By Dino-Ray Ramos
Fans of the hit CW show “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” will recognize Vincent Rodriguez III, who acts, sings and dances into the hearts of viewers of the show. He plays the resident hunky heartthrob, who is also the object of infatuation of the show’s title character, Rebecca Bunch, played by Rachel Bloom.
From the beginning, audiences were in for something unbelievably different. The show is not only a comedy, but a musical with original songs that almost skewers the genre with tongue-in-cheek flair. It instantly gained a cult following. And it's not just audiences noticing-Bloom, who is also the show's writer and creator, was recently nominated for a Golden Globe.
Rodriguez recognizes that this show is special, but he traveled a long, winding road to get there.
Originally from Daly City, Rodriguez, who is Filipino-American, took classes at the Youth Conservatory at the A.C.T. in San Francisco, which led to a role as Christopher in a theater production of Cinderella at an all-girl private school. He then heard rumblings of a school called the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts in Santa Maria, California.
The school has an impressive list of alumni including Academy Award-winning actors Robin Williams and Kathy Bates. Rodriguez got into the prestigious arts school, but the road to fame wasn’t always smooth. At one point, his father told him that if he didn’t get an acting job paying more than $100,000 before his first year of acting school was over, he would have to come home, get a degree in something else, and live under his father’s roof. Rodriguez continued to pursue his dreams, living in New York for a dozen years, and working dancing and acting roles in musical theater and on TV. He auditioned, took classes, and struggled with unemployment during this time. His role on “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” brings him back to California. As for his father, Rodriguez III said he didn’t want to become an actor to spite him. He wanted to prove to himself that he could succeed as an actor.
West Covina, California, is the setting for “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” It’s the Los Angeles suburb where Rebecca Bunch moves to when her high-powered attorney job fuels her anxiety. It is also the place where her summer camp ex-boyfriend, Josh Chan (played by Rodriguez), lives. In the episodes so far, we see Chan’s Filipino-American family and we see people drinking bubble tea (a regularly featured food item on the show). Rodriguez seemed right at home in West Covina considering he’s from Daly City, another place with a big Filipino population; he calls it the Daly City of L.A.
We had the chance to talk more with Rodriguez III about the show, his father’s wish, and how minorities are changing the landscape of television and entertainment.
What was your initial reaction when you read the script of the pilot of “My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend?”
My initial reaction was that it was really funny, and it has grown exponentially since that first script. We knew that it was something very special, very unique and something that we had not seen before. When I learned about Rachel Bloom's background I was just blown away. It made so much sense to me for this to happen and for her to be in her position in relation to the show.
It really seems like the show has grown and has a very loyal cult following. Why do you think that is?
The fact that this show exists is a true testament to people really pursuing what they really want to do and being honest about the story we're trying to tell. I saw the seed of that in the pilot. I felt like, this is going to be great. This is going to be something that we haven't seen before and I get to be a part of it, but I did not anticipate how far we would get into these characters. If you look at how diverse it is and the kind of stories we're telling…we're normalizing what America looks like.
Definitely. It’s looking like real life — and we’re seeing that with a lot of shows like yours: “Fresh Off The Boat,” “Dr. Ken,” “Blackish” and anything that Shonda Rhimes does. Speaking of, there is a huge Filipino component in the show and we saw it during the Thanksgiving episode!
Rene Gube is one of the staff writers on “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” He was also a writer on “How I Met Your Mother.” He’s Filipino and he wrote that episode — but he’s not just a writer. In episode 4, you see him as Father Brah, Josh’s Catholic priest mentor.
There has been a lot of progress for minorities in television this year, but what is your take on the the landscape for minorities in Hollywood?
I think we're in a great place and I think if the content keeps coming out the way it is, with revolutionary TV and movies that are introducing these kinds of stories, I think we're on the right track. I think this is the most exciting time to be alive right now. We have a black president. There are transgender movies and media out there now. Gay characters are playing non-stereotypical versions of themselves. I feel like as a society, or in television at least, we're rising up. Even in society we're rising up.
How do you think “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” fits into all of that?
“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is an example of that because we’re looking at characters and looking at a city that people wouldn’t think to look at. We’re representing them authentically, and we’re doing it without showing stereotypes of these people. I don’t play a stereotype. I play Josh Chan, the object of Rachel Bunch’s affection, and I happen to be a Filipino guy.
You mentioned that you and your father were at odds with your career choices and that he didn't emotionally support you in the beginning. Do you think he would approve of your choices now?
Unfortunately, [my father] passed away a few years ago, so he didn't get to see me at the peak of my career. My intentions changed. It became about trying to inspire others and live joyfully and express what I want to express as an actor, to tell my stories.
Within the Asian culture, there's the same old rhetoric about first generation parents wanting their children to be doctors or engineers. Being Filipino-American and on a successful TV show, how do you think that's changing?
I think we're evolving within the culture - it's supposedly common in the Filipino culture to be very strict to your culture even though you're [in America]. I always found that to be an enigma. It didn't make sense to me that you brought me here and now I have, for lack of a better term, an American dream. Now you don't want me to have it? You're not even going to let me pursue it? Now I think things are changing. There's a transformation happening where Filipinos are also evolving and they're seeing more possibilities, more hope in America.
+ + +
This is an edited version of the interview.
Dino-Ray Ramos is a guest blogger from the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), a nonprofit organization dedicated to presenting stories that convey the richness and diversity of Asian American experiences to the broadest audience possible. CAAM does this by funding, producing, distributing and exhibiting works in film, television and digital media.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.