A few days after the New York premiere of Hocus Pocus 2, Froy Gutierrez—who plays Mike, the doltish, oblivious boyfriend to Lilia Buckingham’s Cassie, one of the long-awaited sequel’s modern teens—is relaying the sense of anxiety he felt going into the role. “I was so worried that I flubbed it up,” the 24-year-old actor says. “When you’re acting next to legends like Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy and Doug Jones… I was like, ‘What am I getting myself into?’
“I was sure that my performance was going to look even worse next to theirs,” he goes on. “Then when I was watching it at the premiere, I don’t know what kind of witchery or editing they did, but I managed to watch it and find it really cute.”
If anything, Gutierrez is too self-effacing. Mike serves as one of a handful of galumphing male characters that get in the way of the film’s female leads—and in some ways, he’s reminiscent of the original Hocus Pocus’s Max. “I will say that I took a lot of inspiration from Max,” Gutierrez explains. “There’s a kind of vocal tone a lot of teenage boys in the ’90s had, where there’s a boyishness and an exuberance to their voices.” He lightens his voice while saying this to prove it, at once the all-American young man. “I tried to mimic that when I was auditioning, and then it ended up staying in the movie.”
Gutierrez explains that Mike was a work in progress throughout production. “What we started with wasn’t really how it ended up, so we found the character together as we were going,” he explains. “But he’s always only had two brain cells, this poor man.”
The production team let Gutierrez absorb the softer aspects of himself into the character. “Mike is ignorant and bull-headed, and it’s easy to play that kind of high school jock,” he says. “They allowed me to paint a contrasting picture, like, what if he was just so wholesome and dumb that he didn’t know he was being a bully? It’s something we found together after everyone in production had met me.” The end result is a very 2022 kind of leading man—a bona fide himbo.
When you look at Gutierrez’s catalogue of characters, none of them can be considered the types of generic teen roles many young actors find themselves boxed into.
His most recent roles, in hit Freeform thriller Cruel Summer, indie slasher Initiation, and, to a lesser extent Hocus Pocus 2, have seen him portray cruel, often violent young men. There’s a candor and puckishness to Gutierrez—he drily quotes Mike’s silliest lines throughout our conversation—that feels so removed from his roles. “Growing up, I was surrounded by these very macho boys that would bully me,” he explains. “I was afraid of them, so as an actor, I know what that looks like. I was attacked by them as a kid all the time and so I’m able to channel that when I need it.”
Gutierrez, a Dallas native, notes that while he might find himself habitually cast as the red-blooded jock or the douchebag boyfriend, it could not be further from him as a person. “I see myself as a very geeky, awkward, shy person and I’m constantly playing these macho boys who are struggling with their relation to masculinity,” he says. “They’re overcompensating or they’re working very hard to put this masculine idea of themselves out there and that’s something I’ve never really done.”
All of these roles fall broadly within the realm of horror-thriller, but Gutierrez surprises me when he says he would not call himself a horror fan. “I’m not anti-horror,” he says. “As an actor, you do one job and then you look for another and it’s not until you’ve been doing it for a while that you’re like, ‘I’m doing quite a lot of screamy things at the moment.’ But I’ve always loved the more whimsical side of spooky aesthetics.”
Gutierrez’s tenure as a scream king may be accidental, but it’s not coming to an end any time soon. In September, it was announced that he’ll be appearing in a trilogy of new movies in The Strangers series alongside Riverdale star Madelaine Petsch. The rebooted films are currently shooting in Slovakia—Gutierrez is back in the States on a break between filming.
He’s understandably schtum about whether he’s in all three new movies, but he describes the first as a “parallel to and a legacy of the original Strangers with Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler, and I’m kind of the Speedman equivalent.” Funnily enough, he hadn’t seen the original, but he had seen the first sequel, The Strangers: Prey at Night, back in 2018, after working with its lead, Bailee Madison, on another movie. “I remember going with her and a group of friends to the theater and watching it as just a fun little get-together,” he says. “I was on the edge of the seat and I remember thinking if there was another one, I wanted to be a part of it. When I booked it, Bailee was one of the first people I reached out to.”
“It’s been a bit of a trial by fire,” Gutierrez says of his experience on set. “I’ve been doing stunts, I’ve been doing these different action set pieces. I’m showing up and I’m like, I have no idea how to do this but I’m going to learn right now. Then I go home and I just have no energy left for anything. I can’t think a new thought, I’m just going to go straight to bed.”