For anyone used to ABC as the network that airs the cute family of “Modern Family” or the sexy hijinks of “Grey’s Anatomy,” “American Crime” will be a bit of a shock. The show, created by “12 Years a Slave” writer John Ridley, is a gritty, often tragic drama following the story of one murder, and the shockwaves that reverberate out as the police investigate the crime. The murder victim’s parents, long-divorced and not very close, are called in, and the hunt begins to take on troubling racial undertones, as first a young Latino boy and then a black drug addict are implicated in the crime. Those parents are played by Felicity Huffman and Timothy Hutton in performances both wrenching and human, as they struggle with their own feelings about the investigation.
Asked what pulled him back into series television, Hutton says, “This script and the fact that it was going to be John Ridley in charge of everything. It came at me as a sort of surprise. I read it one day and I couldn’t put it down.”
Hutton’s Russ hasn’t really been a presence in his family’s lives, and it was this nuance that helped him find the character. “For me, the kind of heart of the character, in terms of how to attack playing it, was this was somebody who took himself away from the responsibilititees that nobody should take themselves away from, and was a gambling addict,” says Hutton. “He really wants to be as much of a family as possible to try to pull through it. He realizes that you can’t just do that. You can’t just step into it, even with a tragedy like this. You’re going to have to be measured by how you approached things earlier in your life, or didn’t approach them.”
Newcomer Elvis Nolasco plays drug addict Carter Nix, whose connection to the crime is not at first clear, but as the investigation draws on, he becomes more and more of a suspect. But he never loses all sympathy. “I think that’s made the whole experience for me so rewarding and so joyful,” says Nolasco. “And this was one of the first things John [Ridley] said to me. He’s like, ‘I’m going to ask a lot of you. I’m going to need you. Are you ready?’ I don’t want to give too much away, because this guy really goes through the wringer.”
Nolasco had to transform physically to play the part. Ridley told him “lose weight, don’t cut your hair,” in order to look like a drug addict. Once filming wrapped, was the next thing he did go to a barber? “Yes. Right away. Started eating like a manic,” says Nolasco with a laugh.
For a show with dark matter, was it hard to shake it off at the end of the day? “Yes and no,” says Nolasco. “For me, it was just a matter of going home and watching television. Which I love to do. I think it was once we wrapped that was the more difficult part for me.” And what does an actor in the midst of playing a drug addict murder suspect watch to relax? “’Orange is the New Black,’ ‘Scandal,’ ‘Resurrection.’ ‘Shark Tank.’ I love ‘Shark Tank,’” says Nolasco. “Yes, it’s about money, and it’s about how to invest and how to pitch, but I think it’s just an entertaining show.”