Rodríguez the engine behind Hispanic roles in 'Holidays'
By Phil Villarreal Arizona Daily Star 12.21.2008
Some sit around and complain that Hollywood doesn't make enough movies with good parts for Hispanic actors. Freddy Rodríguez did something about it.
Along with producing partner Robert Teitel, Rodríguez persuaded Overture Films to make its Christmas dramedy about a Puerto Rican family in Chicago. The movie was released Dec. 12 and earned $3.5 million in its first weekend.
"It was tough — definitely a big challenge from beginning," Rodríguez said in a phone interview last week.
"In Hollywood, you can get things done if you have good credit; just like in real life if you go and buy a car or want a house, it's the same thing. In Hollywood, if you build up enough good credit by doing good projects, your respect accumulates."
Rodríguez built up much of his credit cache as Rico, the corpse-reconstruction makeup artist on HBO's "Six Feet Under." He parlayed the breakthrough role into a blooming film career, including major roles in "Planet Terror" and "Lady in the Water" as well as a guest stint on "Ugly Betty."
"Nothing Like the Holidays" is Rodríguez's debut as an executive producer. He also plays the role of Jesse, a wounded Iraq War veteran who returns home and tries to get his life back together.
Rodríguez said he took the reins of the casting, rounding up old friends John Leguizamo and Debra Messing to play a married couple, with Leguizamo as Jesse's uptight brother. He's also close to character actor Luis Guzmán, who signed on to play a boisterous family friend. Once those actors were attached, Rodríguez made his push for Alfred Molina to play the family's macho, secretive patriarch.
"He was the hardest person to get. He's such a busy guy," Rodríguez said. "He's British and a lot of people don't even realize that, but I really wanted him for the movie and wasn't sure if he was gonna go for it."
To round out his cast, Rodríguez called on his credit once again, contacting Elizabeth Avellan, one of the producers on "Planet Terror," whom Rodríguez said is tight with Molina pal Salma Hayek. Molina was hooked by the cast and the script.
Rodríguez said he felt pressure to do the film right in order to make it successful so it could provide more opportunities for Hispanic actors and filmmakers. As a reverse template, he used "Chasing Papi," the awful 2003 Hispanic comedy in which Rodríguez played a supporting role. He called the movie the only one he's made that he doesn't like.
"I pointed to it and said, 'This is what we don't want to do,' " Rodríguez said, later commenting on how easy it is to see a movie project turn awful if it's made carelessly and for the wrong reasons.
"In a general sense, not pointing a finger at any film specifically, if you just slap a film together and slap a bunch of Latin actors together and the directing sucks, the script sucks and everything sucks, you can't put that out there and expect the Latin audience to pay $10 to see it," Rodríguez said. "The Latin audience is not stupid and will not support a film just because it's Latin."
Rodríguez said he acquired a taste for producing on "Nothing Like the Holidays" and plans to serve a similar role in two films he'll make next year. One is too early in development for him to feel comfortable mentioning, but the other is a "City of God"-like drama set in Puerto Rican slums called "Julito Maraña," which Rodríguez translated as "Julito and the f----- up situation." He chuckled when told there was a town in Arizona called Marana.
Rodríguez hopes "Nothing Like the Holidays" is the start of something big not only for him but the diversity of movies in general.
"If one does well. then the studio heads in Hollywood write checks," Rodríguez said. "If they see American films revolving around a Latin cast making money, they'll make more. At the end of the day, the studio heads don't sit there and see black, white or brown. They just see green."
Phil Villarreal at 573-4130 or firstname.lastname@example.org.