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. While they were setting up for the next scene, we spoke to actor Tanc Sade (who plays Alec Holester, the English striker for the LA Riot) about how he came to be a part of this show, learning to play soccer for this role, his appreciation for the sport, how much fun he has playing this cocky character, what an extreme athlete he is in his own life, and why he loves acting. Check out our Tanc Sade Matador interview after the jump! Episode 5 airs Tuesday, August 12th.
TANC SADE: It’s absolutely wonderful. I actually had never played soccer before, so it’s been an incredible 6-week learning curve. They’re wonderful. They gave me a pro soccer player and a coach and a team, so they’ve just been drilling me, every day, which is fantastic.
What sort of appreciation does that give you for the sport?
SADE: I had no idea about anything [having to do with soccer]. I’m a professional athlete, as well as an actor. I’m a free diver. I was national champion last year, and I have two national records, but all my training has been in the water. I’ve never really done any land-based training, so switching from the water to land has been interesting. Coming from Australia and playing rugby, you just think that soccer is a bit soft, but I’ll tell you what, it’s not. It’s rough as guts. It’s great. It’s been fantastic. It’s been a really wonderful learning experience.
As far as an acting job goes, is this very physical?
SADE: Yeah. For me, it’s an actor’s dream. I get all the funny, cheeky, irreverent lines with Alec Holester, and I’m this womanizing playboy. But then, on top of that, I get to play soccer and run around with these guys. It’s fantastic. And these guys that we’re playing now are street soccer players, and they’re phenomenal tricksters. It’s just inspiring to be around. One of the gifts of being an actor is that you get to learn new things see the world through different eyes. It’s been great.
SADE: I literally just auditioned for it. Originally, it was just supposed to be one episode, for the pilot, but they loved the character so much that they made him a series regular. And so, it’s just one of those dream jobs where you start off auditioning for a tiny part, and they go, “No, we want you for the whole show.” So, they gave me a storyline and it’s been wonderful. It’s been great. I feel very grateful. It’s just one of things where it’s the right time and right place. It’s been ten years in the making.
What has your experience been like so far, working on Matador?
SADE: The show is about Tony Bravo, who’s recruited by the CIA from the FBI because he played some soccer in college. And so, the goal is to plant him as a mole into this team, to get to Alfred Molina’s character, who’s this entrepreneur gazillionaire who’s a little shady. So, I play Alec Holester, who’s this British import star player, kind of like a David Beckham. He’s on a $100 million deal, and Andrés Galan gets me over here to lead the team. And then, Bravo gets on the team, but what we all know is that he’s a mechanic. So, he’s this nemesis, in the sense that I’m thinking, “What the fuck am I doing playing alongside a mechanic?” And so, I get to have a lot of fun with him. When we get to Nicaragua in Episode 5, we bond. It’s the first time we start to have this mutual respect. And we’ve just been so blessed with a great cast and crew. We’ve got no egos on set. Everyone’s totally chilled. Everyone’s super-nice. Gabe is wonderful. And then, Nicky is Australian and Fred is English, so three of the five leads are taking all your jobs. It’s been great fun. We’re not even half way through the first season and everyone is really pumped and amped to go.
SADE: They drill me with ball skills. Basically, it’s about me getting very comfortable with the ball. Also, I scored eight goals in the last World Cup, so I’m like a Beckham/Ronaldo type of character. It’s not only about being comfortable with the ball, but it’s about looking comfortable when I’m playing. Because my character is quite arrogant, it’s about being cheeky, but then comfortable with the ball. The great thing is that it’s choreographed, so I know where the ball’s coming from and I know where the ball’s going. The defenders have to swallow their ego a little because they can’t steal the ball off me. So, as long as I can pull the moves off and score and shoot, then it’s okay. It’s Episode 5, and I haven’t used my soccer double yet. I’m very, very proud of that. Not once, not yet. The poor guy has had to cut all his hair off, dye his hair, shave his legs and get a fake tan, every episode, because he’s pale and I’m not. And then, he just sits there. My ego is quite happy about that.
What does free-diving entail?
SADE: I grew up spear-fishing, so I’ve always had a breath hold. I just shot a 32-pound white sea bass. And then, I was out here and I randomly met a girl in a bar, who was on the U.S. National Team. She said she was a free diver, so I challenged her to a breath-hold at the bar. I won, and then she said, “You should come train with us.” So, I started training with her, and the U.S. team, a few years ago. I just had a natural affinity for it. In training, I broke the U.S. national record on my third swim. So last year, I went to the world championships and I broke the national record. I’m the two-time current national record holder. I can hold my breath for 7 minutes and 5 seconds. My breath hold is my weakest discipline. My strength is my distance. I can swim two-and-a-half soccer fields on one breath. I was training 10 or 11 times a week, before I booked this job. Free-diving is all about being lean, being super-flexible, and having a good breath hold. And so, now I’ve had to shift everything because I’ve got my shirt off in half a dozen episodes. All of a sudden, I’m lifting weights and playing soccer and getting iced every night. My training has completely shifted, but I’m used to having a regimen.
SADE: Acting has always been my passion. It’s always been my love, and I’ve always done it, since I was a kid. I had a theater company when I was 20, in Australia. But, I just like doing other things. I don’t think acting should be all-encompassing. So, when I’m not shooting, I’ll go down to Mexico on a spear-fishing trip for a couple of weeks, or I’ll go to the Coral Sea, or I’ll go to Panama, or wherever. It’s good to check out. This is my job and it’s my vocation and it’s what I love, but at the same time, I need to get out there and do other stuff. When you’re an actor, you’re mollycoddled and you’re treated with kid gloves. Everyone is like, “Can I get you some water?,” or “Can I put on your slippers?” But when you’re on a boat, 15 nautical miles off the coast and you’re with a bunch of fishermen, they don’t give two shits about who you are. It’s funny because I went and played a pick-up game of rugby on the beach, a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve gone from being a brilliant captain of a TV soccer team to an average rugby player on a real team. I’ve gotten so used to ruling the roost and just saying whatever the hell I wanted, and I had to get back to reality. I think that’s important. I think actors should stay grounded and humble and open.
You must have nerves of steel to be able to do all of that.
SADE: I get just as nervous and anxious as anyone else. Free-diving is all about dealing with anxiety. I’ve blacked out a few times. I’ve had big black-outs. My best friend died last year, in a free diving competition in the Bahamas. So, you’re dealing immense, acute amounts of fear, which makes the rest of life a little bit easier. You don’t sweat the small stuff so much. But, I still get nervous. Every audition, I still get nervous. I still get sweaty palms. I don’t think that ever goes away. You just get accustomed to it. I’m a bit of a thrill-seeker. I used to race mountain bikes when I was a kid. I did the national circuit for two years. But, acting is my one and true love.
Matador airs on Tuesday nights on the El Rey Network.