Freshman drama “Will Trent” has become one of ABC’s most promising — and top-rated — series thanks to producer and star Ramón Rodríguez. Rodríguez plays the titular role of eccentric special agent Will Trent, adapting the notable literary series to new audiences in his primetime slot.
Based on the best-selling novels by Karin Slaughter, Will Trent comes from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) with a unique approach to investigations that has earned him the highest clearance rate of any agent.
Trent wears a three-piece suit, speaks with a Southern accent, and tends to rub people the wrong way to get his cases cleared. Trent is not without his scars, though, and his harrowing experiences in the foster care system ground the character in a way that is rarely seen on network television. So much so that fans and critics are excited about “Will Trent” entering the Emmy race as a Freshman drama.
“He has a flip phone, a handkerchief, and a tape recorder. I think that might be some of his charms alongside his weirdness,” explains Rodríguez. “It’s undeniable that there’s a really big, bleeding empathy and compassion that [Will Trent] has, and it drives him and motivates him at his job.”
The series has struck a chord with audiences thanks to its brilliant casting and engaging character development that immediately individualizes the plights of each character. As production on season one continued filming, the series began to air on ABC and Hulu, allowing the creative team to see audience responses ahead of production.
“We were filming at the same time as the show was airing, so we were seeing what was working and not pretty quickly,” shares Rodríguez. “It’s tough, man. A pilot is difficult to execute because you must lay things out and give enough information to excite people. There were a lot of lessons that we were figuring out, and I think the nice thing, at least for me, is that the show felt like it continued to evolve and deepen and got better throughout the season.”
Rodríguez and his cast recently celebrated a second season renewal ahead of the “Will Trent” two-part season one finale. Rodríguez spoke with Awards Focus about the uniqueness of Will Trent, vibing with co-star Iantha Richardson while listening to Hall & Oates, Will’s complex relationship with Angie (played by Erika Christensen), and what’s ahead for the season one finale.
Awards Focus: Firstly, congratulations on the season two renewal. Where were you when you found out?
Ramón Rodríguez: I’ve been in New York doing press, and I got the news literally right after I did one interview, and it was just awesome.
AF: You look like you’re having a lot of fun on the press tour.
Rodríguez: [Laughs] You know, luckily, they’re all fantastic people, and some of them, like Drew Barrymore, I knew before, so it’s been really fun.
AF: How familiar were you with the novel by Karin Slaughter before you joined the project, and what were your first impressions of Will Trent?
Rodríguez: I actually hadn’t heard of the books before this show. I had done a previous pilot for Hulu that didn’t get picked up, and they sent me this project based on the books by Karin Slaughter. So I started reading them and found this quirky character really interesting. It was different. It’s not your typical crime drama. Instead, you’re following this quirky guy that’s a little weird, off-putting, and a lone wolf, but there’s humor in it.
I thought things about him were also beautiful, like his heart, but he can bury it deep under layers of trauma. But, when I learned more about his backstory and his time in the foster care system, the abuse and not knowing his own identity, and even his dyslexia, despite all of these hurdles, he found a way to navigate and be pretty incredible at his job. He found a way to use these things that could be perceived as flaws and traumatic experiences and instead use them as a perspective that’s very uniquely his.
AF: And he is very uniquely himself. He wears a three-piece suit and still uses a hanky.
Rodríguez: You know, I thought the pilot directed by Paul McGuigan had a cool style that, even with the three-piece suit, he articulated a throwback vibe to this character. I’ve heard many people reference a Columbo type of character, and some friends of mine call me the Puerto Rican Columbo, which makes me laugh.
AF: The series has become increasingly popular since its debut on ABC and Hulu. Was there a moment during production on the first season when you felt things coming together?
Rodríguez: It was little by little as I started seeing the choices we wanted for casting secured, like Erika Christensen and Iantha Richardson, who plays Faith. I did a chemistry read with Iantha, and we all looked at each other afterward and were like, ‘That’s Faith.’ There’s a beautiful presence about her. We also got Sonja Sohn and Jake McLaughlin, so watching those pieces come together, even in the table read for the pilot, tonally, I could see the tightrope of what we’re doing where the show deals with some real challenging issues, yet there’s a comedic sensibility, which is I think what makes everything digestible and fun.
AF: The moment that surprised me was the Hall & Oates lip-sync scene with Will and Faith. It was such a small quirky moment that added so much to their partnership beyond the job.
Rodríguez: I love that you brought up that specific moment because, honestly, I was very unsure about it. Our showrunner and writer Liz Heldens had that idea in her mind for a while and thought it’d be fun to have a moment. She wasn’t sure when it would be implemented, but she thought it’d be really interesting to have a moment where these two bond, and it happens to be over music while they’re trying to crack a case.
As soon as we filmed the scene, I went to video village, and I was glad we went for it, but I had no idea how it would work. Then, when we saw that director’s cut, I was like, this is awesome. It was a great leap of faith that paid off. When it’s rooted in character and character development, it makes it all the more worthwhile. There’s been a fun couple of these weird quirk moments where you’re tumbling through a heavy drama moment and yet finding a levity, which the chihuahua Betty helps with.
AF: Betty has become an overnight sensation.
Rodríguez: It’s undeniable. Here’s a thing. Nobody knew that dog was going to be such a smash hit. When I read it, I was like, this is an excellent introduction to this character in the pilot and the reluctance of wanting to accept the dog, and you’re seeing him push Betty away. Yet he can’t leave the dog there. It’s hard not to go; I want to root for that guy. Out of all of his issues, he isn’t going to leave this poor chihuahua alone.
We realized early on that this story, particularly for Will, is about him trying to find a sense of family because he never had one. So we see it with this dog that disarms him, and then he’s like mush with this little chihuahua [laughs]. So I love that it was an entryway to this other emotional, sensitive side of seeking family.
AF: In the pilot, Will meets Betty [the chihuahua] and his new partner, Faith. They’re two life-shattering moments for him and his trajectory as a lone wolf. Where might the road have led him if he had continued his solitary path?
Rodríguez: It’s so true. He was absolutely resistant to Faith. He wanted nothing to do with her because he’s a person who’s hiding a lot. Particularly because of his trust issues and his childhood, he’s not letting many people be close to him, and he believes he operates better alone, keeping his insecurities a secret.
Had he not met Faith or Betty, I don’t think he’d be as expansive as he is. As you put it, these earthquakes shake him up in an interesting way, and we realize it’s fun to see him get pushed against these guardrails. When you set them up, he’s a very rigid person. So now let’s throw all that away and have him run into everything, and let’s see how he handles it.
AF: There’s a palpable chemistry between Will and Angie. Can you talk a bit about working with Erika and how you filled in the characters’ backstories?
Rodríguez: We did a chemistry read very early on. It was one of those things that, when the Zoom was over, we all knew. She brings a wonderful weight and realness to Angie and that relationship, so it feels like it’s something that’s been lived in for a while. It’s nice that we touched on some of their history through flashbacks. They escape the foster home and go to get the abortion, so that’s when the heart, at least for me, watching it and reading it, really pulls you in, and you fight for them. But there’s a toxicity there that’s easily triggered.
AF: It’s interesting to see the differences in coping mechanisms between Angie [Erika Christensen] and Will. They’ve both had individually traumatic experiences, but they’ve known each other from teenagers through the system. When Angie is triggered, she self-destructs, and for Will, it’s seeing the ghosts from his past resurface. What do you think would happen if Will couldn’t close a case?
Rodríguez: I always viewed him as a puzzle master. He’s someone that can look at a puzzle in a very unique way and put breadcrumbs together to create a narrative. As it evolved, it haunts him when he can’t figure something out. It stays on his mind. The dead body speaks to him. There’s a crack in the wall, and he’s hammering at it.
We do talk about it now that we know we get to do this for another season. What you brought up is something that I’ve talked about. What else can we see when things don’t go his way? When there is chaos and disorder for someone like him who requires order and stability, how does he respond to that? We’ve only just scratched the surface of how destructive and dark it can be for him.
AF: In one of the latest episodes [Episode 11, which aired 4/18/23], I loved seeing Will genuinely enjoy being undercover and interrogated. But then there’s so much going on with Angie and her actions that bring him back to this heavier reality. Is there hope for their relationship, or would they benefit from not being romantically involved?
Rodríguez: First of all, what you noted is so true that we rarely see that release as he did at that moment as Bill Black. He’s not a smiley guy. That doesn’t happen at all. But for me, it’s hard to watch Angie and Will. It’s tough because it breaks your heart. At least my heart breaks for them when I read the episodes. But, watching them trigger each other and the different needs that each of them has, and those may or may not be getting fulfilled, and how, because of what they’ve been through, there’s a powerful bond there.
I always ask whether this will ever be a healthy relationship. We see Will as someone searching for a family or some tribe; he always sees that in her even when she doesn’t see it in herself. It’s a heartbreaking, complicated relationship that I’ve seen and witnessed in life that feels like it can be relatable, but it’s tragic. Sometimes you root for them in a way, and other times you’re like, man, they should not be trying this.
AF: We’re now coming into the 2 part season finale. What can we expect to see with Angie unraveling and Will coming up for air after going undercover?
Rodríguez: We’ve slowly begun to get into Will’s story. We’ve learned in the process of the series that the cases and things that shined and got audiences excited somehow had a personal connection. So we will see some of that in these last two episodes. I’m proud of them, and it will be fulfilling for the audiences enjoying it so far.