Finally, Ramon Rodriguez is getting the attention he deserves. Between playing LAPD cop with a secret Ryan Lopez on FOX's gritty new drama Gang Related and hotshot crew member Joe Peck in this spring's awesome Need For Speed, he's taking center stage and making the absolute best of it. On Monday, we connected with Ramon to talk about the show, the movie, and what it's been like to take his career to the deserved next level.
"It's been a really great year, being able to do projects that I believe in and that have been fun," he reflected. "Need For Speed was a blast. Working with a great cast and director and traveling around the country for that film was really special. And then settling back in and being back in Los Angeles for Gang Related, which is a show I really believe in and we also have a wonderful cast and crew. I've just been enjoying the moment and enjoying the ride."
On Gang Related, the actor has a meaty role playing Ryan, whose badge hides adoptive-family ties to the very same organization he's working against, and therefore finds himself torn in two different directions. It's also significant because, after years of doing outstanding supporting work on shows like The Wire and Day Break, he gets to be the star of the show. Other actors might be intimidated, but he rose to the challenge.
"It was a great opportunity," he told us. "But I didn't feel any different than I do normally. I never look at roles and go 'Oh, this is a small part.' I think every part's pretty significant. The process for me didn't really change. I got a little more extra time, which was really cool, to research the character and understand who he is and where he comes from. It just required more of me."
"It's a tough character when you don't get to be vulnerable. He's hiding himself from a lot of people," he continued. "I think for me the highlights were the people I went to work with. I was fortunate enough that I got to have scenes with everyone on the show. I was able to have scenes with Terry O'Quinn and the cop side, and I was able to have scenes with the family side. And I enjoyed both equally."
The main tension of the show revolves around Ryan's divided loyalties and possible outing as a double agent, and Ramon told us that his character's exposure is something that's already being considered by the production team. "There's been a lot of discussion of that," he explained. "The writers, they were always conscious of it as they were writing the season. Who finds out? When does it happen? How does it happen? The writers love that aspect of the show, of watching Ryan try to get out of situations.
"The walls closing in, that's going to happen more and more as the season progresses. It becomes more and more difficult and challenging for Ryan to cover," he continued. "And I think also he's figuring out, is he doing the right thing? The thing that always attracted me was this person who's trying to find himself. I think that just becomes the question more and more, and it's highlighted as some of the things he has to do, he disagrees with."
With his dynamic performance, Ramon has turned Ryan into a character TV audiences have to root for. He's not the first cop to play both sides, but for the first time in a long time, we really get to see the emotional and moral toll that duplicity takes over an extended period of time. We're able to put ourselves in his head and understand, if not necessarily agree with, the decisions that he makes. He's truly a character who lives in the moral grey area, and it's hard to imagine anyone but Ramon Rodriguez who could carry that off week after week.
Yet while we've been enjoying his work, he appreciated that his recent successes have given him the opportunity to work with top-tier colleagues like Terry O'Quinn, Cliff Curtis and Aaron Paul. Asked what he picked up from his co-stars, he told us, "Just soaking up the process and being around them and getting to play with them. And what they bring to the table on the day, it's always fascinating to see that.
"Terry and Cliff, who I've seen their work for a long time, it's been great to just be around them and see their process. There's a lot of great qualities about those guys and you see why they've been in the business for so long," he added. "Aaron was great. He's such a great guy and he was just a pleasure. It's been fun working with all of them."
Now that he's in a prime position, where other actors might hit cruise control, Ramon is looking forward to continuing to improve at his craft - and for him, that doesn't just mean reading the lines off the page. It means being a part of the entire process. "I love a challenge," he said. "Ryan was definitely a challenging role. That to me is the fun in the art, where you get to play and discover things.
"It was a really great creative experience. I got to collaborate with the writers and the creator of the show, and that's a lot of fun for me," he continued. "You feel like you're really a part of this journey of discovering and breaking down someone and understanding who they are. It was a constant collaboration."
Hearing how thoughtfully he speaks of the work he's been doing, it's no surprise at all that he's also flexing his muscles as a writer. "I'm writing a screenplay right now with a dear friend, Rosie Perez," he told us, as he was preparing for a read-through of the script the following day. "I've been working on this for several years. It's a personal piece; it's my passion project. It's something I plan on directing. And I think producing and being behind the scenes, I enjoy that process as much as being in front of the camera."
He'll likely be a natural fit. Whether he's starring in Gang Related or riding shotgun in Need For Speed, we've enjoyed the way Ramon Rodriguez has been able to create characters that you can always tell serious thought went into, and who feel fully realized no matter who they are or how long they're on screen. Off-camera, he's also a truly genuine and humble individual who deserves to be recognized for being one of the good people in the Hollywood world, too. There should be more people like him in the business.
Thankfully, this year has finally given Ramon his deserved chance to shine. Whether it's as an actor, a writer, a director, or all of the above, he's a talent that you need to keep your eye on.
Gang Related airs Thursdays at 9 PM ET/PT on FOX; Need For Speed arrives on Blu-Ray and DVD in August. For more on Ramon, you can also follow him on Twitter (@RodriguezRamon).