EXCLUSIVE: John Ortiz is 'Luck'y in HBO's Newest Hit Drama

One of HBO’s newest and most promising hits is Luck, a horseracing drama brought to you by Michael Mann centered around the wheelings and dealings of California’s Santa Anita racetrack. In the middle of the action is Nuyorican John Ortiz who plays opposite Dustin Hoffman as a dubious horse trainer. Ortiz spoke with Latina about his limited racetrack experience prior to the show, his take on gambling and who he’ll be rooting for in the Super Bowl this Sunday.

Tell us a little bit about the role your character Turo Escalante plays within the series?

I play a horse trainer who has become one of the best in the business. He is the classic immigrant story, he he came to the United States when he was 15 years-old not knowing anyone and found himself at the track. He worked his way up from selling carrots, his first t job, to the man he is when we meet him. One of the most instrumental  people in his success was Ace Bernstein, Dustin Hoffman’s character. You see a successful Turo at the surface, but as with so many things something that appears one way on top is different underneath.

What did you know about life at the track before you started work on Luck?

It’s funny I had never stepped foot in a racetrack in my life except once when I was a little kid and my mother took me because there was a flea marking going on instead of racing. When I discovered I would be playing a trainer, I went to Florida with one of the producers who took me to the back stretch to meet everyone and introduce me to that whole world. Since then, I’ve been at the track almost every day. The days there start at 5 in the morning, but you really start to find the beauty in showing up when it’s dark and seeing the sunrise over the racetrack here in Santa Anita. It’s become like my second job where I really get to do the work, everything except sell carrots.

Having spent a lot of time at the track now, what’s your personal take on gambling?

It’s exciting to pick a horse and see if it’s going to win, but I can see how dangerous it can be as well for someone who may be down on his luck or who gives it too much weight or value. Like most things it’s good in moderation.

Have you won at all yet?

I won a pick 6. It was a small pay-out though, not like the $2 million one in the pilot. I was lucky because I still haven’t figured out the intricacies. I usually go by my favorite jockey, some of the trainers I know or the name of the horse. If it has a Spanish name, I’ll vote for it.

Luck was renewed for a second season almost right away. Did you expect HBO and critics to have such an immediate and positive response to the show?

Not really. It’s challenging when you’re doing something that forces you to use every ounce of energy you have and you want to do it right. For me I can’t let myself out of that state because then I won’t be doing justice to the work that needs to be done, and sometimes as soon as you start thinking about expectations that’s what happens. I’m grateful that we’re being rewarded.

What is it like working with the legendary Dustin Hoffman?

It’s pretty amazing. Dustin deserves all of the accolades he’s received in his life. He’s an amazing actor and there’s so much that he brings to the table and to the role, but he’s also a beautiful human being off camera. He loves to joke and tells the best stories ever.

After working on so many different projects in the areas of film, television and theater, what has been your favorite area to work in?

I’ve been fortunate enough to never want to be working in something that I’m not presently at, so whenever I’m asked that question the answer is ‘whatever I’m working on right now.’ I have a soft spot for theater though, that’s where I got my start.

One last essential question: Do you have a team you’ll be rooting for in this Sunday’s Super Bowl?

GIANTS! We have to see Victor Cruz Salsa in the end zone.