TV people seem to be realizing something that others – novelists, therapists, biographers – always knew:
One person can be many things, some of them opposites. “That dichotomy is really in all of us,” Christina Ochoa said.
That’s true of her character in “Promised Land” – a good woman who makes a bad choice in a crisis. It’s true of other characters in the show, at 10 p.m. Mondays on ABC. (The opener reruns at 10 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 27; also, every episode is available on Hulu after airing.)
And it’s especially true of Ochoa (shown here), who often gets roles that match her look. Tall (5-8 ½) and fit, with raven hair and appealing face, she’s starred in “Valor” as a war-veteran helicopter pilot and in “Blood Drive” as a femme fatale race driver; she’s co-starred in “Animal Kingdom” as a cocaine dealer and in “A Million Little Things” as a secretive secretary.
All of those are roles that fit Ochoa physically. And on the flip side?
Well, her grand-uncle (Severo Ochoa) was a Nobel-winning biochemist. She has a degree in oceanographic engineering and went on to study marine biology and particle physics. She’s in Mensa; she’s done ocean research, given talks and written papers. Now she plays someone sort of like herself.
That’s Veronica Sandoval, eager to see her dad step down and put her in charge of the vineyard and winery. This is “someone we hadn’t seen, especially on primetime television,” said Ochoa, 37, a native of Spain. Veronica is “a Latin woman, Stanford MBA-educated, with complexities and a family life.”
Other characters also break new ground, including John Ortiz as her dad. “In 30 years of making a living as an actor in this country,” he said, “this is the first time I’ve been offered a leading role in a show.”
His character (Joe Sandoval) might seem like a kindly patriarch, but he lied and cheated to get to the top. “I was a huge ‘Dallas’ fan …. J.R. Ewing was sort of my spirit animal,” said series creator Matt Lopez.
We soon see Joe collide with his ex-wife (Bellamy Young), who has “this very antagonistic posture,” Lopez said. Still, she “has a legitimate claim on the vineyard and on the empire. (I hope) people will sometimes be rooting for her, too.”
In a winery filled with siblings and half-siblings, there are plenty of soap-style moments. By the end of the first hour, we’ve heard lots of harsh words and seen one person tossed in the swimming pool.
Does that mean drinks will be thrown into faces? “I would say more wine is savored than thrown,” said producer Maggie Malina. “But … there’s definitely going to be a glass or two broken.”
Some of the actors arrived with personal knowledge of wine; Ochoa didn’t. “I don’t drink,” she said, “which I was very scared to tell Matt and Maggie when they cast me.”
She’s a teetotaler playing a winery boss; she’s a brainy biologist playing a smart Stanford grad who panics and becomes a hit-and-run driver. She’s a complex person stepping into a complicated life.