“Casa Grande,” the new bilingual series on the streaming service of Amazon Freevee, looks at families who are discovering the truth and lies behind the American dream. Because the stories deal with both California’s underpaid farmworkers and wealthier families the series comes across as a blend of “Yellowstone” and “Downtown Abbey.”
The Clarkman family owns a massive spread of land in Northern California. It is so big that it takes a large force of workers – some undocumented – to keep everything running smoothly. This is the framework to explore universal themes of class, immigration, culture and family.
There is also a huge “Romeo & Juliet” aspect to the story told through the relationship between Hassie Clarkman (Madison Lawlor) and Mael Morales (Javier Bolaños). She is the head-strong and rebellious daughter who is making life miserable for her rich parents while he is one of the farm workers who has big dreams.
It is a relationship that sends a ripple through all of the other elements of the series based on the fact they are star-crossed lovers. Lawlor sees a lot of comparisons between the love story that she is part of in “Casa Grande” and the tale William Shakespeare wrote centuries ago.
“It is certainly a story about class, about feuding families. And, there are people who are not OK with it,” Lawlor says. “It is certainly integral in all of the conflict that follows.”
Lawlor is no stranger to love stories. Before becoming part of the cast of “Casa Grande,” the South Dakota native starred in such romantic films as “Wait with Me” and “Follow Your Heart.”
She approached playing Hassie as a coming-of-age story because her character is struggling with what her heart and her head are telling her to do. And, they are not always in full agreement.
“She is kind of opening up her eyes to the way the world works that she was kind of blinded to before,” Lawlor says. “She wasn’t aware of a lot of this because of her privilege and being protected by her family.
“She is in this interesting period of time where she is realizing she doesn’t want to be like her family and is at odds with that. Her identity is sort of at the forefront. I don’t think she really knows who she is but she knows what she believes in.”
Hassie certainly believes in her relationship with Mael no matter the consequences.
Bolaños points out that because Hassie and Mael love each other with so much passion and conviction it is the driving force of the series. So much of what happens through the episodes comes from their actions.
He adds, “The bad decisions we make. The people we chose to keep secrets from doesn’t happen without the unconditional love between these two. They are young and in love.
“When there is love at the core of the story, what you are fighting for makes more sense to you.”
Bolaños plays his character as being more in tune with his heart than the realities of his work and family life. Mael was born in the United States so he doesn’t fully understand the impending threat of deportation that many around him face.
As the series progresses, Mael begins to become aware of the harsh realities of his world. He will eventually have to deal with knowing his decisions about love could have an impact on others.
Javier Bolaños, who was born in Columbia but moved to the United States when he was 2, comes to “Casa Grande” after appearing in such projects as “All American” and “S.W.A.T.” He knows this role comes with more responsibilities because of the immigration issues addressed than past work he has done.
“As actors, our job is to tell stories. If we are lucky enough, we get to tell stories that are really important and profound,” Bolaños says. “It was a team effort to try to tell the best story we could.
“We would love to start any conversations because it is such an important topic – immigration – because of things that happened a long time ago and things that are happening now. And, if these conversations don’t start happening things are going to keep happening in the future. As much as this is entertainment, we also want to tell true stories.”
Helping Lawlor and Bolaños tell the stories in “Casa Grande” are John Pyper-Ferguson, Christina Moore, Karen Bethzabe, Raquel Dominguez, James Marsters, Kate, Daniel Edward Mora and Laura Alemán.
“Casa Grande” has just launched on Amazon Freevee, the streaming service formerly known as IMDb TV. Along with this series, the streaming video service offers thousands of premium movies and TV shows that are available free. It is available as a standalone app on many connected TVs and devices including Fire TV, Roku and Samsung.