Exclusive: Francisco J Rodriguez On His Role in Queenpins and His Memories of His Uncle Cepillín
Francisco J Rodriguez had a blast working on the comedy Queenpins with Kristen Bell, about a suburban housewife and her best friend, who come up with an illegal coupon-club scheme that scams millions from corporations and saves tons of money for coupon clippers.
"It's rare to find a true story that's lighthearted and comical; it's a great film especially for these heavy times. What's catchy about Queenpins is that despite its larger-than-life circumstances, it's something we can all relate to. Sometimes it's difficult to accept that we are worthy of our dreams. There can be such a large gap between where we want to be and how we perceive ourselves," he says. "And at its core, I think that's what this film is about: embracing your value. Two women fight to improve the bad hand they've been dealt, a loss prevention officer yearns to be more than he is. Life has sabotaged these people in some way and this is their journey to rediscover that self-worth."
In the film, he plays an exploited, maquiladora worker in Mexico. "My wife is pregnant and I must find a way to make ends meet. This is exactly where Connie and JoJo's clever ploy comes into play," he says of the characters played by Kristen Bell and Kirby Howell-Baptiste.
"My experience on set was incredible! The cast and crew are all so gifted," he adds. "It was hard keeping a straight face while we filmed. I don't think it was lost on any of us how lucky we were to film during COVID. So many productions were shut down, but thanks to the safety precautions that were taken, we were able to work. Honestly, I was simply grateful to be there."
For Rodriguez, who also had roles in Curb Your Enthusiasm and Future Man, being an entertainer came naturally. "I've always loved entertaining people. I've enjoyed performing since I was a young child. For Christmas, I'd put together shows where I'd perform for my whole extended family, often dragging my brother and sister into it," he recalls. "I was the eldest, so let's just say they had little latitude."
His uncle, renowned Mexican clown, actor and singer Cepillín —who died of cardiac arrest in March, at age 75—was a great influence and inspiration. "He was a mighty figure and I saw firsthand the kind of hustle it took to succeed. He was always working. And despite being a larger-than-life figure, he showed tremendous care for his family and people in general. He was a big champion of mine, especially once I took acting seriously. Whenever I appeared on television, he'd reach out to say he saw me; whenever I worked with anyone he knew or had heard of, he'd want to hear the story. My uncle always said there was no such thing as luck, success was determined by hard work, persistence, and practice," he recalls. "And yet, I was lucky. Lucky to be born a member of his family and lucky to have spent so many summers with them from such a young age."
He values the life lessons Cepillín left behind. "I was inspired by his spirit. He owned every room he walked into, he cared about people, he worked harder than anyone I knew, and he cared deeply about every performance. Every performance was the most important performance of his life. He could've been playing a stadium on a Friday and then a circus tent on a Saturday, but whatever show he was about to do, that was the seminal act of his life. He always gave it his everything. And he wasn't done when the curtains came down. He always greeted his audience afterwards, he said hello, he thanked them, he showed them his appreciation. My uncle never took his role for granted. And the world is less for not having him in it."
Rodriguez committed to following his passion when he had a health scare years ago. "I made up my mind to give acting a true go when I had a mini-stroke in my late twenties. I collapsed at work with partial paralysis in my face and body and spoke with a slur. At that moment, I was upset that I might not act anymore. Which shocked me, I didn't realize I cared that much about acting. It changed my perspective," he admits. "Thankfully, I recovered very quickly and regained my ability to speak and move properly. I'm aware of how fortunate I am and how it could've turned out. Needless to say, I joined an acting program, and after a few years of working on my technique I headed to Los Angeles."
Part of his mission is increasing Latino representation in Hollywood. "While I do think that Hollywood is more inclusive now of Latinx talent than it was in the past, I don't think that's a good indicator of inclusivity. I don't believe we're at a place of equal representation. We're nearly 20 percent of the American population, the fastest growing demographic —we account for about half of all U.S. population growth over the last decade— and yet, how many Latinx leads do you see in television or film? How many were nominated at this year's Oscars? How many TV shows depict our stories? It's a major blindspot for the industry," he says. "And while some progress has been made, the gap in representation is still quite enormous."
Rodriguez is also a passionate screenwriter and dreams of one day directing his own projects. "One of my favorite actors is Raul Julia. I loved his portrayal of Gomez Addams. It was fun, funny, but also edgy. I imagine he inspired a lot of Latinx actors with that performance. If I were to make a list of roles, Gomez would be at the top," he says. "As for producing and directing, I'd never rule anything out. I find that creativity changes throughout life. I've always loved performing, but in high school I was known for my drawing and painting. Then in my twenties I wrote plays for theatre, eventually directing one. Creativity and interests grow, so, who knows what life has in store."