Nicholas Rodriguez doesn't need any help selling his amazing scenes as passionate, gay activist Nick Chavez on ABC Daytime's One Life to Live. Fortunately for us, the Broadway alum's character on the new web soap Then We Got Help! can't say the same.
In the dramedy, offically premiering today, from brilliant writer/actress Julie Ann Emery (Hitch), Rodriguez portrays Dan, one half of a gay couple (Broadway great Blake Hammond plays Dan's partner Eric), who is upset about his overweight partner's lack of concern about his health issues. Dan and Eric are one of four couples who are participating in shoe model-turned-documentary maker Emily's (Emery) experimental non-therapy therapy group.
Don't think Rodriguez is worried about being typecast. The good-natured, charming thespian and budding activist (he's a big fan of Nelson Mandela) says he's proud to be playing two diverse gay characters at the same time.
I recently caught up with Rodriguez as he was preparing to head over to the Irish Rogue in New York for Then We Got Help!'s premiere bash. We chatted in depth about the insanely-funny, and all-too-real web series (think In Therapy meets Modern Family), whether or not his BFF status wit Venice co-writer Hope Royaltey could lead to Rodriguez appearing on a second web soap, and the powerful work the actor is doing opposite the likes of Brett Claywell, Scott Evans, Tia Dionne Hodge and Emmy-winner Susan Haskell as Nick Chavez begins a lengthy struggle to overcome a brutal gay bashing on One Life to Live.
Daytime Confidential: How did your role in Then We Got Help! come about?
Nicholas Rodriguez: I had worked with Julie [Ann Emery]'s husband [actor Kevin Earley] before in LA, and so when I talked to her and she said, "You know, I'm doing this thing on the web" I told her I would totally love to do it and literally from day one, I knew it was going to be great! Julie is such a pro. She comes from primetime and film, so I knew it was going to be done right, and I had been talking with a really good friend of mine, who was doing a web series called Venice, and she told me I should do it.
DC: No kidding? Which friend? I recently did an interview with Crystal Chappell [Venice's producer/star] for Curve magazine!
NR: Hope Royaltey. She's is a a really good friend of mine. She's one of the writers.
DC: Yeah, I'm familiar with Hope. Cool, small world! So, maybe in addition to Then We Got Help! could see you popping up on Venice?
NR: You know, you never know! I am looking for any excuse to go to L.A. [laughs].
DC: So tell me about Then We Got Help!
NR: Well, the premise is that four couples, who can't afford couples therapy, agree to participate in group sessions with Emily, played by Julie Ann Emery, who is actually a shoe model [Laughs]. Julie's character is documenting their progress. My character, Dan, is the youngest. He's studying to be a nutritionist and is into sports, and his partner Eric is severely overweight. They come into the sessions with this as their problem, but as the series goes on, you see that they have many other problems, as do all of the couples.
DC: You've done Broadway. What's it like working with Broadway veteran Blake Hammond?
NR: Oh it's great! Blake has done six or seven amazing Broadway shows. I was already hooked on the show once I read Julie's script, but when I learned Blake was in it, I was totally sold.
DC: I know you're relatively new to soaps, but there seems to be quite a few daytime stars jumping to the web. With all the headlines about soaps dying, do you feel the Internet will be a viable and profitable place for soap actors to continue working?
NR: You know, I feel acting is acting. Whether you are doing it on the stage, or on a soap opera, in primetime, movies, or on the web. Any chance you have to share your craft is a privilege. If you can find a story you want to tell, whatever the medium, then yes, there's a place for it.
DC: You are definitely sharing your craft on One Life to Live. Your scenes this week where Nick is in the hospital after being beaten up by homophobic thugs have been riveting. Was it difficult taping those scenes?
NR: Definitely. First off, I was nervous as hell! Secondly, there was the pressure to represent it accurately for everyone who has gone through something like that, not just being gay bashed, but any kind of physical attack because of who you are. I didn't want to do anything that would disrespect anyone who had gone though that. Everyone I worked with in those scenes, from Scott Evansand Brett Claywellto Susan Haskell and Michael Easton were incredible. I mean, you're working wit Susan Haskell, this Emmy-winning actress, and she just gives it to you! Everything she has. There's nothing like it. She makes you better.
DC: The scenes were incredibly well done. You mentioned Brett and Scott, who play One Life to Live's starcrossed gay couple Kyle and Fish, aka Kish. Your character, Nick, could have been a typical scheming interloper for soaps, but you have giving Nick rooting factor. Are you surprised that fans actually like Nick as much as Kish?
NR: You know, I can't say that I am surprised, because that was always the intention, at least for me! [Laughs]. It definitely humbles me, though that the fans are responding. At first, the character was only supposed to be on for a couple of days, but One Life to Live's executive producer Frank Valentini pulled me aside and said, "You can make this character what you want. The more likeable you make him the more possibilities there are." So I just sort of ran with that. I talked a lot with Brett and Scott about how to play the story. We all said, "Let's not do the typical, jealous, spurned lovers" story. I wanted to make Nick likeable and human. The more we go along, the more excited I am about the role, because a.) I love playing Nick and b.) I love everyone I work with and c.) I want to keep playing Nick!
DC: On the Daytime Confidential podcast, I am forever talking about how the New York soaps have always had it over the West Coast soaps in terms of acting because of the strong theater connection. As a stage and screen actor, do you agree One Life to Live benefits from it's connection to The Great White Way?
NR: When I got on the set, there were people who were like, "Wow, you're from Broadway". Meanwhile, on the inside, I was terrified and marveling at all the cameras! [Laughs] Again, I think acting is acting. It's all about the camaraderie you share with your company. I definitely have that camaraderie with the two people I work with most, Brett and Scott. Neither of them come from the theater, but they are both incredibly trained actors from film and primetime TV. We are all just so intrigued by what we can learn from each other. I have so much respect for both of those guys.
DC: In addition to Scott and Brett, you work a lot with Tia Dionne Hodge, who plays lesbian political strategist Amelia. The two of you have incredible chemistry. In fact, sometimes I find myself wishing Nick and Amelia would hook up!
NR: It's funny, people ask us all the time if we knew each other before doing the show, because of our chemistry, and we had never met! In fact, since the scenes are shot out of order, our first scenes were of Nick and Amelia starting off scheming. At that point we hadn't talked to the writers or producers about backstory, so neither of us knew we were scheming for a good cause [Llanview allowing same sex marriage], so we just had to trust each other. From the beginning, we instantly bonded. We really feel like best friends, which is good since we play best friends on the show.
DC: Before I let you go get your party on, can you give Daytime Confidential readers a sneak peek of what comes next with Nick in the wake of his tragic beating?
NR: I've got some really good stuff in the coming weeks with Brett and Susan as Nick begins to deal with what happened to him in therapy with Marty. I tell you, some days I come home completely wiped emotionally. On those days I think, " I have earned my acting stripes today!"
Be sure to check out Nick Rodriguez in Then We Got Help! at www.thenwegothelp.com, and on One Life to Live, weekdays on ABC and weeknights on SOAPnet. Check your local listings.