BURBANK, Calif. - Like the unsolved crimes he investigates, Detective Scotty Valens has a hidden past.
"He's very much veiled in some mystery about where he came from, how it is he got into the department so quickly, the secrets he holds," says Danny Pino, who plays Valens on "Cold Case."
"Whenever there is a sort of free radical coming into an equation it kind of bounces off everything in the equation," Pino says, explaining how Valens' forceful character shifts and shapes the dynamics of the Philadelphia-based homicide squad featured in the CBS crime series.
Currently in reruns Sunday nights at 8 p.m., "Cold Case" begins its third season this fall in the same timeslot.
Valens was introduced in the sixth episode in November 2003 - a somewhat hotheaded guy, confident enough to challenge the authority of both his partner, Detective Lilly Rush (Kathryn Morris), and their boss, Lt. John Stillman (John Finn).
As the series progressed, the writers latched on to Pino's strengths. "We found him to be intriguing - strong, yet understated," says show creator Meredith Stiehm. "We've realized there's no limit to his ability, so we've been writing more and more for him."
Consequently, Valens' private life has become a significant part of the personal story lines that run parallel to the show's procedural case-solving.
And some life it is! Valens' fiancee, Elisa, was schizophrenic. Then she died. Later, he became involved with Rush's wayward sister, Christina, which upset Rush. Then Christina disappeared. At the start of this season, Valens will revisit unanswered questions surrounding Elisa's death. It was deemed a suicide but he thinks it was a homicide.
Pino doesn't know how that story line will play out, but feels "it's going to be a very baffling year" for Valens.
The actor's intrigued by the chance to play scenes in which "all those ruminations will be underneath his (police) activity... even when he's outwardly very presentable and professional in what he is doing."
Pino, a 31-year-old first-generation Cuban American born in Miami, is married to his childhood sweetheart and they live in Los Angeles with a puppy, Mambo.
"He's such a great dog. I never thought I was going to be a weird dog person, because there are a lot of weird dog people in L.A., but I'm officially a weird dog person," Pino says, laughing as he chats at a Toluca Lake coffee shop.
Pino's previous TV credits include the role of "Armadillo" Quintero on the second season of FX's crime drama "The Shield" and as Desi Arnaz in "Lucy," a 2003 CBS biopic about Lucille Ball's tempestuous marriage to the Cuban-born bandleader.
"Growing up seeing Desi, I thought there were Cubans all over Hollywood. I understood that dialogue, everything he said. It wasn't weird to me because that's the way my dad talked," says Pino.
Pino believes his interest in acting came partly from listening to "the oral tradition in my family that has been passed on - telling stories, sitting around talking, playing dominoes and smoking cigars."
"You heard a story and you immediately imagined it in your head... a description of the houses and the beach in Cuba, how crystal clear the water was, and the sand so fine and white, and stories of those relatives you never met and never will meet."
Pino will soon be seen on the big screen as the ranchhand Jack in "Flicka," based on the Mary O'Hara novel "My Friend Flicka" and alongside "Without a Trace" star Poppy Montgomery in "Between."
He also portrays a student activist in "The Lost City," Andy Garcia's upcoming movie about the Cuban revolution.
Pino says researching that role was very satisfying.
"This might sound corny," he says, "but it was my way of thanking my grandparents for all the sacrifices they made - that decision to come here to the United States to start over from nothing."
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