Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.
Just when you thought we couldn’t get another cop show, here you go. However, “Gang Related” aims to make things a little more interesting, and interesting it is.
“Gang Related” follows the journey of an up and coming Los Angeles elite gang task force operative named Ryan Lopez (Ramon Rodriguez). However, long before becoming a cop, he pledged his allegiance to the powerful Latino gang Los Angelicos.
It’s like “The Departed,” but gangnam style (bad joke). This is the story about being caught between two opposing sides and the life altering choices we make along the way.
Fresh Fiction had the opportunity to speak up with two of the series stars, RZA and Rodriguez. We talked about character development, role research and preparation.
RZA, how did you become involved in the project?
RZA: “I got involved as the character Cassius Green. Allen Hughes, the director of the pilot, had reached out to me after my agent sent the material. I read it. Of course, was really blown away by the writing of Chris Morgan and Scott and what they had in mind for the show. It felt more like a feature film but I wasn’t sure about going and jumping into the TV world.
Allen and I had dinner, and he described to me what he thought the character was and what it would be and what it would mean for me to play this character, and he was willing to adjust the character a little bit as far as his background, bring him from Harlem, New York instead of him being a guy that grew up on the streets of L.A. as he was originally written. I know Allen, and I trusted his creative ability. I met Chris at various times on other projects, and I trusted their creative ability of what they were going to try to bring to the series.”
Ramon, your character, Ryan Lopez, is dealing with an identity crisis in his personal life. In terms of the show, his ability to act is what’s keeping him alive. How did you approach the role, and how was the character developed?
Ramon Rodriguez: “I approached him as a good guy, and we had a very kind of clear back story for his motives. He’s kind of 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 these characters that you added that wasn’t originally scripted for you?
Rodriguez: “For Ryan, there was a ton of back story that—there was some stuff that Chris kind of had a general idea of what he wanted for the story and for Ryan, and then I think as we sat down with Scott—I sat down with Scott and Chris, and we just started discussing characters’ journeys. We felt like that was a very important to set that foundation in stone so that we know where he comes from and why he’s doing what he’s doing. And then we talked about the journey throughout the season, but that was kind of an ongoing process.”
RZA: “I think what I brought to Cassius was the New York element. They wrote him originally, like I said, as a guy from California, but then they were just able to readjust him to be a guy from Harlem. So that is a territory I know. But when they asked me, for instance, what kind of car would he drive, and I thought about what would a New York guy do if you came to California. Most likely he would want to kind of blend into the California culture, watching videos young and getting a classic muscle car that the California guys drive and all that. So I started coming from this New York total persona.”
RZA, you’ve worked with an eclectic list of directors such as Jim Jarmusch and Ridley Scott, and of course you’ve directed yourself, so you have a bit of background of how the process works. What attracted you to “Gang Related,” since it’s a television program which has a completely different format than ﬁlms?
RZA: “The difference between a ﬁlm and TV is that you get a new director almost every week, and so you really got to readjust every week, and there have been times when I felt a little out of place in a sense. The director hasn’t been there for six weeks, so he doesn’t know the characters as well as we do. But when you take on a job like this you’ve got to become puppeteered, and I’m willing to be a puppet in somebody’s hands.”
I was drawn to the line in my press kit, “every villain has a noble cause and every hero has a dark side.” This shade of gray is an element that I’ve found to be lacking in pretty much every other police drama that I’ve seen on television right now. What themes such as this are you most excited for the audience to experience?
Rodriguez: “I mean, what’s really interesting is that I think every character is very dynamic and complex. It’s not black and white. So each character as you learn and kind of discover about them, they’ve got stuff going on. What I’m excited for people to experience is kind of the turn of events and characters’ journeys. I think there are some characters on the show that really have some fantastic journeys.”
Is there anything that you had to do specifically to get into the role to adapt to the character that you’re playing?
RZA: “I tried to absorb some of their life and personal lives into my life, which will make me become who my character Cassius is. I think that during the process this show is that Cassius gets to know Ryan in the same way that as me, myself, have to get to know Ramon. I’ve seen his work, and I knew of his , but we’re friends that came together creatively.”
Rodriguez: “I deﬁnitely spent some time with the LAPD. I spent some time speaking to former and active gang members, whether it was through the LAPD sources or through some direct contacts that I had with people, and then I did—I did some reading. There’s a great book that I read called The Black Hand by—I believe it’s Chris Blatchford. He wrote a cool book about the Mexican Maﬁa and about this guy speciﬁcally, “Boxer” Enriquez. It was kind of like his story.”
The series premiere is tonight 9/8c on FOX.
Feature Photo: The cast of “Gang Related.” Photo courtesy of FOX.
Center Photo: RZA and Ramon Rodriguez of “Gang Related.” Photo courtesy of FOX.