At the heart of NBC’s Good Girls is a cheeky but necessary proposition: don’t judge a book by its cover. Its central protagonists may have, at first look, seemed like a happily married suburban housewife, a frazzled single mom and a waitress struggling to afford her daughter’s health care costs. But over the course of its first two seasons the NBC show has revealed them to also be canny criminals. Or would-be criminals. They’ve robbed a grocery store, smuggled money across the border and slowly gotten more and more involved with a money launderer named “Rio.” Their facades, though, are what have allowed them to (if ever so narrowly) escape the law. Who, after all, would suspect these women of being involved with such nefarious plans? The same, though, cannot be said of Rio, whose neck tattoos mark him, for audiences and characters alike, as what, in many circles, is already what a bad guy looks like.
It’s a testament to the show, and to actor Manny Montana, though, that such facile reading is misleading. Montana’s soft-spoken demeanor and all-around charm have made Rio not so much the villain of the piece as a yet another example of the show’s mission to interrogate how we think about criminals. Much like the titular girls (played by Christina Hendricks, Retta and Mae Whitman), Rio is just doing what he does to care for his family which includes, as the third season opener reveals, the mother of his kid, played by Orange is the New Black‘s Jackie Cruz.
“I like that they didn’t want to make him just some stereotypical drug dealer scary guy pointing a gun at you.”
The fact that Good Girls is interested in seeing Rio as a three-dimensional character who can be both a ruthless criminal mastermind as well as a loving father was what drew Montana to the role. Since he only had four lines in the pilot episode the actor didn’t have much to work with but along with the show’s writers he’s been able to shape a fascinating portrait of a man who can be as charming as he can be scary. “I like that they didn’t want to make him just some stereotypical drug dealer scary guy pointing a gun at you. They want people to like him,” he told Remezcla at this year’s Television Critics Association press tour.
Moreover, a character like Rio echoed his own experience. “I grew up in North Long Beach. So I had a lot of like drug dealers and gangsters around my way. But they were always kind to me. So I was always conflicted. Because my parents would say ‘They’re gangsters and bad guys.’ But they would always be like ‘Stay in school! Don’t do this! This isn’t good for you!’ Or like, ‘Stay away from the street!’ you know, if something was about to happen.” He wanted to bring that complexity to Rio, making us care and root for him in the same way we do for the leading trio of ‘criminals,’ who are, after all, doing it all for their families.
For fans who (rightly) worried that we may not see more of Rio once Good Girls returned — the season two finale found him shot several times and left for dead by Hendricks’ Beth, after all — you don’t have to worry. Without spoiling too much, know that we haven’t seen the last of Montana. Moreover, the actor hopes that seeing more of what drives Rio’s actions also allows audiences to be a little more introspective and perhaps even less judgmental. That he often gets labeled the ‘bad guy’ of the show — when its titular “good girls” are oftentimes doing just as many bad things — tells him a lot about who audiences (and people out in the world) will give a pass to and who they won’t. It’s a lesson he hopes will stick with viewers beyond the scope of the show.
“Like, if you see people on the street, don’t assume somebody’s one way just because they might dress a certain way or they might have a tougher demeanor.”
Good Girls airs Sundays 10 p.m. EST on NBC.