‘American Crime’ Star Richard Cabral: ‘Art Saved My Life’ (Exclusive Video)

Emmy Quickie: The former gang member turned Emmy nominee has just completed his third and final season on John Ridley’s drama

“It’s definitely bittersweet,” said Richard Cabral of ABC’s cancellation of “American Crime,” which lasted three seasons and told three different stories that explored race, gender and immigration in a bold way rare for a broadcast network.

“But we did something powerful that nobody else on network television was doing, and you can’t take that away from us.”

The experience also dramatically altered the life of Cabral, who grew up in gangs in East Los Angeles and spent years in prison before cleaning up his life and landing roles on “Southland” and then in “American Crime.”

“It was my first starring role, and I was with legends like Felicity Huffman and Timothy Hutton and Regina King,” he said. “You always doubt yourself, but not only did I hang with them, I got nominated for an Emmy. My career changed, and my life changed.”

The first season, he played a gang member and convict; the next season, he played a computer hacker; and in the third season, his character was a farm manager overseeing a group of undocumented farmworkers and harboring a dark secret.

“In the 1950s, my uncles worked on a farm, so that was a personal connection with my character this season,” he said. “But another big personal connection was brokenness. Just like in season one, my character grew up broken, and that’s where I came from, too.”

But he started to heal when he got a post-prison job at East L.A.’s Homeboy Industries, and found an unexpected calling as an actor. “Art saved my life,” said Cabral, who has a role in Kurt Sutter’s “Sons of Anarchy” spinoff “Mayans MC.”

“I didn’t know that I could be an actor until I was 25 years old, and now I continue to go back to the prisons and probation camps and the inner city to say that you don’t have to go through the violence, through the trauma like I did,” he said. “I was one step away from getting my life taken away, whether it was life in prison or being dead on the streets. But I was saved.”

In this exclusive video, Cabral also talked about the burden of carrying his character’s secrets, keeping himself in the dark about what happened on the show after his character’s exit and going on his first big audition for “Southland.”

“There was the director, the casting director and the showrunner,” said the East L.A. native. “The only time I had three white men around me [before that] was when I was in court.”