Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Actor Behind Tuco From Breaking Bad

Raymond Cruz made an indelible impression on television viewers with his instantly unforgettable performance as bad guy Tuco Salamanca on Breaking Bad. And even after the show went off the air, that didn't spell the end of Tuco—Cruz reprised his role, once again blowing minds (although not literally for once) when he brought Tuco back for the Breaking Bad spinoff hit Better Call Saul.

Of course, it's one thing to be known as a character, but it's quite another to earn name recognition as an actor—and given how well-known his biggest character has become, it's kind of surprising how little recognition Cruz gets. Well, that ends now, because we're digging into Cruz's career to take a look at the real guy—and some of the other roles— that led to one of TV's best villains. Here's everything you need to know about Raymond Cruz, the actor behind Tuco from Breaking Bad

He grew up surrounded by gang activity

Maybe the eeriest thing about Cruz's performance on Breaking Bad is how fully and comfortably he seems to inhabit Tuco's world of drug running and gang banging. But there's a good reason for that: Cruz himself grew up surrounded by hardcore gang activity on the hardscrabble streets of East L.A. How bad was it? When he was just 12, he saw a man murdered in cold blood before his eyes. "I saw someone get shot in front of me at point blank range and die," he told The Daily Beast. "The brains came out the back of his head." Yikes.

His love of literature drew him into acting

As a kid, Cruz escaped the world of street gangs both literally and metaphorically through his love of literature. Retreating into books, he read and reread classic novels, and that passion eventually led him to the stage. "I was fascinated by the translation of the written word to performance," he told Smashing Interviews. "I read Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, and it was one of my favorite books. Then when I saw the movie, I was over the moon about it." No word yet on what Cruz thought of Go Tell a Watchman.

Before becoming a star, he was a classic 'that guy'

Cruz may be best known for playing Tuco on Breaking Bad and Detective Julio Sanchez on The Closer and Major Crimes, but he's actually been toiling away in Hollywood as a classic "that guy" since the '80s. He got his big break in the now-forgotten 1987 comedy film Maid to Order, launching a career filled with both film roles (such as Clear and Present Danger, Alien: Resurrection, and Training Day) and TV appearances (on everything from Cagney and Lacey to Murder, She Wrote). We love it when a character actor finally becomes a star.

He's played Detective Julio Sanchez for over a decade (and counting)

It's not that unusual for a popular character to spin off from a show into another series. But how many actors can say they did it twice simultaneously? While playing Detective Julio Sanchez on The Closer, a role he originated way back in 2005, he moonlighted as Tuco on Breaking Bad, working seven days a week to film both parts concurrently. He apparently liked the challenge, though, because after Detective Sanchez spun off into Major Crimes, he then reprised his role as Tuco on Better Call Saul at the same time. Given that one character is a cop and the other a criminal, is it possible we could ever see a crossover?

He loves to cook

One of Tuco's most intriguing character traits is the fact that he really enjoyed cooking. Not meth like Walter White, mind you, but delicious hand-crafted burritos and other meals made with love. So where did Tuco get it from? Well, from Cruz, of course, who is a bit of a chef in his own right. Just don't bother trying to emulate his grilled pork chop recipe, because it requires an ingredient not for sale: his mom's homemade chili. "I'll put it on a bed of lettuce with a grilled jalapeno or a small green chile, take it to the point just before it starts to cook completely through and I'll top it with my mom's chili and a couple slices of cheese," Cruz says. "Man, it's the best thing ever." We believe him.

He's an introvert

Tuco might be a super-intense, in-your-face villain, but in real life, Cruz couldn't be more different. In fact, he's basically an introvert, preferring quiet reading to drug-fueled rampages. "I'm so quiet, and I like to read. I like to tinker in the garage. I love working on motorcycles and cars. I like to be alone," he told Smashing Interviews. "If I'm in a room with a lot of people, I'm probably the last person you'll notice. I'm practically invisible." Acting!

He originally turned down the role of Tuco

When Cruz was initially approached by the producers of Breaking Bad about the role of Tuco Salamanca, Cruz had a simple answer for them: no. Yes, it's hard to imagine someone else as Tuco now, but Cruz was concerned that filming both Breaking Bad and The Closer at the same time would be too much work for him. But finally they convinced him the old fashioned way: by appealing to his ego. "They couldn't find anyone who could do it," he told The AV Club. "I was shooting seven days a week with no rest and working on two different things. It was crazy."

He asked for Tuco's death

Tuco's death was shocking—but even more surprising is the fact that it was Cruz himself who asked the producers of Breaking Bad to kill the character. Why? Partly because of his grueling filming schedule, but also because there was at least one prominent fan of the show who really disliked the character: Cruz's wife. "My wife hated it. She hated Tuco. She hated the energy," Cruz told Rotten Tomatoes. "Tuco is this wild beast. My wife is like, 'Get away from me.'" Tuco might be tough, but he's no match for an unhappy wife.