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.
While at the El Rey portion of the TCA Press Tour, actress Nicky Whelan (who plays Tony Bravo’s analytical and beautiful control agent, Annie Mason) spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about just how much fun it is to be a part of this show, that it feels like they’re doing a big James Bond movie, how excited she is that they already have a Season 2 pick-up, auditioning as part of pilot season, what drew her to this role, having to learn how to shoot a gun, how the relationship between Annie Mason and Tony Bravo will develop, and getting to work with such a talented cast. Check out what she had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
NICKY WHELAN: To film it has been such a fun process. It’s like doing a big James Bond movie. There’s so much action, activity and excitement. For the first season of a show, it’s unbelievable how smoothly things are running, the way we all connect together and get along. And we’re so excited about what’s going to come out in the next episode. We’re really in this as a big team, and I think that definitely show.
And it’s a huge testament to the network’s belief in the show, that you already gotten a Season 2 pick-up, before Season 1 started to air.
WHELAN: I’m very excited about that. I found that out with you guys, at the same time. It’s a really big deal. It’s such a process to get a show off the ground, initially. And then, to already have a second season announced is a dream come true for any actor. It’s so exciting! It’s just cool to be a part of the El Rey Network. The network is cool with cool people. It’s like being in the cool gang at school.
How did you come to this show?
WHELAN: It was just part of pilot season. I received the script and read it, and I was like, “Oh, my god, this is like a big action movie. I’d love to get this!” So, I worked hard on the material and auditioned for it. They told me I’d be testing for it, but I waited three or four weeks, and then my team called me and said, “It’s not testing anymore. It’s a straight offer.” I was a very happy lady, on that day. It was really, really nice. Pilot season is so overwhelming for actors. It’s such a business where you don’t know what’s coming next. In pilot season, you have three or four auditions a day, and it’s so stressful for a lot of actors. This happened early on in the season, and I just remember going, “Thank you!,” when my agent said, “You don’t have to audition anymore.” It’s a good feeling.
What were you drawn to with this character?
WHELAN: I’ve never really played a character like this before. I’ve predominantly done comedy, over the years. To get to play a head of the CIA in my department, who’s a kick-ass boss lady that runs around shooting people, doing stunts and running the show, I’m really grateful for this role. It’s an enormous challenge for me. It’s very different from anything I’ve ever done before. I’ve immersed myself in it and I’m really enjoying it. In a lot of ways, I’m so different to her, in real life. I definitely put on an enormous mask, when I walk onto the set.
WHELAN: She’s got a little bit of a background, which we’ll unravel throughout eight or nine episodes. You’ll find out why she’s so heavily involved. There’s a lot of drive and passion. She’s very composed and in control, for the first six or seven episodes. You never see her break. She’s cold and she’s hardcore. Then, you start to understand why she’s so that way. It’s quite a sad backstory of what went down. And you’ll find out who she’s dating and what’s going on there. You’ll get to see a more personal side of Annie, which is when I think people will warm to her. She comes off so cut-throat at the start, and a really lovely relationship will develop between her and Tony Bravo.
In this type of profession, you have to have a real strength or the job might eat you alive. Were there things you did, training wise, to embody who this woman is?
WHELAN: I think the survival of being an actor helps with the survival of this character. We also had some gun training. We went to the gun range, a couple of times. I had never shot a gun before. Growing up in Australia, we don’t have guns. So, I had to learn how to hold a gun and shoot. We have a wonderful stunt team on set, but I try to do as much as I can and really involved myself. But, you have to walk on and really own your space. It’s nice to be given a role where you can really find that strength from within, as a woman, and to be heard. It’s been a nice internal challenge for me.
Annie Mason is beautiful, but she’s also intelligent and can kick ass. Did you like the fact that she doesn’t just rely on her beauty to manipulate people?
WHELAN: It’s a dream come true for a woman to get a role like this. A lot of the time, in the past, I have played the pretty blonde, in a lot of roles. It’s been an adventure and I’ve been around fun people, but I finally have a different responsibility and can really show who I am. I am a very deep person. I run very deep, in real life. So, to get to bring that through in a character is a real treat. I’m very pleased.
WHELAN: I think she’s really driven on her mission. She belittles him a little bit. I don’t think she’s even doing it intentionally. I think it’s just about getting the job done. She’s found the guy that can get on the soccer team and fulfill the needs she wants, and she’s very direct with him. He’s a little rough around the edges, and she really sharpens him up. But the beautiful thing that you see unravel, over the episodes, is that she needs in her life is to be a little bit ruffled, and Tony brings that to her. She’s so direct, and when she sees Tony breaking all the rules, it loosens something up in her, and she starts to live a little differently and see things a little differently. She’s really gone down the rabbit hole with her work, and Tony is bringing a new light into her life that she needed. It’s a really nice relationship, and who knows what will happen.
How will that dynamic affect her relationship with her partner?
WHELAN: Noah is a particular kind of guy. I love him for who he is. He’s a smart-ass and he’s always dropping jokes, but he’s so passionate and he respects the fact that she’s that engrossed in it. She loves her team, but she finds it quite amusing that Bravo has come in out of nowhere and taken all the jobs that Noah has been in the field for, for years, trying to get. That dynamic is really funny. You’ll see, in the next few episodes, the frustration that poor Noah goes through, watching Tony come in and run the show.
How much fun is it to work with both Gabriel Luna and Neil Hopkins, in those two dynamics?
WHELAN: Both of them are so talented and come from such different backgrounds. Everyone’s character is so specific on this show. So, being around the energy of new people is wonderful. It only lifts my performance and makes it better. We all show up and we all really want to be there. That’s something that really plays out, each day. We go down to set on days that we’re not even required to work, just to support the others. We’ve got a great team, and I think that will definitely show.
Matador airs on Tuesday nights on El Rey.