Justin Rodriguez hails from NYC, he is half Puerto Rican and half Cuban who plays Steve in Laura Somers RICH KIDS. As an actor with great range, Rodriguez is proud to be portraying Steve as his first lead role in an independent feature film.
Justin found the role breakdown online, and he submitted his headshot and resume, as well as an acting reel. About a week later, Justin got a request to submit a self-tape, which he proceeded with. Justin submitted the tape, and then got an email from Laura Somers saying she would like to Skype audition him as well and sent him the entire script to read through. They did, and two weeks later Laura told Justin he got the part. It was the first time Justin ever auditioned via Skype as well as booked a part that way.
Q: As one of the main cast on the project, how did this ‘choice’ work for you?
Justin Rodriguez: Honestly, it did not matter if I was a main cast or side character; I really liked the script and the characters and wanted to be a part of it. I also thought that the character of Steve resonated with me, in ways that I did not feel upon reading for other projects.
Q: What part of the story challenged you when you read it? What drove you to get on the project?
Justin Rodriguez: The challenging part of the story was the ending especially the scenes in the car, I struggled with finding that journey of how Steve transforms from beginning to end, considering he goes from someone who does not want to get in trouble, to someone willing to take the fall for everything.
Q: You’re not new to indie films. What do you enjoy about the work that keeps you working?
Justin Rodriguez: Honestly, being able to tell stories and being a part of the creative process. I want to work on things that have real messages and are about real life. My ideal films or projects to work on have visual stunning cinematography, and great script writing, so films like that. I am also someone who likes to laugh, and cry, essentially feel things, I think when you make work that showcases genuine feelings and emotion, it doesn’t feel like work, and that’s when the magic happens. I also like the idea of playing characters that are iconic, and dynamic so that when you watch a movie, you’re like that was my favourite character.
Q: Give an example of a direction you received from the director during the production?
Justin Rodriguez: There was one time where she was like “Give me that Boricua Bronx swag” lol (Can I? LOL!)
Q: How did you create your character from ground up?
Justin Rodriguez: It was difficult but after talks with Laura, and watching some film references such as Bully, I was able to put something together that felt genuine and a bit like me. It was actually hard to play Steve because in real life I am so different from who he is. I am naturally someone who wants to laugh and smile all the time, so I knew I had to put in the practice for a lot of the serious scenes. I also got to rehearse a lot with the cast which made it easier, to not have to worry about lines, and just focus on character work.
Q: As main cast on the film, describe the feeling of responsibility that you shouldered. Where you scared? Or did it fire you up? What scenes where difficult to shoot?
Justin Rodriguez: I think as an actor, you always want to put your best foot forward. I am extremely hard on myself, and am the kind of actor who is like I can do a better take, give me another one. I think there definitely is a fear because you never want to be the one person who like sucks in a film, or audiences think they should have recast. So I definitely felt the responsibility of doing the character justice.
The most difficult scenes to shoot were the kitchen scenes with Naome who plays “Isabel”. They were difficult because it was like 3am and we had been shooting all day but we had to get these scenes shot that night, we were running behind. I remember like sleeping in between takes, and like it does not sound so gruelling, but I get delirious with a lack of sleep, so it was a challenge staying emotionally invested in the scenes and not trying to think about a nap.
Q: Explain one creative choice you made on set during production?
Justin Rodriguez: The part where I stick my hand in the fish I actually did earlier that day for fun, and they were like we need to put that in.
Q: What did you take away from the film production?
Justin Rodriguez: By far what an amazing experience it was, and essentially walking away with a family, not every set is the same. A lot of sets can be cold and uninviting, but this was the complete opposite, we were all so invested in the film, and everyone got along so well together, the cast and crew. We would all hang out after 12-hour days of filming, and it really felt like a creative camp or something. The memories we made were iconic, I even celebrated my birthday on set, which was really the bomb dot com. We all still talk together on group chats so I would definitely say I gained a Rich Kids family.
Q: What do you like most about the director, and his/her collaboration with his/her team?
Justin Rodriguez: She really gave us space to like work the character how we felt, and gave us great notes when we were steering in the wrong direction. I also liked that she knows what is working and what does not. Laura comes from a theatre background too, so she knows how to talk to actors I think, and when she directs you, it shows. She also has a genuine way of getting certain things out of you because she like stares into your soul. She also created a comfortable space and created an energy where we all felt like we knew each other for so long, coming into it as strangers. I would jump at the chance to work with her again.
Q: What is next for you?
Justin Rodriguez: I am currently working on my own indie project, that I hope to have in production by end of year. I am also appearing on the HereTV series “Single Man Problems” as the character Danny, as well as looking to move to Los Angeles within the coming months. I will also be appearing on episode 20 of NBC’s The Blacklist this season.
Q: What advice do you give from your experience on RICH KIDS?
Justin Rodriguez: Acting is a 24 hour job, there really is no downtime when your filming a movie, so make sure you are prepared, and ready to put your ass to work. In the end, when you do it, all the hard work is so worth it. Also be open minded, take risks and let your light shine bright!
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