'Psych' star James Roday hid his Chicano roots to work in Hollywood
But after George Floyd died, he saw it was time to come out of the closet. How did he do it?
James David Rodriguez's name probably won't tell you anything, but that's the real name of the Psych star, who, for more than 20 years, has hidden his Chicano heritage through a contraction of his middle name, "David," and last name, "Rodriguez," to form "Roday." The reason? It's difficult finding a job in Hollywood, an industry that historically characterizes Latinos through stereotypes and prejudices.
However, with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement after the death of George Floyd and other Black individuals in the country at the hands of institutionalized racial violence, Roday-Rodriguez realized that he had been far from his legacy for too long, and said "basta."
His reflection led him first to delve into his origins as the son and grandson of Mexicans and the harsh experiences his ancestors had in the 1930s and 1940s in Texas, where children were forbidden to express themselves in Spanish at school, and in some cases even forced to forget to their language and culture.
"It basically blew up my own relationship with my race, my sense of who I am when it comes to my relationship with that part of me," the star admitted in an interview with TVLine.
The formerly known James Roday is determined that everyone will know him by his real name and that's how we'll find him in the credits of Psych 2: Lassie Come Home - he's already done it on his social media accounts. A symbolic act of reconciliation with the family past he regrets his grandparents did not witness, but is sure his father will appreciate and be proud of.
Rodriguez decided to change his name at a fairly early stage in his career, mainly because of "two unfavorable hearing experiences." The first was the casting of Primal Fear, which ended up being starred by actor Edward Norton.
"The first two experiences I had in the auditions were very marked by the fact that my name did not match my skin tone," said the Mexican.
"The first audition I had was for the lead role in a major film, and the casting director told me: 'You're great, but I don't think I can call you because your last name is Rodriguez. But I can call you for this four-line role of a pandillero,' for which I ended up casting. But I was told I wasn't good for it either because I didn't look Latino enough. They basically didn't know what to do with me," he confessed.
The second audition was for a role in a TV pilot produced by Dreamworks.
"The only concern they had was that the role wasn't written for a Hispanic or a Mexican," Rodriguez recalled. "They were worried that the casting of a white guy with a Mexican name could be interpreted as their version of 'diverse casting,' and that there could be a reaction. They said, 'You might want to seriously consider changing your name."
"I sold my assets in about 15 seconds to get a chance to be an actor"
He decided that he would change his name after graduating from New York University, after those two bad experiences in his college days. But before, he talked to his father and got his approval.
Two decades later and having become a celebrity, he has realized that "I perpetuated an institutionalized element of what is broken in this industry, which is, of course, a microcosm of the world we live in."
"I can't excuse the choice of youth or naivety or ambition," he said. "The bottom line is that I sold my assets in about 15 seconds to get a chance to be an actor," he added.
Now, at 44, James has made a deal with himself, the community he belongs to and the other people of color who have suffered stigma and injustice in the United States. He wants to be "the best and most honest ally and amplifier I can be for my own community and my friends of color."