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Ramon Rodriguez discusses his dual role on 'Gang Related'

Terry O'Quinn and Ramon Rodriguez star in "Gang Related."
Terry O'Quinn and Ramon Rodriguez star in "Gang Related."
FOX/Ron Jaffe, with permission

Ramon Rodriguez stars as Detective Ryan Lopez in FOX's gritty new action drama, "Gang Related." Lopez is leading a double life as a member of the LAPD's Gang Task Force, but also as the inside man for a powerful Latino gang, Los Angelicos.

When Ryan's best friend and police partner is senselessly killed by a notorious gang member, Ryan teams up with longtime Task Force member Cassius Green (RZA), who has been at the forefront of the city's war on organized crime. In this war between law enforcement and gangs, the series explores how only people who really know the streets can win the battle on the streets.

That said, Ryan also owns his allegiance to Javier Acosta (Cliff Curtis), the father figure in Ryan's life, who masterminded his entry into the police force. As Lopez has worked his way up the police ladder from patrolman to a rising star on the gang task force, his loyalties are torn as he discovers he prefers being on the right side of the law.

In this interview for the premiere of "Gang Related," Rodriguez talks about playing a character with two sides, how he researched the role and his ride-alongs with the LAPD.

Ryan is leading a double life. How do you approach the role and how was his character developed?

I had about six weeks, where I got to spend time with the LAPD, which was very helpful, doing ride-alongs, surveillance, weapons training, and then they would also introduce me to former and active gang members in different neighborhoods in South Central, Watts, and the Newton division. So I was splitting my division between LAPD and then speaking to active and former gang members.

I also got to go to a prison and speak to some inmates in there to get their perspective on everything -- on gang life, growing up, and also how organized it is. So, that was kind of the research process of that and doing some stuff online and things like that.

The character was developed by Chris Morgan, who wrote the pilot and created the show. Apparently, he was in San Francisco, and he found out that this actually happened, that there are cops who have been found are active gang members or were former gang members. I also asked guys when I was doing my research in the LAPD, and they said this, unfortunately, is a reality and it does happen.

You've got gangs that send some of their members to the military to learn tactics and strategy, and then sometimes even into law enforcement, and they're informants. So I just approached him as a good guy. We had a very clear backstory for why he's doing what he's doing. He's just a complex guy who's having to protect himself and survive but also protect his family, and so he's always putting up several walls to different people. So there's just a psychology behind that. I got to explore that little bit.

Is there anything about your character that you added that wasn't originally scripted for you?

For Ryan, there was a ton of back story that Chris had a general idea of what he wanted for the story and for Ryan, and then I think as we sat down with [executive propducer] Scott [Rosenbaum], and we just started discussing characters' journeys. A lot of the stuff, specifically with Ryan, deals a lot with Javier. So we worked out a lot of the back story stuff. That was a lot of the stuff.

The pilot was written. That was set in stone. It changed a little bit. The location changed, but primarily a lot of the stuff we got to work on was backstory, his relationship with Javier. We felt like it was important to set that foundation in stone so that we know where he comes from and why he's doing what he's doing. Then that also affected Javier, and Cliff had some great thoughts on his character as to what makes Javier and their relationship bond so tightly. We talked about the journey throughout the season, but that was kind of an ongoing process.

In the press kit for "Gang Related," it says "every villain has a noble cause and every hero has a dark side." What themes, such as this, are you most excited for the audience to experience?

I think there's a lot. I think it's really well written, and there are a lot of really great directors that came in and did some really fantastic work, and so there are a lot of great moments. What's really interesting is that every character is very dynamic and complex. It's not black and white. So, each character as you learn and discover about them, they've got stuff going on. They've got rich back stories and rich lives.

The other thing I would say that I'm excited for people to experience is the turn of events and characters' journeys. I think there are some characters on the show that really have some fantastic journeys, and I'm not going to spoiler alert them. But there are some great journeys where you think you know someone, you think you know who they are and how they'll behave, and something is going to affect them. Something is going to change them. And that's another thing, an aspect that I love about the show, is things that happen often are going to have an effect later on. It could be a small thing. A seed will be planted early on, but everything has a bit of a ripple effect, which I love because to me that's a very kind of universal theme where in life it could be karmic, where you do something and something—there'll be a reaction. Every action has a reaction and that happens in the show a lot where things will happen, and then it might come back later on, and you'll go, "Oh wow. I remember when that originally happened it didn't make sense, but now it does."

That, to me, takes very intelligent writing. These writers have really thought out the whole season, and they did callbacks to things, which I always find really captivating and interesting when I watch TV --where I'm like they're smarter than me. They thought this out, and I love that.

Is there anything that you had to do specifically to get into the role to adapt to the character that you're playing?

There's a great book that I read called The Black Hand by Chris Blatchford. He wrote a cool book about the Mexican Mafia and about this guy specifically, "Boxer" Enriquez. It was like his story. And it was fascinating because he's a guy who was a made guy in the Mexican Mafia and how he kind of flipped to the feds and gave information.

"Gang Related" premieres Thursday, May 22 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on FOX.

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