Genesis Rodriguez Breaks Out
by Suzy Buckley Woodward
Second-generation boldfacers are hardly a rarity in show business, although never a guarantee. For every Gwyneth and Angelina, there are countless scions of entertainment royalty who never see their name in lights. But Genesis Rodriguez, daughter of Venezuelan music icon José Luis Rodriguez (aka El Puma), seems poised to join the ranks of legacy stardom and give Miami its first celebrity father-daughter team. Leveraging her fame from roles in successful Latin American telenovelas, Genesis is readying for the Hollywood big-time, following in the gilded footsteps of fellow Spanishlanguage stars Penélope Cruz, Salma Hayek, and Sofia Vergara.
Rodriguez was a Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart girl who took summer acting classes at New York’s Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute, then almost immediately—after finishing a semester—signed a six-year telenovela contract with the Telemundo network. Since then, the bilingual actress has achieved fabulous crossover success: After moving to Los Angeles and snagging recurring roles on Entourage and a part in the movie Man on a Ledge, she had a breakthrough in 2012 as Will Ferrell’s leading lady in Casa de mi Padre—a film that spoofed everything she once did in Spanish-language television.
On the heels of January’s The Last Stand, in which she plays an FBI special agent alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger (“He’s down to earth, really humble, and extremely funny”), the 25-year-old stars in this month’s comedy Identity Thief, with Melissa McCarthy and Jason Bateman. While her talents run the gamut from drama to melodrama and beyond, she’s loving all the Lucille Ball comparisons for her comic performance, and looks forward to trading the buckets of telenovela tears for belly laughs. “People shouldn’t take themselves so seriously,” she says. “I like to do comedy because I never had the opportunity to do so in the soap operas; sure, I’d have short scenes, short moments, little gags, but I never had the chance to make people laugh. And that’s what I love, to simply entertain, because it’s such a positive, beautiful thing.”
As a Miami girl, what do you like to do when you come back to visit?
I’ve already planned my meals in Miami for my next trip home. I need to go to Joe’s [Stone Crab]—I’ve already had them shipped over [to me in LA] once, which is good, but not the same experience. So I am going to try to get a table at Joe’s—which is the hardest thing on the planet, as everyone knows.
But now you’re on the cover of Ocean Drive, so they should let you in immediately!
Hopefully! I’ll pull the Ocean Drive card when I’m there this month.
How do you stay in shape?
I love to eat—and we Miami girls love our curves. My friends and I love to go to great dinners, so I can’t take that away. It’s too much of a pleasure, [so I’d rather just hit the gym] sweating out an hour and a half and then eating whatever I want. If there’s a scene required where I’m showing a lot of skin, I’m going to diet, but it’ll only be for a week because I can’t stand it.
Last year was such a breakout year for you. Which role changed everything in terms of crossing over from the telenovela world to the English mainstream?
Entourage, in terms of auditioning. When I got out [to LA], I had never really auditioned before in my life, other than my first time when I was 16—and I got that job and a six-year contract. When I first moved to LA, I wasn’t landing jobs, and there was a lot of rejection. Then Entourage happened—it was the longest process for me to even get that small role! I never imagined so many people had to approve you to get even a bit part. People have this concept of going to LA and making it, but not realizing how difficult it is. I am lucky to have a really strong, solid base. My mother and father fully supported me, and even moved out here with me.
Tell us about your father, El Puma. He is such a huge star in Latin America as a former telenovela actor and one of the most successful Latin pop singers and balladeers of the ’70s and ’80s.
He is a huge celebrity. Apart from being a Venezuelan icon, he’s a Latin American icon. There hasn’t been a day in my life that I’ve gone out with him and someone hasn’t recognized him. We’ll be driving in the car, and people in the car next to us will honk their horns and roll down the windows.
Did you get any help or advice from him when you started your career?
He always told me to “have elephant skin”—really thick skin—because you get rejected so many times. When I told him I wanted to be an actor, he told me to go into Spanish soap operas first, because “that’s your roots; start with your public.” And he was absolutely right. I couldn’t have come out here with a fan base unless I had started in Spanish soap operas. The training I got through those was the ultimate—you have to churn out around 35 scenes a day.
Rejection must be hard.
The hardest thing is when I’m in a room full of blondes and very typical all-American girls. They think I’m some exotic import, but I’m just from Miami. To me, I look and feel as American as a cheeseburger. I’m trying to break through as a mainstream actor, and it’s weird when people see you only as Hispanic or something different. I hope I can do something to change that. I’m going to keep auditioning for “Becky” roles until I get them. It’s super important to me to be able to play a Becky or an Ellen, not just a Maria or an Angela.
Everybody’s always crying in telenovelas. How did you master the art of on-demand tears?
You know how you can make yourself yawn at first, and then you can make yourself yawn for real? It’s kind of like that. If I can smile, I can cry, and I can laugh. I just tap into these little body tricks. I can go into an emotional state easily thanks to the soap opera training: They had me crying in one scene, laughing in the next scene, and getting drunk in the next. It’s about constantly being in control of your emotions.
What’s the most outlandish plot you tackled in a telenovela?
In Dame Chocolate [“Give Me Chocolate”], I played an ugly duckling and wore a prosthetic nose, teeth, ears, and eyebrows. This guy tried to trick my character into falling in love with him so he could steal her magical chocolate recipe. Then she undergoes surgery and has an extreme makeover, and becomes the villain of the story, who goes back and takes revenge on everyone. I swear, I’m not making this up.
What was it like playing an ugly character?
It really messed with my head for a while. I’m not that into my looks, but when you see yourself looking like crap for five months straight from 6 am to 11 p.m., you start to really think you are this person.
Would you ever pose for Playboy?
No, I wouldn’t. I totally respect people who do, but for me to show my butt in a scene is probably the most traumatic thing in the world. I’m not opposed to those kinds of scenes in a film, but I wouldn’t want to put it all out there in a magazine just for the heck of it.
Which big names in the film industry would you love to work with?
Javier Bardem, Daniel Craig, Penélope Cruz, Jennifer Lawrence—I love that girl, she’s amazing. Robert De Niro. But I’m very appreciative and satisfied with the people I have been able to work with so far.
Tell us about working with Will Ferrell in Casa de mi Padre.
He’s the most beautiful person you could ever get to know in Hollywood, and the first to really put the stamp on my career and validate me as an actress. The fact that he chose me as his leading lady in Casa de mi Padre was the greatest honor. He took a chance on me, an unknown in this town.
What happened in the audition that landed you the part?
To this day, I don’t know. I walked into the room and didn’t realize Will Ferrell was going to be there. I freaked out. I was like, “This is Will Ferrell! Am I going to flub my lines?” I had to tell myself to stop being stupid, stop being a fan girl, and just act. So I was the most serious person on the planet. There was a scene in which I had to cry because [my character] had been burned with cigarettes as a child, and her parents used to hit her and force her to drink grain alcohol. I was crying, and [Will] was laughing at me, so I thought this was going horribly wrong. I left the audition thinking, Okay, I screwed this up, thanks for your time, nice meeting you all. I was doing something serious and didn’t expect anyone to laugh. I had literally forgotten about the job until a week later, when they called to tell me I had gotten the part. I had been the first one to audition, and apparently I had set the bar so high that whenever anyone else came in, they kept comparing them to me.
From a dating perspective, who is your type? If you were 12 years old, which heartthrobs would you have posters of on your walls?
If a guy is really hot but is a jerk, I couldn’t give two cents for the guy. So let’s put it this way: I hope Ryan Gosling has a good personality. I hope Tom Hardy has a good personality. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, I think he’s cute. But if any of these guys have bad personalities, I’m not having it.
Any thoughts on what’s happening in Venezuela?
I personally have so many opinions on Venezuela, but I think it’s unfair for me to speak about the country because I don’t live there and don’t live the day-to-day. I’m not happy with it, and that’s all I can say. It’s not the same Venezuela I knew as a kid.
What’s next for you? Would you ever consider branching out into singing?
My dad’s lifelong dream is for me to sing—and that is never happening! It’s one of my biggest fears. Since I was a child, people wanted to know whether I could sing like my dad. I had to sing in Casa de mi Padre, and he laughed about it. Before I put the vocal tracks down, I asked him for advice, and he handed me a bag of Halls! I was like, “This is it? You’re not going to teach me how to breathe or where to sing from?” If a role requires me to get another singing job, I will definitely take some vocal coaching classes…. But it’s not in my immediate plans.
Cover shoot: Behind the scenes with Pitbull for the October 2014 issue of Ocean Drive magazine.