Ben Clemens is a man whose black-and-white views on the world are about to get a serious challenging.
As played by Michael Chiklis (“The Shield,” “The Commish”) in the CBS All Access crime drama “Coyote,” which drops its first six episodes today, he's a U.S. Border Patrol agent who has retired after 32 years to finish work on his ex-partner's fishing cabin on the Pacific coast of Mexico.
There, he crosses paths with a young woman who needs his help. Maria Elena (newcomer Emy Mena) is pregnant with the child of a Zamora cartel family member and is terrified at the thought of life with this brutal gang. So Ben, who is used to keeping people like her out of his country, is sympathetic and helps her cross the border.
Which brings him to the attention of the Zamoras, who become aware of this transgression through their vast network of “coyotes” (aka human traffickers) and don't take kindly to a progeny being taken from one of their own. And like that, Ben finds himself in the service of the cartel – and all that implies.
Co-created by David Graziano (“American Gods”), Michael Carnes and Josh Gilbert (“Mr. Woodcock”) and executive-produced by Michelle MacLaren (“Breaking Bad”), the series features a large Latino cast and crew and endeavors to tackle the complicated issue of illegal immigration from the viewpoints of people on both sides of the border, which Chiklis says he was immediately drawn to.
“We tell this story on the human level,” the actor explains. “And what we've taken great pains to do is to take the politics out of it and just let the people's points of view be shown. I love that we took great pains to ask people from every side of this equation what their points of view were, what they thought, how they saw things.
“And it's interesting ... what makes things complex and difficult is when people from every side of the question are correct about certain things, so it makes it very, very complicated. It's not just this or that. ...”
“And what's wonderful about doing a drama,” he continues, “is you get to explore all the nuance of a particular situation, and we don't want to do it politically. We want to do it honestly and authentically and let the audience decide what they think of it.”
The series was filmed in points around Mexico, including coastal villages and the Sonoran Desert. It was here in scenes in the blazing heat where Ben gets an education on Maria Elena's world – and where Chiklis says he had “one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life” playing opposite Mena, a young El Salvadoran actress.
“She's an extraordinary young actress, really present, amazingly bright ... so in-the-moment, and it was amazing to spend time with her,” Chiklis says. “And we really formed a sort of father/daughter rapport because I have two daughters and she's right between their ages. ...
“And just having discussions with her about her country, about what her country and what her neighboring countries have been going through. ... And I have to say, this has been an incredible learning experience for me as well ... because it was just so intellectually stimulating and physically we were just really put through it.”