From writer/producer Roberto Orci, the 13-episode El Rey series Matador is an action-packed, fun, sexy, dangerous look at the world of an undercover CIA operative masquerading as a professional soccer star. Tony “Matador” Bravo (Gabriel Luna) becomes a professional soccer player for the LA Riot, in order to use his skills as a covert operative to get close to ruthless billionaire team owner Andrés Galan (Alfred Molina) and execute missions for the CIA.
Back in May, Collider (along with one other online outlet) was invited to spend an afternoon on the set, which just happened to be a $40 million ranch property out in Simi Valley, where we got to watch them shoot Episode 5, directed by Dwight Little (who also did the Season 1 finale of From Dusk Till Dawn). The family environment and camaraderie was obvious when, even though it was all work when the cameras were rolling, between shot set-ups, the actors would continue to practice soccer between takes and, at one point, a crew member even picked up a guitar and started strumming while show star Gabriel Luna sang along. On his lunch break we spoke to Luna about his mom’s reaction when he was cast as the show’s lead, the audition process, having played soccer recreationally in college, how he relates to his character, and where things have progressed to, at this point in the season. Check out our Gabriel Luna Matador interview after the jump! Episode 5 airs Tuesday, August 12th.
GABRIEL LUNA: She wept. Not to get too sentimental, right off the top, but my grandfather passed away in December and the first thing she said was, “He’d be so proud of you,” and he would be. We’re all from Austin. I moved out here three years ago. And any time Robert [Rodriguez] did something, he would cut out the story from the Austin American Statesman. I’d go visit him, and he’d be like, “This is the guy you should work with, Gabe.” And I was just like, “Yeah, I know, but things have gotta happen.” Then, fast-forward eight years later, and I got my chance. So, I think he’d be really happy. My whole family’s very happy.
How did this happen?
LUNA: I think there was a pretty extensive search. They told me they were looking for about nine months. I had just returned from Austin. I was there for about a month handling some family affairs, and then I returned to L.A. and had fired my previous agent, so I was looking for a new agent ‘cause pilot season was starting, and I was ready to go. I fell in with some really great people over at Gallagher Stewart. In the meeting with them, they were like, “Man, you’d be great for this thing called Matador,” and I was like, “Yeah, I know about that.” Flashback nine months, it came out in the trades and I was like, “Oh, my god, that is me. I could do that.” I knew it with every cell in my body that I could do it. All I knew was that it was the Latin James Bond, which was really appealing to me. Just the idea of someone with shades of melanin in their skin, holding himself together, being eloquent, and being a leading man, is something very rare.
LUNA: I went through four auditions, including the test and a meeting with Robert, which happened on my grandfather’s birthday. I was born in Austin, so he’s a hero to all of us and he’s one of the godfathers of film there. He and Rick Linklater do everything for us. They give the entire city so many work opportunities. And I had known him a little bit. I knew his whole family. His little brother was a shooter on a movie I did. His sister, Becca, is a friend of mine. But he and I had never really sat down and talked. And the two times we did, I didn’t want him to know that I was an actor. I know that people hear that all the time. It was always about music, really. He loves music. He’s a great guitar player. So, when we met for this, we ended up talking about music, and we talked about his family. It was at the Four Seasons, where he gets free drinks for life because, apparently, he ordered the millionth drink they’d ever sold, a few years back. So now, he gets all the free drinks he wants, but he doesn’t drink. He gets iced teas. We were two Texas boys, over iced teas, sitting there and talking about music. He was cutting From Dusk Till Dawn. One thing that I knew about him through his book, Rebel Without a Crew, which I read 12 years ago, and again before I started this, was his enthusiasm for the movies. He respects it, but it’s also only movies. And he’s always really enthusiastic. It’s like a kid showing you the model airplane that he just built. It was a great meeting.
What does Bob Orci add to the mix, with this show?
LUNA: Bob [Orci] is court jester, or that might be Fred Molina. He might be the class clown. We were at a party the other night, and he was introduced, and he did a somersault. He’s just really excited, and he gives you a lot of confidence. He gives you all the tools and the words to look really, really cool, and he’s a cool guy himself. He’s Bob Orci. What hasn’t he written, in the last eight years? He’s got such a vivid, vivacious imagination, as you would expect from someone like him. He’s just a little kid trapped in this dude’s body, which is good. It brings a lot. It infuses this with a graphic novel feel. This idea is certainly a fantasy. Professional sports, in of itself, is a fantasy, for the majority of the population.
LUNA: I played soccer, recreationally, in college. I’ve been playing American football since I was six years old. I was a captain of my high school team, playing strong safety. I played small forward on the basketball team. I also ran the 300 hurdles. I was a three-sport letterman. But in Texas, there’s only one football, and then there’s the rest of the world. Once I got to college, I started playing with a group of friends of mine, over at the intramural fields in Austin. I went to St. Edwards, but I played with some mates of mine who went to UT. It’s such an interesting game. It’s a spherical game. While American football is very structured and linear and static, where everyone lines up and there’s a burst and it happens, soccer is like the cosmos. It’s like constellations. It’s bodies moving in space. It’s a very spherical game. You can move in any direction, at any time. It’s very demanding on one’s body. Too often, American audiences get caught up in watching the ball. You end up chasing this ball, but you’re not realizing exactly what this game is, which is all these men and women’s bodies moving in space, like celestial objects.
How do you relate to Tony Bravo?
LUNA: It’s all so new and he’s taking in all these fresh experiences as they come, and this is the first time I’ve ever led a TV show. I’ve been on TV before and I’ve done a lot of films, but this is the first time where I’m number one for a full season. That’s a pretty big sandbox to play in. But because I keep it about the work, at all times, to not really know anything beyond what I’m doing now, is good. That’s the same thing with Tony. He doesn’t really know any better. That keeps everything in balance, somehow. I don’t think he’s ever really lying. He’s always just telling half-truths, especially with his family, which is a great part of the show. You never get to see James Bond’s family. That’s what cool about our show. You get to see what happens behind the curtain when he’s with the people closest to him. And then, you get to see what he has to lose. James Bond doesn’t have anything to lose. Tony has everything to lose. That’s a really cool aspect of the whole thing.
LUNA: I think I’m now finding my stride with the people I work with and the people I’m working for. At the same time, I think there’s also a change in balance, where they realize that I’m taking the keys to the car now. Originally, they give my directive and I go execute. But now, they understand that I have a better understanding of Mr. Galan, who he is and where he comes from because we’re very similar people. We’re from the same neighborhood in L.A. He becomes this big multi-billionaire, and I, of course, have to go into the workforce and help my family. That’s where my life trajectory has taken me. His has taken him to another place, but they started with the same origin. Once I am able to show my ability and prove my worth to them, I am also, in this moment and at this point in the season, starting to take the lead. So, that’s where we are, right now. It’s cool. There are a lot of parallels that are happening, with Tony and myself, and it’s all moving in line. You just take each day as it comes. Every day is a brand-new, completely crazy fantasy-adventure, where I’m either kicking ass or kicking balls. It’s all part of the job. All of that is really fun for everyone. It plays like a comic book superhero.
Matador airs on Tuesday nights on the El Rey Network.