'Better Call Saul's' Tuco on Brutal Role: "There's Nothing Fun About It"

Raymond Cruz says the character had plenty of anger even before being a drug addict in 'Breaking Bad': "The meth was fuel on the fire, but he was always on fire."
Raymond Cruz in 'Breaking Bad'

[Warning: Spoilers ahead for Monday's episode of Better Call Saul, "Mijo."]

Tuco (Raymond Cruz) came back with a vengeance on Tuesday's Better Call Saul.

After Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) and the skateboarding twins (Daniel Spenser Levine and Steven Levine) stumbled into Tuco's clutches, he took them to the desert, where he was eager to give them violent deaths. Nacho (Michael Mando) intervened, showing that Tuco could be reasoned with — and has not yet become the meth-fueled drug distributor Breaking Bad fans know and fear.

See more 'Breaking Bad': 25 Most Badass Quotes

In Breaking Bad, he would kill on a whim, his judgment clouded by drug use. But he's not quite there yet in Saul. In a chat with The Hollywood Reporter, Cruz reveals the injuries and trauma playing Tuco brings, the backstory he helped develop, and why he's unsure if he'll be back.

How did you learn you'd be coming back for Better Call Saul?

They just called and asked me if I would do it. We were fortunate enough that we have many great producers on [TNT's] Major Crimes who accommodated them to allow me to shoot it. They called way ahead and they were able to shoot Major Crimes around it, but it was difficult.

Read more 'Better Call Saul' Bosses on Shocking Cameo, Going Beyond 'Breaking Bad' Timeline

Was it fun to play Tuco again?

There's nothing fun about it. It's a great character, but to try to pull it off is really difficult. It's really high-energy. It's relentless. It's very physical and it wears you out. You get very drained.

What was shooting in the desert like?

It was almost impossible. It's blistering hot. It's like 110 degrees. You have windstorms. You have sand blasting your face and you can't even see. I can't see and they're saying "keep going." That was a different element on top of the scene.

Read more 'Better Call Saul': Bob Odenkirk Explains "Sad as Hell" Opening Scene

How does Tuco in Saul differ from when we meet him in Breaking Bad?

He's a little different in the sense that he's not hooked on crystal meth. But you realize he has anger issues. The meth was fuel on the fire, but he was always on fire. The flame was always there.

What did co-showrunners Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould talk to you about for your performance?

They mostly left it in my hands. We went over the idea that he hadn't been exposed to this drug yet. He was just at the beginning. He was always very ambitious, and you see his strong family ties, how he feels about being protective about his family. Everything is sort of heightened to begin with, and then he starts doing the meth later on in Breaking Bad, which takes that to a whole new level.

Will you be back for more episodes?

I was surprised I was coming back in the first place, because I was dead and then it was "Oh, it's a prequel, great. I might come back." I don't know if I will again. It would be interesting. It would be fun to do a few more. It's just really hard part to try to pull off. That's why you approach it sparingly to do an episode here and there.

What are some of your memories from playing Tuco in Breaking Bad?

In the first few episodes I did I would hurt my voice. I'd get injured every time I did it. I almost broke my nose. I pulled muscles. You walk away and you're damaged goods. And you go, "Oh man, I can't imagine doing this week after week." Then I'd go back — I'd fly to Albuquerque at night and shoot on Saturday and Sunday. Then I'd go back and shoot The Closer and then come back to shoot Breaking Bad. It was relentless. Then when you're not shooting you're studying for the next day.

Now you are on The Closer spinoff Major Crimes. What are some of the highlights for you working on that and playing Det. Julio Sanchez?

Our show is very character-driven. You don't just come in for the case of the week. Everybody has a point of view. The character I portray on that show is very underplayed, but there's a lot going on. There's a lot of subtleties in the show. There's a lot of undercurrents in the show. There's gallows humor. You're dealing with death all the time and you find a way to lighten the situation.

You also have a role in Lifetime's The Michelle Knight Story, playing Ariel Castro, the Cleveland man who kidnapped and imprisoned three women for a decade. Were you hesitant to play that?

When my wife first heard they offered me the part, she said, "Don't do that." I said, "Read the script." She read the script and said, "Do this part. I can see you doing this part. You have to feel for the victim."

How did you manage to do the role?

The challenge is you're not just portraying a monster. You have to find humanity in the character. When we shot, all the women on the set hated me, and I don't blame them. This is a very dark character, a character with a lot of issues. You can't go in and play the boogie man. He's a notorious and terrible human being and you had to try to figure out why. I think I really captured it.

Cruz is repped by Media Artists Group. For more from the episode, read THR's postmortem with co-showrunners Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, interview with Odenkirk and chat with director Michelle MacLaren.

Better Call Saul airs at 10 p.m. Mondays on AMC.

Email: Aaron.Couch@THR.com
Twitter: @AaronCouch