BWW Interview: BUYER & CELLAR's Jai Rodriguez Loves Selling It Live Onstage
A Broadway Baby, Jai Rodriguez gained national prominence with the successful debut of the ground-breaking Bravo-TV's Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Jonathan Tolins' BUYER & CELLAR brings Jai back to the boards, this time on the West Coast at the Falcon Theatre in Burbank. Looking through Barbra Streisand's newly published (at the time) book My Passion for Design, Jonathan noticed that Ms. Streisand included photos of the various shops she created in her actual cellar of her Malibu home. Jonathan took her real shopping mall, let his imagination run wild, and created the character of a struggling actor, Alex More, who answers a job posting for this shopping mall's sole cashier/shopkeeper.
Thank you, Jai, for taking the time for this interview. When did you first become aware of BUYER & CELLAR?
My buddy Michael Urie did the show and I saw the posts about it via social media. I happened to be in New York City when it was playing. I thought it was such a hilariously funny, well-crafted show. Michael really commanded the stage.
How avid a Barbra Streisand fan would you consider yourself?
I would say probably as much as my character. (He isn't a super die- hard fan, but enjoys what little he knows about her).
Name your favorite Streisand song? Film? Performance?
This one's tough. As part of my preparation I'm watching ALL her films. I just think she's great. I like Funny Girl Barbra all the way through Meet The Fockers Babs. Fav song would have to be her duet "Enough is Enough." There's something fun about Barbra doing a dance song that seems out of character, yet fabulous.
What was your initial reaction discovering that Barbra maintains a strings of shops in her cellar?
Honestly, I thought it was a joke. But it's kinda a brilliant idea. #HouseGoals
Do you yourself like to buy/shop?
I'm a huge fan of online shopping. The thrill of the hunt for the perfect item doesn't thrill me as much as doing it all in a few minutes from my cell. I have way more fun shopping for others than I do for myself.
What do you shop for - tchotchkes, memorabilia, antiques, powertools?
Ha, ha! Nothing that exciting. More practical items. Although, I have a large divided aquarium called an Aqua Zoo. It holds twelve beta fish. I'm pretty selective about the variations I stock the tank with. Far more exciting to me than clothing.
If you opened your own shop, what would you sell?
Man, this one's tricky. I'm leaning toward more of a cabaret club or bar/coffee shop during the day. Having had years of nightlife experience, I'm pretty confident I could make it successful.
Have you yourself ever had any crazy jobs that would be comparable to your character Alex More's in BUYER & CELLAR?
Hmmmm. Well, I've been hosting a pretty fun karaoke night for almost two years at Revolver Video Bar in WeHo. I've worked in nightlife my entire adult life. I've found wrangling drunk folks can really sharpen your comedic timing. However, it can also be incredibly rough trying to stay entertaining and cheerful when people become ..."not their best self." My way of saying rude and drunk. LOL! I call it my "keeps me humble" gig.
Have you ever had any crazy jobs outside of the theatrical arena?
Thankfully, I haven't had to tackle that yet. Been lucky to have entertainment as my key source of income. I host live shows, TV shows, act on stage and on camera, as well as tour with my cabaret. I don't even know if I could handle the constraints of a non-entertainment job.
Speaking of crazy, at the height of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (for which all of you won an Emmy for Outstanding Reality Program) did you have to deal with overzealous fans, á la Streisand? With Barbra's fame, it's hard to imagine running into her even in the neighborhood Malibu Gelson's Market.
Actually, we did encounter that in Manila, Philippines while on a press tour for our book. We each had body guards and the fans were screaming, crying and trying to grab at us. Outside of it being scary, it was thrilling!
Do you stay in contact with any of the other Queer Eye cohorts?
We chat via text and I see Carson Kressley a lot because he works in LA often. The guys will always be my brothers.
Your resumé includes theatre, film, television and nightclub projects. Which medium do you prefer and why?
I LOVE anything with a live audience. The relationship a performer has with a live audience is something special. You can all take this ride together. For years, I've done one-man-show style cabarets and I just love the vibe of it. Tends to be the kind of performance I do best. I think LA audiences will see a new side of me only those who've seen my act know.
Tell us about your first time experience on Broadway. Was it in RENT?
Well, it was crazy to be a "RENT Head," then be cast in the show several months later was so surreal. Having my first five professional years as an actor be in RENT truly formed my level of professionalism. When I'm the first on set, now people often say, "You're a Broadway Boy, aren't you?"
What advice would you give to a first-timer on stage?
I always tell young actors to make every stage their Broadway stage. Giving a professional performance isn't always about where you're doing it. I gave some of my best performances in the small shows I did in church, at school, and in community theater. Those shows helped build my confidence at an early age and prepared me to work in entertainment on a larger scale.
Would you give a one-word or one-sentence response to the following entries from your resumé?
Starring in ZANNA, DON'T!
Guest starring as transgender woman 'Amanda Knott' on Harry's Law
Being recognized as the Culture Vulture from Queer Eye
Your one-man shows XPOSED, MY TRUTH, and DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS
What would you think Barbra Streisand's reaction would be if she actually attended BUYER & CELLAR?
I'd hope she would be pleased as at the end of the day. It's a love letter to her. BUT the role I play isn't meant to be me "doing her." More a heightened reality of how my character sees her.
You're pretty savvy with social media, aren't you?
If people want to connect with me the best ways are social media. I keep my pages super interactive.
Thank you again, Jai! Break a Leg as Alex!
To see Jai as the recipient of the luckiest, wackiest temp job in Hollywood, possibly ever; log onto www.falcontheatre.com
BUYER & CELLAR plays October 5 through November 6 at Falcon Theatre located at 4252 Riverside, Burbank, CA 91505. Performances are Wed. through Sat. at 8p and Sun. at 4p.