EXCLUSIVE: The Greatest Coincidences That Connect 'Lowriders' Star Theo Rossi's Biggest Roles
By Angelique Jackson
“My whole career, in a way, has been very guided by almost
like these weird coincidences,” Theo Rossi says, explaining to ET how so many experiences
in his career have intertwined on his path to success.
Many fans know the 41-year-old self-described “character
actor” from his breakout role as Juan Carlos “Juice” Ortiz on the hit
motorcycle drama Sons of Anarchy. “I
had to do three extra roles to get a SAG card,” Rossi says about his early
career. “If there was ever a book written about going through the process, I’ve
gone through the whole process, from having, like, one line on Malcolm in the Middle to doing a couple
episodes of some small show …and then, obviously, my life changing with Sons of Anarchy.”
In truth, Rossi’s experience with SOA didn’t just change his life because it made him famous, but because
it’s one of a chain of personal and professional events linked in sometimes
funny, often fascinating, and unexpectedly touching ways. One such example is
in his current project, the Los Angeles car culture drama Lowriders(in theaters on May 12). There, a few of Rossi’s worlds
collided when he found out the film was written by Cheo Hodari Coker, the
creator and showrunner of Netflix's Luke Cage, on
which Rossi now stars as the villain Shades, and Elgin James, the co-creator of
the upcoming Sons of Anarchy spinoff Mayans MC.
It was while Rossi was wrapping up his role of Juice in SOA that he first read the script for Lowriders. While the story and the
character of Fernando “Ghost” Alvarez immediately captured his attention, Rossi
turned down the opportunity to go to a table read, because he didn’t want any
distractions from the emotionally taxing work he needed to execute on SOA. His co-star and mentor Jimmy Smits
-- whom Rossi praises as “one of the biggest television actors ever in history”
-- convinced him to take the risk and read for the role anyway. “[Jimmy’s] like,
‘Listen, when certain people are off-type characters, we have certain
opportunities in this business, but they’re few and far between. Like, you’ve
gotta go. You’ve gotta take advantage of everything,’” Rossi recounts.
Fortunately for the actor, he was also able to take
advantage of the fact that motorcycle and low rider clubs come from similar
worlds, so there wasn’t a lot of new ground he needed to cover for the role.
Instead, he was able to note a pattern between the roles he takes, the cultures
they represent and what audiences learn from them -- most often, that they and
those involved in them are misunderstood.
“I’ve been very fortunate in my life to be involved in
subculture [projects]. Sons of Anarchy
was a subculture that no one knew about, and now everyone, everyone rocks the
Reaper,” Rossi explains. “Not a lot of people knew about rap battles, and then 8 Mile [from Lowriders producer Brian Grazer] comes out and now everybody knows
about rap battles. We got to peek into a subculture. And then, if you really
think about it on the grandest level, 15-20 years ago, people who read comic
books were considered a subculture. Almost like geeks, comic book geeks, and
now it’s the forefront of pop culture.”
A more personal coincidence came to light when Rossi’s family
life and the very reason he took the role of ‘Ghost’ -- his desire to explore
the father-son relationship -- synced. Rossi had a “very strained, if any,
relationship” with his birth father. When he tried to reconnect with him, Rossi
found out via the Internet that his father had passed away. The fact that he
had never been able to have that reconciliation with his own father made the
role in Lowriders far more
interesting. And as fate would have it, while filming, he and his wife, Meghan
McDermott, were awaiting the birth of their first child -- the baby’s gender
unknown to the couple.
“I’m deep in this character, of exploring this father-and-son
relationship between Miguel and Francisco, and then all of a sudden, I fly to
New York for four days, really quick, flew in for the birth. And the doctor
tells me that I have a son and my whole world exploded,” he tells ET about the
birth of his son, Kane Alexander, in 2015. McDermott is now pregnant with the couple’s second child. “Everything was coming full circle.”
Rossi goes on to explain, “I chased this character to kind
of maybe exorcise some demons or some things I wanted to work out with my own
father, and then all of a sudden I’m having a son during the film. All the
things that I’ve always dreamed about, about being a father and being a father
to a son, and here it is, all within this short couple of weeks’ period of
doing this film. And I believe that it fueled every single emotion and every
single choice that I made in the film.”
The final coincidence comes this Friday when Juice and Jax
battle each other in the box office, as Charlie Hunnam’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is released on the same day as
Rossi’s Lowriders. Rossi acknowledges
that technically being a summer movie puts the film in a strange place because
it’s “this very intimate film that’s just kind of wrapped in this lunchbox of
cars and graffiti and all that. But we’re really an intimate family drama,
which is like, you know, a curse word nowadays in Hollywood.” So, while there
may be competition in the cinemas between the indie film and the blockbuster,
there’s no bad blood between the former co-stars and friends.
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“We still talk and love each other and we champion each other’s success,” Rossi continues, revealing that the cast of SOA still text each other, support one another at premieres and are even on an email thread. “It’s not fake. We went through and we did this low-budget TV show that was accepted by the masses for seven to eight years. And we all had a very blue-collar attitude toward work. We’ve all started in much smaller positions, so now we get to take that into the next level of our careers, so that’s exciting.”
Rossi marvels at the career boost that show has afforded him and the rest of the cast. “It’s unbelievable when you think about it, because when Sons[of Anarchy] was put together in 2008, it was a group of character actors, who really were just these [actors] that everybody kind of knew from something -- didn’t know their names, just knew their faces. There’s the guy from Braveheart (Tommy Flanagan), that’s the woman from Married with Children (Katey Sagal), the guy from Hellboy (Ron Perlman),” he continues. “Sons is one of those shows. I’m fortunate enough to have been part of such a legendary thing in the vein of The Sopranos and The Wire and the Breaking Bads of the world.”
Rossi is currently known for playing bad boys, as audiences will see in the second season of Luke Cage, which begins filming when he’s finished with press for Lowriders. But the actor is also ready to try something new. He joked about being on Broadway one day revealing, “I could do everything in the world, but all my mom wants me to be is on Broadway.” In the nearer future, though, you may find him taking on an animated role so his almost 2-year-old son can watch something his dad is in.
“I’ll work on my voice stuff and tell that other kid, Josh [Gad], not to take all the roles,” he quips, laughing. For now, fatherhood is king, as the Rossi family is eagerly expecting a new member.