If you haven’t watched the season 5 (and series) finale of A Million Little Things yet, you may want to consider getting a COVID-esque stockpile of tissues, first. The ABC TV show has been touching hearts for five years, following the interwoven stories of friendships and hardship. James Roday Rodriguez is the talented actor who brought the star character, Gary Mendez, to life. Here is everything you need to know about our favorite star-crossed protagonist.
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James Rodriguez Used to Go by James Roday
James Roday Rodriguez was born on April 4, 1976, in San Antonio, Texas. He has a half-sister, Lisette, from his father Jamie Rodriguez’s second marriage. His father is a retired Air Force Master Sergeant of Mexican descent. His mother, Deborah Collins, is of Irish, English, and Scottish descent.
James initially went by the professional stage name of Roday due to being white presenting, (“I didn’t look Latino enough,” he said) and also because there was another SAG actor named James Rodriguez. He told TV Line in 2020 that 20 years later, he felt regret at changing his name, as if he had “sold out my heritage in about 15 seconds to have a shot at being an actor.” He officially went back to his birth name, James Roday Rodriguez, which was a “deeply personal decision.”
“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,” said Rodriguez. “I don’t think any of us could do that if we’re not even putting the truest versions of ourselves out there.”
Rodriguez Has Acting Roots in Theatre
Rodriguez became enthralled with performing at a young age. Allegedly, he told his father that he wanted to become an actor after watching Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video when he was in the fifth grade. His dad then enrolled him in singing and piano lessons. By the time he was attending Taft High School, he decided to solely focus on acting. Rodriguez enrolled in New York University and graduated in 1997 with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts.
Rodriguez got his acting start on-stage and performed in several theatrical productions including Three Sisters and A Respectable Wedding. He produced and starred in shows with the LA-based Red Dog Squadron theatre company (which he co-founded), including Extinction and Sexual Perversity in Chicago. He also directed plays with RDS. One of his more notable theatre roles was after becoming a Hollywood star, in White Rabbit Red Rabbit at New York’s Westside Theatre in 2016.
James Rodriguez’s Breakthrough Role Was on TV Show Psych
James Roday Rodriguez’s first big screen credit was in the 1999 film Coming Soon, alongside Ryan Reynolds and Mia Farrow. With his extensive stage acting background, which often contributes crucial skills to on-screen actors, it wasn’t long before he had his breakthrough.
He landed the lead role of Shawn Spencer in Psych for the show’s entire run from 2006 to 2014. Rodriguez told Nerds of Color that he stepped back from acting after Psych’s finale, preferring to work behind the camera. But then he was offered the lead role in A Million Little Things.
Rodriguez told NoC that he was “roped” back into acting due to a variety of factors.
“It had a lot to do with the pilot scripts, the fact that it was an opportunity to play a male character with breast cancer, and DJ Nash is a hell of a salesman,” he said.
A Million Little Things Was Rodriguez’s First Time Portraying a Mexican-American
But then he was presented with another opportunity: to portray a character who shared his real heritage.
“DJ was like, ‘Look, let’s make you half Latino. Have you ever had a chance to play a Mexican character before?” Rodriguez recalled. “The answer was a resounding no and nor did I ever think I would have a chance to do that because of the way that I look. So, it was a pretty awesome thing he did and as a result, we’ve been able to explore some storylines that are kind of a reflection of my own life, which I was certainly not expecting to do on the show…”
He called it “a very welcome surprise.”
He Thinks More TV Shows Should Try to Make Positive Impacts on Viewers
Not expecting the show to run for several seasons — five, to be exact — Rodriguez also said he found another purpose: connecting with people who were affected by cancer and giving them hope. At one point, he, show creator DJ Nash, and Maggie Bloom actress Allison Miller flew to meet a fan of the show. She’d just beaten cancer and they gifted her one of Maggie’s pink wigs. That’s when he realized how much healing potential there is in TV and film.
“I think sometimes you take for granted the effect that you can have on someone who’s going through something like that,” Rodriguez said. “Not just our show, every show that’s out there. There’s more responsibility and obligation involved than I think we think there is sometimes and when you have those types of experiences, it’s a real gut check of like, wow, you should do better.”
Rodriguez added that he hoped other showrunners could share a similar experience and use the lesson to make art that affects people in a positive way.
“All of us should do better because we actually do have the ability to affect others,” he said. “There’s no better motivation to make great work than knowing that if you do and you put it out there, it can help somebody… I think there’d be a lot more good TV shows out there if everybody gets that lesson.”
As far as his personal life goes, James Roday Rodriguez appears to be single at the moment. From 2006 to 2014, he dated his Psych co-star Maggie Lawson. But their relationship ended as soon as the show ended.
He’s a Huge Animal Person
These days, his social media seems to center on making the world a better place. He’s an advocate for the environment, human rights, and especially for animals, often protecting animal rights and trying to help find homes for those in need. In fact, his Instagram profile picture is a picture of his dog. And he once admitted that he wished he could adopt his A Million Little Things doggy co-star, Colin.
The self-professed “big animal person” told Nerds of Color that he often wished Colin was there with him in more scenes, noting that he was like his own dog, who wanted to blend in with the furniture at all times. But he wasn’t sure if his dog would get along with Colin.
“I wish I could take Colin, I just don’t know if my guy and Colin would get on because they’re both big boys. Colin still has his balls, which are enormous, my guy doesn’t, and that’s generally not a great mix. So, it’s probably not in the cards, but if I could take anything, it would definitely be that big dog because he’s such a sweetheart,” said Rodriguez.
“I’m sort of like his foster dad. I’m his on-set guardian if you will,” he elaborated. “Not really there’s always a trainer there, but I’ve decided that we have a special thing. He may not feel the same way because he’s a pro. He’s a pro’s pro. But in my mind, he gets very excited when he hears that he’s going to work on A Million Little Things because I’m there.”