As the rise of big-budget television continues to encompass what would normally be reserved for the silver screen, the lines between streaming and theatergoing continue to blur. Even as cinemas goad people back into the seats with cushy recliners and subscription based ticket sales, it’s hard to argue against someone who just wants to stay home and catch the latest blockbuster series on HBO or Apple TV.
Very few actors are experiencing this transition as up close and personally as Gabriel Luna. From his breakout role on ABC’s “Agents of Shield” to his performances in HBO’s “The Last of Us” and the new Netflix series “FUBAR,” Luna has seen firsthand what can happen when networks and streamers invest in ambitious, large-scale stories spread across multiple episodes. It doesn’t hurt that he’s also close, personal friends with Arnold Schwarzenegger, who co-stars with him in the show.
“Arnold and I built this very strong bond when we did [‘Terminator Genisys’],” Luna told me, referring to the 2015 film on which he and Schwarzenegger first collaborated. From that point forward, Luna said, “He really embraced me and my wife as family.” Now, they attend all of the actor’s parties, events, and birthdays. When Luna’s grandmother asks about Schwarzenegger, she says, “How’s my friend doing?”
In “FUBAR,” Schwarzenegger plays Luke Brunner, a CIA agent who gets dragged out of his short-lived retirement to take down the arms dealer, Boro Polonia, played by Luna. Over the years, Polonia had become something of a surrogate son to Brunner, despite the fact that Brunner secretly killed his father. “I think I’m probably stunted at that point in my growth,” Luna said of his character. Because he was responsible for his father’s death, Brunner spends years paying for Polonia’s education in the hopes that he won’t make the same mistakes as his family.
“Of course, I fall into the family business,” Luna said jokingly. Polonia acts as a perfect foil to Schwarzenegger’s Brunner, the former being a seemingly good-natured kingpin with the soul of a killer while Brunner is basically a tank full of marshmallows. It’s a pairing that works, in part, because of Schwarzenegger’s effortless charisma and affable machismo. And Luna is up to the challenge, grounding his character’s grandiose personality in the complexities of their relationship. One often gets the feeling that Polonia doesn’t know if he wants to kill Brunner or impress him.
“I think he tries to assert himself as this leader that he knew his father was,” Luna said. “He’s always trying to make [Brunner] proud as this kind of second father.” Showrunner Nick Santora — whose 2014 series, “Scorpion,” has maintained a cult following since its cancellation after four seasons — took inspiration from Luna and Schwarzenegger’s real-life relationship to help define the father-son dynamic that propels the show. “He knows what he means to people,” Luna said about Schwarzenegger. “All of those admirable qualities are what Boro loves about Luke. And what I love about Arnold runs parallel to the characters.”
In addition to being a showcase of the stars’ personal relationship, “FUBAR” arrives as another big-budget series threatening to make everything but the most expensive blockbusters look small by comparison. “We were doing pretty big set pieces on [‘Agents of] S.H.I.E.L.D. even then,” Luna said. “But I feel like it was more practical.” Now, major VFX companies like Industrial Light & Magic, which only started doing television in the late 2010s, are giving ambitious TV shows the cinematic treatment.
Going through every contemporary VFX house’s roster of projects, you’d be hard pressed to find one that isn’t working in both film and television. “You have all these houses working in television now and just elevating the level across the board,” Luna said. Working on “FUBAR,” he explained, was “an absolute combined team effort with our practical stuff and the VFX.” The actor explained that, even though the production tried to keep major VFX to a minimum in post-production, “The technology has advanced to a point where you can … flesh out these extravagant, large-scale action scenes.”
However, Luna understands the average viewer isn’t really thinking about VFX houses while deciding what to watch. When so many shows are “trying to depress you or trying to scare you,” Luna said, watching prestige television can become kind of a drag. “FUBAR,” he insisted, won’t leave viewers with that kind of dramatic fatigue. “He’s in classic, ‘93 Arnold action-comedy form,” Luna said of his co-star. “You have people delivering top-notch comedic performances and action that feels like you’re watching a big ‘Terminator’ movie. And that’s quite the feat.” Enough said, right?
Josef Rodriguez is a writer, filmmaker, and film critic living in New York City.