Better Call Saul's Raymond Cruz on How They Kept His Character a Secret

'I felt like I was in the witness protection program.'

by | February 10, 2015 | Comments

Better Call Saul is finally here and one of the biggest surprises this week has been the reemergence of Tuco’s character. Rotten Tomatoes talked with Raymond Cruz about how he kept the role a secret, where he found the real-life inspiration for his character, and whether or not Tuco’s that bad of a guy. [Warning: Spoilers for the first two episodes within!]

Sarah Ricard for Rotten Tomatoes: How long have known that you would be reprising the role of Tuco and how did you find out?

Raymond Cruz: I heard they were doing a prequel to Breaking Bad that was going to take place about five or six years prior, but I didn’t know they were going to want me to do the show until they were already in production. When they were getting ready to shoot, when they were writing, they contacted me and asked me if I would do it, and I was like,
‘Wow, I don’t know if I really want to go back and revisit this character.’ It’s really difficult to do that character.

RT: I had read an interview with you a couple of years ago and you were saying that it was really difficult and that your wife wasn’t really into it.

Cruz: My wife hated it. She hated Tuco. She hated the energy. When you’re building these characters, you’re not only changing and altering your thought process, but when you’re looking for the emotional support to the character, it’s all energy, so it’s a whole different feel than what she’s used to. I’ve been doing Major Crimes for the last 11 years and she likes that character a lot… Tuco is this wild beast. My wife is like, ‘Get away from me.’

RT: How would you characterize Tuco? I’ve seen him described as a psychopath and I’ve read the interpretation that Tuco just does what he knows. Where does he fall into that range for you?

Cruz: I never thought of him as a bad guy.There are lots of people who say, ‘He’s terrible; he’s evil.’ I’ve never looked at the character that way. I don’t think I’ve ever looked at any character [that way]. I don’t make a judgement. I just look at what he’s doing and how he’s trying to do it. He’s very passionate. He’s not the most cerebral guy, but he is smart — I’m talking about street smarts. He’s almost like a dog. They feel you out… We saw that with Breaking Bad. He’ll feel you out. He’ll take emotionally what he’s getting from you and then he doesn’t hold back. With a lot of characters, when you’re reading them and trying to build, you’re looking at what the parameters are. I never found parameters for Tuco — emotional or mental. When we were doing Breaking Bad, everything he did was altered by the blue meth that he was taking because it heightens everything. There was no end.

RT: Right. Breaking Bad‘s Tuco was high on this drug that doesn’t even exist in Better Call Saul.

Cruz: It’s interesting because when I was working on him and trying to find him, I remembered when I was a kid, I saw a guy who was high on PCP, he was naked, he got on top of a police car, and he kicked the windshield. He was laughing and it was almost like he was superhuman, so that always stuck with me.

RT: But the Tuco that we see in Better Call Saul isn’t there yet.

Cruz: Right. But you can see that he doesn’t hold back. He’s very angry and dominant and fierce. Tuco’s very loyal to the things he cares about, which is basically his family.

RT: The fact that he’s so angry with those two kids is less so that they’re trying to pull one over on him and more that they called his grandma a — what was it?

Cruz: Biznatch. It’s funny because when we were shooting that I was like, ‘What the hell does that even mean?’ and you can see it in the character. He’s trying to figure it out, but he knows it’s not good.

RT: So that comes from a place of you not really knowing that means.

Cruz: Right. But then I have to equate it to something that’s horrible.

RT: When you beat them with the cane, it’s so violent. What was it like to shoot that?

Cruz: Well, I’m very physical. I grew up boxing. I’ve done almost all of my own stunts in movies and in television and I’ve been injured a lot. I’ve dislocated both arms, I’ve had a broken hand, I got stabbed on The Closer.

RT: Oh my gosh! There’s method acting and then there’s getting stabbed!

Cruz: It was an accident. It was an accident.

RT: I hope so!

Cruz: You know what it is? I watch a lot of television and I watch a lot of film and I hate when you watch the action sequences — and I always tell when they use a stunt man — and then they put the actor in and you can tell these actors haven’t done anything… Again, Tuco’s way out there so there has to be raw physicality. If you’re willing to do it, you just have to accept that you’re going to get injured. It’s just part of the job.

RT: One thing that’s quickly apparent about this show is that it’s just so funny. Having played the same character in Breaking Bad, are you sensing a different vibe with this one?

Cruz: Yes, because of Bob Odenkirk and what he brings to the scenes. Tuco sets everything off but Bob has this great reactionary sense about him when he’s in the scenes. He’s terrified and he’s trying so hard to lighten things to possibly tilt it in his favor so he can walk out of there and Tuco’s amused by this. It was the same thing in Breaking Bad with the lead characters. I’d always been amused by the ways they tried to manipulate him. It’s like a cat playing with a mouse… these guys are trying to use their intelligence and talk their way out of it, so it’s almost shocking to me, like someone trying to throw water in your face. You’re like, Whaaat?

RT: By episode two, “Mijo,” we see a dynamic between Tuco and Nacho that seems like Nacho is learning all the different angles of Tuco to make a play.

Cruz: That’s the thing. Tuco can’t be handled. You have to stand back and hopefully not get in the way because if he focuses on you? You’re f—ed. If you draw too much attention from him, you’re screwed.

RT: How did you keep this part under wraps? It was such a great reveal when the door opens and we see your face in “Uno.”

Cruz: It was out of respect for Vince [Gilligan]. They didn’t want me to tell anyone. When we went to shoot, they would hide me under the umbrella. When we’d go to set, I’d have to lie down in the van. When I was at the hotel, I was under an assumed name. I felt like I was in the witness protection program. No one knew I was there but the crew — and they were all sworn to secrecy.

RT: So now that it’s out there, what’s been the best reaction? Because I know that after the reveal, Twitter exploded.

Cruz: That’s the great reaction — that everyone’s so excited… You get another chance to live through Tuco.

RT: By the way, the shot of you down on your hands and knees and cleaning the carpet is so funny.

Cruz: What about when I have my apron on?

RT: Tuco likes to cook!

Cruz: It was evident in Breaking Bad. He has a domestic side.

RT: That’s the thing about him. He has these moments when he’s so sweet to his grandma, and then he can bludgeon a guy or break his legs. It’s at once horrifying and hilarious. The scene with the negotiation in the desert is so tense and you feel all these emotions simultaneously while you’re watching. I don’t know if you can feel that on set — how funny it is, but also how violent and scary it is.

Cruz: Well, I knew it was funny because when they would cut, the crew would start laughing. Not when we were doing the take, but then we’d cut and they’d be like, ‘Oh my god, that was so funny.’ I’ve always looked at Breaking Bad as a dark comedy, so when we were approaching Saul, again, it was a tense drama, but it’s funny. Whether you feel uncomfortable and it’s funny because of that, or funny because of the situations, or funny because of the players, it works.

RT: The character of Saul was such a wonderful comedic character in Breaking Bad, but it’s going to be really cool to see him as a fully realized person in this show.

Cruz: It’s great to see in the first episode how he gets pushed into a corner and he’s fighting for survival and that he’s trying to figure out where to draw the lines — what’s ethical, what’s not, where do you push that line to, what am I going to be okay with — because everyone has to decide for themselves what’s ethical for them. Tuco’s lines are in a whole different place than other people. And if I kill you, that’s why. You got in the way.

Better Call Saul returns next Monday, Feb. 16 at 10 pm on AMC. Season one is currently Certified Fresh at 100 percent. See reviews here.

Tag Cloud

Tarantino Chernobyl christmas movies cooking what to watch screenings Sneak Peek Mudbound Cartoon Network Mary Poppins Returns serial killer Awards spanish language Lifetime Classic Film Netflix dragons theme song The CW Comics on TV Film travel TV Shudder Opinion Video Games Lionsgate harry potter Lucasfilm HBO Max CW Seed NBC canceled TV shows Pixar CBS Character Guide Avengers Western Superheroes TCA Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Acorn TV Interview Action children's TV doctor who VICE witnail slashers biography hispanic OWN Lifetime Christmas movies First Reviews stand-up comedy San Diego Comic-Con romantic comedy Comedy BBC Pop Disney Plus zombies elevated horror Adult Swim Hulu GoT AMC Captain marvel binge dc Fall TV Year in Review Trailer 2016 Horror LGBTQ Marvel Studios Reality toy story period drama Drama Rock miniseries American Society of Cinematographers Mystery ABC Family Mindy Kaling WarnerMedia Countdown comiccon Sundance tv talk Arrowverse 2017 HBO indie RT History 71st Emmy Awards TBS cancelled strong female leads politics Kids & Family space Paramount Network Sundance Now Valentine's Day History Winter TV Family Grammys Emmy Nominations Ellie Kemper unscripted Emmys psycho Awards Tour Star Wars renewed TV shows Nominations DC Universe FX A24 boxoffice cats Disney+ Disney Plus 24 frames technology FOX Country 2019 Creative Arts Emmys robots facebook Amazon Prime Video batman festivals historical drama cinemax USA Warner Bros. Vudu latino RT21 diversity Best and Worst GLAAD medical drama Anna Paquin Photos TCA 2017 Premiere Dates Hallmark Christmas movies YouTube game of thrones based on movie Walt Disney Pictures hist Disney streaming service Apple aliens Oscars Comedy Central joker Pirates Comic Book CMT anthology Christmas DGA MSNBC cops Polls and Games Super Bowl movies National Geographic Red Carpet crime Cannes APB MTV Dark Horse Comics E! south america Endgame Masterpiece Paramount Rocketman Martial Arts VH1 natural history versus ratings Podcast cars nature Pet Sematary Hallmark Election Esquire CBS All Access Ghostbusters streaming free movies Trophy Talk Apple TV Plus Schedule DC Comics ABC WGN cancelled television PaleyFest ghosts TV renewals DirecTV CNN Writers Guild of America mockumentary Logo 21st Century Fox Watching Series Cosplay Binge Guide The Arrangement crime drama talk show GIFs cults DC streaming service cancelled TV shows video revenge Nickelodeon discovery 45 Set visit Calendar YA Music foreign casting justice league Sci-Fi Turner 2015 E3 Sony Pictures Elton John SXSW TV Land science fiction sports animated 20th Century Fox Marathons transformers sequel award winner Animation The Purge Syfy kids mutant Spectrum Originals See It Skip It Fantasy series Summer sitcom Musicals Columbia Pictures ESPN supernatural Peacock Film Festival Reality Competition cartoon Quiz Winners blockbuster Holidays docudrama Black Mirror political drama independent 2020 Epix New York Comic Con police drama TNT crime thriller anime PBS war Extras Stephen King Toys singing competition game show TCM Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt name the review President Box Office zero dark thirty TLC A&E teaser finale Universal crossover spider-man First Look MCU FXX LGBT SDCC comics comic Mary Tyler Moore Amazon spinoff Star Trek The Witch Showtime Song of Ice and Fire golden globes rotten movies we love TruTV composers USA Network jamie lee curtis Crackle book Britbox quibi adventure romance The Walking Dead Disney Channel Amazon Prime Netflix Christmas movies SundanceTV Tumblr Trivia blaxploitation Certified Fresh adaptation dceu BBC America NYCC Superheroe breaking bad Teen Holiday Spring TV Rom-Com Bravo spain dramedy social media Food Network Starz vampires IFC Films thriller Marvel disaster Apple TV+ Infographic 007 Marvel Television true crime Nat Geo YouTube Premium Ovation BET Rocky cancelled TV series green book X-Men IFC television Shondaland Disney Heroines psychological thriller Spike canceled Musical Women's History Month Freeform Biopics Pride Month spy thriller Turner Classic Movies Thanksgiving halloween werewolf Fox News zombie Crunchyroll YouTube Red TIFF richard e. Grant 2018 El Rey Tomatazos Television Academy Brie Larson ITV Mary poppins