'Animal Kingdom's Christina Ochoa on the show's 'powerhouse' ladies and Renn and Craig's 'bond in a world of chaos'
TNT's ongoing drama 'Animal Kingdom' has a lot of highlights to brag about. From being a captivating story exploring gritty themes of drugs and criminal families to showing some of the strongest female characters currently on TV, the show has managed to engage viewers for four years now. But Christina Ochoa, who plays an equally challenging character in the form of Renn Randall — the girlfriend of one of the Cody brothers, Craig Cody (Ben Robson), asserts that this "badass women in all spheres" dynamic is something the cast and crew share on the sets too.
"There are very powerful women both in front and behind the camera, and I believe that sets a tone," Ochoa shared in an exclusive interview with MEA Worldwide (MEAWW). "Our EP (Eli Clark) is a powerhouse. Many of the writers are female. Ellen does incredible work this year, as always, inspiring the rest of us. This season we also added Emily Deschanel to the cast and it’s been such a delight to watch her transform into Angela. I’m lucky to be around such incredible professionals on this job. The fact that so many of them are women just sweetens the deal."
At the top of the show's food chain is Janine 'Smurf' Cody — the absolute matriarch of the Cody family, who also governs the family's criminal empire, but she isn't the only one. Even the women close to the bottom tier in the empire's hierarchy are each brilliantly written characters, be it former drug addicts out to seek revenge or just complex women who have been roped into the game due to circumstances. But Ochoa believes that Smurf is an indispensable part of the family, and not just because she is the sole matriarch.
Ochoa spilled that when it comes to the Cody boys trying to survive without Smurf, "They'd like to try. That bond, dysfunctional as it is, informs every single one of the relationships for them, even outside of the family. Craig falls in love with Renn most likely because of his relationship with Smurf. The damage each character carries is a direct result of the dynamic they’ve had with the matriarch. Not sure they could truly escape her, even if they try."
Scary, bossy, and intimidating might be among the several adjectives that come to mind when thinking about Smurf, but Ochoa insists these highly empowering female characters on the show are not amoral. "I think they have their own set of values they regard very strongly: loyalty, family, protecting your own, territorial... it might not be 'good' morals, but each character plays by their own rules and that’s the beauty of a show that digs deep into those human flaws," she says about the show's ongoing fourth season, which has garnered critical acclaim for being all about the ladies. "Animal Kingdom has always featured complex, strong women (and men), but has really been about things that transcend gender: family, trust, survival," she adds.
Ochoa's character, Renn, is no less a badass. She might be a drug dealer who comes off as not something society would approve of readily, but at her core, she is loyal to the bone when it comes to all she holds close. "It was incredibly rewarding to step into a character that is so bold and unapologetic about who she is. I loved her essence from the first time I read her," Ochoa says about playing the role on screen, for which she admittedly underwent a lot of extensive research too.
"The drugs were challenging because it's a world I wasn’t familiar with at the time, so my coach and I researched a million details: how to cut coke, how much oxy sells for on the street, what’s the psychology of a heroin addict and what are their relationships like." Yet despite the challenges, Ochoa has been able to slip into the role like it was cut out for her. "When the writing is this good, it never feels that foreign. You always relate. She just 'makes sense' to me, even in her contradictions," she shares. Ochoa's research also included taking a deeper look into her on-screen relationship — one that she holds quite dearly. "Renn and Craig are two stunted children operating on the edge in a very adult world and they are extremely volatile, but they also trust each other like family. That’s a powerful bond in a world of chaos," she remarked.
Ochoa, who has worked as a science communicator in the past and calls marine biology her first love, more recently appeared as Ashley on 'A Million Little Things'. There she played a "measured, careful with her words, and I’d say confused in many ways" woman, who is strikingly different from all the other women she has played on the screen. But this vivid aspect of difference is what made playing Renn such an "appealing" prospect for Ochoa. "Ashley is further away from me as a person than Renn, which is very appealing as an actress to step into as well," she said drawing a parallel between the two. "Ashley’s calculating and secretive where Renn is impulsive and free. Ash is struggling internally and copes with this feeling of being 'lost' with hesitation and fear, which makes her operate in ways I don’t think she wants to. Renn doesn’t do guilt that way and owns her choices, no matter who approves."
But Renn won't be the only one owning up to her choices, as this season will be "all about family and testing these loyalties," teases Ochoa. "The characters are all “forced” to confront many aspects in their life; the relationship with Smurf and each other being some of them. I hope the audience likes when John Wells and the writers keep the Cody’s on their toes, because there’s a lot of that this season and I for one, love it."
'Animal Kingdom' season 4 airs every Tuesdays, at 9 pm, only on TNT.