Five Times Richard Cabral Turned Gang Members Into Three-Dimensional Characters

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Richard Cabral’s story is the type movies are made of. After spending much of his youth as a member of a gang, shuttling between juvie and prison, he eventually found himself facing a life sentence for shooting a man. When the victim survived and Cabral plead guilty, he ended up spending the first five years of his twenties locked away. With the help of Homeboy Industries, an L.A. gang-intervention program whose motto is “nothing stops a bullet like a job,” he started nurturing his artistic side, landing gigs on television on shows like CSI: Miami, Body of Proof and HBO’s Luck.

That he’s been typecast as the go-to actor for gang members is not surprising considering Cabral’s neck, chest and arms are covered in tattoos. But that doesn’t mean Cabral has resigned himself to playing nameless, faceless thugs. Just last year, he landed a plum role in the first season of ABC’s anthology series American Crime, a show whose very premise was to unearth the prejudices and histories of those left behind by the U.S. crime system. It offered the East L.A. actor a chance to show greater range and depth, bringing Hector Tontz to life and putting Cabral on critics’ radars as an actor to watch.

American Crime producer John Ridley has already promised we’ll be seeing a different side of Cabral this upcoming season, which centers on a sexual assault at a private school in Indianapolis. As we wait to see what that will be, we’re counting down 5 roles that trace the actor’s slow rise to fame and which have cemented him as an actor able to turn his own personal experiences into memorable characters.

'Southland' – Leprechaun

The NBC/TNT cop drama was Cabral’s first major role. He played Leprechaun, a gang member who, after a brawl, ends up killing Detective Nate Moretta (played by Ugly Betty’s Kevin Alejandro.) That plot line set in motion much of the show’s third season storylines, which ended with a thrilling stand-off between Cabral and Det. Sammy Bryant (Shawn Hatosy).

'A Better Life' – Marcelo Valdez

Chris Weitz’s film is best remembered now as the film that garnered Demian Bichir a welcome Oscar nomination, but in it Cabral showed once again his ability to turn gang member characters into three-dimensional people.

'End of Watch' – Demon

David Ayer’s film used found footage to tell its story, a gimmick some found a bit distracting. Cabral’s Demon is one of the many characters who, despite better judgment, choose to film the behind the scenes goings on at the gang at the center of the film, including the moment they decide to plan the murder of two LAPD cops for a Mexican cartel.

'Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones' – Arturo Lopez

The fifth film in the found footage horror series, The Marked Ones had Cabral playing a criminal who finds himself embroiled in the film’s larger plot which includes a murderous coven of witches that tie together many of the films that came before.

'American Crime Season 1' – Hector Tonz

In the first season of John Ridley’s anthology series, Cabral was yet again playing the role of a gang member who’s found with a dead man’s credit cards and accused of the murder. As the season unfolded, Hector’s story was used to explore his life story as well as a legal system who sees his kind as a petty waste of time. For his portrayal Cabral earned a well-deserved Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or a Movie.