Ramón Rodríguez is clearly rocking his Puerto Rican identity. His brown skin and brown eyes are at the center of all the promotions for ABC’s new crime show, Will Trent.
Just seeing those two acentos in his name appear first in the credits is pretty significant. We’re talking about the industry where Oscar Isaac Hernández Estrada was born in Guatemala City and became “Oscar Isaac” (Ex Machina, Dune) to succeed, just as Jo Raquel Tejada, born the daughter of a Bolivian immigrant, became “Raquel Welch” (One Million Years B.C.).
Latino Rebels was the last on his call sheet after a long day of interviews, but despite being nearly an hour behind schedule, he refused to cancel, saying, “There’s no way I’m going to let the Latina not… have this conversation.”
It’s not long into the interview before he declared, “I’m a proud Puerto Rican and this character is not.” Rodríguez is the titular Will Trent, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation detective, based on the novels by Karen Slaughter, who has sold more than 35 million books.
“The fact that they all felt that I was just the right person for this character —it had nothing to do with ethnicity— I actually love that,” Rodríguez said of the team that put together the show. Race-blind casting worked in Latinx people’s favor for once, and Rodríguez’s performance is getting rave reviews.
I hold out hope that the show may yet find a way to make Trent Latino, but it seems unlikely with such beloved source material. The character is famous for a lot of things —his dyslexia, his three-piece suits, his childhood in foster care— with Rodríguez describing him as “compelling, complicated, resilient, empathetic—just a deep human being.” He’s just not Latino.
But he is easy to root for. In the pilot, we see how his learning disability and humble beginnings have made him an underdog. His dyslexia is so bad that he’s functionally illiterate. To prepare for this aspect of the role, Rodríguez researched the condition, just like he read the books and worked on an André 3000-inspired Georga drawl.
Yes, being dyslexic has changed how Trent sees the world, making him a strong and unique investigator, but Rodríguez is quick to say it’s not “a superpower… It is frustrating for him. And it’s a secret,” a point of shame.
Trent is hiding more than just the way his mind works. He wears a three-piece suit whenever on the job, covering a scarred body. Rodríguez calls the suit his “armor,” something the character “puts on to go out into the world.” It covers his past and telegraphs a certain fastidiousness that can rub people the wrong way. The actor is grateful we get to see more of Trent, with plenty of scenes at home when the character puts away the suit, physically and metaphorically.
Still, out in the world and particularly on the job, Trent is “a loner and keeps things very, very close to his heart,” Rodríguez explained.
When Trent gets to his first crime scene of the series, the other cops seethe, shooting their hate in Trent’s direction. It turns out that Trent has successfully investigated Georgia police and exposed their crimes, making him at the same time an outlier and an outsider.
While his colleagues call him a rat and graffiti his car, “he is a person that doesn’t necessarily get too affected by that,” Rodríguez said. Trent’s moral compass is strong, and his penchant for going to work in armor keeps him emotionally safe and distant.
But his buttoned-up, secretive manner at work doesn’t make him cold overall. The show opens up a silly scene: Trent’s trying to return a yappy Chihuahua to an animal shelter. As Rodríguez tells it: “When he learns that there’s a potential that they might kill the Chihuahua, that’s just not an option for him.” So he adopts the dog, and soon he’s worried about hurting the dog’s feelings and leaving her alone too long—again, are we sure he’s not Latino?!
Trent’s got a big heart, and the show isn’t afraid to use humor to show it.
For his part, Rodríguez is just hoping the audience will connect with Will Trent. Of course, part of that connection is the show’s ability to reflect the diversity we actually live in.
“We have a wonderful, beautiful, diverse writers’ room,” Rodríguez said. “We just worked with a Latina director. We’re very mindful, I’m mindful. And I think everyone on the team wants to make sure this is a real (representative) group of people that are putting this together.”
So even though he’s not playing a Latino, Rodríguez is still advocating for Latinx communities. As the lead of the show and one of its producers, “it is important,” he said, “to at least do my best to try to push the needle, open new doors, try to create opportunities.”
Hopefully, Will Trent and Rodríguez keep doing just that.
Will Trent airs Tuesday nights on ABC and streams on Hulu.
A writer and activist, Cristina Escobar is the co-founder of latinamedia.co, uplifting Latina and gender non-conforming Latinx perspectives in media. She’s a member of the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association and writes at the intersection of race, gender, and pop culture. Twitter: @cescobarandrade