James Roday Rodriguez went by “James Roday” for over 20 years, electing to forego the use of his last name professionally.
But he said the process of reconnecting with his Mexican American heritage prompted him to add his last name to all future credits, starting with Wednesday’s premiere of “Psych 2: Lassie Come Home” on Peacock. In an interview with TVLine, Rodriguez discussed why he’s adding Rodriguez back into his name and the events that led to his decision to drop it in the first place.
“For me, because I’ve always had a bit of a strange relationship with my own heritage, I started talking to my dad in, like, a real way,” he said in the interview.
“It was so edifying, listening to my father talk about what it was like to be a brown person growing up in this country — and in Texas, no less,” he went on.
Rodriguez recalled his first two auditions as defining moments where he learned that he didn’t look “Latino enough” to don his own last name. His second audition, in particular, led him to officially make the change.
After being all-but guaranteed a role in a Dreamworks pilot episode, he said he was told to consider changing his name for the part.
“Their only concern was that the role wasn’t written for a Hispanic or Mexican person,” he said. “They were worried that casting a white guy with a Mexican name could be construed as their version of ‘diverse casting,’ and there could be a backlash.”
So he changed it. His middle name, once David, became Roday, and he no longer used Rodriguez, though he kept it in his legal name. Looking back, he said the choice further deepened an issue prevalent throughout the entertainment industry.
“I came up with this name that I pulled right out of a Chekhov play that I was doing at the time, and I’ve been Roday ever since,” he said. “And 20 years later, I realize I essentially perpetuated an institutionalized element of what’s broken about this industry, which is, of course, a microcosm of the world we are living in.”
Recent conversations with his father, who he described as a “proud Mexican American man,” inspired him to reflect on his career decisions and name change. This, paired with his personal research on the history of Mexican Americans, ultimately preceded his return to the Rodriguez name, he said.
“It caused me to question a lot of the decisions that I have made as a 44-year-old man who has been working in the entertainment industry for 20 years, the biggest of which was the decision to not use my birth name when I started working professionally,” he said. “The fact that my birth name is Rodriguez is out there [on the Internet]. I’ve never buried it. But I’ve also never led with it.”