Miles Gaston Villanueva is used to drama after working on two long-running soap operas “Days of Our Lives” and “The Young and the Restless.” But neither of those roles fully prepared him for the dark days on the set of his latest series, “Law & Order: True Crime” where he and co-star Gus Halpern bring to life convicted killers Lyle and Erik Menendez, premiering September 26 on NBC.
It was the high-profile trial that dominated the airwaves in 1994, where the brothers were found guilty of murdering their parents Jose and Kitty Menendez (played by Carlos Gomez and Lolita Davidovich in the series, respectively).
Dick Wolf is ready to present new facts in the freshman season of the anthology series and audiences can make up their minds as to whether or not justice was done. Everyone knows how the case turned out, but there are a lot of secrets still left to be presented to the public court of opinion.
“Our showrunner Rene [Balcer] did a lot of research years before we started shooting the series,” Villanueva told Latina. “The scripts are all based on resource material, corroborating evidence and facts. We trust the script completely and it has everything we need in it to tell the story we are telling. There’s also our own imagination and interpretation as humans to try and portray these guys who are very complex. They’re vulnerable. It’s been a process and it’s been different day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month and certainly with each episode. As we’ve gone through this process, we’ve certainly gotten darker and deeper with each character. It’s been really intimidating and scary at times.”
Even though portraying the complexity of the brothers brought many difficult days on set, Villanueva always had Halpern to count on to keep him “sane.” As the pair went down the rabbit hole of the Menendez case together, it was their bond that helped keep what’s important in focus.
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“The fact that Gus and I have bonded so well and so immediately has made the process easier to get through because we can lean on each other,” he said. “If he had a bad day or a difficult day, he’ll talk to me and vice versa. We still play tennis off and on even after shooting the scenes that required we play finished. Being able to talk things out and expressing our frustrations and our worries has been the biggest factor in remaining, for lack of a better word, sane.”
During the Paley Center’s annual PaleyFest featuring the series on September 11, Villanueva truly realized the importance of his portrayal to many people. Even from behind bars, Lyle let Villanueva know that he will be watching.
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“The word is that Lyle will watch,” he explained. “His wife runs a Facebook page and there’s a post on there that he wrote about the show after PaleyFest because his wife was there. He had some positive things to say and based on the post he seemed very interested and positive about it. Mainly because his friends and family were there and probably had positive things to say about it. He used the phrase, ‘Time will tell.’ I think he hopes, I gather from the post, that we’re going to tell the ‘right story.’ The story that he wants to see, that they know in their hearts. So he’s holding out judgement. I hope it does him justice. And for someone who endured--- and all victims of sexual abuse and all types of abuse--- that this gives them a voice. Although these young men made the wrong choice to kill their parents, hopefully, it opens things up and encourages people to use their voice. For those people without a voice, that it does something for them.”