Raymond Cruz Interview: "Major Crimes" Star Talks "Huge Payoff" for Character
Image attributed to TNT
Raymond Cruz portrayed Detective Julio Sanchez for seven seasons on TNT’s police drama The Closer (2005-2012) and continued in that role in its spinoff, Major Crimes, which began its fourth season on June 8, 2015. He is also known for his recurring role as drug lord Tuco Salamanca in the crime drama Breaking Bad and its spinoff Better Call Saul.
Other television appearances include Cagney & Lacey, Murder, She Wrote, The X Files, The Division, 24, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Nip/Tuck, My Name is Earl, Day Break and White Collar, and films Maid to Order, Under Siege, Clear and Present Danger, The Substitute, The Rock, Up Close and Personal, Alien: Resurrection, From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money, Training Day and Collateral Damage, just to name a few.
"I watch every single show. I’m a fan, and I approach it like that. Most of the time when I shoot, I have no idea, and when I’m done, I can’t wait to see it put together. I love movies, and I love television. And I never recognize myself in the roles. I have no idea what I’m doing until I see it. I mean, I know exactly what I’m doing as an actor like from point to point with the character, but to see the results … I’m always a huge fan."
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Raymond, great to talk to you today. I’m a fan of both The Closer and Major Crimes! Making the jump to Major Crimes from The Closer, did you ever think you didn’t want to continue playing Detective Julio Sanchez?
Raymond Cruz: No. You know, it was a real treat to be able to continue with this character because to be able to take a character over such a long period of time is amazing for an actor. You get to really explore the character without just giving everything at once. It’s like peeling an onion. You get layer and layer upon layer until you finally get to the heart of the character.
This Monday night, we have an amazing episode that’s going to air where there’s a huge payoff for my character, and you finally understand what motivates Sanchez and what bothers him. You find out the truth about what happened to his family, to his wife particularly. I guarantee that you’ll be left in tears. It’s so heart wrenching when you see what happens. It’s such a dynamic episode.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Julio’s anger is always bubbling right underneath the surface ready to explode any minute. Is that difficult to play?
Raymond Cruz: Yeah. You have to generate that from an artificial spark. You have to really find some sort of emotional, visceral output so the people can react to it. It is exhausting to play. You’ve always got to be carrying it somewhere underneath. Do you know what I mean? It’s always there because it’s such a part of the character. You try to turn it off, but again, you have to carry it.
You know the show, and you know the character. It has been there since the pilot episode of The Closer. There has always been something. It’s an amazing thing to have that over such a long period of time where people understand and recognize this thing about the character. Then you find out why, and you get this huge payoff in the upcoming episode.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): After his suspension, does Sanchez have to prove himself to the other detectives in order for him to fit in again?
Raymond Cruz: I’m sure there’s a lot of trepidation for Julio and the other characters as well. What’s amazing is that we’re dramatizing real life within the LAPD, so you have these real characters and the real chemistry, but you also have the situations that they’re put in. It mirrors what actually occurs because we follow faithfully how they have to maneuver their way through the justice system, dealing with the District Attorney and dealing with this criminal element in society where you’re dealing with the worst people doing the worst things imaginable, and you have to make sense of it.
You’re the first line of defense. It’s very intense. So we’re trying to dramatize that and then get people to really understand it’s not an easy job, and the world’s not really an easy and safe place, but someone has to do it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I know that Julio flirts with the young girls, but could we see him in a serious love relationship this season?
Raymond Cruz: There have been opportunities, but just like real life, you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find the one that you want to stay with. You’ve got to find your frog (laughs). It’s not an easy task. It’s in the workplace. You meet people because that’s where you spend most of your time. We get little glimpses of that, so hopefully at some point, Sanchez will have some sort of meaningful relationship.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How will the serial rapist/killer Phillip Stroh storyline be dealt with in upcoming episodes?
Raymond Cruz: I don’t really know what’s going on with Stroh because that’s all writer stuff, but I know that every character will have to deal in some way with some sort of event where they’ll have to step up because it’s about courage, like Julio finding the courage to come back to work after being suspended and having to step back into the workplace in this very dangerous environment and having to reintroduce himself to the team to be viable again. That’s a big deal and there are a lot of different little subtleties that go along with that. Every character, at some point, will have to face something during the season, so it will be a really interesting season for the fans.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Sanchez is the resident expert on gangs, but you actually grew up in that environment.
Raymond Cruz: I sure did. I grew up around gangs and gang members. In my large extended family, I have a lot of cousins who were hardcore gangbangers. I tell people that I don’t judge. I just accept and respect people for who and what they are. Some of the biggest good lessons I’ve learned in life were from bad people.
It is interesting because I’ve played gangbangers in the films Blood In Blood Out and Havoc. I don’t think there was any way I could’ve brought these realistic portrayals to life without having that experience.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you ever think of joining a gang because of peer pressure?
Raymond Cruz: I had so many family … I was so immersed in that. It was all around me. You have the freedom to choose, but I had so many people around me that were hardcore gangbangers, it was never really an issue, like “Do you want to join?” You choose what you want to do. I grew up in it. It was weird.
It was just my environment, so it was normal to me. I didn’t really see anything different until I was older. But, no, I never joined a gang. I never wanted to join a gang. But I had so many friends that were gang members, and I hung out with them on a daily basis, but there was never any pressure.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): When did your interest in acting begin and why?
Raymond Cruz: It began in junior high school from doing school plays and in college when I got involved in theater. I’d always been a huge fan of American literature, so I was fascinated by the translation of the written word to performance. I read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and it was one of my favorite books. Then when I saw the movie, I was over the moon about it. It was so fascinating to see the literature brought to life. I think that’s what really sparked it. It was just my relationship with literature. It was reading books.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’m not too far from Monroeville, Alabama, where Harper Lee was born and raised.
Raymond Cruz: I can’t wait for the new book to come out! Right?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Absolutely! You know, I went back and watched a 1988 episode of Cagney & Lacey that had a very young Raymond Cruz playing a small part.
Raymond Cruz: Oh yeah! I was so excited to do it because I used to watch the show. It’s interesting when you’re a young actor, and you watch these shows and get a small part or something in it. It’s so exciting to be able to walk into their world and help tell the story. I loved Cagney & Lacey! I was in Murder, She Wrote also. I’ve done so much television.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You were happy when Tuco died on Breaking Bad, so what made you want to resurrect the character for Better Call Saul?
Raymond Cruz: You know, I didn’t want to come back (laughs). It’s such a hard character to try to pull off. We’re shooting twelve to fourteen hours a day out in Albuquerque. It’s about 115 degrees, and we’re outside. Usually my character ends up in the desert, so they’re all exterior shots, and it’s so hard and exhausting to try and pull this character off. I’m the one that asked them to kill me in the first place on Breaking Bad, so when they killed off my character, I was relieved. I was like, “Oh, great!” Then they asked me to come back for Better Call Saul (laughs).
I don’t know, but it was great because I’d had a period of time where I was divorced from the character, so I could come back and revisit him at a different point in his life. It was a different challenge, so it was fun to do it, and I really wanted to work with Bob Odenkirk because I’d never worked with him on Breaking Bad, and I was a big fan. I always liked Bob. It was for the challenge.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Speaking of a challenge, it must’ve been a huge one to play the late Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro and then afterward divorce yourself from that character.
Raymond Cruz: I think it took about a month after I was done to just be completely over it. I gained thirty pounds in two weeks to play the part. I did all my research, and played this monster. It probably took about a month afterward to just shed myself of everything from it. It was really difficult.
It was a challenge for me to play a real life monster. Growing up I loved all the monster movies like Frankenstein, Dracula, The Hunchback (of Notre Dame), and I was always fascinated. Then to be able to play a real life monster was a blessing because I really wanted to help tell the story and bring the truth to the character as much as I could from what I could find out about him.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): An awesome portrayal. Do you watch yourself in shows and in films?
Raymond Cruz: I watch every single show. I’m a fan, and I approach it like that. Most of the time when I shoot, I have no idea, and when I’m done, I can’t wait to see it put together. I love movies, and I love television. And I never recognize myself in the roles. I have no idea what I’m doing until I see it. I mean, I know exactly what I’m doing as an actor like from point to point with the character, but to see the results … I’m always a huge fan.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): And I imagine you are diametrically opposite from the men you play that are aggressive and/or violent?
Raymond Cruz: Oh ma’am, I’m so quiet. I’m so quiet, and I like to read. I like to tinker in the garage. I love working on motorcycles and cars. I like to be alone (laughs). If I’m in a room with a lot of people, I’m probably the last person you’ll notice. I’m practically invisible. It’s completely opposite from a lot of roles I’ve played.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That’s a great testament to your acting skills, Raymond.
Raymond Cruz: Well, thank you.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Final thoughts?
Raymond Cruz: Right now we’re deep into Major Crimes. We’re on our seventh episode. Number two airs this Monday night, which is an amazing one because I guarantee you that by the end, you’ll be left in tears. It’ll be an amazing ride because there’s so much that comes out. By the end, it’s such an emotional mental payoff for the fans and for the history of the show. You get a huge understanding of what motivates my character.
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