Landing the role of a sassy music agent on the new ABC Reba McEntire sitcom Malibu Country is more than just another job for Jai Rodriguez.
It's his best opportunity yet to re-establish himself as an actor after achieving fame as one of the 'fab five' of the Emmy-winning Queer Eye which ran for five seasons on Bravo.
'My career started with scripted then I stumbled into reality with Queer Eye,' Rodriguez said in a recent interview with Gay Star News. 'Ever since then, it's been a struggle to re-educate everyone that I was an actor before Queer Eye. So it's so great to finally land something that isn't a guest spot.'
On Queer Eye, which ended its run in 2007, Rodriguez was cast as the expert on popular culture, relationships and social interaction.
During breaks in production of that show. Rodriguez, 33, kept his acting chops sharp by appearing on Broadway in the musicals Rent and The Producers. In more recent years, he's kept busy with television guest spots on such shows as Nip/Tuck, How I Met Your Mother and Days of Our Lives.
'I played the transsexual with a heart of gold on Harry's Law, a murderer on Bones,' he says. 'I've done everything to sort of validate my acting experience. So I think it's a great, wonderful thing when you get a series (like Malibu Country) and they love you and they say, 'We want to write for you and they want you on board.'
Malibu Country is McEntire's first series since the end of Reba in 2007. She plays a woman who put her singing career on hold as her husband became a country music legend. When she's involved in a cheating scandal, she packs up their two kids and her tart-tongued mother (played by Lily Tomlin) and starts over in Malibu.
She is determined to restart her own music career but must convince Rodriguez's character of Geoffrey to take her on as a client which, at least initially, he has no interest in doing.
'He is just bored at a dead end job that maybe he might have been passionate about at one time, but here's this woman coming in like so many do, you know, expecting to be seen, wanting to be a star again,' Rodriguez explains. 'He just has no time for her. But I think what's nice about it and I think there's a knot to it at the end of the pilot is that, inevitably, he sees her moxie and her determination and her spirit, and there's something about that he just he just respects and loves. ... I think, over the course of the season, you'll see that I'll become, sort of, her one big ally in the music industry and help her get a career back maybe in some nontraditional ways that might not be so appropriate but definitely fun.'
Geoffrey wasn't initially written as a gay character but in the audition, Rodriguez took matters into his own hands.
'The role was more like urban and gangsta but I knew that wasn't going to work with me,' he says. 'So I gave myself a pompador, I lightened my hair in the front, put on my glasses and I gave them my Latin queen like, 'I don't have time for this.' There was this line in there where he says to Reba, 'Rinse and repeat.' That is drag queen talk. It was so out of left field.'
'It was definitely taking a risk. It was one of those things where they hire you on the spot or you get escorted out of the room - nothing in between. I took a chance and it worked out for me.'