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The Lincoln Lawyer’s Manuel Garcia-Rulfo on letting go and trusting the process

Mickey Haller, the lawyer who runs his practice out of the back seat in his car, is heading to Netflix in The Lincoln Lawyer. Based on the bestselling novel from Michael Connelly, The Lincoln Lawyer stars Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (6 Underground) as Haller, the cocky and charismatic defense attorney who prefers to work out of his Lincoln in Los Angeles. Created by David E. Kelly, the series is based on Connelly’s 2008 novel The Brass Verdict, and not a direct continuation of the 2011 movie of the same name starring Matthew McConaughey as Haller.

After spending time away from the job, Haller is thrust back on the scene after his former law partner is killed, leaving Mickey with all of his clients, including a high-profile murder case. While Haller tries to win an impossible case, he must also balance working with his second ex-wife, Lorna (Becki Newton), while trying to win back his first ex-wife, Maggie (Neve Campbell).

Mickey Haller drives a comfortable in a scene from The Lincoln Lawyer.

Digital Trends spoke with Garcia-Rulfo on what attracted him to the character, how inspiration came in the form of a phrase from McConaughey, his admiration for Tom Hanks, and the importance of giving an authentic portrayal.

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Digital Trends: What can someone who knows nothing about this character from the books or movie expect to see when they watch The Lincoln Lawyer?

Manuel Garcia-Rulfo: It’s a courtroom drama that I think is always fun. The stakes are always very, very high. So this is one of those shows that is very intriguing. You don’t know what’s going to happen. But you really know a little, so it gets you guessing. It’s just a fun, fun ride that you take with this fun character.

What is it about this character, Mickey Haller, that attracted you to the project from the start?

Oh well, honestly, a lot of things. But first of all, Mickey Haller is just an amazing character. You know, just full of life, and the kind of character that I love. But it was a couple of things. I mean, one, doing the adaptation for the bestselling author [Michael Connelly] of the Mickey Haller books, which are amazing. That’s always really cool. Also, the people that were involved in the project were Netflix, David E. Kelly, and (showrunner) Ted (Humphrey). I knew Neve Campbell (Scream) was going to be in it.

Specifically for Mickey Haller, there’s something about the guy that is so interesting. The first time I auditioned, I remember reading the scenes, and I just really connected with the words. It’s one of those things where you read the pages and want to play, say it aloud, and just act. He’s bigger than life and always on the edge. The stakes are always really high, but he’s always charismatic. He’s like a man of the people, and he blends in everywhere. He’s a very fun character.

Were you able to speak with Michael Connelly, author of the Mickey Haller series, throughout this process? Did he give you any notes or advice about Mickey?

Yeah, like a month prior to shooting, I talked to him. Honestly, one of the things that he told me, I wish I could have come up with it. But he told me that when Matthew McConaughey was shooting the film, he asked Matthew, “Why do this? Why portray Mickey Haller?” Matthew said, “Well, Mickey Haller is one of those guys that dances in the rain without getting wet.”

As I said, I wish I could come up with that. It was so beautiful. It was like an image that was so alive to me. It just spoke to me so well. That was the background to my character. So I start building the character because of that image of a guy dancing in the rain without getting wet. With Mickey Haller, he’s dealing with his two ex-wives, a daughter, a drug addiction, and his legal cases. He still makes it work.

Mickey and Lorna stand in their office in a scene from The Lincoln Lawyer.

I mean that was the most Matthew McConaughey line ever.

I love him for that [laughing]. I couldn’t come up with anything better.

Did you see Matthew’s version of the character prior to taking this role?

I saw it when it came out. I don’t remember the year, but I saw it when it came out. I remember really enjoying it and loving the work of Matthew. But no, I didn’t rewatch it. I just wanted to do my own thing. Sometimes you watch something and you get influenced by it. I just didn’t want that. But I remember loving it. I remember really liking the movie and. of course, the job by Matthew.

Actors have portrayed the same characters before on many occasions. Is it challenging to step in a role that’s been played by another actor, knowing the audience will automatically compare the two performances? Is that in the back of your head, or are you able to drown it out?

Well, I know people are going to compare. That’s what we do. I just think as an actor, as you said, a lot of characters have been portrayed [by different actors]. It’s my thing, and it’s me portraying that [character]. It’s just a different take on it, you know? No, I cannot be worried about it. I think he did an amazing, amazing job. He’s such a charismatic, good actor. You know, I would bring some other stuff to it. This is a different take.

Your portrayal aligns more with the books because Mickey’s mom is Mexican, and you were born in Mexico. Was it important to put forward an authentic portrayal of the character? Did you use Mickey as a vehicle for celebrating Latin American culture and Los Angeles?

Yeah, definitely. As you said in the books, it’s like that. His mother is full Mexican and his father is American. So it was really cool to see that, to explore that part of Mickey Haller. Every time I could, I would tell the director or the writers, “Instead of him ordering a burger, why doesn’t he just order a tequila?” You know, stuff like that. But for me, it was important. It was a way to explore the best of the two worlds, Mexico and the States.

Mickey Haller walking in a parking garage in a scene from The Lincoln Lawyer.

You touched on this earlier, but David E. Kelley created this series. Name a famous legal show for the last 35 years, and David’s probably had a hand in its creation: L.A. Law, Ally McBeal, The Practice, and now, The Lincoln Lawyer. When you see David’s name involved in the project, does that provide a sense of comfort, knowing that you’re working with a creator that understands this genre? 

Of course. Once you have that team backing you (Netflix and David), you just let go because they know what they’re doing, especially David E. Kelly in this type of show. He knows what he’s doing. Ted, the showrunner, has been working with David as well. So they know what they’re doing. So you just let go and trust the process.

Mickey is not only dealing with this murder case, but balancing the fact that he has to work with both of his ex-wives. How was working with Neve and Becki?

Yeah, he’s juggling all the time. It was so fun. I think they’re just amazing actresses. I think it’s very clear the type of relationship that he has with Lorna and the relationship he has with Maggie, and how they click with Mickey Haller. Maggie is the love of his life, and he would do anything to get her back, to get back his family, and his daughter. Then on the other side, you have Lorna. It’s like Batman and Robin, you know, where she just pushes him to try to grow more and more. They make a great team. It was so fun to have the chance to play with them and share scenes with them.

The Lincoln Lawyer | Official Trailer | Netflix

Do you have a favorite legal drama?

I mean I have so many. I really love them. The one movie that I really, really like is A Few Good Men.

You can’t go wrong with Aaron Sorkin.

Yeah, I love that film. There are so many projects that I’m a fan of, but I think that is my favorite. I just love it.

Did you get used to working in the bac kseat of a car?

No [laughing].

It seems tough. I never read in the car, so I can’t even imagine trying to look through papers.

I’m the same way. I cannot even read a text message without getting dizzy, so I don’t think I could do it.

You have another project coming out this year, A Man Called Otto with Tom Hanks. This is your second time working with Tom. What’s it like working alongside him? Have you been able to pick up some things from working with him and apply them to your performances?

Funny enough, I just wrapped that movie two days ago. I love him. Tom is just honestly out of this world. As an actor, everything he does — his preparation, his commitment, him as a person. I’ve learned so many things from him since Greyhound. Even with the director, Marc Forster, we were talking like, “Isn’t Tom amazing?” He’s always with the best energy and professionalism, and he’s always on time. His work ethic is insane. So yeah, I was very happy to work with him again. Every time he invites me to work with him, I’ll be there. He’s the best. He’s really the best.

The Lincoln Lawyer season 1 streams on Netflix starting May 13.

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