Photos by Carlos Pina
MADRID – Self-discovery can be a private journey - or something more shared.
For Javier Calvo, it played out in front of millions of people on Spanish TV.
At 15, he was cast as the lead character on the television show “Física o Química” or “Physics or Chemistry,” which became a massive national hit and the touchstone for a generation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex people.
As his character Fer discovered his sexuality, so did Calvo. The series “awakened me in many aspects,” he said. “Fer’s transition was my transition.”
On a recent evening, Calvo arrived at his office in the center of Madrid, wearing a yellow sweater from the ASIF brand he started with his fiancé Javier Ambrossi. His philosophy of life could be read in the tattoo on his arm: “Lo hacemos y ya vemos” - we do it and we see. Or more loosely translated, “Let’s do it.”
The 28-year-old, who is constantly in motion, lit a cigarette and grabbed a beer from the fridge. It was 9:30 p.m. and he still had many hours of work ahead of him.
In one part of the office, his team was working on the third season of “Paquita Salas,” the hugely successful comedy he created with Ambrossi, detailing the travails of a down-on-her-luck talent agent. The series launched on the web in 2016 but was eventually acquired by Netflix.
Meeting Ambrossi changed the trajectory of Calvo’s personal and professional life. He came out to his parents and, with Ambrossi, he developed the musical La Llamada, or The Call, which premiered in 2013, eventually selling more than 800,000 tickets and winning 13 Broadway World awards. It was also made into a film, gaining five nominations for the Goya awards, the Spanish Oscars.
La Llamada won Best Movie at the 2018 Feroz Awards, the second most important film awards ceremony in Spain, and Calvo wanted to dedicate his speech to LGBTQ kids and teens.
If anyone “watching me is scared and feels lost, feels like they will not be loved, they should know that they will be loved, that they will find their place, that they will accomplish their dreams and that Javi and I will write stories so that they feel inspired,” he said, his voice breaking.
To Calvo, that’s the most meaningful part of stardom: using your fame and your voice to make society more fair, equal and tolerant.
Spain has a reputation as one of the most LGBTQ-friendly countries in the world – it legalized marriage and adoption rights for same-sex couples in 2005. But Calvo said there were few role models when he was growing up. Despite being perfectly poised to be one himself, he is squeamish about taking on that mantle.
“Being a role model implies not being able to do things wrong. [But] I make many mistakes, I’m learning. The only thing I do is tell stories that represent me and people like me.”