“We would have popcorn, and he would project the films that he did when my father and my aunts were kids,” Garcia-Rulfo said of his grandfather’s home movies. “My aunts started making their own movies — I was the main character most of the times — and I think I grew an obsession with cinema from that.”
When he was 13, his parents sent young Manuel to Vermont for a year so he could improve his English (learning to ski was a perk). Because the Stella Adler Studio of Acting, in New York, and a clown school in France — “Even actors in Mexico that are not clowns have done it,” he said — were too expensive, he studied acting in Los Angeles and Mexico. His career took off fairly quickly afterward, even if his American parts could be somewhat repetitive: a hit man here, an outlaw there, a smuggler for a change of pace.
So when he was asked to read for “The Lincoln Lawyer,” while still in Mexico, Garcia-Rulfo jumped on the opportunity and sent in a tape.
“I was very pleased and very thankful with the showrunners and producers, with Netflix to bet on that,” he said, adding that he was grateful to play a lead who wasn’t a drug dealer. (The tide may have turned: A few days before our chat, he had wrapped the Tom Hanks drama “A Man Called Otto,” in which he plays an I.T. guy he described as “a nice man, funny and dorky.”)
Garcia-Rulfo got the part of Mickey, his first lead in a TV series, after a casting process that took place entirely online — something that gave him another excuse to fret. “You have pressure when you’re thinking, ‘Maybe when they see me in person, they’re going to be like, ‘No, this is not it,’” he said.
Neve Campbell, who plays Mickey’s first wife, Maggie, said that she had reached out to her new co-star and that they went on a hike to get to know each other before work started last year.