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Why Tuco From Breaking Bad Looks So Familiar

Tuco Salamanca appeared in just a handful of early episodes of AMC's Breaking Bad, and actor Raymond Cruz kind of wrote his own pink slip for the show because of how difficult it was for him to play the nefarious character. Even with the brevity of his arc, though, almost any fan of the show would still point to this baddie as one of the most explosive villains in recent TV history.

So when he returned with a vengeance to the spinoff series Better Call Saul, the fanfare surrounding his comeback was massive. And although he's perhaps best known for this role, Cruz has been a regular on the small and silver screens for decades. Here are some of the other memorable roles he's played over the years, and why his face might have seemed familiar even before he showed up on Breaking Bad.

Sniper in Training Day

While Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke walked away with all the acclaim for their work in the gritty crime drama Training Day, Cruz's role as one of the local gang members who held Hawke's character hostage was also inspired. As Hawke later revealed in his Reddit AMA, the experience of filming that scene still gives him nightmares from time to time.

According to Cruz, he drew from some very real experiences when he appeared in the role. He told The Daily Beast, "I come from a long line of criminals. I have a lot of relatives that are hardcore gangbangers—18th Street, Barrio South Gate. I have uncles that go way back to old, old Los Angeles gangs ... For us, violence was a daily occurrence. I saw someone get shot in front of me at point blank range and die. The brains came out the back of his head. I was only 12." As his character Sniper from the film so famously said, "that's some trippy a** s***, homes."

Detective Julio Sanchez on The Closer and Major Crimes

Cruz's longest-lived screen character is Detective Julio Sanchez on The Closer and its spinoff series, Major Crimes. The longevity of the role has allowed Cruz to methodically weave supple threads of rationale throughout the character's backstory.

As he told TV Line of Major Crimes' fourth season, which more thoroughly explored the bitter backstory of his role, "You'll get insight into what motivates him and why, which is tremendous, because this has been brewing since the premiere of The Closer. That's how long we've been with this character, so it's a huge payoff. It's like peeling layers off an onion, which we've been doing over an 11-year period, and now you get to the center." The onion analogy is certainly appropriate: while delving into the thick of his personality, the character has been at times delicious...and at others, he's only made fans cry.

Ariel Castro in Cleveland Abduction

The TV movie take on the story of Ariel Castro, the Ohio abductor who in 2013 was discovered to have kidnapped and abused several women for years, might not have been the most crowd-pleasing show to ever air on the small screen. But for Cruz, portraying the now-deceased abductor was important.

He told Smashing Interviews Magazine that portraying a real-life monster such as Castro took a hefty toll on his psyche. "I think it took about a month after I was done to just be completely over it," he explained. "I gained 30 pounds in two weeks to play the part. I did all my research, and played this monster. It probably took about a month afterward to just shed myself of everything from it. It was really difficult ... It was a challenge for me to play a real-life monster."

Domingo Chavez in Clear and Present Danger

Long before he'd ever establish himself as a reputable small-screen actor in The Closer and Breaking Bad, Cruz landed a series of small roles in action films of the early '90s, including appearances alongside Steven Seagal in Out for Justice and Under Siege. One of his earliest memorable appearances came in Clear and Present Danger, in which he played a savvy sniper who managed to get one over on his superiors by being, to quote his character Domingo Chavez, "a sneaky bastard." Even among a whole platoon (pardon the pun) of thespian greats, Cruz was a stand-out in the role. And according to him, he almost didn't get the part.

He told The A.V. Club of the film, "I could not even get an audition on the phone. The casting director wouldn't see me. She said I was not right for the part; she had seen me in Blood In Blood Out. My agent kept pushing but she wouldn't give me an audition. So he went over her head and called the producers. The producer said, 'Send him in.' I go in. She was pissed. She looked at me and said, 'Are you ready?' I said, 'Yes ma'am.' I go in, I read. She was like, 'Oh my god.' She grabs the camera and says, 'Do that again.' The next day I read for Phillip Noyce. I went in and read one scene. He said, 'The part is yours.'" So, in other words, he really was sneaky. Quite fitting, no?

Distefano in Alien: Resurrection

As Ridley Scott's right-hand man in Alien: Resurrection, Cruz's character Distefano had the distinction of being the last soldier killed on board the Auriga. He was certainly more than just a background character—and there was a reason for that. As it turns out, director Jean-Pierre Jeunet was such a fan of Cruz's that he rewrote the script to specifically incorporate him, and, at the end, it totally paid off. The movie marked a turning point in Cruz's career, taking him from uncredited supporting character to more memorable roles.

Eladio Buente on X-Files

Although Cruz has done more than his fair share of one-off TV turns, his brief role on X-Files was both memorable and impactful in the long run. He appeared in a Season 4 episode of the show as a chupacabra, and it was during that job that he met writer/producer Vince Gilligan.

As he told The A.V. Club, he nearly passed on the part because he was training for Alien: Resurrection, but after his wife landed a role and urged him on, he ended up going for it anyway. "When I read the script I thought, 'Wow. This could be really hokey, or really great. It depends on who plays the part,'" he recalled. "So my take on it was that I didn't even look at it as sci-fi; I looked at it as just real. And it worked."

Not only did it work, it established an early creative connection that would come into play in a big way later on in his career: after leaving The X-Files, Gilligan went on to create Breaking Bad.