I drove around Los Angeles with the star of ‘The Lincoln Lawyer,’ Manuel Garcia-Rulfo

Warning: This post contains spoilers for Season Two of “The Lincoln Lawyer.”

There’s a footbridge between the Spring Street Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles and a public square that has a clear view of City Hall with its distinctive tower. The location is used for a handful of scenes in the Netflix series “The Lincoln Lawyer” — it also happens to be the spot where I meet up with the star of the show, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo.

It’s about 12:45 p.m. on a 70-degree day in sunny Los Angeles. Expecting to see the actor in his character Mickey Haller’s sleek tailored suits, Garcia-Rulfo is more casually dressed than expected. My black wide-leg trousers and black-and-white striped blazer look too professional next to his stylish navy trousers, polo, black sneakers and tortoise shell sunglasses.

Leaning in to greet me with a kiss on the cheek (a traditional greeting for two Latinos of Mexican descent) and flashing a smile, he introduces himself — but I’m fully aware of his rising star. This is just the beginning of our casual afternoon together in the City of Angels.

Garcia-Rulfo is back as the charismatic criminal defense attorney —  along with his signature “coat of armor” suits — for the show’s second season. Part One, which consisted of five episodes, premiered July 6. The actor tells TODAY.com that although returning to the show was “a little easier” it was also “more pressure because you now have the shadow of the first (season) being a success.”

The actor’s feelings of pressure is warranted. One month after the show’s release, the series was renewed for a second season. 

After posing for a handful of photos on the footbridge and square where he shyly says he’s not great at modeling (I would say otherwise) it’s now about 1:05 p.m. We jump in the backseat of a black car — unfortunately not one of Mickey Haller’s Lincolns — for the beginning of the interrogation with his jury of one: Me, the reporter.

Manuel Garcia-Rulfo. (Samantha Kubota / TODAY)

Manuel Garcia-Rulfo. (Samantha Kubota / TODAY)

Season Two of “The Lincoln Lawyer” is based on the fourth book, “The Fifth Witness,” in Michael Connelly’s best-selling series. Part One ends and begins the same way: Mickey getting jumped by a group of men in his office’s parking structure. It’s a situation that will unfold when Part Two debuts on Aug. 3.

In between, viewers see “LA’s Hottest Defense Attorney” return to the spotlight when he takes on another high-profile murder. Called to the bench this season is restaurant owner Lisa, portrayed by Lana Parrilla, who is accused of murdering businessman Mitchell Bondurant. She also happens to have an intimate relationship with Mickey, causing his second ex-wife and legal aide Lorna (Becki Newton) to worry if this case is a conflict of interest.

There’s also a new character, Andrea “Andy” Freeman (Yaya DaCosta), who plays the prosecutor in Lisa’s case and gives Mickey a run for his money.

While I have many questions to ask after watching the first five episodes, there’s one in particular that I do not hesitate to ask Garcia-Rulfo: Can Lisa be trusted?

“I don’t know,” he chuckles, as if almost objecting to the question. He twists his gold ring on his finger and shifts forward, crossing one leg over the other in his seat. I joke about the car being wired and if he will get caught sharing any spoilers before he proceeds. “That’s what I love about how Lana played that role because she gives you that thing, like, is she (guilty) or not?”

Though he dances around an answer to my question, he does note that that Mickey’s newfound celebrity and romance “blinds him” and Lorna calls him out on it. “There’s something really cool in the way (Parilla) played it and I think that’s the key of the whole season.”

He says Mickey is just as confused and goes back and forth between trusting Lisa and not knowing if she’s hiding something from him. “It’s a cool way of getting the viewers to engage with the story.”

There’s also Lorna’s frustration with Mickey. At the end of Episode Five, she tells him to “go f—- yourself” when he accuses her of not doing her job, despite her being exhausted and working overtime for him.

“You’re gonna have to watch,” he says, picking at his beard with a sly smile before sharing how their dynamic might change. “But there’s something about that relationship between Lorna and Mickey that is so cool. When this situation happens, which I’m not gonna talk about, there’s something really special about it. You’ll see when you start watching (episode) six and seven.”

Manuel Garcia-Rulfo sits on a bench in Downtown Los Angeles in front of a flowering purple tree and white art deco building (Samantha Kubota / TODAY)

Manuel Garcia-Rulfo sits on a bench in Downtown Los Angeles in front of a flowering purple tree and white art deco building (Samantha Kubota / TODAY)

Garcia-Rulfo lights up when he speaks about his work on “The Lincoln Lawyer.” When it comes to conversation about his own life, he tends to fidget, playing with his iPhone case, which he removes from the phone and twirls on his finger. The Mexican star has been acting for almost two decades, co-starring alongside Hollywood heavyweights like Tom Hanks in “A Man Called Otto” and “Greyhound,” Ryan Reynolds in “6 Underground,” Dame Judi Dench and Penelope Cruz in “Murder on the Orient Express,” among others. He’s also known for his work in Mexican cinema, including “Perfectos Desconocidos” and “Dos Estaciones.”

“Now I’m just dropping names,” he jokes, as he lists the people he’s co-starred with, which also include Denzel Washington, Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro. Now, after years of starring next to A-list talent, Garcia-Rulfo is finally first on the call sheet thanks to the breakout role. But, as the actor admits, it wasn’t an easy journey to get there.

Born in Guadalajara in the Mexican state of Jalisco, he majored in communications at Universidad del Valle de Atemajac before becoming interested in filmmaking and studying at New York Film Academy. “I wanted to be a first director when I was a kid. And then I started acting and I fell in love with it,” he says. He made his U.S. feature debut in 2013’s “Bless Me Ultima” followed by the Jennifer Aniston-lead drama “Cake.”

Before diving deeper into Mickey’s trials and tribulations, we arrive at a bright orange building with a mural of children playing around 1:30 p.m. On the side is a boy kneeling and clutching a hen and a young girl with a red handkerchief holding out a corn on the cob. There’s birds painted in black flying across the entrance of the Oaxacan restaurant Guelaguetza.

As we prepare to exit the car to go into the the restaurant, there’s a brief moment when Garcia-Rulfo seems to channel the softer side of Mickey Haller — like when he advocates for clients like the innocent Jesus Menendez — showing that art does often imitate life. In a display of humanity, the actor pauses before he exits, quietly asking the driver if he’s coming in to eat. The driver replies he’s already had lunch and will wait for him. The significance of this moment, along with his humility, is not lost on me.

As we walk into Guelaguetza, all eyes flock to the over-6-foot-tall star. We get seated in the back of the locale at a table for four. He speaks in Spanish to the waiters, asking them for sparkling water and what they recommend from their expansive menu. He orders carnitas tacos with a small side of rice and mole, the sauce the restaurant is known for. I order the chicken tacos with their red mole.

And just like Mickey is on the top of the world in Season Two, Garcia-Rulfo has his own legion of “Lincoln Lawyer” fans who can’t seem to get enough of him and his smoldering good looks. The topic makes him blush.

“I don’t think about it,” he replies, shifting in his chair, putting his right hand under his sleeve and scratching his left shoulder as if shy to discuss the topic. “It’s just weird to get the attention.”

“Do you get nervous around attention?” I ask.

He nods. “Yeah, of course. I’m not very good with it but I appreciate it. It’s a good intention. They come and (say), ‘Let me take a photo,’” he says, adding he’s grateful for the love the series has gotten. “It’s saying that we’re (doing) a good job.”

Describing himself as “shy,” he does say “it feels good” to be center stage on a show he is proud of. He also thinks it’s an honor to play a Mexican-American lawyer.

“A few years back I was only going for roles of the laborer, narco. And now to be portraying a lawyer, it’s very big,” he says. “For me, for a lot of Latino actors, for a lot of audiences, it’s very cool to see your own country or identity on TV or film, that representation.”

He also appreciates the authentic and subtle way he is able to weave his culture into the show. Mickey speaks to his daughter, Hayler (Krista Warner), and some clients in Spanish and recalls moments with his mother living back in Mexico. Part Two will see the iconic Mexican actor Angélica María portray the lawyer’s mother, Elena, who is described as a self-centered actor in need of constant attention.

“After (episode) six, things start to really (kick up), especially with a character like Angélica María, who is an amazing actress,” he teases. “She comes in and she kind of breaks the dynamic of what we have in the office. It’s really fun.”

Midway through our conversation, a little after 2 p.m., we take a brief recess from talking shop while we eat. He shares that he enjoys watching soccer (he’s an Atlas fan, I’m team Chivas. The two opposing teams from Jalisco) and he’s found it difficult to find tortillas in Los Angeles that taste the same as in Mexico. Even as an established LA resident, Garcia-Rulfo still enjoys going back to his native country to visit his family whenever he can.

It’s now 2:15 p.m. and we’re getting full from the tacos. I know this because he tells me and says he’s scheduled to go to Pink’s Hot Dogs for another lunch and interview. That’s all people seem to want to do with the Lincoln Lawyer since Mickey is such a foodie and frequents restaurants and food trucks around the city.

Before we wrap, he shares more tidbits about what people can expect in the next five episodes. He says there’ll be more mentoring scenes between Mickey and David “Legal” Siegel (Elliott Gould) and that Mickey and his team “are going to have to make decisions on what to do with the case,” posing the question of “Step back, move forward?”

As for Lisa, Garcia-Rulfo says she is is clouding Mickey’s judgment, but he believes that “Mickey works best in situations where there’s drama, chaos.”

In regards to the actor, he says, “I hate drama.”

“I do that as a job,” he explains. “Mickey is at his best when everything is chaotic. Me, when I’m not working, I’m on a ranch. We’re very different. I’m shy and he’s not. I don’t think I could ever go into a courtroom and talk to the jury like that.”

But the star will have to go back to the courtroom if the show gets renewed for a third season. He says there’s hope for a potential third season based on the fifth book, “The Gods of Guilt.”

It’s now about 2:30 p.m. and Garcia-Rulfo is scheduled to depart. Our time together is over and we say goodbye in the same way we greeted one another — with a kiss on the cheek.

He will soon get back in his black car where he will be driven to face his next jury. Garcia-Rulfo might not be a hot-shot lawyer, but he’s one in-demand actor who may have more in common with Mickey Haller than he thinks.

This article was originally published on TODAY.com

Related Posts