FOX TV’s mid-season police task force series, Gang Related, does not debut until Tuesday, May 20 (9-10p), but it has already created buzz amongst the Latino community some good, some bad. The series – focusing on the conflicted journey of LA Police Detective Ryan Lopez (Ramon Rodriguez) who has a secret allegiance to a local gang lord – not only has three Latino regulars, it spotlights an eclectic mix of Latino characters who live and work on both sides of the law. “We wanted this show to be steeped with the essence of life in Los Angeles,” says series creator/executive producer Chris Morgan. “We don’t just stay in East Los Angeles. We’re shooting in all areas of LA. Wherever the stories take us, that’s where we go.”
“This has certainly been an eye-opening experience for me,” adds Rodriguez, who was born in Puerto Rico and raised in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. “I am seeing parts of LA I didn’t even know existed.” But two regular cast members – Jay Hernandez and Rey Gallegos – are from LA. Not only are they locals, they readily admit that many of the situations and topics explored in this series hit very close to their own life experiences growing up in the City of Angels.
Gallegos, who portrays brutal gang lieutenant Carlos Acosta, admits to witnessing almost every aspect of his character’s life while he was growing up in the neighborhoods of South Central Los Angeles. “I was born in San Pedro but raised everywhere between 112th and Watts, all the way through Carson, Compton and Gardena,” he explains. “So, I do have a personal responsibility to the character. I feel like I’m portraying him as real as possible from where I came from and giving that person a voice on the street. It was pretty important to me to make him a real human being.”
Although he is portraying Carlos’s brother Daniel, Hernandez is happy he gets to portray a character who is the polar opposite from his ultra violent sibling. “I get to be a straight-laced investment banker,” says Hernandez. “He is still connected to the gang, but from a different angle than street violence. I feel there are a lot of parallels between Daniel and myself. Growing up in an inner city like Los Angeles, you are exposed to a lot of things. I always had one foot in Hollywood and one foot out of it. I grew up with family members that have had to go through the prison system and then had to deal with the consequences of making wrong decisions and leading a certain type of lifestyle. I understand them and I understand the path that Daniel takes.”
Rodriguez (Battle Los Angeles, The Wire), Gallegos (Sons of Anarchy, 24) and Hernandez (Last Resort, Hostel) are seasoned performers who are very aware that they are working in an industry that is more likely to perpetuate ethnic stereotypes rather than open up new opportunities for casting. “It would be pretty hard to avoid in a series like this,” says Gallegos. “The title says it all.” Rodriguez adds, “But if the writing works and we do right by our characters, then the stereotypes disappear. And I believe we have that in Gang Related.”
Hernandez admits that for a long period of time, he tried to avoid playing gang members and characters that he thought were perpetuating negative stereotypes about Hispanics and Mexicans. He says, “The difference here is this series tells a layered story, and it isn’t about gangs. It’s about family. It’s about humanity, and it’s about showing that it’s not a black‑and‑white world. There’s a gray area that we all live in. When I first read the script and realized where this character was going, I found it so compelling and so different in terms of what you generally see on network television.”
The cast of Gang Related also includes RZA, Terry O’Quinn, Cliff Curtis, Sung Kang, Inbar Lavi and Shantel VanSanten. Executive producers include Chris Morgan, Scott Rosenbaum and Brian Grazer. The series is produced by Imagine Television and 20th Century Fox Television.