With the success of The Following and Sleepy Hollow, as well as the celebrated return of 24, Fox is continuing to establish itself as network television’s answer to the type of gritty programming usually reserved for cable. Their next offering is this week’s Gang Related, which stars Ramon Rodriguez as Detective Ryan Lopez, an operative in LAPD’s elite Gang Task Force. Unbeknownst to his colleagues, Ryan owes allegiance to Javier Acosta, a powerful member of the community and the mastermind behind one of the city’s most powerful and dangerous street gangs.
During a recent promotional stop in Phoenix, series star Ramon Rodriguez took a few minutes to chat with us about his experience filming the first season, as well as his upcoming directorial debut.
Kyle: One of my favorite things about Gang Related is the cast. What was it like working with so many people from so many different backgrounds?
It was awesome. I remember when we attached The RZA, I was like “awesome, I’m a big Wu-Tang fan.” I had worked with Method Man on The Wire, and now I’m working with another one. He’s great, super talented. And then when I heard about Terry O’Quinn, I was pumped. And Cliff Curtis, he’s a chameleon – he plays Mexican better than Mexican people play Mexican, and he’s from New Zealand.
I thought Fox did a nice job of surrounding Ryan with an intriguing, colorful cast. There’s scenes where people are speaking Korean, or Spanish, or Russian. It’s like a multicultural melting pot, which is a true representation of Los Angeles.
Kyle: Something that really stood out to me in the pilot episode is the way the action scenes were shot. Can you tell us a little bit about filming those?
It was really fun, man. I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie, so I love it when I get to do some stunts. First day on the job, first shot, first thing in the morning, I’m jumping out of a second-story window, landing onto a van, and chasing the guy that plays Carlos up the street. And I thought, this was a really bad idea for the first shot of the day. What if I came up hobbling, you know what I mean? All of a sudden, the show’s over.
But we got to do a lot of our own stunts. I got to do the driving for the car chase, and I actually got to do the pit maneuver, which was cool. I went to driving school, I got to do a lot of boxing and Krav Maga, which was great, and weapons training. You want to look and feel like the character, so I was lucky I had enough time to kind of dive into the research.
Brent: After working on The Wire, you had transitioned over into film. What was it about this show, in particular, that made you want to come back to television?
[It was] the character, as complex as he is and as complex as the situation he’s in. I love that he’s got heart and he’s kind of in a moral dilemma, caught between the two families, the cop family and the gang family that he was raised in. I love the backstory of Ryan and where he comes from – why is he so dedicated to this guy Javier?
To me, it always made sense: a 10-year-old boy who’s an orphan is taken in by this guy who’s respected in the community, and given purpose. He’s empowered. This guy saved his life, so he’ll do anything for him, and I thought that was an interesting concept, to see how he handles it when he starts building ties on the cop side.
Kyle: Ryan seems more driven by loyalty than a sense of right and wrong. How do you keep a character like this empathetic for the audience, even though he exists in this grey area?
I’ve always viewed Ryan as a good guy, first and foremost. I think he’s got a good heart, he just happens to be in a tough situation, and I think everything he does, in his mind, is well-intended. Later on, as the season progresses, the choices and the situations become much more difficult, much more grey.
But what the show does really well, and I commend the writers on this, is that every action has a consequence. It’s not like you can just go and hurt someone, and nothing happens because of it. And a lot of that weighs on Ryan’s conscience. He’s walking around with a lot of guilt for his behavior and what he has to do, and he wants to be doing the right thing for his family, so it’s a tough scenario.
Brent: On that note, and we’ll try to dance around spoilers here –
Yeah, that’s always fun. [laughs]
Brent: At the end of the pilot, Ryan makes a choice that everyone will interpret in their own way…
It’s pivotal, and it’s a pivotal moment for the rest of the season. It’s one of those things where Ryan, in the moment, thinks he’s doing something for the greater good, but it will continually nag him. It’s going to be a constant thing. There’s a lot of that, and again, I think the writers did a really good job of executing it.
Kyle: It feels like there’s a lot of attention paid to authenticity, particularly in the gang culture. Were there extra steps taken to make sure everything was accurate?
Yeah, we work with this awesome organization called Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, a fantastic organization that works with former gang members and former inmates, and tries to bring them back into the community in a positive way, which is a very difficult transition.
One of the ways they’re able to do that is by getting them jobs on shows like ours, where they can be out there and making money, and for us the benefit is that level of authenticity. They know what that world looks like and feels like. Again, it’s TV, so you’re only going to be able to go so far, and it’ll be dramatized at times, but we try constantly to keep it grounded as much as we can.
Brent: Jumping away from Gang Related for a moment, I wanted to ask you about Need For Speed. How much did you enjoy driving The Beast?
It was fucking awesome. [laughs] I remember, I had to take driving lessons in that thing. It’s a one of a kind, customized Ford F-450, and it was perfectly named The Beast. I spent a lot of time in that truck. I always talk about that one scene where we did the hot fueling, and we really got to do that. I’m driving 70 miles per hour, and my buddy had to fuel up the Mustang while we were going. It was cool.
Kyle: Are there any other genres you’re interested in getting involved with? For example, would you be in a comedy, or maybe a superhero film?
If it’s the right superhero, that would be awesome. That would be epic, absolutely. I’ve had fun doing these big movies, but I’ve got to be honest, the scripts that I’m gravitating toward are more independent. I started doing those kind of movies, and I enjoy them, because it’s a different process. Those are the passion pieces.
I’m writing a script right now, and it’s going to be something like that. It’s kind of what I want to go back to. So hopefully I can keep a balance of doing both, where I can do that big-budget tentpoles that are fun and adventurous, and also do these. I need something that, creatively and artistically, I can sink my teeth into.
Kyle: The project you mentioned, is that the screenplay you’re working on with Rosie Perez?
Kyle: Word is that you might direct this one as well?
That’s the plan, I want to direct it. It’ll be my debut, and I’m so pumped for it. The cool part about working on [Gang Related] is we shot 13 episodes, and with each episode we have different directors come on. So I get to see their process and how they communicate and how they pick their shots, and I was just like a student the whole time, watching and asking questions. So I pick up little traits and tricks along the way, and hopefully I’ll get to apply it.
Brent: Back to Gang Related – there’s only so long that Ryan can straddle the fence before one side or the other finds out. Have there been discussions about what things will look like when that finally happens?
We’ve talked about it, and I think that’s something that, throughout the season, it’ll get tricky. I think that’s part of the journey, the walls are going to be closing in on him more and more. I always wonder, where do we go from here? But that’s what’s really cool. I got to be very involved in the writing and the creative on the series, and in the beginning after we got picked up, we discussed the whole Season One arc. So now I can’t wait to get to Season Two and when we start talking about ideas for that.
Gang Related premieres Thursday, May 22, exclusively on Fox.