By JUDY SLOANE
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD-ABC’s new procedural crime drama “Will Trent” is based on Karin Slaughter’s New York Times bestselling novels about a Special Agent in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI.)
Ramon Rodriguez (“The Wire,” “The Affair”) portrays Trent, abandoned by his parents as a child, forced to grow up in Atlanta’s foster care system. Despite being dyslexic, his keen eye for detail has led him to becoming a GBI agent with the highest clearance rate. And making sure nobody is abandoned like he was he adopts a stray Chihuahua named Betty.
The series premiered on January 3, 2023, as ABC’s No 1 series debut this season. It can be seen weekly on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT.
For the first time in three years, the TV Critics Association tour was held at the Langham Hotel in Pasadena, California, where Ramon Rodriguez joined us to talk about his new drama. Lying on his lap throughout the entire interview was Belle the dog, who plays Betty on the series.
Q: Were you a fan of the books before this opportunity came your way as both star and producer?
Ramon Rodriguez: I wasn’t familiar with the books, and so I dove into them and got into Fractured and Triptych. There were a lot of things about the character that I really loved. Karin did an amazing job creating this underdog, somebody that’s a really resilient human being that had a complicated past and has figured out a way to navigate the world in a very unique way and with a unique perspective that actually helps him with cases and crimes. There were a lot of characteristics about the guy and his moral compass, his empathy, his heart. He’s pretty much a loner. Adopting a dog that he doesn’t want; one of the brilliant things in the pilot that I thought was a great way to introduce a character, which they did brilliantly, is to have this scene with the Chihuahua where we see him adopt Betty.
Q: Talk a little about your biggest scene stealer.
Rodriguez: Anybody that’s in the business knows you don’t do scenes with animals and kids, it’s a risk. It’s a gamble. You don’t know what you’re going to get. She’s a bona fide pro. Look at her. (He glances down at Belle lying calmly on his lap) This is what it is on set. She’s very relaxed. She’s got the best job out of all of us. She comes in, knocks out her scenes, goes home in, like, an hour. We lucked out. She’s amazing.
Q: Will Trent observes so much, do you find that you are more aware of things outside of the set than maybe you were in the past?
Rodriguez: In Will’s words, I think and I believe I’m a pretty observant guy. I’m a pretty sensitive person as well. I grew up in an apartment in New York with four women. I tend to learn visually as well. I really rely on that, and I think that’s why I do what I do. And so I connect with Will, the way he interprets and takes in information and what he does with it. There are some parallels there that I connected with for sure.
Q: There is a lot to Will Trent’s backstory and past. How much research did you have to do on that?
Rodriguez: We have the fortunate thing where we have great source material with the books, so I got to read and learn about Will’s backstory through that, what he went through. And I had to educate myself on things like dyslexia, which I know about but I didn’t know in depth. And then, also, the foster care system in Atlanta and understanding that system.
And the other thing that was a major thing for me was his sound. This is somebody that grew up in Georgia and in that environment in Atlanta. I’m a New Yorker. I wanted to lose the New York and bring some Georgia/Atlanta sounds and so did a lot of work on the dialect to find where it’s just right; subtle and nuanced, but specific, so that people [who] might be from there might not question it and go, “Great. This guy is representing that sound that comes from where we are.”
Q: When did you first realize you wanted to be an actor? And what was the hardest part of achieving it?
Rodriguez: I didn’t want to be an actor. That wasn’t something I was actively pursuing. I was big into sports. Basketball was my biggest passion growing up. To be honest, I wanted to play in the NBA. I played in college, had a scholarship. And a buddy of mine invited me to this Nike event in New York City. I didn’t even want to go, but he told me they were giving away free sneakers, and of course I said yes.
So I go and I end up winning this event doing a basketball trick that got Nike to say, “We’d love to do these commercials. Would you like to be a part of them?” I did the commercials. That put me in front of the camera, and then I fell in love with it. I started taking classes and really dedicated myself to the craft. Not a normal, typical route, but I’m enjoying it.