OK, I know nothing about soccer and less (if possible) about drug-enforcement and international spies. What I do know is that it's always fun to watch the vibrancy and ambition of director-producer Robert Rodriguez. Now his El Rey cable network, only seven months old, is launching its second full-scale action-adventure series ... about (really) a spy working undercover as a soccer player. Here's the story I sent to papers:
By MIKE HUGHES
LOS ANGELES -- When Robert Rodriguez launched his El Rey
network, it seemed wildly ambitious.
Sure, it has the same budget-friendly elements as other
cable networks. There are reality shows (a fresh take on Mexican-style
wrestling starts in October) and reruns (“Miami Vice” arrives in January).
And it has movies, especially the action ones Rodriguez (the
“Sin City” and “Spy Kids” director) savors. “El Rey had become a celebration of
the curated genre movies,” said Scott Sassa, El Rey’s vice-chair.
But beyond that is a big step: In its first year, El Rey –
an English-language, Latino-based network – has two action-adventure series.
The first was based on Rodriguez’s “Dusk to Dawn” movies; the second?
Roberto Orci – a big-time movie writer (“Star Trek 3”) -- says
he suggested something he’d been thinking about for years: “What about this
idea? Soccer player by day, spy by night.”
That clicked. “You look at everything I’d done, it’s all
James Bond,” Rodriguez said. “I mean, ‘Desperado’ with the guitar case that had
gadgets …. I love that genre.”
So “Matador” has the government probing Andres Galan, the
owner of a Los Angeles soccer team. It recruits Tony Bravo, a DEA agent who was
a small-time college soccer player; at a try-out, he has a fight that goes
viral. “Galan sees him as an asset from a commercial perspective,” said Dan
Dworkin, who created the series with Orci and Jay Beattie. “He sees this guy as
an enforcer that he can market.”
The actors have to seem like soccer players. They aren’t,
but they’re athletes.
“I’m from Texas, so I played American football primarily,
strong safety,” said Gabriel Luna, who plays Bravo. “Ran track. Played
Tanc Sade, who plays the team captain, is a former
spear-fisherman who set some records in “free-diving.” He says he can hold his
breath for seven minutes and can swim underwater for 240 meters … which would
be helpful if soccer games were underwater. To get this role, he says, he took
a standard Hollywood approach: “I lied,” he said.’
He claimed he’d played college soccer. During the show’s
boot camp, he learned well enough to score a goal with his head in an early
scene. “I was getting some decent headaches,” Sade said.
He’s in a cast that varies in roots. Sade is a blue-collar
Australian who convincingly plays an upper-crust Englishman. Nicky Whelan, who
plays Bravo’s handler, is also Australian. Alfred Molina – the three-time
Tony-nominee who plays Galan -- grew up in England, with an Italian mother and
a dad from Spain. An acting coach, he said, called him “ethnically ambiguous.”
That fits El Rey, which reflects a diverse world. Tony Bravo
doesn’t speak much Spanish, nor does the actor who plays him. “I’m fifth-generation
Texan; (I) was never really immersed,” Luna said.
Rodriguez, also a fifth-generation Texan, finds that logical.
El Rey was created, he said, “with an eye toward really being inclusive.” Then
again, it also aims “to create kick-(butt) entertainment.” For that part, “Matador”
offers chases, fights and a murder by meat-cleaver. It’s his kind of show.
“Matador,” 9 p.m. Tuesdays, El Rey; debut (July
15) reruns at 10 p.m. and midnight.
El Rey launched Dec. 15. It’s on DirecTV and is being
gradually added to Comcast and Time Warner cable systems; see