Freddy Rodriguez was so committed to working on writer/director David Ayer's Harsh Times that he worked seven days a week, juggling time on the set of Six Feet Under with time shooting Harsh Times. Rodriguez believed playing Mike, a guy who comes from the streets of South Central Los Angeles, in Ayer's gritty drama was something he just had to do, despite the craziness of his schedule.
What do you hope the audience takes from spending two hours with these characters in Harsh Times?
Wow, I hope they take away a lot of things. I hope theyre entertained. I hope they cry; I hope they laugh. Listen, this is first of all a buddy movie. These two guys who hang out and get themselves into all kinds of trouble. But its also a story about a man who comes back from a stint in Afghanistan and how he suffers from Post Traumatic [Stress] Syndrome and how he unravels because of that.
Its a fight for my characters soul, in a sense. Im kind of in the middle of this tug of war between Eva [Longorias] character and Christian [Bales] character. Its also a film about decisions and bad decisions that we all make and the trouble we get into. So this film is about a lot of different things and I hope that people see all these different wonderful colorful aspects of the film and are thoroughly entertained.
You dont seem like youd fit into this down and dirty environment?
Oh, man, its a façade. I actually do, man. Im from Chicago. I grew up in the city of Chicago. Thats actually one of the things that attracted me to the film. It just rang true to at least how I grew up. Thats actually who I based Mike on was people that I grew up with, in my neighborhood. What was really interesting to me about Mike was he didnt fit the stereotype of people who grow up in that neighborhood. He wasnt the gang banger or the drug dealer but then again, he wasnt the straight-laced guy who was trying to do the right thing. He had the potential of being that guy but never utilized the talents that he had. He was a smart guy but just always made bad decisions.
Was it frustrating that he was so close to going straight and trouble followed him?
Yeah, its an interesting dynamic. When you have that kind of deep-rooted bond with somebody and when you have that kind of bond, youre easily influenced by the manipulation that Jims character constantly blankets Mike with. My observation on that and what was interesting is that a lot of people say, Oh yeah, well, how is it? You would actually leave Eva to go to Mexico, yeah right, and all that stuff. But to me, what I found interesting about the bond between the two is, what Ive noticed growing up in that type of neighborhood is that theres often an absence of a male figure in the home - the dad or the uncle, whatever it is. You always seek that male figure, whether its in an elder in the neighborhood or whether its in your best friend. So whenever you go into neighborhoods, in the hood, theres always a strong bond where, These are my homies, these are my boys. Were gonna hang out.
That takes a whole different meaning because a lot of the times the relationships are based on that absence of a male figure in the home. When thats the base of the relationship, then it becomes so much more deep rooted than an average, Oh, thats my friend from school relationship. So that when situations, like the scene he had with Eva where hes going to Mexico come, the depth of that relationship takes precedence over the relationship he has with his girl. That also is also a comfort level that he has with Evas character and that sense that guys always have. Like, Nah, shes still gonna be there when I get back, wanting his cake and eat it too. But thats what I found so interesting between the two characters was just how deep their bond was. I wanted to explore that.
How do you think a Latino and a Caucasian became so tight in that neighborhood?
I hear what youre saying. First of all, its all about the bond that they had. It crosses racial barriers. It doesnt matter whether youre white, black, whatever. Its the bond that they have. To them its about you and me. Were down for each other. Its you and me and no matter what happens from here happens, but were down for each other no matter what. Thats the bond that they have.
But yeah, Jim is a white dude and my experience even growing up in Chicago or whatever, theres always that one white guy who lives in the neighborhood. What are they called? The urban pioneers. Their family has always been there, even before they became gentrified or pioneers after the fact. Thats what Dave [Ayer, writer/director] was. Dave was the only white dude in the neighborhood and thats why he wrote this story. Its semi-autobiographical. He wanted to write about his own experiences in the hood. And David had friends that were Latino, that were black that he had deep bonds with that were willing to go to the lengths that these two characters go to.
How was filming in Mexico?
Ive never experienced poverty on that level before.
Was it in Ensenada?
It was close. About an hour south, Ensenada, Rosarito, that area. It was, man, Ive just never experienced anything like that before. My parents kind of grew up like that too in Puerto Rico. They would always tell stories and me being a Chicago city kid, you know, like yeah I just never really gave it much thought. To actually see it in person was sobering.
Did they build the shack where Christian Bales characters girlfriend supposedly lives?
No, it was real, man. Everything you see in that film was real. It was just a matter of going to somebodys shack or house and saying, Can I use that? Thats TJ. Can you believe that? TJ, I think peoples perception of TJ is what you always imagine TJ to be.