PASADENA — Terry O'Quinn has one rule when taking on a new acting role — he wants the character to be multi-leveled. His role on "Lost" had more levels than a video game, which made it hard to find a part that would be as complex.
He found it with the new FOX series "Gang Related," which premieres Thursday night.
"I want a character to have as wide a range of colors as possible," O'Quinn says. "Whether that occurs in me naturally, or it's a muscle that I developed over a course of a career, I don't really know. I just always think it's interesting."
O'Quinn plays the leader of Los Angeles' elite Gang Task Force. He has a tough job, but his life is made more complex as the surrogate father figure to the rising star on the task force (Ramon Rodriguez) and his being estranged from his own daughter (Shantel VanSanten), the city's assistant district attorney.
One of the big complications for O'Quinn's character is his relationship to his daughter.
"Their relationship is a little rocky. I think he's a good cop. He was a driven cop. I think he's one of those people who was great at his job and not so good at his family," O'Quinn says. "He's a very loyal man, so I would assume that he cares deeply about his daughter. But as far as the relationship at the moment and at the outset, it's a little rocky."
Family is a major theme in the series from the father-daughter situation to members of the gang. O'Quinn likes that none of these relationships are shown as purely black and white, but with a lot of gray areas. That's definitely the coloring for how father and daughter get along.
VanSanten will be a great acting partner for O'Quinn because she has the same serious approach to her character. Even before filming started, she was active in making sure that everything — from the way the character dresses to her history — was just right.
"One of my biggest questions was why is the character working as an assistant district attorney alongside my dad," VanSanten says. "We finally decided that my character was in San Francisco and she transferred to Los Angeles to keep an eye on her father. She knows that her dad has worked in a gray area all his life and while she really wants him to be a good guy, the main thing is to make sure he's not a bad guy."
She loves that the family stories are as complex as her character. There's so much going on that VanSanten has compiled six files on her computer that detail every action and bit of history about her character.
VanSanten always has gravitated to strong parts, playing everything from a heroin-addict lesbian to a girl with two personalities. To make sure her character on "Gang Related" is as well developed as possible, she spent weeks watching real court proceedings, shooting guns with the local police and going on ride-alongs.
"I wanted to play something that scared me. That's what I always want to play," VanSanten says. "I want to see a character and think, 'I don't know how the hell to do this.' Then I get into it, figure out the complexities and then breathe life into something that scared me before."
The cast also includes RZA, Cliff Curtis, Rey Gallegos, Jay Hernandez, Sung Kang and Inbar Lavi.
"Gang Related": 9 p.m. Thursday, FOX (KMPH, channel 26.1)