Manuel Garcia-Rulfo on Following Matthew McConaughey's 'The Lincoln Lawyer': 'He Has This Swagger'

Manuel Garcia-Rulfo tells Metacritic that Matthew McConaughey's description of Mickey Haller was 'the backbone' of his research for Netflix's adaptation of 'The Lincoln Lawyer.'
by Carita Rizzo — 

'The Lincoln Lawyer'


Mickey Haller is the kind of man who dances in the rain and never gets wet. That's how Matthew McConaughey once described the character to its original creator, author Michael Connelly, when he portrayed the titular character in The Lincoln Lawyer feature film that first brought Mickey to the screen in 2011.   

Now, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo gets his turn as the slick Los Angeles defense attorney who received his moniker eschewing the traditional office structure and working out of the back of his Lincoln Town Car. In the 10-episode series, also aptly titled The Lincoln Lawyer, from David E. Kelley, showrunner Ted Humphrey, and Connelly himself, the 41-year-old Mexican actor gets to show the audience a side of Mickey Haller not previously explored on screen. 

"In the talks with the producers and the show runner, I said, 'You guys took the risk of hiring me as a Mexican actor, so let's take advantage of that. Let's explore that side of Mickey Haller,'" Garcia-Rulfo tells Metacritic.

The writers didn't have to go far for inspiration. In his book series, Connelly had already conceived the character as the Mexican-American half-brother of Harry Bosch. Mickey's mother was a Mexican actress and his (and Harry's) father an infamous American criminal defense attorney. All the writers of the serialized version had to do, with Garcia-Rulfo as their lead man, was lean into the Latino aspect of the quintessential Angeleno.   

But Haller is more than his cultural heritage. He is an idealist, always ready to fight for the underdog. And he is a man looking for redemption. In the first season of the Netflix series, Mickey inherits his colleague's practice after a tragic incident leaves him dead in the opening minutes of the show. Fresh out of rehab for his OxyContin addiction, he is already under personal strain, but as he takes on the case defending millionaire tech mogul Trevor Elliott (Christopher Gorham), who is accused of murdering his wife, his professional skills will be put to the test as well.   

In his life, Mickey is surrounded by a complicated support system. His first ex-wife, and the mother of his daughter, Maggie McPherson (Neve Campbell), is a deputy district attorney trying to put away the bad guys while her ex tries to save them from incarceration. His other ex-wife, Lorna Crane (Becki Newton) runs his business, and is in a relationship with his P.I. of choice, Cisco (Angus Sampson). And, always willing to offer redemption, he forms a professional relationship with one of his clients, Izzy, played by Jazz Raycole.    

Here, Garcia-Rulfo talks to Metacritic about what drew him to Connelly's world, how he put his stamp on the character and what makes Mickey Haller such an interesting man to inhabit.  

What was your relationship with the books before you came to this? 

I knew about Michael Connelly, the author, but I'd never read the books. I saw the film when it came out, with Matthew McConaughey. I read the first and second book once I knew I was going to be in the project, and he's such a good author. It's such a good read, and his detail and the characters — he just brings you to that world, to that atmosphere. You can really feel it. So, I'm just really excited, very happy to be part of that world that he created. 

What was it about the character that interested you? 

A lot of things. He's such an interesting character. He's one of those larger-than-life kind of guys and, for me, it was very appealing to play somebody like that. I also wanted to focus on the vulnerability of the character, to be a very human guy. He's dealing with so many things at the same time. He's coming from [having battled his] addiction, then dealing with the two wives and his daughter. I really wanted to focus on that. Mickey Haller is also one of those characters to whom everybody connects. He's a man of the people. He connects with everybody. He could be with the biker gangs and the Cholos and the rich guys. He blends in with everybody. He's always sharp and he's honest, and he's always looking for the truth. And he's a good person.  

Apparently Matthew McConaughey once said, "Mickey Haller is the kind of guy who can dance between the raindrops and not get wet." What does that mean to you? 

Honestly, that was the best thing. I was talking to Michael before shooting. When he told me that Matthew McConaughey had said that, I was like, "That's beautiful." For me at least, this is such a vivid image. It spoke to me, that image of a guy dancing on the rain without getting wet. I couldn't come up with something better, that's what Mickey Haller is. He's has this swagger and this coolness, but tries not to get wet from all these things that he's dealing with. Honestly, that was the backbone of my research. I started from that.  

At the same time, when we first meet him, we see him at his lowest point. What is it like to come at a character from that angle? 

I think it's the most interesting thing to watch and obviously for me to play. It's the hero's journey. There's something really cool and appealing about rooting for somebody that has so many things at stake. He's dealing with so many problems, and you just want to see the guy succeed. This is what's happening in this season: You meet this guy, Mickey Haller, and like you said, he's at the lowest point of his life, and he has to prove himself. He has to prove to family that he's worth it, that he's a good man and that he can do it. It's very interesting to play that as an actor. 

How did you get to put your stamp on Mickey Haller? What's particularly Manuel about him? 

My essence, I guess. The other part is that in the books, Mickey Haller is half-Mexican. His mother, she's full Mexican and his father is American. I really wanted to explore that side.

The dynamic with his two ex-wives is really interesting. It adds so much to the show. How does having to juggle these two women affect him? 

Me, personally, I'd be like, "Why would you hire your ex-wife?" [Laughs

It's really nice to see not one, but two cordial former relationships, though.  

I think so, too. I think it should be like that, because if you connected and you share so many good moments, why fight? I think Mickey Haller sees the best in people. He's such an honest guy, and that's why people really connect with him. He's very loyal. He's juggling this, too. I think it's interesting, because with Lorna, Becki Newton's character, is a motor. She helps him in his career. It's like an engine, and they're a Batman and Robin kind of team. Then on the other side, Maggie, played by Neve Campbell, she grounds him. She makes him be a more grounded guy, because he could very easily get lost with the addiction or in his work. She makes him want to be a good man. 

The Lincoln Lawyer is streaming now on Netflix.

Get to know Manuel Garcia-Rulfo:  
The Mexican actor is perhaps best known for his roles in The Magnificent Seven (Metascore: 54), Greyhound (64), and Murder on the Orient Express (52). He is also known for his work in Widows (84), Cake (49), and Goliath (65).