‘The Office’ Star Oscar Nuñez Broke His Toe to Give You ‘Social Distance’
The “Office” alum talks meeting Donald Trump in 2010, his controversial immigration question at the 2010 “Miss USA” pageant, and why the “Latino vote” doesn’t exist.
A few weeks ago, Oscar Nuñez began shooting his episode of Netflix’s new quarantine anthology Social Distance—a sweet, amusingly macabre 20 minutes in which the Office alum plays a dutiful son trying to pull the family together for their father’s Zoom funeral. The equipment had all arrived in cases, and he and his wife, actress Ursula Whittaker, set it up together before filming began.
“You think, ‘What can go wrong?’” Nuñez told The Daily Beast during a recent interview. “You’re shooting in your own house!”
Little did he know.
“I kicked a stone vase; it doesn’t move, it’s stone, it’s just on the ground and it’s not moving,” Nuñez said. “... It weighs hundreds of pounds, it’s like rock.”
Adrenaline helped Nuñez power through, unaware he’d broken his toe until filming wrapped hours later.
The fall TV schedule has become a feeding frenzy for creators eager to process our harrowing reality on screen. It’s a growing genre that also includes entries like HBO’s Coastal Elites and NBC’s Connecting... And as my colleague Kevin Fallon recently observed, Social Distance is the strongest, most elegant entry in the canon.
The episode starring Nuñez, “A Celebration of the Human Life Cycle,” comes from director Diego Velasco. A delightfully icy Daphne Rubin-Vega, Nuñez, and Guillermo Díaz play the bickering children. Miguel Sandoval—who played Amy Adams’ paternal editor in Sharp Objects—plays their father’s longtime partner, who delivers the episode’s heartwarming closing eulogy.
Nuñez has not had to attend any remote funerals, but two of his relatives have contracted COVID-19 and recovered.
The younger of the two, a nephew living in the actor’s childhood home state of New Jersey, is in good shape but has lost his sense of smell, the actor said. The older, a cousin 5 years older than Nuñez, had a harder time.
“It kind of kicked her butt,” Nuñez said. “She recovered and she’s still not back to normal. And it was weeks and weeks ago.”
A decade ago, Nuñez came aboard the 2010 Miss USA pageant as a judge—a job that put him and Whittaker face to face with Donald Trump right before he first began toying with the idea of a presidential bid.
“It was fine!” Nuñez said of the meeting. “It was before he went into politics... He was a regular douchebag businessman, which was fine by me.”
A year earlier, controversy had erupted around a question from judge Perez Hilton about gay marriage months after Prop 8’s passage the previous November. When Miss California USA 2009 Carrie Prejean lost the competition, Hilton said her answer had cost her the crown—inciting anger among her supporters who questioned the blogger’s ethics.
As Nuñez took the stage, the pageant producers asked him to ask a new political question for that year about the contestant’s views on an Arizona immigration law. The actor didn’t feel keen on putting a 19-year-old on the spot, so he agreed to ask the question only if he could give her an out—ending the question by asking her whether she believes such matters should be federally or state-mandated.
“So that's the question I asked, but before I even got finished the audience was booing,” Nuñez said.
After years of sustained conversation around immigration, deportation, and child separation, one would hope the question might go over better today. For now, though, Nuñez is just anxious for November. (“Two more weeks.”) He’s voting for Biden and very ready for the presidential election to be over. In his words, “We’re just super stressed and pissed off.”
Outside of that? “Basically we’re fine... We live in America and we’re wearing masks.”
Nuñez was born in Cuba months before Fidel Castro’s revolution ousted U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista on New Year’s Eve of 1959. His family immigrated to the United States when he was 2 years old; as he recently told Page Six, his uncle spent 20 years as a political prisoner under Castro’s dictatorship.
Cubans are a unique voting block within the U.S.—one that, perhaps better than any group, proves how empty the concept of a “Latino vote” really is. While 58 percent of Cubans said they identified as or leaned Republican in a 2020 Pew Research survey, 65 percent of non-Cuban Hispanic voters leaned Democratic. As Pew notes, younger generations of Cuban voters have tended to soften Republican support within the community.
Nuñez grew up bilingual, attending an Irish Catholic school in New Jersey, eating Cuban food while also honing what he describes as “white frat boy” sensibilities. So he knows better than most that there’s no such thing as a unified “Latino” experience—or voting pattern.
Speaking about the storied “Latino vote,” Nuñez said, “It makes it easy to talk about it. And that’s what it’s all about—making things palatable and easy for mass consumption.”
“If you go up and you say, ‘Oh, you’re all from Great Britain,’ and there’s a guy from Wales or Scotland or Ireland, they’re gonna say, ‘No, I’m not,’” Nuñez added. “But here we’re all ‘Latinos’ when in fact it’s Honduras, and Ecuadorian, and Colombian, and Mexican, and Puerto Rican, and Dominican, and Cuban. It’s too much trouble to think about that—that they’re all different.”