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PsychOs have been looking forward to having another adventure with Shawn, Gus and the whole gang at the Santa Barbara Police Department ever since Psych: The Movie wrapped its initial airing on USA in late 2017. Now, those fans have their chance, with the long-running show's second film, Psych 2: Lassie Come Home currently airing on the newly launched Peacock streaming service. But, with that new movie comes a new credit for actor / writer / executive producer James Roday, who has now gone back to using his birth name, Rodriguez, professionally. And, he's revealed why he made the change in the first place, and why he's now decided to use his given name.
While Psych catapulted James Roday to stardom in the summer of 2006, when the comedic detective procedural first premiered on USA, it had just been in the late 1990s when he, then still a college student going by his birth name of James Rodriguez, had gone on two major auditions, three years apart, where he got troubling advice. After each audition, he was basically told both that casting directors didn't know what to do with an actor who looked white but had a Mexican last name, and that he should consider changing that surname.
As Rodriguez has now told TVLine, after a call to his father to see what he thought about it, he did exactly that and took the name Roday from a Chekhov play he was doing after that second, fateful, audition, as his professional surname. Here's part of what Rodriguez said about coming to the decision to go back to his birth name now:
We’re all on our own journeys. And everyone is, hopefully, educating themselves and self-reflecting in a way that feels most efficient and actionable to them. For me, because I’ve always had a bit of a strange relationship with my own heritage, I started talking to my dad in, like, a real way...On one hand, it’s unfortunate that it took the world turning upside down for that to sink in. On the other hand, it was so edifying, listening to my father talk about what it was like to be a brown person growing up in this country — and in Texas, no less...It basically blew up my own relationship with my race, my sense of who I am when it comes to my relationship with that half of me. And it sent me down a road of reading and wanting to learn more about Mexican-American history and its foundation in this country. And it caused me to question a lot of the decisions that I have made as a 44-year-old man who has been working in the entertainment industry for 20 years, the biggest of which was the decision to not use my birth name when I started working professionally. The fact that my birth name is Rodriguez is out there [on the Internet]. I’ve never buried it. But I’ve also never led with it.
As James Roday Rodriguez said in his interview, a lot of people are currently looking at not just the country as a whole and thinking about what needs to change to make it better, but also taking hard looks at themselves and truly considering what they have or haven't done which has contributed to either this country's systemic racism or things which would actually make this a better place to live. He's been doing the same with his life and choice to not actively claim his Mexican heritage, and noted:
And 20 years later, I realize I essentially perpetuated an institutionalized element of what’s broken about this industry, which is, of course, a microcosm of the world we are living in. I can’t excuse the decision because of youth or naiveté or ambition. The bottom line is, I sold out my heritage in about 15 seconds to have a shot at being an actor.
Rodriguez is correct in saying that he never hid the fact that he's half Mexican (and has even been nominated for several awards which honor either Latinos or people of color in entertainment), and did keep his given name after adding Roday. But, the choice of not using Rodriguez wasn't simply about another actor already being registered with the Screen Actors Guild as James Rodriguez, as fans have suggested. He has now also admitted that that discovery "was something that I used to make myself feel better and to sleep at night" when feeling bad about making the change.
While current Black Lives Matter protests helped to instigate Rodriguez's decision to use his legal name professionally again, he does note that his role on A Million Little Things also helped. He plays Gary Mendez on the hit ABC drama, and said that series creator D.J. Nash asked him if he wanted his character to have a Mexican surname after he was cast. Rodriguez credits Nash with "igniting a pilot light in me that opened the blinds a little bit so I felt more present in my own skin."
Man, this is certainly a tough thing to have to come to terms with about yourself, but it's clear that James Roday Rodriguez is doing the kind of internal work necessary to understand and accept what his decision all those years ago meant. And, he hopes that this kind of thoughtful process can continue for everyone for as long as it needs to:
The last thing I would ever want in a million years is for anyone to feel like I’m co-opting a movement to point a light at myself. But the truth is, it’s a deeply personal decision that I am doing for me. And I just hope it’s something that can be amplified. I hope we are all having these conversations in our lives. I hope we are all reflecting. I hope we’re all learning shit that we thought we knew but didn’t know...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. I don’t think any of us could do that if we’re not even putting the truest versions of ourselves out there...I have never felt so activated in my life. Nor have I ever been this aware of what is going on around me and inside of me. I do feel that we are living through an incredibly pivotal moment right now. I pray it can sustain itself.
James Roday Rodriguez can be seen in Psych 2: Lassie Come Home, which can be streamed on Peacock right now.