David Del Rio Enjoys the Ride of the Unknown

The In the Heights actor makes his first turn in a lead romantic role for the new Hulu series, Maggie.

by Max Gao

David del Rio wearing a navy suit with a playing card in his suit pocket
Photograph by Rio Noir

David Del Rio was always destined to be an entertainer. Born and raised in Miami, the actor grew up making people laugh—and had a knack for studying (and imitating) the likes of Jerry Lewis, Jim Carrey, and Dustin Hoffman from an early age. But it wasn’t until 14 years old, when he was cast as Conrad Birdie in his middle school’s production of Bye Bye Birdie, when Del Rio truly fell in love with acting.

After graduating from the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts in 2009, Del Rio got his start as a teenage monster hunter on Nickelodeon’s The Troop, played one of the Treblemakers in the first Pitch Perfect movie, and made his Broadway debut as Sonny de la Vega in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights. While international audiences might know him best as Mateo Garcia (or the DJ MC Cubano) in ABC’s The Baker and the Beauty, the Cuban-Colombian actor’s latest turn, as the effortlessly charming love interest of a psychic on Hulu’s Maggie, finds him stepping into his first romantic leading role.

Maggie, which premiered earlier this month, follows Rebecca Rittenhouse as the titular clairvoyant, who sees a glimpse of herself in the future while giving Del Rio’s Ben a palm reading at a party. Assuming she mistook herself for another woman, Maggie attempts to fight fate and deny her feelings for Ben—only to cross paths with him months later and discover he has moved into her same apartment complex with his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Jessie (Chloe Bridges). But Maggie, Del Rio explains, is not “a fantasy rom-com—[it’s] a coming of age rom-com that has magic and mysticality to it.”

Del Rio first auditioned for Maggie a year and a half ago, but in a twist of fate, the producers and network executives almost missed his self-tape. In the end, he completed multiple callbacks over Zoom, including a chemistry read with Rittenhouse, whom he had met socially years earlier. “Rebecca and I were really concentrating on landing jokes and telling the story, but we were really just trying to have chemistry and create something for a bunch of squares on a screen,” Del Rio tells W with a laugh.

“David naturally understands that nuanced mix of confidence and self-doubt that makes a leading man so desirable,” says Maggie Mull, the co-creator of Maggie. “The character of Ben has to walk a line between his feelings for two women, and it takes a tremendous amount of thoughtfulness to play that role without hurting the character. David made Ben someone whose predicament is human and who we are rooting for.”

Playing a romantic lead, however, did not always come easily to Del Rio, who exudes the same disarming charisma in person as his Maggie character. In fact, he credits a conversation with his acting mentor, Leigh Kilton-Smith, as helping him realize that, in all of his attempts to take a methodical approach to playing Ben, he forgot to fall in love with his character in the same way audiences are supposed to. After he did that, Del Rio “started having a lot more fun with the idea of getting into my own skin and expressing myself,” he says.

In addition to relating to his character’s deeply ingrained sense of showing up for his family and friends, Del Rio says he understands Ben’s “crimes of the heart,” despite being a “one-woman man” himself. “The whole love triangle that Ben goes through was one of those things where I was like, ‘I know what it’s like to have my heart confused. I know what it’s like to say something to someone and ask myself, ‘Was that over the line? Did that subtle messaging come through? And if it came through, what am I really saying?’ Trying to figure out what he really wants in life is something I relate to,” he explains.

When they weren’t shooting the show or a campy parody of Britney Spears’s “Sometimes” music video, Del Rio and Rittenhouse had extensive conversations about walking the fine line of their characters’ will-they-won’t-they dynamic—which, at one point, makes a direct reference to another classic rom-com: When Harry Met Sally. “Ben is a history teacher who teaches students to honor and learn from the past so [they] can make a better present, and yet he’s possibly falling in love with a woman who can see the future that’s affecting her present,” Del Rio says.

“When we were doing the prom episode, there was just one line, and we spent 45 minutes on it,” he recalls with a laugh. “We decided to give as many different types of stories as we could, because we don’t know what the story will [ultimately] be. We don’t know whose baby it is, we don’t know whose house is on fire, we don’t know which bride is the real bride—so let’s concentrate on developing our relationship. That was most important to us.”

In the pilot, Maggie and Ben have a one-night stand after bumping into each other at a bar on Ben’s birthday. But by the time they meet again at their shared apartment building, Maggie and Ben decide to keep their hook-up a secret from Jessie, leading to complications in all of their relationships and setting up a triangle in which one woman represents Ben’s past and another represents his future. Del Rio, it seems, is just as torn about the right woman for Ben.

“Ben and Jessie have survived this long because they’ve gone through different chapters together” since they were children, meaning “when you are with someone for so long, you can’t help but look forward” to writing the next one, says Del Rio. But on the other hand, Maggie “sees herself in his future, [she believes] you can’t fight fate, and Ben feels that way, too. He doesn’t know which direction fate is, but he knows fate is playing a part, just like Maggie does.”

As he awaits word of a potential renewal for Maggie, Del Rio says he wants to continue telling a diverse array of stories about the human condition that span various mediums and genres (“fantasy, faith, action, rom-com”). Under their production company, Theater Row Productions, Del Rio and his wife, Katherine, have been developing a pilot and screenplay—and recently worked together on his latest directorial outing, The Big Feed, which is slated for release this Halloween.

“We’re trying to create an environment that new artists and new voices can give us a call, e-mail us, and let us know their story and a creative way to say it,” Del Rio says. “We don’t have to be the director; we don’t even have to be the actors. When it comes to acting and directing, let’s see what the future holds. But I’m really, really grateful and enjoying the ride right now.”