'A Million Little Things' Star James Roday Returning to Birth Name Rodriguez
James Rodriguez changed his name professionally after "the first two experiences I had auditioning for work as an actor were both highly informed by the fact that my name did not match my skin tone," he told TVLine.
First, he lost out on a lead role because of his last name. Instead, he was asked to return "for this four-line role of a gang member" only to be told he "wasn’t right for that either because [he] didn’t look Latino enough." That was for the film Primal Fear (which starred Ed Norton).
Then, when he was 21, it was suggested he change his last name after he was cast for a Dreamworks pilot (which wasn't picked up). "Their only concern was that the role wasn't written for a Hispanic or Mexican person," he recalled, adding there was concern "that casting a white guy with a Mexican name could be construed as their version of 'diverse casting,' and there could be a backlash."
He spoke to his father–"a proud Air Force veteran and a proud Mexican-American man"—and "he let me off the hook," Rodriguez said. "The bottom line is, I sold out my heritage in about 15 seconds to have a shot at being an actor." As for how he chose "Roday," it came from a Chekhov play he'd been doing.
He's now going to go by James Roday Rodriguez, following self-reflection and another conversation with his father after George Floyd's death and protests against racism. "It was so edifying, listening to my father talk about what it was like to be a brown person growing up in this country — and in Texas," the actor said, admitting that for "most" of his life, he has "identified as Mexican-American once or twice a year" when he spends time with family members.
Now, "I want to be the best, most honest ally and amplifier that I can be for my own community and for my friends of color," he explained. "I don't think any of us could do that if we're not even putting the truest versions of ourselves out there."
Rodriguez also revealed that A Million Little Things creator D.J. Nash asked him if he wanted his character (Gary Mendez) to have a Mexican last name. "I couldn't believe that someone was acknowledging that I was 50 percent Latino and actually asking me professionally if I wanted to associate that with my work," he said. "I give credit for him for igniting a pilot light in me that opened the blinds a little bit so I felt more present in my own skin."
The first time his full name will be part of the credits of his work will be with Psych 2: Lassie Come Home, the new film debuting as part of the launch of NBCUniversal's streaming service Peacock. "That job kind of changed the trajectory of my career, so in many ways it feels like the absolute right place for it to happen," he explained.
Psych 2: Lassie Come Home, Movie Premiere, Wednesday, July 15, Peacock
A Million Little Things, Season 3, Fall 2020, ABC