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So Many Questions: Playing ‘Better Call Saul’ villain, kidnapper Ariel Castro gets into actor Raymond Cruz’s h…

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Raymond Cruz as Tuco Salamanca and Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman in 'Better Call Saul,' Season 1, Episode 2

Embodying a character warped with evil has been what actor Raymond Cruz has equated to sticking one’s finger in a light socket for hours on end.

First, it was drug king-pin Tuco Salamanca on AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” a role that got resurrected for the prequel, “Better Call Saul.” It was an exhausting narrative that proved to be fertile testing ground for an even darker role, that of Ariel Castro, who held three women captive for years in Cleveland, in the Lifetime movie, “Cleveland Abduction” (April 25).

When it’s over, you have to let that negative energy go, he says. Otherwise, it will worm its way into your dreams.

It might help that he did get to play a fairly good guy on TNT’s “The Closer” — Los Angeles Police Detective Julio Sanchez — which continues on its sequel “Major Crimes.”

Question: Did Tuco Salamanca possess any light within him?

Answer: Oh yeah, of course. I mean, you have to understand that you really can’t make judgments when you’re looking at characters. You have to allow the character to dictate to you how he sees things, so he was on his own quest for truth and justice. So, his light might have been a different color than yours, but he definitely had his own light. You could tell he had a tremendous love for his family.

Q: Is a role like that emotionally exhausting, or are you able to compartmentalize it?

A: No, it’s emotionally draining, mentally, physically. That’s what was difficult about the part, was, it’s such a hard character to pull off, and I got injured every time I did it. I almost broke my nose, I pulled muscles, I strained tendons, and that’s just the physical part. I’d get really bad headaches. … You’re doing this for like 12 to 14 hours a day. You’re only seeing one take but there’s so much more. And it’s exhausting. By the end of the day, I could just fall asleep.

Q: Did his death come as a relief, then?

A: I asked them to kill me! They wanted me to continue for the whole second season, and it was difficult because I was shooting “The Closer” at the same time. So, I was shooting “Breaking Bad” on the weekends — I was shooting all my scenes on Saturdays and Sundays. So, it was really difficult to work seven days a week, really long hours, and there’s no rest. And you’re traveling. So, it was hard. And after three episodes, I said, “You’ll have to kill me” and they said, “We’re not going to kill you,” and I said, “Well, I won’t come back.” So they said, “OK, we’ll kill you.” They had never heard of an actor who wanted to die. But they did it in such great fashion. That was a great episode.

Q: Can the evil that a Tuco Salamanca or Ariel Castro possess poison your own reality, so to say?

A: No. It’s not real. Well, they’re evil for real. But the thing is that you do carry the energy of the characters when you’re working. My wife hated Tuco. And when I was doing Castro, she said, “You’re leaving, right?” and I said, “Yes ma’am” and she said, “Good.” She was so happy that I left for Cleveland for six weeks because you just carry that energy around. You’ve altered your thought process; there’s a whole different emotional support to what you’re doing; and it’s a different color, to put it in simple terms. And my wife’s really sensitive, so it really affects her.

Q: How do you go about exorcizing that energy from your daily narrative?

A: You know, you have to let it go. You have to not hold onto it and, hopefully, as a person, you’re well-grounded, so you can get back to being yourself. Which is a much better place. And visiting these dark areas is really hard. It will invade your dreams, you’ll be dreaming in the thought-process of the character. It is scary because you think, “Why am I thinking that?” It really alters the way you see things.

Kate Benz is the social columnist for Trib Total Media and can be reached at [email protected], 412-380-8515 or via Twitter @KateBenzTRIB.

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