As Juan Carlos “Juice” Ortiz on FX’s Sons of Anarchy, Theo Rossi was everybody’s favorite underdog. His supporting lead role rose to a crescendo in the seventh and final season, with Juice meeting his untimely end. With Low Riders in the works, opposite Eva Longoria, and a major role in the Jon Cassar-directed horror When the Bough Breaks, Rossi is set to draw yet more attention. He spoke to AwardsLine just as he was preparing to jump on a plane to attend the birth of his first child.
Your wife is due any day now?
It should be this weekend. Yeah, I’m shooting every night here with my phone on and looking with one eye. Then I’ll be on a plane.
Despite Sons’ popularity, it hasn’t been getting love from awards. What do you think about that?
My favorite shows on television have been shows like The Wire and The Shield–shows that never really got the attention they deserved. Mainly The Wire. These are some of the greatest shows on television. Something happens along the line where–and I believe this with actors as well–I think you’re either just picked or you’re kind of not. I hate to say that like it’s this big thing, but it’s like you see the same actors all the time. You see the same shows all the time, and then occasionally to shake it up a little, they throw someone in. But like I said recently, and I’ll say this to anyone, I think if you take the best scenes from Sons, especially over the last couple of years, and you put them side by side against any other television show, I just don’t see how you don’t put it up there. But you know what, it’s okay because at the end of the day, what you want in a television show is you want people to watch it, and we had that in spades.
Would it have been well-suited to streaming do you think?
I believe that we are one of the last appointment television TV shows that will ever be on. It’s very hard to make a TV show now that people have to wait every week for, and we were one of them. Game of Thrones and Walking Dead are probably the last two. After they’re off the air, people are going to want their shows all at once. They want all 13 or all 20 and they want them right now. They’re not going to wait every week. I think we were one of the last to have that.
Juice had a sort of hero’s death in the way he offered himself up.
He was an innocent in an extremely chaotic world. He was such a sweet soul and he never belonged in the situations he was in. He led with his heart and not his head, and all he searched for his entire existence in that show was a family. He just wanted to be accepted. He wanted people to love him and because of that, he was extremely manipulated. I’ve never played a character like that. I usually play guys who are moving forward regardless of anybody else. Most characters that are offered nowadays have a bit of an ego about them, especially certain guys like me, you play these guys that are maybe more along the line of criminal-minded or trying to be the aggressor and he was actually the opposite. I miss that guy all the time because he was such a sweet soul. As weird as that sounds for someone who killed a lot of people and stole drugs.
Did you find yourself taking his traumas into your personal life?
Yeah. I think you have to take on some of it to bring on the believability. For me it all started with when he tried to take his own life. That was tough. If you even go back, it kind of started with him trying to hide who his father was, his ethnicity, and his genetic makeup. The anxiety was at an all-time high for sure.
You did naked pushups on the show and you’ve previously said you could draw Charlie Hunnam’s butt in your sleep–did you guys crack up laughing doing those scenes?
Without a doubt. I mean you’re doing things that are so appalling in the human mind, you know, whether it be being in prison or being in a situation where you’re completely naked and revealed and a guy is sticking a flashlight near your butt. But those are actually probably the lightest days for me on set, as weird as that sounds. You have to joke around and you have to make it funny and you have to kind of see the humor in all of it. You got to kind of make a joke about it.
Is there a scene you’re particularly proud of?
Yeah. The scene with Jax and Juice in the prison. I feel like for an actor, when I decided to get into this entire racket, you dream about that. You go, I just want to have a scene that’s just two people letting it all out, saying everything, and it’s this really, really enormous thing that they’ve been holding in. There’s no movement. There’s no running. There’s no anger. There’s just talking and emotion and what comes from it. I feel extremely proud of that.
What did your wife think of your look with the shaved head and scalp tattoos?
It’s funny. My wife absolutely loved the Juice look. She used to get extremely excited. In the new film I’m doing now I have a lot of hair and a beard, but I’m actually covered in tattoos all over my body and my arms. We were just on FaceTime before and she’s like, “you know, make sure when you get on the plane you don’t take those off.”
You’re currently filming Low Riders.
Low Riders is incredible. The team behind it, you know, from Blumhouse Universal and Imagine (Entertainment), is just to me the greatest in the business right now. We’re exploring a culture here that is just so incredible–the graffiti and the low-riding culture of Los Angeles and East LA–it’s really so cinematic and beautiful to look at.