Now that FOX TV’s comedy/drama Rake has been safely launched, airing Thursdays (9-10pm) – focusing on the chaotic life of a brilliant but monumentally self-destructive Los Angeles defense attorney Keegan Dean (Greg Kinnear) – series creator/executive producer Peter Duncan readily admits this is not your ordinary courtroom drama. “This is not a procedural show per se. There are very interesting cases, but it’s really about the characters. And as the show grows, the relationships between the characters are really the glue of the thing.”
“That’s where my character Ben Leon comes in,” says Brooklyn-born Nuyorican John Ortiz. “Ben is a kind of counter-balance to Keegan. They go all they way back to their days in law school. He is also a lawyer but he has his stuff together. Ben is married and committed to being a family man, whereas Keegan has racked up massive gambling debts, is being hounded by hoods and is in love with a prostitute. It’s friends like me and others that keep Keegan from going too far off the really deep end.” Aside from Ortiz, series regulars include Miranda Otto, Necar Zadegan, Bojana Novakovic, Tara Summers, David Harbour and Ian Colletti.
Ortiz’s last venture on the small screen – portraying horse trainer Turo Escalante – was in the short-lived 2012 HBO series, Luck. Although not a household national name, Ortiz has enjoyed a 20-year career in film, television and live theater. His film career began in 1993 in Carlito’s Way, starring Al Pacino. Most recent film work includes American Gangster, two Fast & Furious films and Silver Linings Playbook.
“In New York, I am better known for my stage work.” Ortiz admits. “I love working in live theater.” Although he went to University of Albany with the idea of being a teacher, he decided to try out for a play. He chuckles, “I guess I just went from there.” In 1992, Ortiz formed Latino Actors Base with 13 other Latino actors. This eventually morphed into acclaimed LAByrinth Theater Company. In 1003, he made his Broadway debut in Nilo Cruz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Anna of the Tropics, opposite Jimmy Smits and fellow LAByrinth member David Zayas.
Currently residing in L.A. with his wife and 7-year-old son, Ortiz feels Rake – which was adapted from an Australian series – has a good chance of being successful. He affirms, “Aside from all the really interesting courtroom stuff, the show is funny and the relationships work. Keegan and Ben are believable friends. And there are a lot of real-life issues that are explored, in the courtroom and in their lives. Yep! I think we have a good shot here.”