Freddy Rodriguez, actor

ShoWest 2007 supporting actor of the year

Since his four-year run as the artistic mortician Federico Diaz in HBO's groundbreaking series "Six Feet Under" ended in 2005, Freddy Rodriguez has made a soft landing in feature films. The 5-foot-6-inch-tall actor has logged roles in seven movies over the past two years, including the baseball-loving busboy in 2006's "Bobby," and he has come to the attention of notable directors such as Robert Rodriguez and M. Night Shyamalan. Rodriguez spoke recently with Irene Lacher for The Hollywood Reporter about his action-hero debut in the Robert Rodriguez-directed portion of Dimension Films' planned April 6 horror film "Grindhouse" (which also is directed by Quentin Tarantino) and his approach to navigating Hollywood's waters as a Latino actor.

The Hollywood Reporter: You have your first action-hero role in "Grindhouse." Was that a career goal for you, and was it fun killing zombies?
Freddy Rodriguez: To be honest, I never thought anyone would perceive me that way. I think it's every actor's dream to be able to play a guy like that. Those guys always seem so much larger than life. So, when Robert bestowed that honor on me, I really felt like I had a lot to live up to, so I really worked my butt off for it.

THR: What do you think he saw in you that other people might not?
Rodriguez: I think that Robert thinks outside of the box, where the average director or studio guy would take a look at someone like me and say, "He doesn't fit the mold." Robert has faith that I can bring that guy to life. When I auditioned for Robert, there were only 30 pages of the script written. I had absolutely no idea what the story was about, who the guy was or that he was even an action hero; I had my own interpretation of the character. After he saw my audition, he had a clear vision of who he thought the character should be and wrote the rest of the script based on my audition. Essentially, we created the character together.

THR: So, you inspired the action-hero part of the character?
Rodriguez: I don't know whether I inspired the action hero, but the way that I portrayed the character in the audition sparked something in Robert. I played him kind of cool and kind of a badass at the audition. Robert said this guy should be a badass, and so if he's a badass, he should do this, and he should do that.

THR: If he's a badass, he should kill zombies.
Rodriguez: Yeah, well, that's what you see in the trailer, right?

THR: How do you choose your roles? Some of them have been pretty dark. Are you attracted to dark material?
Rodriguez: Not necessarily. You're right, some of it has been dark, some of it has been films like "Bobby," where it's inspirational. I'm all about quality. I'm all about class. I'm about integrity. And I try to choose my films based on that. Also, the directors that I try to work with have to be about those qualities as well.

THR: I've read that you avoid roles that stereotype Latinos, like gangbangers.
Rodriguez: Stereotypes are always going to exist in film because there's truth to stereotypes. And so it's going to be a little hard for me to avoid stereotypical roles when they really exist. I played a busboy in "Bobby." People say that's a stereotypical role. Well, if you go to a restaurant these days, and you see who the busboys are, I would imagine that a great majority of them are Latino. So, what am I supposed to do? Not choose to play the character in "Bobby" because it's a stereotype? I'll play stereotypes as long as there's substance to them. I've felt that in the past -- you brought up the gangbanger thing -- with a lot of those characters, there was no substance to them. I felt like they were stereotypes for the sake of sensationalism. So, if there isn't any substance to them, I can't be a part of them. Nine out of 10 times there isn't.

THR: Do you see opportunities for Latino actors evolving?
Rodriguez: Absolutely. Look at the Oscars. A big portion of that was won by Latino filmmakers, Latino editors, Latino musicians. There's a great wave of great Latino films like (2006's) "Pan's Labyrinth" and "Volver" and this great wave of good directors who are proving that they can be a viable force in the entertainment industry. It doesn't matter what your ethnic background is as long as you can prove to Hollywood that you can be a force in the industry. And I think what's happening now is that there's this great wave of directors and actors and writers who are proving that they can be a force in the industry. They did it on their own accord, but once they proved that they could do it, Hollywood opened the doors for them and allowed them to come in and do great things.