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Jai Rodriguez Headlines 2011 Summer Shorts
(Photo by Brent Dundore)
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All The World's A Stage
Jai Rodriguez Talks Summer Shorts
By Troy Maillis 

Jai Rodriguez, who made a name for himself on Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, is showcasing his comedic and dramatic acting skills this summer for the sunny South Florida audience. After many years on the Broadway stages of New York and making several guest appearances on popular television shows, Jai is currently headlining the 2011 Summer Shorts Theatre Festival. The festival, which will be in the Carnival Studio Theater at Miami's Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts through June 26 and at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale from June 30-July 3, features nine short plays with Jai along with several other actors and also features four late-night performances of Rodriguez' solo show Dirty Little Secrets. Jai recently spoke with Mark’s List about the upcoming Summer Shorts Festival, expanding his acting chops and shedding his Queer Eye image.

You will be in South Florida for the entire month of June for the Summer Shorts. What can we expect?

Well I’m very excited to be down in South Florida this summer. I’m very much looking forward to it.  With the “Summer Shorts” you can expect several short plays that range anywhere from five to 20 minutes. Each of the short plays are different and are very funny comedies, and I also get to work with other actors.  Dirty Little Secrets is my solo show with music and stories about all kinds of things that I get to dish the dirt on.

How does performing in several different plays at one time help expand your range as an actor? 

It’s just a continuation of what I’ve been doing the past several years.  I’ve starred on Broadway with Rent and The Producers and have also guest starred on shows like Nip/Tuck. I also recently did a guest appearance on Kathy Bates’ new show Murphy’s Law. It was a very meaty role. It’s one of the biggest acting roles I’ve ever taken on. I finally got to show on television what most New Your City theatre audiences already knew I could do.

(Photo by Adam Bouska) 

What was it like working with Kathy Bates on the show?

Just from the table read alone she was very professional and welcoming to the guest stars. When you’re around a legend like that and someone’s who has been in the business so long, it’s a great experience. I wouldn’t say hi to her first—I would always wait for her to talk to me first. But she was very warm, interesting and complex.

With playing gay roles early on or your role on Queer Eye, did you ever think you would be pigeonholed as just being able to play one type of role?

I don’t think if you make a gay film or if you star in a gay film you should be pigeonholed or how people see you forever.  I think it’s ridiculous. But it does happen. That’s what makes it harder for gay actors to come out.  They still have bills to pay and have to find work. It’s easy to say that certain actors should do the right thing and come out, but they are the ones that need to have a career.   

What do you look for the most when choosing a role?

Well in the last year and half I’ve really been looking at more and more scripts, and I am shocked at the diversity of roles that are available for gay actors.  You don’t have to be the punch line anymore—you don’t have to be a cliché.  The character might just happen to be gay and have nothing to do with the story line. But at the same time, I’m not going in for the roles for they guy who jumps out of a plane and lands on a bus.  That’s just not really in my skill set.  I mainly look for roles that will stretch me and challenge me as a person. But one thing I did learn from Kathy Griffin is that you should never turn down work.  It’s a very competitive market.

Has it been hard to shed your image from Queer Eye For The Straight Guy? Is that something you hope to continuously break away from as you move forward in your career?

In the past couple of years I haven’t asked about it as much. I’ve had beard or stubble for the last few years, so I kind of look different.  I also have a lot of tattoos now. I definitely walk into the room now with a familiar presence but they might not be able to pinpoint me as “the guy from Queer Eye”. In the scripted community it really hasn’t come up in the last year-and-a-half.  It’s not really a show that’s on people’s radar anymore.  They will remember it if you talk about it, but it really hasn’t affected my scripted work—thank God! For me now, it’s all about presenting who I’m trying to play as soon as I walk in the room.

You can buy tickets to the Summer Shorts Festival at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and the Broward Center.

Posted January 2011 
Jai's Out To Play

By Troy Maillis


Jai RodriguezJai Rodriguez (left - photo by Adam Bouska) is an actor, musician, television host and stage performer best known as the “culture guide” on Bravo’s Emmy-winning reality television program, “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” Jai stars as Angelo Ferraro in the movie, “Oy Vey! My Son Is Gay!” The movie tells the story of the Hirsch's, a Jewish family living in the North Shore of Long Island, where every Friday night Shirley Hirsch (Lainie Kazan) invites another ‘perfect’ girl for Shabbat dinner in hopes that her son, Nelson (John Lloyd Young), will marry a nice Jewish girl. When Shirley and Martin (Saul Rubinek) once again set him up on a date, Nelson reveals that he is already seeing someone. Shirley and Martin are thrilled and can’t wait to meet the lucky lady. As it turns out, the ‘lucky lady’ is Jai’s character, ‘Angelo.’ Jai recently spoke with Mark's List about his character, the film and being a gay actor in Hollywood.

You’re in the movie “Oy Vey! My Son Is Gay!” Tell me about your character and the movie?

 My character is in a relationship with another guy whose family, mainly his mother, is trying to constantly set him up with a girl. It’s interesting because the movie is more about the journey of the two families of each of the gay characters. It makes the movie open to a broader demographic and to families who are dealing with these issues.

You grew up in a religious family. Was it difficult for you to come out and gain your family’s acceptance much like the character in this movie?

It took a long time to get on a path where my parents could really accept not only that I was gay, but some of the roles I was playing. I played a cross-dressing street performer with HIV and for my parents it was like, “You’re comfortable playing this role?” It took a lot longer for my family than it takes in the movie [laughs].

A lot has happened in the gay community this year with Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and gay adoption. What do you hope audiences take away from the movie and the story in terms of gay relationships?

 I think for most people who live in huge, urban cities we forget that there are so many other people out there that are not as open. Although there have been monumental achievements this year with Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and gay adoption, we still in many ways don’t have equal rights and marriage equality. There are still a lot of things that keep us in a “second citizen” place. There tends to be a lot of fear and prejudice. This film explores the idea of a mother loving her son regardless of who he loves. I hope people can watch this film and gain some sort of level of acceptance or understanding that all love does not look exactly the same. I hope people can find traces of themselves in the movie.

You were on All My Children in 1993. 15+ years later, how has the entertainment industry changed for you in terms of auditioning for roles and getting parts? Do you think it’s becoming easier for gay actors to get work in the entertainment world, or do you think there are just more gay parts now?

For so long, to have a gay role you had to be the punch line, or the cliché, or the joke, or the hairdresser with the Maltese on your lap. That’s really not the case anymore. I find myself being really busy with so many different kinds of roles. The amount of roles that are available to people who are gay is kind of epic. My feeling is that being gay really hasn’t lessened the amount of roles that I audition for. Also, I don’t really look the same as I did on “Queer Eye.” I have a beard now and a lot of tattoos— I kind of grew up. Moving to Los Angeles has really allowed me to explore so many different types of roles. I’ve screen tested for Tori Spelling’s show and Paula Abdul’s dance show. Also, being an award-winning host has opened up a lot more doors for other work other than just being an actor or a singer. There is so much opportunity and it’s just a really good time now for scripted series for the LGBT community.

You gained popularity as a member of the Fab 5 on “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” Do you still keep in contact with that group and are there any plans for future projects as a group? A reunion?

We chat, but we don’t check in every day. When we were doing the show we were forced to have one opinion to create that “Queer Eye” brand that we all had to say we agreed with. We are five very uniquely different people who did not know each other. We are forever bound by the show, but at no time during the show did we become best friends.

You act and sing and you’ve done television hosting. Is there any other type of media you want to move into such as producing or directing?

 I actually just produced a series about sex therapy. I really fell in love with a psychologist’s brand of psychology and therapeutic model. I thought of several different ways to turn it into a television program. I came together with a production company and went to Logo and they loved it. Having done so many episodes of reality television on “Queer Eye” you start thinking maybe you can wrap your brain around the concept and do it yourself.

What kind of path do you see your career taking moving forward?

There really isn’t much financial sustainability having a movie career like there once was. The movie stars that everyone is familiar with really aren’t even working as much as they used to. I think things are pointing more in the television and stage direction. I also tour with Cabaret, and we’re actually going to be in Miami in June and July. But if there is a nice, fun movie role like my role in “Oy Vey! My Son is Gay!” of course I will do it; but for right now my main focuses are television and stage work.

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