Tonight marks the premiere of the new Fox crime drama, “Gang Related.” And while there’s no shortage of television focused on police, FBI, detectives and the criminals they all try to chase down, this new series, from creator Chris Morgan (“Fast and Furious” films) and Executive Producer Scott Rosenbaum (“The Shield”), shows us both sides of the crime enforcement/gang world in its lead character.
Ryan Lopez (played by Ramon Rodriguez) is a member of LAPD’s Gang Task force yet also grew up in the gang world and has an allegiance to its crime boss. While playing both sides, Lopez will undoubtedly have an uneasy time being faithful to both worlds, which should make for some compelling television.
Rodriguez talked to me recently about this complex role and series as well as reflected back on playing a gay character in the critically acclaimed series “The Wire.”
I talked to you I think the first time about this like back in January TCA, so are you kind of just dying for people to finally see the show when it airs in a few weeks?
Ramon Rodriguez: Exactly right, man. It’s been like the longest birth ever. You know, we shot the whole season, been talking about it a bunch [and] I think people are seeing the ads now, and the billboards. I’m definitely anticipating to see what people’s reactions are going to be and I can’t wait for it to finally just come out.
There are so many crime dramas on TV right now. How is ‘Gang Related’ set apart from those?
RR: I actually think this show is really, really different in a lot of ways. Just look at the cast and how colorful it is and just the kind of the images of what you’re looking at, the look of it is going to be different. I think usually shows focus on one kind of world so they’ll focus on maybe cop world, or attorneys, or any of those type of subjects but this one kind of deals with two worlds, two very big bad worlds, different and similar – the gang world and the cop world – and so what you’re watching is one kind of character trying to balance both worlds in his relationships in both worlds and trying to do the right thing and watching him get out of really difficult situations as the series progresses, and making very tough choices.
Who is Ryan leaning on through all this since he is working both sides of the fence, so to speak?
RR: That’s a really tough position to be in, you know, where Ryan is living a double life and so I think there aren’t many people that know his true identity unfortunately on top of that were he can really confide. That was always a very difficult thing when I was playing and viewing and talking about crime work, does he have anyone that he can actually be vulnerable and honest with, that he can kind of let his guard down with when there aren’t many people who know his true identity?
I think one of them definitely is Daniel (Jay Hernandez), who is like his brother [and] his best friend growing up, and they have a very rich history and I think he often feels that he can confide in him but I think still he’s got so many walls, so many faces that he does put on with different people and that begins to wear on a person and I think that wears on Ryan in a lot of ways…so Daniel I think is one of the few and I think later on as the season closes we’ll see there might be someone else.
Did you kind of learn a different side of Los Angeles that maybe you didn’t know before since I know you guys shot all around the city?
RR: 100%. Absolutely. You know, in just preparing for this role, which I was fortunate that I heard about the job, and I signed up early enough I had a lot of time to prepare, which is unheard of, and rare in television. I had a good four to six weeks to go and do training with the LAPD…and I also got to hang out with gangbangers as well and whether it was through the LAPD or through connections that I had, I spent time with some of those folks, had discussions with them.
It’s interesting, I’ve been coming back and forth from New York to LA for the last, I don’t know, maybe six or seven years and you hear about the gang culture a lot but you don’t see them often when you’re out unless you are kind of in those neighborhoods and so it was definitely eye opening to be down there and seeing the hoods out here, and how they operate, and how the LAPD operates.
You played a gay character on ‘The Wire’ so I’m curious if you felt like it was ground breaking at the time?
RR: At the time I didn’t even think of it too much. I didn’t think about all this as groundbreaking. I did know that ‘The Wire’ was an extraordinarily written, thought-out story and show – some say the best ever – and any time you have a show like that they take such thought into every character and it’s all laid out and so complex. There’s nothing that’s just simple black and white and they’ve got a fascinating character in Omar, [played by] Michael K. Williams, who many think was the most interesting, unique, best character written on TV, a gay character who’s stealing from thugs and you’ve never heard of that! It’s so awesome and complex and so I got to play alongside that, which is really special.
I remember when I first did filming I went into Michael’s trailer, and I said ‘You know, Mike, I’m curious, when you go back to Brooklyn, I’m just curious, how were you received from your boys ad the neighborhood?’ and he said ‘nothing but love and respect’ and I said, ‘I love that’ and I have to say I received the exact same level of respect just for being a part of it and I’m honored and lucky that I got to do that.
“Gang Related” airs Thursdays at 9pm on Fox.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.
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