A graduate of the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts (PCPA), Vincent Rodriguez III cut his teeth on musicals such as “Hello, Dolly” and “Peter Pan,” the latter in which he appeared alongside a young Zac Efron in the early-aughts. His training led to being cast in a number of tours, including “Anything Goes,” while he awaited the chance to star on Broadway. But the industry had other plans for him, and in 2014 he booked the romantic lead role of Josh Chan in comedy pilot “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” “Everything I worked hard for paid off,” Rodriguez, who recently pulled double duty as assistant choreographer for a key Season 3 episode of the CW series, says.
When did you decide you wanted to expand your resume from theater to television?
I was on the first national tour of “Anything Goes,” on my very first principal contract at that level, working with Tony Award-winning choreographer/director Kathleen Marshall at the peak and just on a cloud and so happy, and six months into the tour, I just hit this wall and thought, “Six months from now, when this tour is over, what am I going to do?” Mind you, I had already been touring for 11 years in regional theater, trying to get a Broadway show — which never came — but doing national tours and regional and some cast recordings here and there. And I just thought, “Am I going to go back to New York and keep trying?” I was like, “That can’t be right. There has to be more.” It’s like going into the attic and realizing you have some really cool stuff up there. I just felt like there was stuff in my attic that I hadn’t touched that I wanted to dust off — and some that I hadn’t even discovered yet.
What was the trajectory from realizing you wanted something more — or at least different — to actually getting it?
I had already shot my first web series that was going to be called “On Tour with Vince.” I thought it would be great if young people who are getting into the business or going from college immediately into jobs knew how to survive – how to live. I had just been through it, so I had that under my belt. And then I called my agent and told him I wanted to start auditioning for film and TV, and he sent me a bunch of auditions for short films and bit parts, knowing that I could possibly get time off from the tour. I submitted to so many, but I booked zero. And then the tour was ending, and I didn’t have a job so I was freaking out, and I had this other realization that I’d never created something — a show from its infancy. Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” was the closest I’d come because they had done a version, but the one I did was the one that now tours. And I wanted to be a part of a workshop and build a part and help create a show, and I guess the universe heard me because I got a message from a buddy of mine who was working on Disney’s “Hunchback of Notre Dame.” So I auditioned for “Hunchback” and I got it and then I booked my first TV spot opposite Toni Collette in “Hostages.” So that year was a big year.
“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is a rare show that embraces a musical element. How important was it to you that if you were going to work full time in TV, you’d still be able to showcase your singing and dancing?
The musical element was very exciting but really the first appeal was reading that breakdown of Josh. It was shocking. It was me. And it’s rare you find one that really resonates with you, specifically as a minority. I’ve been in this business a long time and never had I seen that — a breakdown that depicts my attributes, my history. I get a lot of messages from people in the Filipino community and [from] people whose boyfriend or girlfriend is Filipino, just saying they’re glad to see a version of themselves on television — to see something normalized. It’s not taboo, it’s not weird, it’s just accepted as anything else. It’s not a huge hat trick.
Do you feel an added responsibility with the platform that you have, given how few Filipinos are in lead roles on television?
I’m really happy to be doing my part, and I’m very aware of how lucky I am and how I want to progress. And I don’t think of my progression as a selfish or one-sided passion. I am ambitious, and I’m excited for my career to grow, and I do want to represent the Asian community and the Filipino community. I just feel really lucky that the show that gave me my break embraced that aspect of my life — which didn’t define me and doesn’t necessarily define Josh, it’s just an aspect of who he is.
Josh started out as the main love interest for Rebecca (Rachel Bloom), but now in this third season, their stories have diverged. How has the evolution of the character felt?
Now Josh isn’t her catalyst. All of a sudden realizing that her not needing him and him being irrelevant to her, does that mean that he’s irrelevant to everything else? It brings up a huge question for Josh. He has opportunities to step out on his own and invent himself and find a path. we’re going to see more attempts of that through the season. It’s really cool to see Josh grow up this season. The relationships shift and change, and when I was on-set for some of the scenes, it felt brand new, and it was really cool to be doing something different. But it’s not that our orbits pull away from each other, they just re-position for Rebecca and Josh and Nathaniel, and it’s really fun because what this West Covina whirlwind really brings us to is a chance to see how different characters are in scenes with each other.
You also got a chance to work behind-the-scenes on some of the choreography this year. How did that come about and how special was that for you?
Right before Season 3 I got a heads up that it was a possibility that I wouldn’t be in Episode 1. And right around that time was when Kathryn Burns, our amazing, Emmy Award-winning choreographer was working on the next episode’s numbers, and as soon as Rachel said [that episode] had “I’ve Got My Head in the Clouds,” a number ala “Singing in the Rain,” it was such a huge gift. It meant a lot. Gene Kelly has meant so much to me through the years. I used to dance in my living room in socks and a tee-shirt, no idea what I was doing, but wanting to dance like Gene. So when I heard that, I said to Kat, “I’m not really in Episode 1 a whole lot, so I could work on the choreography with you, maybe, please?” And she said yes, she thought it would be fun. It worked out really, really well, and I got my first assistant choreographer credit on network television. I’m surrounded by amazing, powerful, dynamic women. I’m just like, “Show me. I want to learn.” I’m a huge fan of my own show, but I’m also a huge fan of all of these people, and every day I go to work it’s an amazing opportunity to learn and exercise my creativity.