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Playing one of the most hated men in America is not a fun job.
Raymond Cruz knows that first hand as he prepares for the release of Lifetime’s Cleveland Abduction, which depicts the horrific crimes three women endured at the hands of Ariel Castro, who kidnapped and imprisoned Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Georgina DeJesus in his home for years.
The film, which premieres on May 2 at 8 p.m., largely centers on Knight (played by Taryn Manning), the first victim Castro abducted. She was held for more than 11 years, until she, the other women, and Berry’s child, were rescued in 2013. Castro killed himself after being sentenced to life in prison that year.
In addition to a role on TNT’s The Closer, Cruz (Castro) is known for playing brutal meth dealer Tuco Salamanca on Breaking Bad (and later, Better Call Saul), and has said playing such a dark character is difficult because of the emotional toll it takes. That was even more true when playing Castro in the real-life criminal’s hometown. He got hateful looks on the streets in Cleveland because of his resemblance to Castro, and the kidnapper’s dark thoughts were with him 24/7, even invading his dreams.
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In a conversation with The Hollywood Reporter, Cruz discusses the negative energy he lived with while playing Castro, attempting to find humanity in the monster, and why he took the role.
How did your family react to you taking on this role?
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 she said, “Do this part. You can make the audience feel for the victims.”
What is the biggest challenge to playing Ariel Castro?
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. Ariel Castro was a notorious and terrible human being and you had to try to figure out why.
Why did the women on set hate you?
The scenes are very intense. He was really, really perverse and angry. He was nasty. He was very abusive. So when you’re shooting this day after day, and people are watching this, it bothers you. You really feel for your co-workers that you’re working with that are watching it. You’re really trying to tell the story. Not only that, the conditions are really difficult. It was like 30 degrees every day [on set in Cleveland].
You look totally different for this role. How did you manage that?
I gained about 28 pounds in two weeks. I had to eat a lot of junk food. His diet consisted of fast food, a lot of McDonalds. I was trying to capture his physicality. He had a very specific look and it’s very menacing. I don’t eat like that, so it was hard. Forcing yourself to eat two breakfasts, two lunch, two dinners. And you’re forcing yourself to gorge on junk — no exercise. It really changes the way you walk, the way you move, until I got to the point where I’d captured him physically.
What was the atmosphere shooting in Cleveland like?
We went to the courtroom and you could hear a pin drop. I must have looked like him. You walked in and everybody stopped and stared at you, and not in a nice way. You could just feel this hatred in people.
Was it a hard decision for you to board the project?
I was on board right away. It was like Tuco. It was a challenge to try to bring this character life to help tell the story. I remember hearing about the kidnappings at the time, but I didn’t know the details and then to go through the script and read Michelle Knight’s book and trying to understand what happened to her. I was reading it for facts, but you get so drawn in to the story of this young girl and her plight you want her to get out.
What was the toughest part about playing him day in and day out?
The thought process of looking at things from his point of view. You go to sleep at night and you start dreaming in his thought process. You can’t escape. I felt this completely negative energy constantly. So you just live with that day after day for the full duration from the time you’re shooting and afterwards. My wife was so happy I was doing the part, but she was happy I was leaving to shoot it. She hated the energy of Tuco, too.
Cleveland Abduction premieres on May 2 at 8 p.m. on Lifetime.
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