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Interview

The Breaking Bad Interviews: Raymond Cruz
Tuco Salamanca on working two jobs at once and the show's popularity

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Warning: Contains spoilers for seasons 1 to 5A.

The Breaking Bad Interviews: Raymond Cruz

How did you come to be a part of the show?
Sharon Bialy was casting the show and they couldn't find anyone who could pull this part off. They called me and asked if I would look at it. I actually turned it down two or three times before I actually said yes to it.

How so?
They told me to read the script and I knew what I would want to do with it, and where I would want to take it, and I was already exhausted from working on (US cop drama) The Closer all season, so I didn't feel like working. I said no thank you, but Sharon called me and said, 'Please, let me send you the pilot.' So I watched it and thought it was so beautiful. It's shot like a movie, the great shots of the desert and the pace and the storytelling. I told them that I was interested in the part and they asked me to come in and audition, and I did.

Did you expect it to become such a memorable character? And did Vince Gilligan brief you before you took it?
I really wasn't expecting it to be more than a couple of episodes, and then they asked me to come back. I don't think they realised that I was a regular on The Closer, so I was committed to doing that show. What they ended up doing was shooting all my stuff on a Saturday and a Sunday, and then giving their crew Monday and Tuesday off so I could fit it into the schedule. I'd shoot all week on The Closer, fly out on Friday, shoot all day Saturday and Sunday and fly back Sunday night. It was terribly exhausting. It was the reason I stopped doing the part, it was too much. If you look at the part of what Tuco is and what the performance required, it was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting.

Because he's so intense?
The reason I took the part was the challenge of it, I wanted to see how far I could push the character. The show got a lot darker after I was on there.
Oh yeah! When I looked at the part, I kept thinking that any second they're going to tell me, 'You can't do that.' But Vince would come up to me and say, 'That was great!' They were all for it. The reason I took the part was the challenge of it, I wanted to see how far I could push the character. The show got a lot darker after I was on there. I was sort of Walt's mentor on crime, giving him a window onto that world. I think for him, viewing the unbridled aggression and the power that came with that, it spurred him on and gave him a sense of, 'Maybe I can externalise what I'm feeling inside and people will listen to me.'

Did you distance yourself on the set to help stay in character?
When you're working and you're doing a character like this, you do distance yourself from everyone because you're so focused on what you're doing. It's not something you can rehearse. I would never rehearse, when we'd run the scenes, I'd basically just say the lines as we worked out the blocking and the cues. But I wouldn't do anything until the camera rolled. Because you can't, or you'd kill yourself. Even when he's not talking, when he's just listening, there's so much going on underneath. They'd say cut and I'd be tired from the subtext! There were no boundaries.

Was it a challenge switching between a good guy cop in the week to this total villain?
It was, because it was such a completely different character. My wife was not a fan of Tuco. It's not that I brought the character home, but you had that energy that you create, you alter your thought process, so there's always residue and my wife is very sensitive, she could feel it. She couldn't wait for me to be done with it. I was, like, 'YOU can't?' (laughs)

So did she watch the show?
Oh, she loves it. She would watch it and realise what I was doing.

Do you have a theory as to how it will end?
I love it, but I still need to catch up with the latest box set. I think it's going to be surprising, like The Sopranos. I think with Breaking Bad, something will happen, but I think we'll all be shocked.

Which moment are you most proud of?
The scene that we shot in the junkyard when I beat the guy to death - that was one of my favourite scenes.
I'm proud of every moment. The scene that we shot in the junkyard when I beat the guy to death - that was one of my favourite scenes.

It was fun to be such a bad guy?
I never saw him that way, I never saw him as bad or psychopathic. He was trying to maneuver his way through the world the way he looked at things. He had to deal with all these inconveniences, like Walt, who doesn't really have his shit together. I had the henchmen, I had Walt, Jesse the little puss, and trying to put it altogether. In the end he was just trying to make some money.

Why has the show become so popular?
I think it's done well with people because it seems viable in these economic times, with everyone so desperate to try to make ends meet. And it seems like cancer and diseases have come to the forefront in our generation and you see the problems it creates in problems. You almost watch the crippling of America as Walt tries to fight his way out, or hold on to what he has. Or just getting so fed up and saying, 'Fuck you.'

Did you base him on anyone?
No, it was a combination of Vince's writing and just my imagination. Because when you look at the character, and realise what you're dealing with, he's ingesting this chemical that really doesn't exist, this pure form of meth, so everything has to be exaggerated. It's almost like a superhero.


Empire Breaking Back Interviews THE BREAKING BAD INTERVIEWS
Head back to the interview hub for more exclusive interviews with the cast and makers of Breaking Bad

Interview by James White

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