Raymond Cruz

Submitted by on Oct 2, 2015

Raymond Cruz’s Journey From the Gang Violence of East L.A. to ‘Better Call Saul’s’ Tuco Salamanca

Last spring, journeyman actor Raymond Cruz got a call he wasn’t expecting. The man on the other end of the line was none other than Vince Gilligan. the creator of what many consider one of the finest TV dramas of all-time, Breaking Bad.

Gilligan informed the 53-year-old that they were in the preproduction stages of a spin-off series, Better Call Saul . and required the services of Tuco Salamanca—the Cartel-connected, meth-dealing psycho-nemesis of Walter White on the first two seasons of Breaking Bad .

When we last left the meth-crazy Tuco, he’d dodged a fulminated mercury explosion, a ricin poisoning, and absorbed a gunshot wound to the abdomen, courtesy of Jesse Pinkman, only to be capped in the head following an intense shootout with DEA agent Hank Schrader. But now, he was being resurrected for a prequel.

“I said ‘Of course!’” Cruz says. “I’d loved playing Tuco, and am the biggest Vince Gilligan fan.”

It wasn’t easy for Cruz to shoehorn the role into his schedule. He was already playing Det. Julio Sanchez, a series regular, on the TNT drama Major Crimes. but the producers were generous and allowed him to go out to Albuquerque on weekends to play the unhinged Tuco on Saul, and then return during the week to play cop.

The riveting second episode of Better Call Saul. titled “Mijo,” is a juicy one for Tuco. It sees him knock out two skateboarders attempting to “punk” his abuelita. as well as their master of ceremonies, ambulance-chasing lawyer Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk). He ties them up and brings them to the desert to kill them. But Jimmy, ever the attorney, convinces the feral Tuco to not only let him go free, but also negotiates the release of his two “mophead” accomplices—on the condition that Tuco be allowed to break one leg each.

The Daily Beast caught up with Cruz, an acting vet who’s turned in memorable performances in Clear and Present Danger. Training Day. and TNT’s The Closer. to discuss Tuco’s return and his own journey from the gangland paradise of East L.A. to Hollywood.

You never know. I’m not signed up for any more, but it’s all a matter of if they’d like to revisit it, and if I’m able to do it. He doesn’t return in Season 1. But I thought when I was dead on Breaking Bad it was over. To be able to come back and relive the character is an amazing experience.

What’s your take on Tuco? He does have a strong sense of justice—albeit street justice.

I’ve never looked at Tuco as being a bad guy. I’ve always seen him as the hero of his own story, and someone who has to defend what he’s fighting for, and who will go to any length to protect what he needs to protect. Jimmy’s able to reason with him in the desert because he’s able to appeal to his sense of justice. The way that Tuco looks at things is fair. The thing that happens later on in Breaking Bad is he gets affected by the blue meth, and the drugs completely distort his perception of things, so the drug heightens his emotions. But normally he has a huge heart. He’s like a ferocious pit bull, and you have to be careful when you cross his path.

Raymond CruzRaymond Cruz
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