It is an important story to be told. It is an important story to remember.
The Central Park Five story will go down in history as the story on how the court and police system failed to properly seek justice on a white female jogger by convicting five young black and Hispanic boys to prison.
This shockingly true story is chronicled in Netflix’s When They See Us as a four-part series from director Ava DuVernay (Selma). The series tell the story from the Central Park incident to the court drama and the aftermath when they were finally released from prison and forgiven. The five individuals of the Central Park Five are Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Korey Wide, Raymond Santana and Yusef Salaam.
The series star Jovan Adepo (Fences), Asante Blackk, Chris Chalk (Gotham), Justin Cunningham, Caleel Harris (Castle Rock), Ethan Herisse, Jharrel Jerome (Moonlight), Freddy Miyares (Elementary) and Marquis Rodriguez (Definitely, Maybe). The supporting cast included Vera Farmiga (Up In The Air), Felicity Huffman (Transamerica), Joshua Jackson (The Affair), Famke Janssen (X-Men), John Leguizamo (Moulin Rouge!), Niecy Nash (Claws), Storm Reid (A Wrinkle in Time), William Sadler (The Shawshank Redemption) and Blair Underwood (Deep Impact).
LRM Online exclusively spoke with Marquis Rodriguez over the phone about his role portraying the young version of Raymond Santana. We talked about the story itself and how it was fulfilling to portray and meet Raymond Santana in person.
Rodriguez has been acting since a very young age. He starred in the Netflix series of Luke Cage and Iron Fist. He also had appearances in films with Definitely, Maybe and Phoebe in Wonderland. He had been recently cast to be a part of the upcoming Game of Thrones prequel.
Netflix’s When They See Us mini-series is currently playing on Netflix.
Read our exclusive interview below.
LRM: Thank you for taking your time off your busy shooting schedule here to speak with me about When They See Us.
Marquis Rodriguez: No worries. I’m really glad I get to talk to you today.
LRM: Terrific. Let me start with the easy question of why were you attracted to a project like When They See Us?
Marquis Rodriguez: Yeah. That’s a great question. I’ve been acting for a really long time since I was a kid. I’ve been most interested in telling stories, telling the right stories, telling stories for the right reason. Once I had the opportunity to audition for this, I’m most excited that the story was going to be told in the right way, Raymond [Santana] story. It’s true. We’re going to be out there and to be a part of something like that is so incredibly fulfilling. To know that someone like Ava DuVernay with at the helm of a project like this. She does not shy away from telling the whole truth and telling the hard truth. It was also just incredibly exciting to me.
LRM: Were you familiar with the Central Park Five story before? I know you’re a fairly young. How did you first heard of it?
Marquis Rodriguez: I’m born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. I’m from Bed-Stuy. Their story was something that my mom told me about when I was quite young. I think it was sort of her way of attempting to keep me safe. It was really important to her that I knew that the source of the searches, dangers that people of color face, not only in my city, but in my country in the world. It made her feel better to know that I was aware of those sorts of things. I could weather those sorts of situations. We talked about when I was really young and revisited during Trump’s campaign. She wanted to make sure that I remember that.
LRM: Very ironic. Especially since Trump had something to do with this in of sorts. [Laughs]
Marquis Rodriguez: Yeah, absolutely.
LRM: Tell me about playing the young Raymond Santana. How comfortable or uncomfortable was playing this character, especially playing a 15 year old?
Marquis Rodriguez: It’s interesting. Being in a situation like the one that Raymond was in when he was at age is one of my biggest fears as a 22 year old. It was one of my biggest fears when I was younger as well. I could immediately tap into that youthful fear of what you were dealing with. I’m scared of it right now. It was really easy to sort of tap into Raymond of what I felt Raymond would have been like when he was that age. He’s so incredible now. He such an energy when he walks into the room. He has such a light about him. He’s so giving and generous and loving.
The question that I kept asking myself, if he is that person now after having gone through all of what he’d been through–what sort of incredible kid must’ve been when he was younger? What sort of like amazing energy must’ve had when he was younger? I started asking myself those questions. Once I sort of sort of started parsing through and figuring that out, it actually became–I can’t say easy. It was hard work. It became easier to where I needed to get.
LRM: Did you meet Raymond Santana for research purposes?
Marquis Rodriguez: Yeah. The first time I met Raymond was at the table read, which we read episodes for one and two. The first time I read the script out loud I was sitting next to Raymond Santana. It was an incredibly heavy experience. Immediately, it let me know what the whole experience of shooting the show would be like. Raymond and I got to have really in depth conversations about his childhood on what he might’ve been doing, thinking or going through at at the age that I was portraying him. I had the wonderful opportunity of having dinner with him one night with him, his father, John Leguizamo and Freddy Miyares, who played the older Raymond. It was incredible with the sorts of things they were willing to share with us. That was the most incredible part of prep for this role was Raymond was so generous and so willing to share his story with us.
LRM: Did he give you particular notes on how to play his younger self to you?
Marquis Rodriguez: No particular notes. I think it was important to him just to allow us to interpret the role the way that we saw back then. He trusted us to do that well and to do right by him. It was immense responsibility with him in trusting us with essentially his life story. There was nothing specific he gave us. He was willing to share with us. It’s how generous he was. That was absolutely brilliant and became invaluable throughout the process.
LRM: Did you feel to be under extra pressure since you are portraying a real live person?
Marquis Rodriguez: I don’t think I would call it pressure, so much as an immense responsibility to get it right. The good thing about being a part of a project like this and playing a role like this is that there’s really just no room for ego. Everyone is really supportive on set. Ava created an amazing environment for everyone where I felt safe and I felt protected. I knew Ava wanted my best work. She wouldn’t stop until I gave it my all. That’s an incredibly a rare experience to know that you have everyone in the room on your side. Yes, there was a lot of pressure to get the story right and to do it well. But, there was also an incredible support system in place to make sure that happened.
LRM: This is a very important story to actually be told on screen. So much controversy already, even certain people are criticizing this Netflix show. What do you feel about all of this?
Marquis Rodriguez: I’m really grateful to be a part of a series that is fueling important conversation about Raymond’s case and about the system that failed. Not only Raymond, but all of these men. I’ve always wanted to tell stories that people will have conversations like that. No matter what, as long as we’re talking about this, as long as certain people are feeling galvanized, and feeling the need to change things–I’m happy.
LRM: Do you believe these people who have done wrong should be forgiven?
Marquis Rodriguez: That’s a tough question. That’s a really big question. It’s not up to me or any one individual. I’m not really interested in whether or not they’re forgiven. I’m just interested in whether or not people are sort of receptive to the truth. We’ve told this story and we told it to the best of our ability. I’m really glad that all of these men have had the opportunity to have their story out there. I hope that they’re allowed to continue to spread their truth.
LRM: Let me wrap it up with that one more question. Can you talk about your future projects? We all loved you in Luke Cage and Iron Fist.
Marquis Rodriguez: Thank you. I can’t really talk about the Game of Thrones prequel, but I’m really excited about it. I’m really looking forward to it.
LRM: Does it frustrate you can’t talk about the Game of Thrones?
Marquis Rodriguez: No, it doesn’t frustrate me. I completely understand to keep quiet about it. Overall, it’s just very exciting.
LRM: Great. Hey, thank you very much, Marquis. I really appreciate you spending your time with me. Thank you very much.
Marquis Rodriguez: It’s a great. Thank you very much.
Netflix’s When They See Us mini-series is currently playing on Netflix.
Source: LRM Online Exclusive