THE OATH, now streaming its entire first season for free on SonyCrackle.com, is a drama concerning gangs – whose members are police officers. The Ravens, led by Detective Steve Hammond (Ryan Kwanten), shake down drug dealers and other criminals who have nowhere to turn when they’re attacked by the police. However, when the Ravens progress to bank robbery, things quickly take a turn.
Katrina Law plays Karen Beach and JJ Soria (also known as Joseph Julian Soria) plays Ramos, both of them Ravens members. Law has some history dealing with questionable TV law enforcement; she was a regular on TRAINING DAY and recurs on ARROW and LEGENDS OF TOMORROW as the assassin Nyssa al Ghul. She was previously a regular on SPARTACUS: WAR OF THE DAMNED. Soria was a regular on ARMY WIVES and now recurs on ANIMAL KINGDOM; other credits include THE SHIELD, SOUTHLAND, DEXTER, and SUPERNATURAL.
Law and Soria sit down together to talk their work on the series created by Joe Halpin.
ASSIGNMENT X: Are the Ravens a police-only gang, or is it a gang that encompasses both police and civilians?
JJ SORIA: It’s police-only.
AX: But are the Ravens involved with non-police drug gangs?
SORIA: Yeah, they have business with them. They definitely work with the local gangs.
KATRINA LAW: But the local gang is not a part of our gang. We just happen to know them.
SORIA: We do business together.
AX: Do the Ravens do business with other police gangs as well?
LAW: Not so much. It’s more like, “This is our territory, this is your territory,” and when our paths do cross, it tends to end in friction. In the first episode, one police gang crosses paths with another police gang, and they have to have a meeting about it, about staying out of it, getting back into your territory, giving back money that was owed that somebody else took, and all this stuff. So it’s definitely, “Your police precinct has your gang, we have our gang, this is our territory, this is yours, keep separate.”
SORIA: But at the end of the day, they’re cops. They back each other up. But their family is their unit, their gang. That’s their in-house. And then you have your extended family. That’s the rest of the police organization.
AX: What are your characters’ respective positions within the Ravens?
SORIA: I am the second in command of the Ravens. I partner with Steve Hammond, who is the leader, and my character is second in charge.
LAW: I’m just a regular cop, so I think I’m probably one of the newest members to the gang, but because I have a good relationship with the brothers [Hammond and his brother Cole, played by Cory Hardrict], I think I’ve kind of gotten elevated in status just because of my crew, the people that I’ve bonded with.
SORIA: So Steve Hammond and my character Ramos, we are detectives, we’re undercover detectives, as opposed to them. They’re beat cops.
LAW: Yeah. Karen and Cole are street cops. We’re normally partnered together, so I think because of that relationship, it’s elevated me. And I definitely defer to Ramos and Steve a lot.
AX: And Ramos is advising Steve to get his brother Cole out of the Ravens, because Cole is unstable?
SORIA: Yeah, that’s him.
AX: What are Karen’s and Ramos’s attitudes towards each other?
LAW: He’s definitely much superior, in rank officially, but then also in rank in the Ravens. I definitely look up to the Ramos character, because I look at him and I go, “Wow, he has everything that I want. He’s married happily to a beautiful woman” – not that my character wants a woman [laughs], but he’s married, he has a child, he’s deeply in love with both of them. He has an entire family structure that she’s never had in her entire life. That being said, he’s also just a great person to be under. So between the Ramos and Hammond characters, she has two male figures that she’s never had in her entire life that she gets to look up to. And for her, he’s more like the older brother that she never had.
SORIA: I’ll piggy-back off of that and say that, personally, I see her as a sister. I don’t know what it is – this is me, J.J. And I use that for that relationship. There was just something that reminded me of my sister in her, and how she carries herself, and I use that, I use that reality in that relationship, and that’s kind of how I molded that relationship, where I look out for her, and I know she’s a wild card, I know she’s going to do wrong things, but I love her, and I’m there for her.
AX: THE OATH series creator Joe Halpin has said he used to be in a police gang. Was it a surprise to you, that police gangs are as common as they apparently are in real life?
LAW: Yes and no. Right before the casting went out for this, the entire LAPD basically just went through an investigation, and had a police gang go down, and most of them are in jail right now. So I was very aware that it was happening, and there was a police gang going on. Now, I’m not sure that I was aware that it was so prevalent in pretty much every city, and when I was talking to some of my friends in Baltimore who are police officers, they were like, “Oh, yeah, we have a gang, too.” They’re not in it, but the fact that they knew about them, I was like, “Oh, this is a fairly common thing within the police force.”
And [THE OATH] is not saying [all] police officers are bad. Because like Joe said, ninety-nine percent of police officers go out there, they do a job, they kick ass every single day, they watch out for us, they have our best interests in mind, they play by the book, and they’re amazing. But when you have power, there is always going to be a subset of humans, who just by nature want to abuse that power. So this is what we’re going after. We’re not trying to shed light on the police force. It’s just these few corrupt individuals that unfortunately permeate every single city, and every single police force that’s out there.
SORIA: I’ll add to that and say that I honestly was a little surprised that it was as prevalent as it is, or seems to be. That was your question. This show covers the gray area, right? We spoke upon it [earlier in the day], about how, no, we’re not glorifying [police corruption], we’re shedding light on it. I feel that we’re in a certain time right now where everyone wants to point the finger and be a judge. And I’m not trying to condone these actions. What I am saying – look a little closer. I had to, with the character. Who are these people, and why are they doing what they’re doing? You start out as a cop. Your intentions were to serve and protect. But the reality of it is, this is an unfair world. The reality of it is, you’ve got to get your hands dirty in order to make s*** happen. That’s just unfortunately the case. It’s not just the good guys against the bad guys. I even know – I’m going to go a little deeper on something – when I was involved in Christianity, and living that life, I was like, “I’ve got to get into the areas where all the sinners are, I’ve got be in it.” But when you’re in that environment, it rubs off on you. So these guys, they’re in that environment, and they’ve got to kind of play. If they’re going to make any kind of real impact, they’ve got to get in there, because when they do that, they get dirty.
AX: And the police are generally underpaid …
SORIA: They’re underpaid, and they’re dealing with family members having cancer. They’re dealing with bills. And they’re people, folks. If you were in that position, and you had to make a quick decision, we’re not always going to make the right choice. Again, I’m not condoning it. I’m not saying that what they’re doing is right. But that’s what I think is key, is having understanding. That starts to get us in the right direction.
AX: You shoot THE OATH in Puerto Rico. Is it meant to be Los Angeles?
LAW: No. It’s a nondescript city in the U.S. Police corruption goes on in every city, in every town, and there are gangs in probably the majority of the major cities in the U.S. We just wanted to not focus on one and say, “This is where it’s based,” because we’re just trying to highlight everything that goes on.
AX: How is working in Puerto Rico?
LAW: Puerto Rico has a life and a flavor and a vibrancy that you really have a hard time finding anywhere else in the United States. And the Puerto Ricans – first of all, it’s America, so when you’re down there, you’re amongst Americans. It’s easy, because the transactions are easy, you’re using the same money, for the most part, you’re speaking the same language. But at the same time, Puerto Ricans have so much pride in being from Puerto Rico, and it makes you go, “Yeah, I love Puerto Rico, too.” So it’s infectious, and they’re vibrant, so when you’re surrounded by that, and you have to go on the set, they feed you, they give you this energy that is just unbelievable. And then also just Puerto Rico itself, being as gritty and nuanced as it is, and the sweat that you see onscreen, that’s our sweat. That was just us standing in the heat, sweating. There was no makeup or spraying required. They still did it, but that was us.
SORIA: It’s a beautiful island. For me, to be honest, I was like, “Okay, we’re being given this material,” which in my opinion was awesome. I saw a treasure chest of material. I said, “Oh, my God, I get to play with this, with the ensemble cast that we have, with these tools? And in this environment? It’s a paradise.” My personal opinion is, right now, it’s going through some hard times, but the vegetation will grow back. It’s growing back. Right now, it’s going through redevelopment, reconstruction. But it’s still a paradise. It’s still beautiful. So what was it like to go in there? It was a paradise. I mean, I got to get up and look out my window. The ocean is right there. And then I go to work on a project like this, and at the same time, the environment lends itself to the show. You’re going to see exteriors that really gave life, and have their own character for our story.
AX: Did either of you have to learn how to do anything for your character, either how to hold a gun or how to enter a doorway …?
LAW: Well, we’d both worked on shows before – he was on ARMY WIVES, and that was very much military-based, and I’ve been on other shows like TRAINING DAY, where we both were trained, so I think [for THE OATH] it was more like refresher courses. But thankfully, with Joe Halpin being on set every day, and then also Ryan Reinhart, our tech advisor, they would say, “Approach the car this way. Hold your gun this way. Kick the door this way. Do that.”
SORIA: The chase, right? How we go about chasing someone on foot pursuit, how you come around a corner. There were procedural things about how to go about that. Even verbiage that you would call out, we went over those things. So there were little things, the nuances –
LAW: The technicalities –
SORIA: That we touched on, but it wasn’t like a couple-week course in how to carry a gun or how to shoot or anything.
AX: When you found out THE OATH was going to be on SonyCrackle.com, did you think, “It’s on what?”
SORIA: Well, for me, I looked at it as, “This makes sense.” We had the ability to do things that we wouldn’t on other networks. So it worked for me.
LAW: I had been a part of a Crackle show a couple years ago. But unfortunately, I never watched it. So I didn’t know anything about how to stream it, and I was actually surprised when I was staying at my friend’s – “Oh, it’s on this thing called Crackle.” “Oh, I have Crackle.” So I feel like everybody else knew more about this network than I did, and I think it’s really going to help, now that they’ve changed it to Sony Crackle, because now people are going to start to understand that, “Oh, okay.” It starts making sense, rather than, “What, the [Crackle] candy bar?” [laughs]
AX: And what would you most like people to know about THE OATH?
LAW: It’s a roller-coaster ride that is just unrelenting, so after Episode 1, it just keeps trucking uphill, uphill, uphill, then drops. It’s amazing, so stick around.
SORIA: The hook-line is the action. It keeps you engaged. There’s no moment to stop and be distracted. You’re constantly going to be engaged in, if not the visuals of the chases and stuff like that, you’re going to be invested in the emotional scenes of what these characters are going to go through. And that’s the sinker. I think that’s what’s going to catch people off-guard. What’s going to really ground you into what’s going on in these stories is what’s going on in their lives, and I don’t think people are expecting that. So be ready for a fast-paced ride that goes into fifth gear, overdrive. It goes into the next gear and doesn’t stop. It’s relentless.
This interview was conducted during SonyCrackle.com’s portion of the Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour.
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Article: Exclusive Interview with THE OATH actors Katrina Law and JJ Soria on Season 1 of the SonyCrackle series