.@JamesRoday is reclaiming his birth name, Rodriguez. Starting today, he will be known professionally as James Roday Rodriguez. I spoke to him at length about how he arrived at this "deeply personal" decision. https://t.co/GkJo3SnahO— Michael Ausiello (@MichaelAusiello) July 14, 2020
Actor James Roday has made the decision to reclaim his birth name of Rodriguez professionally. In a new interview, he talks about changing his last name at the suggestion of the DreamWorks casting director because he didn't "look" Latino since he was fair-skinned. His first audition was for the Edward Norton role in the film Primal Fear, where the the casting director saw Rodriquez and told him to audition for a gang member, based off his last name. Because of these experiences, he changed his name from Rodriguez to Roday, making it easier to get roles because he was white-passing.
After twenty years, he has gone back to Rodriguez, being professionally known as James Roday Rodriguez. He notes the murder of George Floyd and the global reckoning with racial injustice as the catalyst for him seeking out deeper information on his Mexican heritage.
"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. I can’t excuse the decision because of youth or naiveté or ambition. The bottom line is, I sold out my heritage in about 15 seconds to have a shot at being an actor."
While his full name remained on official documents, Rodriguez asserts it's no longer good enough. He also says he is ashamed his grandparents couldn't see him use his name, but is happy his father lived to see him do so. Rodriguez noted the change was about representation and allyship.
"The last thing I would ever want in a million years is for anyone to feel like I’m co-opting a movement to point a light at myself. But the truth is, it’s a deeply personal decision that I am doing for me. And I just hope it’s something that can be amplified. I hope we are all having these conversations in our lives. I hope we are all reflecting. I hope we’re all learning s–t that we thought we knew but didn’t know. And I hope we’re all chasing the best versions of ourselves moving forward. Who cares about me? The point is: Now is the time to dig in and seize the opportunity, collectively, to just be better. I want to be the best, most honest ally and amplifier that I can be for my own community and for my friends of color."