Depicting a darker side of Los Angeles not seen on TV since “The Shield,” the gritty new crime drama “Gang Related” patrols mean streets where police wage an uphill battle against drug lords, gang wars and human traffickers. The series is centered on a conflicted cop (Ramon Rodriguez) with divided loyalties to the law and to a gang lord who took him in as a 10-year-old orphan.
The show’s cast is as diverse as the city itself — Latino, Asian, black, white, male and female. Representing the last of those is Israeli actress Inbar Lavi, who portrays Veronica “Vee” Dotsen, the only woman on the elite Gang Task Force. “She’s a woman in a man’s world, a very harsh and demanding world,” said Lavi, calling the role “a big challenge for me.”
Like her character, “the youngest and least experienced of the bunch,” she said, “I am the youngest and least-experienced actor. I was thrown in and had to figure it out. Vee has to fight every day to prove to everyone around her and to herself that she’s capable of keeping up with the dudes —physically and mentally — and I had to do the same thing.”
Not much is known about Vee at first, but subsequent episodes reveal her Russian background and criminal ties, as well as a potentially deadly health issue. “There are sides to Vee that she doesn’t show to anyone,” Lavi said.
Playing a cop has given her a new appreciation for law enforcement, and female officers in particular. “I have respect for the badge and the risks they take to make the community a better place. I take great pride in portraying a strong female character who is independent and can take care of herself. I don’t think we get to see that enough in television.”
Lavi was previously best known for her role as Raviva on “Underemployed,” the MTV series about struggling 20-somethings, though it might take a moment for fans to recognize her with lightened, smoother locks. “My hair is naturally black and curly, but I wanted a different look for this character,” Lavi said, adding that her background in ballet has been an asset in the high-action role. “I was a dancer. I use a lot of my body and physicality in every character, especially this one.”
Always interested in acting and inspired by seeing fellow Israeli Natalie Portman in “The Professional,” Lavi decided to move in that direction when injuries made a professional dance career unlikely. After studying modern dance and ballet at the Kiriat Sharet School of the Arts in her native Holon, Lavi attended the Sofi Moskowitz Acting School in Tel Aviv before moving to the U.S. at 17, seven years ago.
“My parents were nervous, but they believed in me and supported me,” Lavi said. She got a scholarship to the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in Los Angeles and, while there, appeared as Cordelia in a production of “King Lear.”
Roles in film and TV projects followed, including “Street Kings 2: Motor City,” “For the Love of Money,” “Entourage,” “Criminal Minds,” “CSI: Miami,” “In Plain Sight,” “The Closer” and “Ghost Whisperer,” where she met actor Christoph Sanders, her boyfriend of five years.
Lavi has cultivated a circle of Israeli, American and Russian friends that serve as her surrogate family. “L.A. is wonderful like that, a big mix,” she said, but admits to missing Israel and her family, particularly around holidays. Raised “not particularly religious, but definitely traditional,” Lavi said her parents “raised me to believe whatever I wanted to believe.
“My mom’s side is very Orthodox, and my dad’s side is the opposite, very liberal,” she said. “I got a taste of both worlds, and I got to make up my own mind. I’m somewhere in the middle, which is a good place to be.”
“Gang Related” premieres May 22 at 9 p.m. on Fox. l