His character dons a three-piece suit and talks in a southern drawl, and during our second time speaking following the success of season one, Will Trent star Ramon Rodriguez is relaxed, talking about the explosive second season and delving deeper into the titular character’s heritage.

The series is based on Karin Slaughter’s best-selling novels and continues to be a ratings hit for ABC. In the final moments of season one, Will learns that his boss, Amanda Wagner (Sonja Sohn), knew his late mother, Lucy Morales, and tried to adopt him after finding him as an infant in a trash can. Six months later, the second season opens with Will trying to connect with his roots as a traumatic event triggers his childhood recollections, and he searches for answers to his fragmented memories.

ABC has renewed Will Trent for a third season, with the show reportedly gaining 70 million views. The series is a clear ratings hit, and season two expands on Will’s relationship with his on-again, off-again love interest Angie Polaski (Erika Christensen), alongside meeting his Uncle Antonio (John Ortiz) for the first time.

Rodriguez, nominated for a Critics Choice Award and Indie Spirit Award for his performance as Will Trent in season one, shares beautifully awkward moments with Ortiz’s Antonio. Later in the season, Rodríguez was able to bring Will’s eccentricities to Puerto Rico to meet the semblance of family Will has been looking for his whole life.

“Filming in Puerto Rico was really special,” explains Rodríguez. “There’s something about being in your homeland and speaking your native tongue, and there was this really exhilarating energy with the talented crew, so it was really wonderful.”

Rodríguez spoke with Awards Focus about how fans responded to Susan Kalechi Watson’s character being killed off in episode one, having his mother visit set in Puerto Rico, and the experience of watching himself aging through hair and makeup at the end of the season.

WILL TRENT – “Me Llamo Will Trent” – A car bomb ignites a thrilling investigation for Will and bomb expert Cricket, revealing more than meets the eye. As intrigue unfolds, Angie battles to return to work, Ormewood’s home life complicates, and Faith develops her relationship with Luke. TUESDAY, FEB. 20 (8:00-9:00 p.m. EST), on ABC. (Disney/Daniel Delgado Jr.) HOWARD DEUTCH (DIRECTOR), RAMÓN RODRIGUEZ

Awards Focus: Since last we spoke, you received a Critic’s Choice Award and an Indie Spirit Award nomination. How was the experience representing Will Trent?

Ramón Rodríguez: It was surprising and pretty incredible. I didn’t get to attend the Critics Choice because we were filming then, but I did attend the Independent Spirit Awards, which was my first time. It was a great honor to be able to be there and see Will Trent represented in that space.

AF: The latest season was reduced to ten episodes. Was that always the intention?

Rodríguez: The episode count for season two ended up being a result of the strikes. The plan I’m hearing is that there will be more episodes for next season. Our writers have already begun writing, which is pretty wild because I feel like we just finished over a month ago. But they’re back at work. The industry is contracting in so many ways, so having work is a luxury and gift.

AF: The season starts with a big surprise: Susan Kelechi Watson guest starred in episode one with a strong chemistry between Will and her character, Cricket, but she doesn’t survive the episode. Can you talk a bit about working together, building that connection, and the responses you’ve received to that episode?

Rodríguez: I’ll tell you, we talked about it. When we finished season one and were beginning to talk about season two and introducing a new love interest for Will, the original idea was that maybe he has someone that lasts two or three episodes. Then, because of the reduction of episodes, the decision was made that we were just going to do one episode for this love interest.

I told [showrunner] Liz Heldens that I had a feeling that people would be upset. It’s going to be a shocker, for sure. It all comes from casting and really great writing. A lot of people that I know who watched the show enjoyed it but were very upset.

It was exciting because Susan is fantastic to work with. The storyline became another layer of drama for Will, and we had other ideas, which is why it made sense for this character to come and go in that episode. We wanted to introduce the idea of Will battling some of his demons from his childhood with this 12-year-old version of himself haunting him and finding ways of having it pay off. What does it symbolize? What does this mean?

Essentially, we all felt Will hadn’t dealt with a lot of things that happened from the end of season one. So, we wanted to have that come up in one specific sort of story, and the death of this woman who is kind to him and how it feels it may be his fault.

WILL TRENT – Me Llamo Will Trent – A car bomb ignites a thrilling investigation for Will and bomb expert Cricket, revealing more than meets the eye. As intrigue unfolds, Angie battles to return to work, Ormewood’s home life complicates, and Faith develops her relationship with Luke. TUESDAY, FEB. 20 (8:00-9:00 p.m. EST), on ABC. (Disney/Daniel Delgado Jr.) RAMîN RODRIGUEZ

AF: You can include me in the category of very upset that Cricket died in episode one.

Rodríguez: [laughs] I’m keeping a tally. Hold on. Let me just write that one down. 5,000,001 people.

AF: Cricket’s death reintroduced that trauma with his foster family back to Will, whereas he gets to meet Uncle Antonio, who is the total opposite of what he experienced in his childhood. What was the process like in finding John Ortiz, who plays Will’s uncle?

Rodríguez: Well, it was really exciting to think about introducing a character into our show that could be a positive influence in Will’s life. For the most part, there tends to be some sort of trauma or negativity with these people that have entered his life. He doesn’t have many people he connects with at all. So he was trepidatious when having this introduction to his uncle Antonio.

But we love the idea of it bringing someone that could bring some levity, charm, and a love about him who would not judge Will for who and how he is and how he may behave. The one name that I had put out there was John Ortiz. I had never worked with him but have admired his body of work. I think he naturally has a beautiful levity and charisma, like he pulled you in, and I could see him as Uncle Antonio.

One of the big enticing factors, which was obviously exciting for everyone, including myself, was saying that we’re going to film in Puerto Rico, which is where he’s from. I  had a lot of conversations with John about the terrain we get to explore with this relationship and this identity conversation of going back to the island and what that represents for someone like Will and for someone like Antonio.

AF: It was really beautiful to see Will explore that connection, especially in the scene at the taco truck when they first encounter each other. What was that like shooting the awkward moment of Will and Antonio getting to know each other?

Rodríguez: John is really fun to hit the ball with; he hits it back and is just a great scene partner. It was really interesting because Will was so nervous at that moment because, with all the letdowns and disappointments, he was terrified. But he meets Antonio, who brings this big dog, and Will learns that he also has dyslexia. You could see the threads and the connecting points.

The way that character was portrayed and the way John is, Antonio’s just a very open, easygoing guy that lowers Will’s guard and allows that bond and that relationship to build, so much so that Will’s swept to the island of Puerto Rico with this guy. It was amazing to be able to film in Puerto Rico and to be able to take our show where we always shoot in Atlanta, to explore Will’s identity and where his mom comes from.

It was beautiful to be with our people, with our culture, and it’s hard not to get swept up in the feeling of pride. This is where I come from, and I’m trying to do it through the lens of seeing it through Will’s point of view, but for me, I get to the island, and I have family and everybody there.

AF: Were your family able to visit you while you were on set and experience some of the behind-the-scenes of the show in Puerto Rico?

Rodríguez: It was the first time I had anyone visit me on set. It was a great coincidence that my mom was on the island. She was there most of the time and was very close to where we were filming. So, spontaneously, about an hour before, I go, Mom, I’m shooting over here in old San Juan. Do you want to come by for lunch? And so she did.

I found her this nice little area where she wouldn’t be too overwhelmed and have some monitors and headphones. She could listen in, and it was funny; I’d be with her making sure she was okay, then I’d walk back to do a take, and she’d see me, and I’d come back around, and she was like, this is just crazy. I just saw you, and I heard you, and you were Will Trent, but now you’re my son, but you look like Will Trent. She was really having fun with it.

WILL TRENT – “Me Llamo Will Trent” – A car bomb ignites a thrilling investigation for Will and bomb expert Cricket, revealing more than meets the eye. As intrigue unfolds, Angie battles to return to work, Ormewood’s home life complicates, and Faith develops her relationship with Luke. TUESDAY, FEB. 20 (8:00-9:00 p.m. EST), on ABC. (Disney/Daniel Delgado Jr.) IANTHA RICHARDSON, HOWARD DEUTCH (DIRECTOR), RAMÓN RODRIGUEZ

AF: What was it like to film the montage in the finale where Will and Angie are living out their lives together and expanding their family while Will is aging across decades through makeup?

Rodríguez: You know, I’ve done it before, and it’s always a very strange and time-consuming process. I have an amazing makeup artist, Lisa Layman, and she brought in all these people who specialize in this type of work. Our hair person, Colleen LaBaff, brought in all of her resources, too, because we didn’t have a lot of time. Typically, you’d have maybe a couple of rounds of testing, but we had time for one test, and then we filmed. We didn’t want to lose facial structure to a complete mold because we wanted to still feel like we were looking at Will. So that takes the right amount of balance of prosthetics, pieces, and makeup. Otherwise, you can lose someone entirely. We didn’t want to do that; it was a learning process.

Then there are things that no one thinks about, like how somebody moves at that age. How do you change how you move and how you behave? It was a very emotional, bizarre experience where my children are growing, Betty [the chihuahua] dies, and it all culminates in a moment for Will to deal with what had happened in season one, which we never answered. Angie lied and covered up a murder, and since then, we never really dealt with it, and now we have that ripple effect.

AF: What were your thoughts when you read that Angie was going to be taken into custody at the end of the season and Will had the rug pulled out from under him?

Rodríguez: I had known for a while that we were building towards that ending. I think it’s critical for audiences to understand who these people are and the codes that they live by. Will does what’s right, ethically, and morally. It’s why he got into his line of work because of everything that has gone wrong, and that’s happened in his life. So when you establish that pretty early on, and we showed it with Amanda’s story in that episode where she planted evidence on a very bad person, she broke the law, and we saw Will’s stance on that.

I’m an actor playing the character, and I have to look at it and try to understand his perspective. The writers have all done a great job of trying to establish who this guy is, even by way of Karen Slaughter’s novels, and we work within those parameters. It creates very exciting moments when your character has to do something that’s really wrong, challenging, and complicated, and this person will stand on what he feels is the right side.

AF: It was interesting that Angie’s arrest came at a time when she was also being offered a place on the GBI, which, if the information came out after joining the bureau, could’ve affected the whole department. 

Rodríguez: I’ve had actual people in law enforcement talk to me about that. This is a real dilemma and a real situation that does come up. Some people see that right is right and wrong is wrong, no matter if it’s an awful person. Then there are other people who might bend the rules for whatever reasons. It becomes a personal question of what justifies the decision. That’s the kind of fun terrain that we got to play with this season, and as challenging as that moment was for Will, it felt in line with who that character is, for me.