'She needs time to heal,' says Rivera of her character's painful ordeal
SPOILER ALERT: The following Q&A contains details from Wednesday’s episode of American Crime, “Episode 205.”
We’ve arrived at the midway point of American Crime‘s second season, but despite every new breakthrough in the rape case gripping both an Indianapolis community and the audiences watching on ABC week after week, the questions continue to trump the revelations.
The alleged assault of teenager Taylor Blaine (Connor Jessup) currently sits in a he-said-she-said stalemate at the conclusion of Wednesday’s episode. We know that whatever happened between Taylor and Leyland Academy basketball team co-captain Eric Tanner (Joey Pollari) began as a consensual hookup, but while Taylor insists it turned into an attack, Eric continues to stress his innocence.
One of the key players in this season’s story line is Evy Dominguez (Angelique Rivera), Taylor’s supportive girlfriend. In last week’s episode, Evy was shattered to learn that not only was her boyfriend unfaithful, but he had been harboring a dark secret about his sexuality for their entire relationship. Forced to confront the truth about Taylor, Evy’s emotional overload took center stage in tonight’s episode.
Rivera has quietly been delivering one of American Crime‘s most powerful performances this season as Evy, a girl who has far too much on her plate for a typical teenager. “I could not imagine going through what she is going through at 17,” Rivera tells EW. “To be poor, to have your mom be bedridden and see your dad constantly working — and then also have to help Taylor, even though you’re very hurt by him. It’s too much to handle.”
Rivera’s scene-stealing moments, even ones where she is playing opposite famous co-stars like Lili Taylor (who portrays Connor’s mother, Anne Blaine), are that much more remarkable when you find out that American Crime is the actress’ first-ever professional gig.
Tonight’s episode featured two critical scenes for Evy: After unleashing a maelstrom of pent-up fury on her liar of a boyfriend, the character — who is one of the few eyewitnesses to the purported crime — maintained Taylor’s innocence during an interrogation with a detective. Taylor may have broken her heart, but Evy stands by her claim that he was intentionally harmed that night of the Captains’ party. Because she still knows him better than anyone else.
We talked to Rivera about her pivotal episode, and what these bombshells mean for the future of Evy’s relationship with Taylor.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What went through your mind when you first read through Evy’s intense scenes from this episode?
ANGELIQUE RIVERA: I was very shocked, because I never saw Evy as a violent person. So it viscerally struck me right away. But I understood her frustration and her pain. The things she was saying about the things that hurt her the most, about him lying to her. She says “liar” and “lying” a lot in that scene, and those are key words because … and she says this, it’s not about being gay. Just be honest with me, because I’m your girlfriend and I’ve been 100 percent in this relationship. It’s not like they were together two weeks, this was a yearlong relationship — it’s the longest relationship she’s ever had. There’s a lot that’s at stake for her — Taylor is her best friend. She loves him so much, so to have that be tainted, everything that she’s experienced with him all seems like a lie.
Also, this is really difficult because Evy is not a girly-girl, she’s not the pretty girl, she’s not like the other girls at school. She’s a little more rough-around-the-edges, she’s a tomboy, she wears baggy clothes, she has this beanie on her head half the time. So then she starts questioning that part of herself — her sexuality. Like, I’m straight, but I don’t feel like a girl anymore, I don’t feel like how I should. I feel like you have taken that away from me, and used part of me to fulfill your wants and needs, but in a completely different way than what I thought I was.
Do you think it’s at all possible for Evy to forgive Taylor at this point?
Well, you see in the next scene she has with the detective, she’s very aware of the situation, but, she still doesn’t know, and the viewers don’t know, if Taylor really was raped or not. Because he still could’ve retracted consent at some point. I think in that moment, when she sees him walk away after she just went at him, she really sees his pain. And I think that she feels she’s not the one to say, “No, it wasn’t a rape.” She was there that night. She knows what he was like, how distraught he was. It wasn’t like she’s ever seen him like that before. She’s seen him drunk, but there was something deeper there. She didn’t know it at the time, but now it makes a little more sense. So she can’t really believe that it was all consensual. It’s very hard, but I believe that she made the right choice with the detective in saying, “How many people have to say it’s a rape? I’m sticking by what I said.”
Because it’s unlikely Evy will be hanging around the Blaine residence now, what can you tell us about what’s next for your character?
No, she definitely won’t be [hanging around Taylor’s apartment]. She needs time to heal, and she takes that time to heal. She also has to make a decision: “Do I keep backing Taylor up, and keep getting, for lack of a better term, f—ed over? Or, do I let him go?” We’ll see Evy grow a lot.
You are working alongside an actor’s dream of colleagues — Lili Taylor, Timothy Hutton, Felicity Huffman, Regina King. Have any of them been able to give you advice as you launch your career?
I work closely on set with Lili Taylor, so, she is just incredible. She’s just as amazing a person as she is onscreen — she’s awesome. We met for coffee toward the beginning, and she’s like an open book. She gave me so much advice, about being a woman in the industry, and wanting to have a family, and balancing that with working. I want to be a mother one day, but I also still want to act, so to see through her that it’s doable — that made me feel better, because I always thought I had to sacrifice certain things like that for this job.
Also, when preparing for my big scene with Connor in Episode 205, I needed to be in a certain place. So I went to Lili and I asked her about it and she gave me so much advice about creating my own space and segregating myself a little bit and asking for a trailer to have right on set. I didn’t even know I could ask for a trailer! It was just, like, these little things that you don’t really know you can do because you’ve never done this before. And if you ask someone like Lili Taylor, who’s been doing this forever, she gives you these gifts, and you just hold onto those. She also gave me some advice about her process, and listening to how she works and what works for her, really enlightened me. Every actor is different, but it’s really great when people are not afraid to share their process.
As you mentioned, Evy does get violent in that scene. Did you get to actually slug Connor Jessup or was that just some expertly choreographed blocking?
We did rehearse beforehand with a stunt coordinator. We originally had a vest for Connor, but he didn’t like it, so he didn’t wear the vest. So there was nothing protecting him. They really just let me do what I wanted, but they just taught me how to hit him in a way that wasn’t going to hurt him. But yeah, that was all me, in the moment.
Well, I hope Connor wasn’t hurt, because he didn’t wear the protective gear!
He said he liked it, which, I don’t know — that’s what he said [laughs].
American Crime airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.