Ramon Rodriguez had already done his share of the the TV thing ( The Wire, Day Break, Charlie’s Angels, shot in Miami) and was kind of liking being the movie star. The 34-year-old Puerto Rican was last seen tearing up the roads in Need for Speed and before that, helping to save the world in Battle Los Angeles. But his new Fox show, Gang Related, premiering at 9 p.m. Thursday, was too appealing an opportunity to pass up. We spoke to the actor, who was in town to chat about playing Det. Ryan Lopez, a member of the LAPD’s Gang Task Force.
How did you get first get attached to this project?
I originally sat down with several folks at FOX. To be quite honest, I wasn’t interested in doing network television [again]. Most of the things I watch are on cable, and I feel like that’s where the high quality is. I explained it to [executives] very clearly, and for the most part, they agreed with me. But they told me the benefits are that you can reach a much wider audience. A few months later when they sent me the script I was taken aback. It was so compelling. I was like, Wow.
How would you describe the plot?
The show follows this character who’s with the LAPD, but we find out he’s giving information back to his family who’s in a gang, Los Angelicos. That’s the easy, quick one-liner. But the plot is actually very complex. The show itself is also very cinematic and interesting; it has a film feel to it — the vision, the scripts and how they shot and directed it.
So how did this work: Ryan is both a good guy and bad guy?
In Gang Related, we get to go and experience what it’s like to ride a very fine line between two worlds that are kind of parallel. What I find most interesting is the why. How did this happen? The back story is that Ryan was orphaned at 10 years old and being raised by his grandmother. This guy in the neighborhood, Javier [ Cliff Curtis], who is respected and probably feared, sees something in Ryan and takes this kid in and essentially saves his life, making him part of the family. He gave Ryan purpose, and because of that he becomes indebted to Javier. That’s a great reason to dedicate your life to someone else.
You’ve been in a number of supporting roles. How does it feel to be the star?
It’s actually very much an ensemble. They brought in a colorful, diverse cast from all from different backgrounds, which I love. I think it’s a great representation of L.A., which is a melting-pot city. You’ve got Terry O’Quinn playing my boss, who is this acting veteran. My partner is [rapper] RZA, who has great comedic sense and timing. I got to know him personally, and we had a blast. I think we all knew we were part of something special, and everyone came in prepared with their A-game.
How does it feel to be back on the small screen? How did you prep physically?
TV is more rigorous with extremely long hours. But I really enjoyed the experience so it never felt like work. Ryan is a really complex dude, and I love to be able to explore that headspace. To play him, I put myself on a diet. And we did Krav Maga [a kind of Israeli martial arts], ride-alongs, weapons training, surveillance. We also worked with former and active gang members to understand that culture. I was lucky enough to have those resources available to me so I could just tap in and be a sponge.
Follow the writer www.twitter.com/madeleinemarr