BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — You don’t meet Ronald Gacey until about 20 minutes into the first episode of “StartUp.”
Be patient. On this techno-thriller (whose 10-episode season begins Tuesday on the Crackle streaming service) you must first encounter Phil Rask, a corrupt FBI agent played by Martin Freeman (“Sherlock” and the “Fargo” miniseries).
Based in Miami, he’s on the money trail of an ill-assorted trio: the computer whiz Izzy (played by newcomer Otmara Marrero), who has masterminded GenCoin, a revolutionary crypto-currency; Nick (Adam Brody, “The O.C.”), a white-bread loan officer who thinks GenCoin could save the world; and, finally, Ronald, the second-in-command of a local Haitian mob who has one eye on his rivals and the other eye on bringing crime into a digital tomorrow.
Your introduction to Ronald, when it comes, is a remarkable 3 1/2-minute single shot that opens with his being awakened by one of his kids, then follows with him kissing his wife good morning in their kitchen, after which, with steely purpose, he steps outside and struts down the street of his dilapidated neighborhood to a nearby dwelling, where he tortures a hostage to get some intel he is seeking.
It’s a beautifully cinematic interlude that gives you all the fundamentals of this chilling, charismatic character — and that immediately certifies Edi Gathegi, who portrays him, as a star on the rise.
In fact, it was that scene as laid out in the script that hooked Gathegi: the way it conveyed the series’ promise as a dramatic vehicle and a stylistic treat for actor as well as audience.
“But this guy is ostensibly the moral compass of the show,” insists Gathegi, wearing a just-you-wait grin during a recent interview. “He’s bad. But for him, it’s just business.”
In person, Gathegi is warm and gregarious, with no trace of the plummy accent (“That was me when I was 17,” he laughs, now 37) that he effects as Ronald, or the frozen, deadly gaze in Ronald’s eyes.
The contrast hints at Gathegi’s range. Roles have spanned from his Mormon physician on “House,” to his vampire in the first two “Twilight” films, to his goofball handyman’s assistant in the 2013 sitcom “Family Tools” — a job, however short-lived, he recalls with particular affection.
He has also had a recurring role as Matias Solomon, a Cabal operative sent to hunt down series star James Spader on NBC’s “The Blacklist” — a role he will resume on the forthcoming spinoff “The Blacklist: Redemption.”
Born in Kenya but brought to the San Francisco Bay area by his parents as an infant, Gathegi had no interest in drama until college, when, recovering from an athletic injury, he went looking for something easy and fun. He entered the acting program.
He had found his calling. His dad responded to the news by producing a preschool aptitude assessment of 4-year-old Edi that declared him well-suited for performing arts.
“‘We’ve been waiting for you to claim it,’ my dad told me. And then he gave me his blessing. There have been many times since that I wanted to quit, and without my family’s emotional support, I would have.”
The “Twilight” aftermath was one of those trying times.
“The movie comes out and it’s a huge success and you go, ‘OK, everybody’s seen my work. It should be easier to get other jobs.’ But for some reason, you can’t. I thought, ‘Maybe I peaked! Maybe I will never work again.'”
It didn’t turn out that way, of course.
Now he revels in Ronald Gacey’s it’s-just-business badness, such as with this icy threat: “You should see what I can do with a blade. It’s amazing how long you can stay alive with your guts all hanging out.”
Meanwhile, he and his castmates get to delve into emerging technology with the digital currency that gives “StartUp” its name.
GenCoin, which promises to be “the future of business,” seems to take the real-life bitcoin to the nth degree. Viewers will be fascinated by the claims for it, however abstruse are the details shared for how it works.
“Nope!” says Gathegi when asked if he completely understands it. “But the first time I played a doctor I bought a medical book and tried to put myself through makeshift med school. Then I realized, you don’t NEED to know all this stuff. All you gotta do is make the AUDIENCE believe you understand it!
“Now we’re dealing with an algorithm that’s gonna change the world. And apparently that technology exists. There COULD be some sort of code that pulls off what we’re saying can happen.
“But that’s not us!” He grins. “We’re doing a TV show.”
EDITOR’S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at email@example.com and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier. Past stories are available at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/frazier-moore