If you've already consumed all 10 episodes of On My Block season two, you know well enough that Ruby Martinez has been through a lot. Though the whole squad has their ups and downs throughout both seasons one and two, it's fair to say Ruby is put through his paces. I got the chance to talk with Jason Genao about the new season of On My Block, and he definitely agrees.
"I just want solid peace for him. He's gone through so much, and I think he's so young," the 22-year-old actor said. "I forget a lot of times that he's only 14. I'm like, 'Geez, he has so much more life to live.'"
Remembering just how young Ruby and the rest of the squad are puts their situation into perspective. The four friends — Ruby, Jamal (Brett Gray), Monse (Sierra Capri), and Cesar (Diego Tinoco) — live in Freeridge, a fictional rough neighborhood of South Central LA that seems fit to implode from the constant acts of gang violence. Season one ends with Ruby and Olivia's lives hanging in the balance when they're shot during Olivia's quinceañera, subsequently starting a gang war. In season two, we learn that Olivia succumbs to her wound and Ruby is struggling to cope with his grief and PTSD. Genao revealed that online research aided in his preparation to tackle Ruby's intense survival guilt, and a source closer to home helped him figure out how Ruby would react.
"You think something so big would affect everyone generally the same."
"I have a cousin who was shot, twice actually, so I asked him about it," he said. "And it's funny because I did the research online, and you see how everyone goes through these traumatic experiences so differently. You think something so big would affect everyone generally the same. But some people couldn't leave their houses anymore, they would move states to find safety."
Ruby's answer to his trauma is to attempt to change his way of living, even going so far as to promise to be nicer to Jasmine (played to perfection by Jessica Marie Garcia). Though the promise eventually falls through, it also gives viewers a more nuanced look into Jasmine's character and brings the duo closer. To Genao, it was an interesting undertaking to flip that aspect of Ruby's relationship with Jasmine, to a point where he may believe "there's a place for her."
"I think because Jasmine and Ruby both deal with some trauma (Jasmine's, you'll see in season two), they're the only ones who have that sort of connection," he explained. "Everyone else has their own arc, but it doesn't deal with anything that changed them emotionally. It's like [Jamal] found the money. And [Monse and Cesar] are in a relationship. So [Jasmine and Ruby] have this connection from their similar experiences."
Their friendship definitely leads to some of the season's sweetest moments, and — because this is Jasmine after all — some of the more ridiculous ones as well. One scene in particular involves the Valentine's Day dance at the gang's high school and a dance contest that will probably be imprinted in viewers' minds forever. To put it simply: it's epic, and Ruby and Jasmine show up in matching black and gold outfits to crush the competition. Unsurprisingly, the scene is also one of Genao's favorites to have worked on.
"Last year we did a dance, but Jess and I choreographed it in my hotel room. This time they were like, 'Guys, we got y'all a choreographer,'" he confessed, laughing. "And it felt like a real thing that had a lot of pressure behind it. And then Ryan [Shiraki] was talking and he was like, 'I want this to look exactly like a club I go to. I want lights everywhere.' And I was like, 'OK, so bring it.' It was just fun."
But even an episode with such light and laughter has its moments of darkness when dealing with a character who suffers from PTSD. Soon after winning the dance contest, Ruby is triggered by a song that causes him to flash back to Olivia's fatal quinceañera. It's switching from a moment of levity to one of severity that Genao finds the most difficult. "Just as an actor, it seems to, like, pull out a lot from you . . . you have to kind of pull yourself out from such an emotional state like that and go and be somebody else," he explained.
"I don't want Ruby to be this person who's affected for the rest of his life."
But by the end of the season, Ruby's path to healing seems a little brighter. His biggest concern is locked away, and he no longer has to worry about his best friend's safety. There's still a lot more in life that Genao wants for the young high-schooler, though. "I don't want Ruby to be this person who's affected for the rest of his life. I hope that Ruby finds peace, and we find the old Ruby again sort of looking for a lady or something like that," he admitted (even though Jasmine is clearly "the one" for Ruby).
"I'd love to see Ruby get the opportunities that someone like him, but maybe a different ethnicity, would 100 percent get. Maybe get into a college or whatever he chooses to do when he's older. Get a scholarship or something like that," he added. "Something that you just know other people would get, but maybe not necessarily him unless he works twice as hard and proves himself more so than anyone else living outside of Freeridge."
Considering that wild season two cliffhanger ending, I'm not sure if Ruby will be getting the chance to go for those opportunities just yet. Maybe season three?