Ismael Cruz Cordova has appeared in television, film, and on Broadway. Born in Puerto Rico, he brought his native heritage and Spanish language to Sesame Street as the character Mando. He has also appeared on television shows like The Good Wife, Ray Donovan, and Berlin Station. His latest project is the action-thriller Miss Bala, which also stars Gina Rodriguez and Anthony Mackie.
Screen Rant: Congratulations on the film. This is an amazing, amazing job. You got me to like this cartel guy and I’m like, you’re just charming bro.
Ismael Cruz Cordova: Thank you.
Screen Rant: So, what went into creating the character of Lino?
Ismael Cruz Cordova: I had to look into this guy, and see what he wanted from life, and where he came from. Especially where he came from. Someone that gets to that level, in that place in their life… you need to understand their journey. So, seeing bits and pieces of the script where they talk about his upbringing, that he came from nothing, and his identity getting deported. Growing up and feeling like he didn’t belong. All those things helped me craft him and see that he was a hard worker, a hustler with a set of circumstances that were nothing a desirable. So, seeing that, that’s where I crafted him from.
Screen Rant: Gloria gains Lino’s mercy. What is it about Gloria’s character that Lino sees in her?
Ismael Cruz Cordova: Exactly what I just said. I mean, I think he sees all that in her. He’s an equal. He’s someone that is ready to take action, to make tough decisions, to learn quickly, that has strengthened the resolve to operate in that world. Because that world is not for people who buckle under pressure. So, it’s not for people like that. And when he sees that she can just go, grab a gun, run, make decisions, speak up for herself, drive a car like a race car driver. And I think his energy, like there’s a respect that gets built.
Screen Rant: I heard that when you guys were shooting the bull ring, that there was almost life imitating art. Because it was more cop cars there. There was actually possible cartel activity going on while you guys were shooting. So, can you talk to me about some of that experience while you guys were shooting in Tijuana?
Ismael Cruz Cordova: Yeah, that was happening outside of the bull ring. There was an instance of, “God, I think somebody…” Yeah, it was a bunch of cop cars. It was kind of what we were recreating. It was outside in a smaller aspect. It was interesting to be part of that and go there and make this film. And talk about a reality that unfortunately happens there. But also, it’s replicated in many parts of the world. I have to say that it’s not only representative of Mexico, it is something that is throughout the world. But also, being there and seeing that. And also experiencing the culture of Tijuana and seeing that it’s so much more.
Screen Rant: Absolutely.
Ismael Cruz Cordova: Oh man, it was so incredible. Like Guadalupe Valley is like the Napa Valley of Mexico. It was incredible. Like the restaurants, the food, the music, the culture. Again, it’s important, through this character to show that he’s died, but then he’s also all of these things. And there’s the complexity of who we are as a people. To advance and expand people’s thoughts of what often gets a classified as this thing or that thing.
Screen Rant: I’m not going to lie. When you guys were eating those Barbacoa tacos, I immediately was like, “Now, I want one of these.”
Ismael Cruz Cordova: And you have to. Because they make such good tacos. It’s incredible, you have no idea. Have you ever been to Tijuana?
Screen Rant: Yeah. I spent a lot of time there in college. A lot of things I’d like to forget that I did. A lot of time there. I do have a question. So, a lot of times there’s demonization, or a political playbook that the government tries to demonize, obviously, the cartel and Mexican gang life. But you bring this heart to the character. When you were finding that heart of the character, and kind of sympathizing in essence to a lot of this cartel stuff, what was it that was your driving force?
Ismael Cruz Cordova: The driving force, again, it’s just to find the humanity of these characters. Just trying to find where they’re coming from. And you also have to contextualize them historically, politically, and see none of these things happen in a vacuum. Nobody’s like, “Oh yeah, I want to just run a cartel. You know, let’s just do that. Here in West Hollywood, let’s start a cartel.” So, there’s a lot of contextualizing that needs to be done. So, you have to be responsible. You have to be responsible when looking at the plurality, polarity, plural, plural. Oh my God, I can’t say that. I’m going to be a gif, [LAUGHS] a meme now. All the aspects of the circumstances of who people are to be able to represent them. Because, again, nothing is what it seems, and people are not just one thing. And I think that’s something that you can see in Miss Bala, February first.