'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend': Vincent Rodriguez III Says Goodbye to Josh and Hello to a Jam-Packed Future (Exclusive)
By Emily Krauser
Erica Parise/The CW
Vincent Rodriguez III is having a little trouble saying goodbye to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and that's understandable. It's not only because he got to stretch is acting muscles over four years in one of the most roller-coaster-y romantic rides we've ever seen, being cast as The CW musical dramedy's male lead, an adorkable character named Josh Chan, was a major first.
While there have, of course, been Filipino American actors onscreen before him, Rodriguez is widely credited as the first Filipino lead in an American TV show. It's a position he hasn't taken lightly, either. Along with his pal Nico Santos, who stars in NBC's Superstore and in the Crazy Rich Asians movie franchise, the 36-year-old actor has helped pave the way for more Asian representation on the small screen. Rodriguez is hoping to parlay this into future writing and producing wells, especially in the action film realm.
But before he does that, there's the whole matter of the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend series finale to tend to. Rodriguez was one of the most teary-eyed when the cast did their final table read, and he admits that filming his final scenes was much harder than he expected. ET spoke with Rodriguez ahead of the series' swan song, where he waxed poetic on the many complex layers of bidding farewell to Josh Chan and his castmates, the Crazy Ex legacy and what it means to celebrate his Filipino culture in this ever-changing Hollywood climate.
ET: What was it like taping the very last episode?
Vincent Rodriguez III: It was very, very, very emotional. It's a few layers: Us as actors saying goodbye to these characters that we're going to miss, us as people saying goodbye to getting to play and be together on set, and also saying goodbye to each other as these characters, which is its own powerful and resonant force. That's what was fueling me filming the last two episodes. In last week's [episode], Josh had the date with Rebecca and then the post-morning scene, when she's on her way to the Nathaniel date. Thankfully, the way they had scheduled it, I was filming all those scenes two or three days in a row, so emotionally, I was preparing. I already was very charged and aware of a possible instability in myself, because I have my own mourning to go through as Vinny saying goodbye to Josh.
How did you prepare for all of those emotions?
I basically had primed my brain and heart and body to prepare to be, one, unemployed, and, two, to say goodbye. That was really tough, because I really love this family of people: the cast when we're off camera, our crew, people behind the scenes, the writers room who write the stories and flesh out our characters and tell us what to say, and the post people. There are so many people to say goodbye to and it takes time to go through that process of mourning. I wrapped my head around that a long time ago. I knew that it would take me time and I'd have to go through my own kind of process for that, so part of that is what is on screen, and I think is what I was dealing with when we were filming. It was painful and a little scary also because there was the question of how do I do a good job as Josh? These are my last pages as this character. Josh is going to live on. There are Joshes out there, whether they're male, female, transgendered, transitioning, older, younger, it doesn't matter -- there are people who connect to my character, and they're watching for his journey to have some kind of an endpoint, and that was weighing on me, too. I know Josh is going to move on to great things.
The cast has always seemed like a tight-knit family. Does it seem like this is really goodbye from the real-life actors?
It really is. We have a text chain for the cast. We change the names depending on what's going on. It's great! At one point it was like, "Scott and Skylar Are Dead to Us." There was "That's a Wrap! (Again)" and "Slay!" It just depends on what is going on. It's a constant game of love and humor and support because people on the show are doing other other projects and we're all busy. We all have families and careers we're trying to keep afloat and relationships we're trying to maintain, but it's fun to be on that text chain. It's exhausting, too, because we're all very dynamic people. You could have two notifications on your text messaging app, wake up from a nap, and then there's 136 and you're like, what happened?! It's how we support each other and keep the energy moving. We keep it fun and stay in touch. We'll see each other, though. We have the Radio City show coming up. At some point we're going to another theme park together. We'll find something to do!
Theme parks seem big for you and the show. Didn't you get engaged at a theme park?
I proposed! My husband and I agreed to do our own thing. It's our life, we're going to live it how we choose. He proposed to me, and I was like, "Now, it's my turn! You got to propose, now I get to propose!" During a trip to L.A., we went to Disneyland, and I proposed on the California Screamin' ride, which is now known as the Incredicoaster at Disney's California Adventure. I proposed as soon as the latch got secured. I took out the ring and showed it to him. He turned beet red and was like, "Here?!" I was nodding my head, and he's like, "Well, come on, get on with it!" Like, we're about to go at 80 miles per hour, and I asked him to marry me! [Husband] Greg [Wright] and I were talking about it the other day -- this show has birthed a lot of things in our lives and the rest of the cast of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and a lot of things have happened to us. Scott Michael Foster (Nathaniel Plimpton III), unfortunately, lost his mother a few weeks prior to filming the finale and Gabrielle Ruiz (Valencia Perez) got married. When we started the show, Santino Fontana (the first Greg Serrano) got married. I got married the first week of filming the first season. The day I met Gabrielle Ruiz and made out with her in front of that freezer, that was the day I left to get married to a dude! [The cast has] gone to Disneyland together, we've done birthdays, we toured last hiatus. We've spent 18 hours on set. We've lost weight, gained weight. We've been through a lot together.
Josh has had a wild four years and it often seemed crazy that he still talks to Rebecca. Did you always understand where the creators were going with Josh's twists and turns?
I got the trajectory and I appreciate it. I think a lot of fans were thinking the same thing, like, Why would Josh stay? And here's the answer: Josh is a reflection of Rebecca to a certain degree. All of us are versions of Rebecca. We all have our own challenges and our own mistakes that we're not willing to work through. We all have our hurdles, our traps, our blindsides, our strengths, our weaknesses. Specifically with Rebecca and Josh, they have enabled each other for so long and been there for each other in a way that no one else in the show has been. Rebecca and Paula's relationship is very different than Rebecca and Josh's, but there's a way that Paula and Josh are there for Rebecca that they can't be for Rebecca in the other person's way. A long time ago, a friend of mine shared this idea that the friends in your life are in your universe for a reason. You don't always get to know why they're there or how long they stick around -- all you do get to know is that they have a purpose and they fulfill an aspect of who you are. I think Rebecca has that with all the characters on the show, but she became that for us too, and that's what's beautiful about our story. As much as Rebecca has done crazy things and affected Josh in a negative way and vice-versa, Josh standing Rebecca up at the altar, they needed each other.
Have you felt an added responsibility being the first Filipino leading man on TV?
It's meant a great deal to me, especially since my dad didn't want me to do this. My father was supportive to a degree. He paid for the martial arts lessons, the first black belt, the second black belt, the dance classes, the violin lessons, the clarinet, the drum lessons, but he didn't want me to do this. He wanted me to be a businessman. He wanted me to follow in his footsteps, to be who he wanted me to be so he wouldn't have to worry and could have someone carry on his name and business, but I didn't want to do that. I knew I was gay at a very young age. I was bi first and I've always appreciated women, but I realized at a point that I'm really attracted to men and I'm probably going to marry a guy, so there's that. So that was a lot of responsibility weighing down me, and him wanting me to be a businessman, and it just became very ironic that I ended up becoming him. I own VR3 Productions, I'm incorporated, I have employees now. I have a team of people. I have representatives that I work with to develop my career, and this is stuff my dad didn't get to see because he passed away a few years before Crazy Ex-Girlfriend ever happened. I'm all too familiar with the feeling of responsibility to carry on a name or to be responsible for carrying a crown or passing something on. That feeling is not foreign to me at all.
You've spoken about transforming your body and wanting to move into action roles. Do you feel like you're helping move the industry forward in terms of inclusiveness and representation in storytelling?
I've always wanted to be an action hero, and my trainer said to me, "If you do this, you'll be the first one." So I thought, I gotta do this. This is something I've dreamt of since I was a kid. This isn't a pipe dream. I just happen to be closer to achieving it than I ever have been in my entire life. I am not throwing away my shot! I'm going to do this. I'm going to pursue my hopes and dreams, and I'm not gonna let anything get in my way. It might sound corny, but two people who inspired me to do that are [co-creator] Aline Brosh McKenna and [co-creator and star] Rachel Bloom. They did it with Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and they supported me and built this character around me and made me feel like I was enough and that things were possible if I just stay true to who I am. That's why a lot of Josh's things are based on me -- his martial arts background, loving magic, being a bartender and a go-go boy, these are all things that were a part of my history and actually did for money, things that I did to survive. I feel like I'm a part of not a fad but a new realization that diversity has been here and is now stronger than ever. I'm just honored to be a part of it. I'm very grateful and aware, and I don't take it lightly.
I grew up in a town with a very large Filipino community, and I don't remember any of my friends talking about the arts very much or even seeing any Filipino representation when I was a kid. Was that how you felt growing up, not seeing the world you were in reflected onscreen?
Of those people who never talked about it, if you were at a karaoke bar, do you know how many Filipino friends would get up and have gorgeous voices? Whenever I go back to teach at my alma mater in Santa Maria, California, or at my old high school in Daly City, California, I see more Filipinos and Asian representation in the classes now. I see Filipino men dancing and singing and acting. It's very inspiring to me because I didn't have that. I'm trying to be what I needed when I was in high school, so I teach all the time between jobs. Filipino culture, Asian culture, is not supportive of the entertainment industry because of the lack of security, and there's a lack of education, not in terms of how to sing and how to dance and how to act, but there is a lack of education in terms of how the entertainment industry works and functions and if the training is accessible. Aside from being an actor and trying to have a career, which is challenging in and of itself, there's also trying to spread the good word and just be supportive and resonate in that way to so many people. It's really hard to do, but I'm gonna just keep trying.
Is there anything you can say about the series finale?
It's not going to end the way you think it's going to end. It's gonna surprise you, and it's gonna affect people in a way that they're not expecting. Whether you've been a die-hard fan of the show or you just caught on the show, you're going to be surprised. It's going to catch you off guard and I think you're gonna realize something about yourself and about the world that maybe you weren't thinking about before.