Who is Tuco in Breaking Bad? Who Plays Him?

AMC’s ‘Breaking Bad’ (2018-2013) revolves around Walter White (Bryan Cranston), a disillusioned chemistry teacher who discovers he has Stage III lung cancer. Fearing that he will leave his family in debt, Walt teams up with his former student Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) to make methamphetamine. The arrangement is that Walt will cook the drug, and Jesse will distribute it. Soon enough, their pure meth draws the attention of both law enforcement and the criminal elements of Albuquerque, New Mexico. This includes Tuco Salamanca, a sociopathic Mexican drug lord. Here is everything you need to know about him. SPOILERS AHEAD.

Who Is Tuco Salamanca?

Tuco belongs to the notorious Salamanca family and is a high-ranking cartel member. Chronologically, we first meet Tuco in the first season of ‘Better Call Saul’ when Lars and Cal Lindholm try to scam Tuco’s grandmother. Saul Goodman, or Jimmy McGill, convinces Tuco to let the brothers go with one broken leg each. In season 2, Mike Ehrmantraut arranges Tuco’s arrest.

We first see Tuco in ‘Breaking Bad’ after his release from prison. With Lalo dead, Tuco takes over the family business. He meets Jesse when the latter comes to him to sell the meth that Walt made. Although Tuco is impressed by the quality of the product, he beats up Jesse severely, prompting Walt to visit him and threaten to kill everyone there with a bagful of fulminated mercury. Tuco becomes impressed with what he considers fearlessness on Walt’s part, and he subsequently agrees to become Walt and Jesse’s distributor.

However, Tuco’s instability and erratic behavior remain a major concern. Toward the end of the first season, he beats one of his men to death. In season 2, Tuco abducts Jesse and Walt and brings them to a cabin in the desert. Here, we meet Hector Salamanca, Tuco’s uncle. Throughout the days of their captivity, Tuco torments Jesse and Walt, prompting them to try to poison the drug kingpin. However, Hector, who can only communicate with a bell attached to his wheelchair, manages to thwart their plans. Eventually, Walter tells Tuco that he is “an insane, degenerate piece of filth,” and Jesse hits him with a rock. Tuco is later killed by Hank, Walt’s brother-in-law and a DEA agent, in a gunfight.

Who Plays Tuco Salamanca?

American actor Raymond Cruz plays Tuco Salamanca in the ‘Breaking Bad’ universe. He has also portrayed Johnny in ‘The Eddie Files,’ Detective Julio Sanchez in ‘The Closer’ and ‘Major Crimes,’ Ding Chavez in ‘Clear and Present Danger,’ and Ariel Castro in ‘Cleveland Abduction.’

Reflecting on his performance in the ‘Breaking Bad’ universe, Cruz told The Hollywood Reporter, “In the first few episodes I did I would hurt my voice. I’d get injured every time I did it. I almost broke my nose. I pulled muscles. You walk away and you’re damaged goods. And you go, ‘Oh man, I can’t imagine doing this week after week.’ Then I’d go back — I’d fly to Albuquerque at night and shoot on Saturday and Sunday. Then I’d go back and shoot ‘The Closer’ and then come back to shoot ‘Breaking Bad.’ It was relentless. Then when you’re not shooting you’re studying for the next day.”

Cruz reprises the role of Tuco Salamanca in a 2023 Super Bowl commercial for PopCorners, a brand of popped corn products. For the project, Cruz reunited with Cranston, Paul, series creator Vince Gilligan, and several members of the production team behind the two shows. “That character [Tuco] is never easy to revisit. It takes a lot of work. You have to get back into the mindset of the character and how he works and how he moves and talks,” Cruz said in an interview with Remezcla.

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