Since “Uncoupled” how coupled is Jai?

Jai Rodriguez sitting
Jai Rodriguez photo by Ben Cope

Eastsiders and QAF celeb talks about Uncoupled and the new movie Bros

You may remember before the pandemic, we spent time with Jai Rodriguez to highlight his role in the Netflix series Eastsiders. Little did we know that the entertainment industry was about to be severely impacted. Now, two years later, we caught up with Jai again to chat about his role in the Netflix series Uncoupled, a few fun details about his dating life, and his role in the new movie Bros, Universal Picture’s first all LGBTQ-cast movie this fall.

Jai Rodriguez in a suit
Jai Rodriguez photo by Ben Cope

With the release of Uncoupled, how are you feeling since the premiere?

Jai Rodriguez: Well, it was so wild because we shot it almost a year ago. I shot in November, December, and January, and I was in New York City doing Bros when the Uncoupled audition came up. I auditioned in a hotel room where I had my camera on my cell phone propped on top of a garbage can, which was on top of a coffee table. It was like one of those things where I didn’t know necessarily if I was gonna book it, it was one of those situations where I felt good about the cast, the age of the role. But you really never know in this industry, we audition all the time. I have three auditions due by Wednesday, so it’s not wildly uncommon to have a bunch of auditions. Uncoupled was going to require me to be a local hire though.

I was already in New York so I was like, “Yeah, that’s fine.” Interestingly enough, when I got the show it was gonna shoot on the days that I was off in the movie I was in. Then, of course, as production goes, they changed the dates of production. I had to fly back from LA and put myself up in New York City, but it was a whole adventure and super fun. Once I saw it [was] starring Neil Patrick Harris, I was like, “I’m in, I’m in, I’m in, I don’t care. I’m in, whatever.”

You bring up a good point about the life of an actor constantly auditioning and planning ahead, something can kind of show up and it’s like, “Alright, we’re doing this.”

JR: Yeah, you don’t really know what your future holds. People are always like, “What’s next?” We don’t really get that choice to kind of figure out what we’re gonna do too far in the future. What I auditioned for last week could start shooting next week. The turnaround is very fast.

With Uncoupled, it’s unique watching the show and connecting to the characters because we all understand the gay lifestyle and how that’s evolving with its traditions.

JR: Especially for middle age! A lot of the stuff I’ve done in the past is focused on young folks finding their way in the world. What happens after you found your way, set up a life for yourself, gain some stability in your mind, and then that all changes? How do you rediscover who you are now outside of your relationship? Seeing that was really kind of interesting to me and being on the show partnered. What was cool for me is that my husband on the show, Colin Hanlon, we did Rent together. I’ve known him for 20 years so when I saw his name on the call sheet, I was like, “This is perfect. We know each other, this is gonna be so easy.” It was a small part and we made, I think, moments appear that just weren’t necessarily in the script, trying to get laughs where we could, and that was fun.

Speaking of which, how did you connect to your character?

JR: So for me, I don’t personally live in a two-story penthouse in Hell’s Kitchen with floor-to-ceiling windows. That’s not the vibe. So it was interesting to play a partner of 12 years, carefree. We are happily coupled in an environment that is focusing on some of the pain and misery that happens when you are in the process of becoming uncoupled. And you know, we aren’t really necessarily, at least we have yet to be, bitter about things and I’m sure we are, but you get to see our joy. That was really kind of fun to play because we got that juxtaposition of having to be happy when people are going through it. But for me, I know a lot of people who I can pull inspiration from, I tried to just play the character kind of personality-wise with some joy to balance out the pain that everyone else was kind of going through. That really worked for me.

Also, the writing was really freaking good and we were often laughing out loud on set. That’s always a good feeling when you’re like, “Okay, I’m literally killing it right now, but it’s not me. It’s the script.”

How was it to do such a fresh project with Neil?

Jai Rodriguez relaxes for an interview.
Jai Rodriguez relaxes for an interview. Photo credit: Ben Cope

JR: So, Neil and I did How I Met Your Mother together. And when I say I did it, I mean, I had a small role. I play his brother-in-law married to his adopted gay brother, Wayne Brady. For me that was a joy. I got to actually have more scenes with someone that I admire and respect. The difference this time is Neil’s a producer. Neil, as much as he would’ve probably liked to just have a Kiki with us as a cast, he would have to step in and out of that to be the boss, which I think people don’t recognize. Not even just thinking back to my time on Uncoupled, I mean, on Bros, Billy Ackerman was the same way. They’re not just your castmate. They’re in some ways the boss, and it’s a lot of responsibility. When you’re watching it you’re like, “Oh, that’s so fascinating to watch someone seamlessly wear both hats, producer and star.”

I’m sure that inspires you for the future. As you continue to dig into your career, having the opportunity to have a stake in something where you’re creating the narrative, not only expressing the narrative, must be exciting.

JR: I have been fortunate to be a part of a lot of queer shows, but I have never been a part of a show where a queer person of color was at the center of the story. I feel like that’s what evolution is next. We’ve seen that with shows that are on the air now, whether it’s Queer as Folk or Love, Victor, there’s not a lot. You always end up playing “the friend of…” Now, 25 years later as a professional actor in Rent, it’s been a quarter of a century seeing firsthand and being a part of the evolution of LGBTQ representation in cinema, being a part of those milestones.

I feel like the next chapter in my life is to produce content with my voice and the understanding of what we’ve done and the stories we still have yet to tell. I feel blessed that I’m in that position in my life where, you know, I have things to say. Thankfully, I have the resume and experience to be able to be in that position where, you know, a network or studio or producer could come to me and say, “We want to partner with you on this project.” That’s how a lot of these things get made.

That’s awesome! So, can we get a little salacious?

JR: Sure!

Since Uncoupled, how coupled are you?

JR: I’m not at all! But I am actively dating. I’m really only giving space in my life for guys who have a vested interest in getting to know me. Here’s a great little anecdote. I’m hosting Daily Pop and we had a tarot card reader. She’s telling me about my future, how I’ve had a lot of changes, something big in October blah, blah, blah. I’m like, “Okay, this is cute, whatever.” Then she says, “You are so ready to meet someone. Like if someone came into your life tomorrow, go for it. You’re in a good time.”

I felt that in my spirit, I didn’t say it, but okay. That day, I had started talking to someone on Tinder and he wanted to meet. I’m like, “Well, this is the sign.” So, I met with him, we hung out. We had an amazing time. Went to dinner, went to lunch, hung out. It was great. But he lives in Dallas and he gets here to LA a lot for work. He goes back home and I’m like, “You know what, I’m gonna go visit him next weekend.” A week later, I go visit him. Within 10 minutes of being in his house, I realized I was a vacation ship. I had established the weekend to just be what it was. I realized that if he lived here, I probably would’ve caught sooner. That casual energy is comfortable for me; however, that succession of those kinds of things keeps you single. What I started to do now is go on a lot of coffee dates.

I look for a couple [of] things. The one thing this guy did was talk at me for three days and never asked me one question about me. I was company, but I wasn’t someone who he was interested in getting to know. So that’s the first sign I look for in someone, are they genuinely curious about who I am?

So, I’m single, but what I’m doing differently is I’m not really hooking up or spending time with folks who just want a “meanwhile,” you know what I mean? Because now I’m in my forties, I realize I did a lot of that and it kind of keeps you in a space of like, “Well then, the grass is always greener, on to the next!” I think in some way, shape or form, I really feel ready to kind of have a boyfriend/partner, you know, be with someone.

I’m having a lot of really cool moments in my life, and it would be nice to share it with one person. It doesn’t mean that I’m ready or dying to get married. I’m not gonna settle. But when it comes to dating, I’m more mindful now.

I love that, that’s great perspective!

JR: I had like fake boyfriends where you hook up, you do everything together. You’re like friends, you hook up occasionally, you know, you start inviting them as your plus one to things. The problem is you both know it’s not going anywhere. Then all of a sudden a year passes and you’re like, I have no room in my life for someone because this person is occupying the space of where a partner would be. So now, I’m just trying to clear all that away and get to dating. And I am trying to be bi-coastal as you know, so put some east coast feelers out for me.

Well, in that case, feel free to stop by!

JR: I will, we have some catching up to do.

So, what is next?

JR: Bros is the first all-out LGBTQ major motion romcom, and it’s produced by Judd Apatow who produced Bridesmaids. It’s the first major studio, Universal Pictures, making a gay romcom and everyone in the cast, even in the straight roles are LGBTQ. I play the “Bro-iest” of bros in Bros. I was really humbled because Billy Eichner was like, “Jai got the role because he gave a really good audition.” It reminded me that a year ago, when I sent my audition in, I sent it in kind of resentful for the industry who had previously chosen to not see me for certain roles because of who I choose to love. Even when I sent my audition, I was like, “I don’t care who gets it, but that’s the way it has to be played.”

So, I didn’t think about it. Two weeks later I get the call and I booked it. I was in my car and I had to pull over. I cried because it was two decades’ worth of validation, that my work as an actor was gonna be seen. I got to be a part of the first out, gay cast in network history. The first all LGBTQ film and I’m the only person who gets to say that. To see the evolution and the shift in the past 19 years, firsthand, has definitely been special.