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Manny Perez on Playing Tough Latino in a Cop Show with Big Dogs [Exclusive Interview]

Manny Perez
Manny Perez as Santiago in Big Dogs

Manny Perez played many tough-guy roles over his career. Touch cops. Touch bad guys. Anyone intimidating.

In Big Dogs on Amazon Prime and Tubi, the role of Santiago as a tough cop seems typical, but the family dynamic sets the character far apart from all the characters he played in his career.

Here’s the synopsis:

In a New York City besieged by the financial collapse and surging crime wave, an underground economy of “speaks” – illegal, debaucherous after-hours clubs linked by a web of taxicabs – is thriving.

For extra cash, fashion photographer Renny (Micheal Richardson) has been moving party drugs through the taxi network for his boss, Reza (Tony Naumovski), the local front man for an international crime syndicate looking to take over the city. When Renny is forced by Reza to step up his game as a dealer to a dangerous degree, he soon finds himself in the cross-hairs of both Reza and Detective Sixto Santiago (Manny Perez), whose experimental unit is using undercover taxes to crack down on the chaotic drug trade. After Santiago’s commander Captain McKeutchen (Brett Cullen) partners him with the mysterious and brutal new arrival Everett More (Michael Rabe), the two become entangled in a web of numerous government agencies and crime organizations circling a beleaguered New York, exposing a fight for control of both the city and the country at large.

LRM Online spoke exclusively over the phone with Manny Perez. We discussed the roles, his career, and hoping new complex Latino roles will come into the industry.

Big Dogs is currently playing on Prime Video and Tubi.

ALSO READ: Michael Rabe Talks About Playing The Tough Role in Big Dogs [Exclusive Interview]

Read the exclusive interview below.

Gig Patta: Congratulations on Big Dogs. I’ve checked out all the episodes.

Manny Perez: Oh, you did? You saw the whole thing.

Gig Patta: I did see the whole thing. There was a lot of drama, twists and turns throughout that show.

Manny Perez: Exactly. First of all, I fell in love with Big Dogs. And I fell in love with the storyline. It’s so rare to get these special stories nowadays in the industry with TV or episodic. To me, it was a blessing to be part of this project.

Gig Patta: Talk more about your character, Santiago? What do you love about him?

Manny Perez: Well, what I love about Santiago is being Dominican. I’m Dominican. He’s an undercover detective from Washington Heights. I’m from Washington Heights. We just have so much in common.

Santiago was a man who adores his dad. He’s always asking for advice from his dad, trying to do the right thing in his surrounding. For myself, I adore my dad. I love my family. I’m always trying to get approval from my family. So we just have a lot in common.

Also, the fact that this is a Latino guy who’s a lead in a TV show based on a futuristic reality. By the way, we shot this with 20 months ago. Now, cut to 20 months later, which is now–am I not living that reality? [Laughs] It’s tricky, man.

Gig Patta: It is very tricky to talk about a show like Big Dogs, especially with the timeliness happening right now. What do you think about the timing?

Manny Perez: That’s what so crazy about the timing. Did I wonder when this show, we shot 20 months ago, was coming out? I asked myself, “What’s happening?” Does it suck? What’s happening?

Somehow Big Dogs come out now. I’m thinking, “Wait a minute. Was this meant to be? To come out now at this time.” What’s crazy is that the show was entertaining. At the same time, the show gives you a glimpse of what could happen if we continue where we’re heading with this country. Where we stand right now, hopefully, people will see the show and need to make a change within ourselves. So we don’t go down that road.

Gig Patta: It certainly has all the elements of what’s happening right now. A lot of cop shows seem to be in jeopardy right now because of the movement. Don’t you think so?

Manny Perez: It’s funny. Most of the parts I’ve played in episodic TV has been playing cops, playing the bad guy, or playing crooked detectives. I understand that a hundred percent, but I also feel that these cops shows are part of our culture. These cop shows are part of what makes a TV.

I just don’t know how is it possible to change that genre at all? What’s amazing about Big Dogs is not just a cop show–it is a family show. Each character is dealing with a member of their family. Santiago was coping with his dad. Captain McKeutchen, Brett Cullen’s character, is dealing with his son he’d lost. Michael Rabe, as Ever More, was trying to find himself in this crazy dark world. Then Micheal Richardson’s character, Renny, deals with the loss of his dad.

Even though it’s a cop show, but we’re trying to show a different side of just cops. Not only being bad or being good.

Gig Patta: You seem to enjoy playing tough-guy roles, whether it’s an officer of the law or a villain on the other side. Why are you attracted to those types of characters?

Manny Perez: I don’t want to say I like it. [Laughs] As a Latino, we’re trying to be part of the new movement. We’re trying to make Hollywood do films about the Latino experience, particularly Latino family experience. We’re not just the bad guy or the bad Latino.

This show is an amazing opportunity for me as an actor and Latinos in this industry. They can write more shows about cops. Let’s make this as a Latino cop. He’s not the bad guy here. But, he’s a good guy here. Let’s give him the principles, the values, and the culture to stand out from the rest of the show.

The reason why I played bad guys because they don’t write shows for Latinos like this at all. I’m auditioning for the bad guy because they write Latinos in for the bad guy. There’s a chance with this show for people to make the Latino cop as the good guy.

Gig Patta: That’s true. In your opinion, what is the Latino story that Hollywood or New York should tell nowadays?

Manny Perez: I’ve been fighting this fight for a while. I’m trying to give a heart to these stereotypical characters that I played. Always, I’m trying to find the human intent. As Latinos, we are human. We’re exactly like the typical Caucasian person who plays the lead in a show. As a Latino, let’s find the values of this character and how we can enhance the character. How can we show that?

Again, I come from a family of 11 kids. Eleven brothers and sisters. I love my family. In this case, this show is about the family. With time, that change will come where we will see more Latinos as the lead rather than the background guy, the best friend, the bad guy, the bad boy, or the pimp. Hopefully, everything will change.

Gig Patta: Did you have to make any special preparations for the role of Santiago this time around? Or is it just that you’ve been playing tough guys for so long it came easy for you?

Manny Perez: [Laughs] It’s funny. By playing the tough guy, it comes easy for me. So I have that experience as a tough guy. In this case, I did a lot of research on undercover cops and what they have to go through. With these interrogation scenes, I’m always the one being interrogated in previous roles. With this case, I was the one doing the interrogation. It’s like playing a chess game. It’s all a mind fuck game, which is great to play with when you are interrogating that person.

I went to the 34th precinct, which is in Washington Heights at 84th and Broadway. I hung out with undercover cops for a month. It’s about getting to know them and rode around with them in the back of the car. That was an experience. So when I got on set, I already knew how it felt to have that power as an undercover cop.

Gig Patta: Speaking of being an undercover cop, you played a character that drives around in a taxi in New York City quite a bit. How was the experience of acting a good portion of the show in a taxi?

Manny Perez: One of the best experiences I had while shooting. Why? We’re shooting nights. In New York City’s nights, all the freaks come out. [Laughs] Down the street, people are trying not to obey that we were shooting. They wanted to be part of it.

Being a cab driver, I’ve been behind the backseat of a cab, but not driving the taxi. So that was great. It’s crazy by shooting nights, and your days are ruined. Your routine is not functioning correctly. Your diet is not happening. So you have to sleep during the day while you shoot during the night.

But, I prefer shooting during the day since my mind is more focused. It’s always fun to shoot in New York. New York itself, the city is a character. You got to use that character as that situation. That’s the beauty of shooting in New York for that location.

Gig Patta: Now, let’s talk about your partner throughout this entire series with Michael Rabe, who plays Ever More. He doesn’t have too much of a dialogue, particularly at the beginning of the show. How did you act alongside him? And how do you keep a straight face throughout the entire process?

Manny Perez: [Laughs] Well, there were moments where I wanted to beat his ass. You see that my character is mostly pissed off because I want to beat his ass. I used that within the situation.

What’s great about working with Michael is that we got along just fine. The day when we started shooting, we wanted to get to know each other. I tried to get to know everything about him and let him know everything about me. So that relationship will show on camera. That’s a plus for us, as actors, to develop that. For him coming from the background of the theater just like me, we worked that in as part of the character development. That helps a lot.

Gig Patta: Speaking of, let’s talk about the rest of the cast. You had Brett Cullen as a Captain McKeutchen. Then there are the other police officers with Dennis Flanagan and Louis Carbonneau, playing Turse and Liesl, respectively. You probably have to approach all of them differently, right?

Manny Perez: No, of course. I did not speak to the other characters. They were great fellows and great persons. But, I avoided them since my character did not get along with him. That helps a lot. When we finished the whole season, I hugged them and thanked them for their fantastic work. As an actor, I need the distance between them and me. It helps me find my character at that moment.

Mainly, it happened with Captain McKeutchen’s character. I love Brett. I treated him like my big brother and like a father. On-screen, it helped to use those elements of that connection between the father and the son of the captain and the student. That helps a lot.

Gig Patta: The great thing about the show, it had a good conclusion towards the end of the season. Are you hoping for a second season?

Manny Perez: I’m praying for a second season. This show is based on books. The second book is way better than the first book. That’ll be the second season. Imagine what’s going to happen in the second season, especially between him and LA.

I’m looking forward to all those elements that happened in the second season.

Gig Patta: So you read all the books already?

Manny Perez: I read first and second books. I tried not to read the third and fourth books for now. Once we get the second season, then I’ll read the third and fourth. [Laughs] I’m trying not to fantasize about the characters in these books. It’s depressing when you fall in love with something, and it doesn’t get done. Why did I read it for? [Laughs]

Gig Patta: Manny, thank you very much for this conversation. I appreciate it. Thank you for doing this show with Big Dogs.

Manny Perez: Well, thank you.

Big Dogs is currently playing on Prime Video and Tubi.

Source: LRM Online Exclusive, Big Dogs

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