in the same movie and friends on the show.
AVC: There are a million medical dramas on TV. How can you make Mercy stand out?
GD: They use actual stories, things that have actually happened. I think that’s what keeps it exciting and fresh, because these things are actually happening. The last episode that aired, where there’s a crazy man in the waiting room who killed a guy, and Chloe, Michelle’s character, jumps on his back and hits him with this metal pipe—that actually happened. This little nurse sort of came out and saved the day. They rip them from the headlines, from the news or whatever. Crazy shit is happening in hospitals, and people keep coming up with different diseases and odd accidents. It’s fun to watch.
AVC: At NBC, ER casts such a big shadow. You were on an episode of that, right?
GD: I was. I played a guy who was bit by a cop’s dog, so I came in with all these dog bites. [Laughs.] I did the first season. That was the first season of ER. George Clooney was there and Eriq La Salle and everybody.
Half Baked (1998)—“Scarface”
GD: I auditioned for it here in New York, and they sent my tape to Dave and Tamra Davis, who directed the movie. They were already in Toronto, because that’s where we shot it. I guess they liked it, because they flew me out to read for Tamra and Dave. I think I had seen Dave do some stand-up stuff on TV, shit like that, but that’s pretty much all I knew about him. It was a fun experience. We were all staying in a hotel in Toronto and just having a freakin’ blast doing a movie about weed. It was just so much fun, and all these guest stars, like Willie Nelson, Janeane Garofalo, and Snoop. It was amazing. Smoked a lot of weed doing that movie. [Laughs.]
AVC: Did you have a history with pot before doing that movie?
GD: I did a little bit, but definitely while I was doing that movie, my weed intake was taken to a whole other level. We smoked a lot of marijuana. [Laughs.] It was so surreal and fun, because everybody was smoking: the studio people, the producers, the actors. Everybody was cool with it. It was crazy. I remember Tamra Davis was married to Mike D from the Beastie Boys, and my first acting experience was doing this talent show in high school where I played Mike D, and that’s what made me want to be an actor. I was like, “Oh shit. I like this.” Then there I was, smoking weed with him and his wife. It was a very surreal moment.
AVC: Did you have a sense that Dave would go on to become so popular?
GD: No, not at all. I remember Dave had this crazy-ass dog named Monk, who was a biter and a barker, and we were like, “Oh God, this dog is so fucking annoying.” He would bring him everywhere. But Dave was so talented and funny. I knew he’d always work and stuff, but I never thought he would get to that huge level of stardom with the show and all that stuff—or even the movie. None of us really thought that the movie was going to become this cult-classic thing. Even after it came out, the reviews were horrible, and no one went to see it, but all the sudden it became this thing that everybody was watching and getting stoned and watching it and quoting it.
Chappelle’s Show (2003-2006)—various
GD: I think I did a couple of episodes each season, six episodes total. I did the “Popcopy” sketch, a couple Half Baked spoofs, and then “Wrap It Up.” Then there’s the pixie one with Charo and the cocaine. That’s the one where Dave walked. He said, “I can’t do this shit.” I think he felt like he was perpetuating the stereotype, instead of helping the cause. That was the final season, that episode when we did that sketch.
AVC: Because you were around for all three seasons, did you notice the vibe of the show changing?
GD: You know what? I always saw Dave completely in control, doing whatever he wanted. He and Neal Brennan, who was his writing partner, would make all the decisions about what the sketch was going to be about, what was funny, what they should add or take out. I was just on set, so I didn’t see what was going on with him and the execs, but from what I saw, Dave was completely in control and did everything he wanted, and if he didn’t want to do something, he didn’t have to do it. I was surprised, and I was sad that he couldn’t finish the season at least and then maybe take a break after that. I wish he would have stayed, because the show was doing so well, and people were responding to it so well, and wanting more.
AVC: Do you still keep in touch with Dave?
GD: I haven’t seen him in forever. I think I haven’t seen him since we did that sketch, and he walked from the show. I have a feeling he’s going to make a comeback, like be in a funny movie or do a sick-ass standup show.
Dirty Love (2005)—“Tom Houdini”
AVC: Dirty Love was a pretty big flop. When you’re on set on a film, do you have any sense of how it’s going to be received?
GD: No, you never have a sense. You hope people are going to love it. In the box office, it was a flop, but I think it was hugely successful in that it’s such a crazy movie. I get stopped for that movie all the time, and people think it’s so over the top and funny, and they love it. [Jenny McCarthy] gets set up on a blind date with me, and I’m just this crazy, dumb-ass magician who’s just a goofball. [Laughs.] We did this crazy scene in a restaurant where my character keeps yelling out, “Rabbit!” It’s so stupid, but I think it’s hilarious. Jenny McCarthy is one of the funniest people I’ve ever worked with, and Carmen Electra is really funny in the movie. I think it’s worth watching just to have fun and laugh.