These days, Ramon Rodriguez’s world is all about crimesolving.
On “Will Trent” (shown here), at 10 p.m. Tuesdays on ABC, he stars as a cop with many minuses – dyslexia, rough childhood, stern surface – and one great plus: He seems to see everything, listen to everyone.
“I wanted him to be a believable, multi-faceted man,” novelist Karin Slaughter said. Many readers “really love him and think he’s sexy, … because he listens to women.”
But for years, Rodriguez’s life had nothing to do with this. “I didn’t want to be an actor …. Basketball was my biggest passion,” he told the Television Critics Association.
It was basketball that took him out of a crowded New York apartment and to different worlds – a prep school in rural Michigan, a college in West Virginia and then back to New York.
“A buddy of mine invited me to this Nike event in New York City,” Rodriguez, 43, recalled. “I didn’t even want to go, but he told me they were giving away free sneakers, and of course I said yes.”
There he did his favorite trick, keeping a basketball spinning – first on his finger, then on a pen, then on his mouth. He won a prize, was hired for Nike commercials and had a new career.
The sports skills are solid. Dan Thomsen, a “Will Trent” producer, recalled getting a tweet about him that said: “This guy destroyed me at the 15th Street (YMCA), 20 years ago, playing basketball.”
Back then, the Leelenau School, in Michigan, had New Yorkers on its team. Rodriguez was the starting point guard for his final two years of high school and then at what’s now Wheeling University for two years. He dreamed of playing pro ball … which would have made him approximately the only 5-foot-9 Puerto Rican in the NBA.
Then a new career intervened. He did “the typical New York shows you have to do if you’re an actor – ‘Law and Order,” at that time ‘Rescue Me.’” But the big break was “The Wire,” playing Renaldo. “It was kind of the best school,” letting him work alongside “maybe my favorite character on television of all time, Omar,” played by the late Michael K. Williams.
On Fox’s “Gang Related,” Rodriguez drew praise. (The New York Times called him “rakishly good looking.”) More work followed, including a failed pilot for ABC. Then came a role that seems to fit.
In the two-part opener (rerunning from 8-10 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 14, and on Hulu), we learned of Trent’s early struggles with dyslexia, juvenile homes, foster care and more.
“Dyslexia’s something that’s in my family,” Slaughter said. She wanted “to show how capable people who have this disability are.”
Her novels offer a guy who listens. “Women don’t often feel like they’re heard in their lives. And Will does listen to them and he appreciates them. And he’s like a lot of guys I grew up with who were raised by single mothers …. It gave them a deeper understanding of what life is like for women.”
That fits Rodriguez, who was born in Puerto Rico, but soon moved with his mother and sisters. “I grew up in an apartment in New Your with four women,” he said. And like Will, “I tend to learn visually.”
It was a female world, but nearby was basketball, ready to transform his life.