Raymond Cruz, who plays Tuco Salamanca on AMC’s Better Call Saul, talks about making fans nervous and compares his character’s rivalry with Mike to a great boxing match.
Q: What did you think when you realized that Tuco would play a role in Mike‘s own “breaking bad”?
A: I think it’s great, especially for the fans. You get history and all of a sudden, things make sense. Now you know why Mike is such as badass — because he’s had to battle badasses. He’s been there. He’s slayed major dragons.
Jonathan [Banks] is a thrill to work with. Man, he puts himself in there. When you see his work, that’s him. They had a stunt double for him, but he did most of his own stuff. I have so much respect for him.
Q: Can Mike’s smarts outdo Tuco’s crazy?
A: When two fighters step into a ring, they bring different skill sets. On any given day, anyone can win. It’s about whoever lands the right punch at the right time. That’s the conflict between Tuco and Mike. This is like Ali and Frazier. You have no idea what’s going to happen when they’re facing off with each other, but you know something is going to happen, right?
Q: Do you think Tuco feels he’s untouchable, or is he not even thinking that deeply into it?
A: Tuco really believes he’s invincible and that’s why he can dominate people. He’s not afraid of anything. When you face off with the worst of the worst, most things don’t scare you. I would really like to understand where he gets that from. To understand that would be insane. Why is this guy so out there? What path did he take to get him where he is? No one knows. He makes sense of all of it in his mind.
Q: Do you have any tricks or techniques for psyching yourself up to reach Tuco’s crazy level of intensity?
A: There are no tricks. It’s truth. You have to find the truth in the character and then you have to be willing to accept it. That means you believe in a different reality. You can call that a trick, but for the time I’m portraying Tuco, I believe in his reality. I have to accept it and I have to be open and willing to go wherever he takes me. It is hard because it’s like riding a horse that’s never been ridden. It’s wild and there are no parameters.
Q: You’ve talked about the importance of being open-minded towards your characters. Does Tuco have any redeeming qualities?
A: Of course. Tuco is very loyal to the people that he trusts — it takes a lot for him to trust someone — but if he’s on your side, he’s a good ally to have. He also loves his family. That’s one of the great things about him and that really comes across. His family is so important to him. His uncle, his mother, his cousins… he’s a family man! That’s right!
Q: How do fans react when they recognize you on the street?
A: They get nervous. When they ask for a picture, they start shaking. I mean, it manifests itself physically when the fear comes out of them. I always tell them to take a couple because they’re shaking so much. [Laughs] I’m talking about teenage boys, too. It’s like you see this larger-than-life character on film and then he’s standing right in front of you. That has to be shocking. I’m a very quiet person and people expect me to be a lot like Tuco. It’s a credit to my work.
Q: Do you think Tuco can actually tell when someone is lying?
A: I think he can. Honestly, what Tuco is doing is opening himself up to reading any vibes that come off of you. Any nervous tic, any sign of alteration in your speech pattern — he’s trying to read you emotionally, mentally and physically. That’s basically what a lie detector does. He’s giving you the opportunity to confess. [Laughs]
Q: You have the platinum grill from Breaking Bad. Will you be taking the boxing gloves necklace as well?
A: They have to keep it in case there’s a chance I come back! When we ended on Breaking Bad, they gave me the grill because they never thought I was coming back. It’s so cool and a nice memento to have.
Read an interview with Jonathan Banks, who plays Mike Ehrmantraut.
Better Call Saul airs Mondays at 10/9c on AMC. Receive show exclusives by signing up for the Insiders Club.Read More