With Netflix’s May 13 release of The Lincoln Lawyer, David. E. Kelley offers a fresh spin on the tale of lawyer Mickey Haller first told by author Michael Connelley and then depicted in a Matthew McConaughey-starring film of the same.
This time, actor Manuel Garcia-Ruflo assumes the role of Mickey, who is well-renowned for working on cases both big and small across Los Angeles in his Lincoln car. The series drops in on Mickey when he is just starting to put his life back together again after two divorces, a bad accident and a battle with addiction. After a colleague is killed and leaves him the entirety of his practice, Mickey has another chance at his career again and comes to take on the biggest case of his life all the while working through recovery and committing to being a good dad.
Ahead of the show’s premiere, Garcia-Ruflo opened up all about The Lincoln Lawyer and the trails of Mickey Haller to LA Confidential.
How did you approach your portrayal of Mickey Haller?
I really wanted to be more focused on the vulnerability of Mickey Haller because we see him start at a very low point in his life as an addict, recovering, being out of work for so many months because it took his practice away. I really wanted to focus on that insecurity that comes with all that and the vulnerability. And then he deals with so many things, so many obstacles. He has the ex wives and the daughter and the case and other case. I really wanted to have that heaviness on him, but at the same time to have Mickey Haller swagger.
Also, I really wanted to explore his Mexican side. He’s half Mexican, so the first thoughts that I had with the producers were I told him, “If we're doing this, let's just explore that side of him. Let's maybe talk some Spanish with the daughter.”
What did you enjoy most about playing Mickey Haller?
I love courtroom dramas. I don't know, there's a thing about them. Honestly, I don't know what it is, but it’s intriguing and it keeps you guessing and all that. So that's one thing. There's something really cool about seeing your character when he's very low in his life and then you see him overcome all those obstacles to overcome them and to see him struggle to get him on his feet again. There's something really appealing to see that in a character and root for him and to see him succeed. And I think this character has that, which is really cool.
It's just a fun show. It's very intriguing, and the courtroom stuff is really cool. The characters around Mickey Haller are larger than life. I think it's a show for everyone.
In a way, trial lawyers and actors are similar because they are both performers. Did that make courtroom scenes easier to take on?
I think that my favorite scenes were in the courtroom because it just feels like a play, like theater. I enjoy them so much. You have to be very present. You have the jury there, you have to read them and see they're connected with you and if what you're throwing at them, they're taking it in. If not, you have to change your voice or your pace. It's very much like theater.
Mickey Haller’s daughter Hayley questions how is he able to defend alleged murderers. What do you think the show is saying about the way people balance their morals and professional ethics?
Mickey is always going for the truth and to do the right thing, no matter what stands in their way. Even if it's the means to hurt the people that he loves, he will go for the truth and to do the right thing and I think that's very honorable. I think it's a quality that's gone away. You don't find it in a lot of people. I think that's what the show is about— I mean, besides so many things. The choice between doing the right thing or not and to have a second chance.
It's interesting how Mickey Haller very much believes people deserve their day in court, but he also fairly criticizes the American criminal justice system.
Yeah, it's very complicated. At the beginning, when I was preparing for the role I was really me and myself battling with that moral thing. That lawyers,even though you can feel that your client might be guilty of crimes, whatever it is they're charged with, that you still have to represent them. Of course you can say no, but that was my big problem or my big battle in me. Like how can I play a guy— me, myself— I cannot have that impartiality where you don't judge. You don't let your emotions take over and say, “Oh, he's guilty.”
I talked a lot with defense lawyers. It was very clear they don't mix the emotions and that's how the legal system is and everybody deserves to be represented in court. Sometimes, even though all the possibilities or all the evidence shows that he's guilty, there's a possibility that he might not be guilty. And that's why these people fight for them because there's a a big possibility that he's not guilty, even though all the circumstances point that he is, so they fight for them. And I think that's very valuable.
In addition to the genius of show creator David E. Kelley and original author Michael Connelly, why do you think The Lincoln Lawyer stands apart from other legal drama shows?
It has a really cool vibe. Los Angeles plays another character in the series. TheCalifornia light is so beautiful, so it kind of feels like a ‘90s/’80s show, but modern. It's just fun and it's funny. There are a lot of funny Moments, especially coming from the character of Lorna (Becki Newton). And the drama keeps you guessing. There's so much happening. I think it’s very human.
Later this year, we’ll see you in A Man Called Otto alongside Tom Hanks. I imagine that role was pretty different from Mickey Haller.
Completely different. I'm really happy to have done something like that because it's completely different from other stuff that I've done. It's the neighbor of Tom Hank’s Otto. He's a lovable, huge heart, nerdy guy. I just can't wait for people to see it because this is really different from what I've done.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Photography by: Netflix; LARA SOLANKI/NETFLIX