Q&A: Toronto actor Raymond Ablack on his role in Netflix’s Narcos

Q&A: Toronto actor Raymond Ablack on his role in Netflix’s Narcos

Raymond Ablack in season three of Narcos.

Toronto actor Raymond Ablack, whose first major screen role was Sav Bhandari in Degrassi: The Next Generation, now has a prominent part in the newly released third season of Netflix’s Narcos. He plays a young DEA agent named Stoddard who arrives in Colombia eager to help take down the Cali drug cartel. We sat down with the 27-year-old actor to talk about his time as Simba and Myspace-era Drake.

How did you land the role of Stoddard?
I auditioned and got an email to do a self-tape. I thought, “There’s no chance they’re going to hire me. This is a great big show. Little ol’ Raymond Ablack? They’re not going to pick me.” I sent my tape in and won the lottery.

Do you see this as a chance to catapult into mainstream roles?
I’m not thinking, “Oh, my God, this is the first stepping stone toward stardom” I’d just like to continue to do work like Narcos. I don’t care about the size of the role; I want more work that stretches me as a performer.

How did this job stretch you?
Plucking me out of the comfort of home, out of Toronto, and plopping me down in Bogota with a cast of all-stars. I got to sit and watch up-and-coming legends and current legends do their work. I learned from them simple things like courtesy and comfort on set.

Give us an example.
Pedro Pascal is the lead of the show and an amazing actor. There’s so much more to heading a show than giving a good performance on camera. You have to corral and command the crew. You need their respect. You have to keep spirits up and have everyone around you invested in the scene, so we can get through this 17-hour day. It’s about the teamwork of filmmaking, and Pedro Pascal is a shining example of that. I’ve also had the pleasure of working with Tatiana Maslany on Orphan Black. She and Pedro are the kinds of actors I like to model myself after.

How did you prepare for playing Stoddard, who is based on a real DEA agent?
My character is an up-and-coming staffer at the precinct. He’s very eager. What’s interesting about him over the course of this season is watching someone learn about the flaws of their idols—a veteran cop on the force has made questionable ethical decisions. But to catch the Cali Cartel, the characters have to make these muddy choices. We see a boy turn into a man within this series.

Let’s go back to your beginnings. Where in Toronto did you grow up?
I was born in East General Hospital. I grew up in Whitby, then Scarborough, and now I live on Queen West.

You didn’t have to move to Hollywood to chase your dream?
I’ve done it largely from here. I’ve gone down for pilot seasons before, from January to April, when auditions spike in Los Angeles. You want to be where opportunities are. If I had my druthers, I’d love to stay here.

When did you first catch the acting bug?
The moment it began for me was when my parents took me to see Crazy for You at Princess of Wales Theatre. We sat front-row orchestra. The conductor was talking to me. I got to look down and see all the musicians playing in the pit. Then they took me to see The Lion King a couple years later, and I thought, “I could do what that kid who played Simba did.” I was 10. Shortly after, I begged to go audition for The Lion King. I got the role. I fell in love with theatre and Disney and singing and dancing.

How nervous were you as a kid performing for packed houses?
I was never more free and confident than in those auditions and on stage during The Lion King. Today I’m neurotic and anxious about everything.

Is Degrassi still what you get recognized for the most?
It’s nothing I’m ashamed of. Degrassi is a Canadian institution, and I’m grateful to have played a small role in that. That’s where I fell in love with TV and made all my friends. Dalmar Abuzeid, who played my best friend on Degrassi, is my best friend in real life. We live together.

Your time on that show overlapped with Drake’s. How much were you aware of his burgeoning music career back then?
It feels weird to call him Drake, but I was a fan of his when he was on the show. Myspace was around at that time, so I knew his music. I used to go home from filming and play his four songs. He was really humble. One time I was playing his songs in the green room, and he came in and turned it off. He wasn’t trying to show off about his music. We had no idea he’d blow up to the degree that he has now, but we knew it was good.