James Roday Rodriguez on His ‘A Million Little Things’ Journey

James Roday Rodriguez stars as Gary Mendez in A Million Little Things. The show originally premiered in 2018 and is currently in its fourth season. New episodes air Wednesdays at 10 PM ET on ABC.

I had a lovely conversation with the actor over zoom about the character of Gary, what he would consider a dream storyline, Maggie and Gary’s inevitable relationship, the message he wants audiences to take from A Million Little Things, how television has the ability to affect and help those watching, and so much more (including Colin)! Keep reading for our discussion.

ABC/Robert Trachtenberg

First off, I want to say I’m such a fan of you and your work, but also A Million Little Things. It’s just a really powerful show. So thank you for taking the time to speak with me today.
James Roday Rodriguez: Oh, that’s awesome. I will personally deliver your message to DJ and the rest of the team.

The show is in its fourth season now and I’m sure that is a really beautiful thing to be able to explore a character for so long. How would you describe your A Million Little Things journey and everything the show has brought you?
Yeah, I mean, it’s been pretty wild honestly. I had sort of transitioned away from acting when Psych finished and I had been doing a lot of stuff behind the camera. So the mere fact that I was kind of roped back in, especially for a network series was by no means something that I saw coming. It had a lot to do with the pilot scripts, the fact that it was an opportunity to play a male character with breast cancer, and DJ Nash is a hell of a salesman. So it was a lot of stuff that sort of conspired to make me think real hard about whether or not I wanted to be done in front of the camera. And well, you know the decision that I made, but even when I made that decision, I wasn’t thinking in terms of like four seasons, that’s for sure.

So the whole thing has been a surprise and I’m just on the ride, hanging on, and rolling with it as it goes, and gratifying in many ways. Really appreciate the talent of the people that I work with, appreciate how authentically DJ strives to try and reach people, touch people, and make as many people feel seen as humanly possible. Does it get a little sad sometimes? Sure, sure. Could some of these people afford to have some nice things happen to them sometimes? I think so. But it’s a type of show that needs to deliver an emotional punch each week. That’s kind of the niche that it’s in and that’s, I think, what our fans have come to expect. So, that’s what we got to do. But I’m happy, I’m happy that I made the choice that I made and wouldn’t have met a lot of really great people if I hadn’t, and here we are.

ABC/Darko Sikman

Did you expect this sort of fan response to the series? I feel like that’s something you can’t predict.
You know, I never expect anyone to watch anything that I do. Even after the great run that we had on Psych, I’m still always genuinely thrown when anything catches on, and it’s not just something that I’m a part of, it’s just anything because there’s more content than ever. There’s a million platforms, and everybody’s in something. It’s like, how do you thread that needle? How do you actually find an audience anymore? Especially on network television, I feel like it’s probably more challenging than it’s ever been because you’re still kind of working inside of a relatively small sandbox, while all these streamers can just do whatever the hell they want. So yeah, the short answer is yes, I was surprised. Yes, I’m surprised that we’re still on the air. Four seasons is well beyond anything that I expected to be a part of, so the whole thing has been — yeah, it’s been a lovely surprise.

Gary is also my favorite character. He has had such a nice evolution on the show and is a great character, especially when it comes to his friends and family. What was it that originally attracted you to him?
Well, again, tricky because you’re on network TV, but I did appreciate the fact that Gary would be the character that often said things you’re not supposed to say. I think a lot of that comes from the fact that he saw his life kind of flash before his eyes and things change when you recognize just how fragile the mortal coil is. I think he just sort of lives out loud to an extent and it’s not always great, there’s a lot of stuff that he says that he probably shouldn’t. But I think it’s refreshing as an actor to be able to sort of step into that skin when most of us spend the majority of our lives watching our Ps and Qs, and sort of subscribing to the idea of decorum, political correctness, and all of those things, for a good reason, but this guy doesn’t and that appealed to me.

Again, the breast cancer storyline appealed to me. My family and close circle have been touched on multiple occasions by this rattlesnake of a disease, and I thought that it was a really sort of unique opportunity, through a lens that we hadn’t seen a lot of, to be honest. I remember there was a character on Oz, one of the guys in prison, who was diagnosed with breast cancer, but that was really all I could remember seeing on television as far as this specific journey goes. So that was very interesting to me. Then DJ was like, “Look, let’s make you half Latino. Have you ever had a chance to play a Mexican character before?” The answer was a resounding no and nor did I ever think I would have a chance to do that because of the way that I look. So it was a pretty awesome thing he did and as a result, we’ve been able to explore some storylines that are kind of a reflection of my own life, which I was certainly not expecting to do on the show, and again, a very welcome surprise.

I’m Latina, so I love that you were able to incorporate that. And obviously, I love the scenes with Gary and his father. I definitely appreciated seeing those as a viewer.
Yeah, I was way into that. And, yeah, I hope that we do a little more as well.

ABC/Darko Sikman

Is there anything specific you’d like to see tackled when it comes to Gary in the future? Do you have any dream storylines for him?
Yeah, I think I’d go back to some of the stuff with his dad and the fact that he’s been sort of out of touch with his culture for so long. I think that that’s a pretty ripe area for exploration. We had talked about maybe having Gary date a Latina, who speaks Spanish, and like, what happens the first time she meets his dad, they’re speaking Spanish to each other, and Gary doesn’t know what the hell they’re saying? That stuff felt really rich to me. For a number of reasons, we ended up not doing that.

But I think anything in that area would be really interesting because for me personally, in my life, it was the summer we were all quarantined, the death of George Floyd, and it was like, all of a sudden, we had a lot of time on our hands to think about stuff that we probably don’t think about it every day. We get into our routines, and we’re just off and running. Then it was like, boom, everybody at the same time, self reflect. So, it sent me down a hole and I think Gary is not so different, especially, if anything would have happened to his dad or if he was just put in a situation where he had to spend more time with his dad. I think it would be pretty easy for him to take a step back and go, “Wait a second, man. I should know more about who I am, what I am, and what it means to be Latino.” I think that’s a story that makes sense on our show and we’ve already laid enough groundwork that if we went there, it would be pretty organic. Also, I think we’ve checked every other box, so yeah.

Another aspect of the show that I enjoy is the core friendships. It’s so amazing to see because those relationships aren’t always shown. A lot of the time, it’s mostly romantic relationships or individual storylines on shows, but all of these characters are connected. Which friendship is your favorite to bring to life on the screen?
Well, I’ll be honest, these friends lie to each other so much more than I lie to my friends or my friends lie to me that it’s been kind of a weird thing to sort of find our way into because there’s just so many secrets being kept all the time. So because of that, if my answer can’t be Colin, then I think I would say honestly, the friendship that I’ve had the most fun playing is the Gary and Delilah relationship. I miss Delilah on the show. I do feel like there’s a hole created without her that we’ve done the best that we can to fill. But I think that was sort of like a sibling sort of relationship. They didn’t keep a whole lot from each other and I think that that’s why I appreciated that one the most. The gloves usually were off. They said the tough stuff to each other, but it was always from a place of love and respect. I think that friendship felt the most like my friendships, so I would pick that one.

ABC/Jack Rowand

Gary has not had the best luck when it comes to relationships. But I feel like he learned so much from Darcy and Liam. Seeing him stepping into that sort of father role was really nice. What was all of that like for you to portray?
Yeah, I think Gary is sort of locked in an eternal struggle between the man that he wants to be and the man that he just in many ways, still is. He’s constantly sort of refining himself and trying to get closer to the former, but then it’s always sort of like, one step forward, three steps back and that feels very real to me. That’s a very real struggle with a lot of people, myself included, where it’s like, we know where we want to get, why is it so damn hard to get there, as a person? So I think the Darcy thing was great, it domesticated him, it gave him something to sort of steep his legs in. I think that made sense, like, look, this is a good life; this is a great lady and a good kid, it’s structure, it’s something that I can invest in emotionally, and frankly, it’ll probably keep me out of trouble. So I think he recognized that it brought all of that with it. Was it the same thing that, you know, was it all the butterflies and all the craziness that he feels when he’s around Maggie? Probably not. But that also feels like a very realistic choice that we often have to make in life as well, of like, well, this may not check every box, but it’s it makes more sense up here. I think it was a good sort of elixir for Gary to just calm down a little bit and kind of step into something that had some quiet to it. Of course, they had their issues as well, but he needed to chill out and I think that was good for him. You would think that maybe all of that would have come in handy the first time he was presented with an opportunity to do something stupid, but there you have it. He just couldn’t help himself, just couldn’t help himself. I mean, it’s true, he doesn’t catch a lot of breaks, but he also shoots himself in the foot constantly. So he certainly plays a role in his own misfortune.

You kind of touched on my next question, but Maggie and Gary’s relationship felt inevitable from the pilot. I don’t know if you felt that way reading the scripts but they just had such a strong connection, even after they broke up. When they got past that initial breakup phase, they fell right back into that dynamic of being close, strong, and relying on each other. What do you enjoy most about that relationship? Were you rooting for them from the beginning? Or were you waiting to see what was going to happen?
Yeah, that relationship sort of took on a life of its own, and every once in a while in this business, something can kind of create its own Manifest Destiny. DJ would be able to answer this better than I could, but I’m not entirely sure that Maggie was meant to be a character that stuck around, but it became bigger than us. That relationship became something that we felt, that the fans felt, that the writers felt, and that’s the magic, right? The thing that you don’t necessarily see coming is the most fun about what we do, and Gary and Maggie was one of those things. So it’s special, you feel it, and it doesn’t happen that often, where two characters become bigger than the people that made them up. That’s what happened with them, and so yeah, there was an inevitability. But because it’s a TV show, you know, we have to make it as difficult for them as humanly possible.

It’s also a testament to Allison Miller’s work because again, she sort of came in not knowing exactly what this character was going to be or where it was going to go, and she made it her own. The chemistry was palpable. And t’s a great sort of actor story for like, “hey, you can get a role that’s whatever it is, and if you come in and you do an incredible job, and you kind of just make yourself irreplaceable, you can be on a show for four years.”

ABC/Darko Sikman

It’s crazy to even imagine the show without Maggie or the relationship between her and Gary because even when they weren’t together on the show, they were such an essential part. As you said, it’s special. What you can tease about what’s ahead for them?
Well, I think they’re both, because of the previous go that they had and because of the fact they’re both cancer survivors, I think they’re going to appreciate time more than they did before. I don’t think Gary and Maggie get back together unless they know they’re going to make it work. So I think we’ll see, hopefully, less wrinkles, less drama this time around, because they did all that already. They made a lot of poor decisions and they had a lot of arguments that, you know, they had those arguments, where if you just stopped talking like 30 seconds sooner, you both chill out and come back and say, “I was dumb,” but they so many of those. So I think they’ve learned a lot and I think they really do appreciate that like, “Look, we both went off and did our own things, and here we are back with one another. I think the universe is trying to say something. So let’s get it right this time.” That would be my hope. Again, just because I feel like we’ve seen enough of the adversity and the hardship that these two deserve some smooth sailing.

The whole cast is amazing. I imagine there’s definitely a bond between all of you off-screen. Can you give me your favorite memory from filming this past season?
There’s a lot of good ones because like I said, these are good people. And these are also like not — these are adults. I worked on a show for many years where it was a different experience because we were still pretty young and we were kind of like watching each other grow up in a way, which was very sweet but different. This is a bunch of adults who came together and chose to sort of come correct and support one another. But I mean, most of these people are married with children and it’s just a completely different dynamic that’s steeped in a lot of mutual respect and appreciation. But what I will say is there are some younger members of our cast that are also fantastic on our show. Chance does such a lovely job bringing Danny’s truth to the screen and that’s been such a joy for me because Gary luckily has been a major part of his journey. But this season, in particular, has been a real joy for me to watch Lizzy Greene, who plays Sophie. She’s come so far since we started this show and to watch her sort of evolve as a performer, gain confidence in herself, and be able to handle some of the stuff that we are throwing at her now on this show up close and personal has been a real delight because Gary didn’t have a ton of stuff with Sophie for the first couple of seasons. So I, frankly, didn’t spend that much time with Lizzy. I feel like it’s been a real gift to be able to be in scenes with her and watch her sort of become the young lady actress that she’s become. So I will always think of season four in terms of that.

When the show does end, hopefully not anytime soon, is there anything you want to take from the set?
Yeah, I wish I could take Colin, I just don’t know if my guy and Colin would get on because they’re both big boys. Colin still has his balls, which are enormous, my guy doesn’t, and that’s generally not a great mix. So it’s probably not in the cards, but if I could take anything, it would definitely be that big dog because he’s such a sweetheart, and I’m sort of like his foster dad. I’m his on-set guardian if you will. Not really there’s always a trainer there, but I’ve decided that we have a special thing. He may not feel the same way because he’s a pro. He’s a pro’s pro. But in my mind, he gets very excited when he hears that he’s going to work on A Million Little Things because I’m there.

ABC/Jack Rowand

I think so, and that is a perfect answer because I get really excited every time I see you and Colin on my screen. I’m like, “there’s the duo!”
It’s one of those things where like, he should always be there always, always. But I mean, I guess it adds up in terms of what it costs to have him around all the time. So there’s a lot of times where I’m like, “Well, I don’t understand. We start in the bedroom, we move to the kitchen, where’s Colin? But where is he?” And it’s always like, “Oh, today’s his doggy daycare day.”

I’m glad he’s in it as much as he is, though, because sometimes even if there’s a dog on the show, they’re not really in the show.
Yeah, we’ve all sort of expressed that as much as it makes sense, he should be there because he’s a couch potato too. So it’s not like he’s a dog who’s off having his own private adventures. He’s a dog, who lays around, like my guy. Like a piece of furniture, he should always be in evidence.

I believe that television and film are such powerful ways to give audiences messages and help them relate to the world. So I’m curious, is there any sort of message you want Gary to give to fans of the show?
Yeah, of course. I think one really important message that’s sort of universal to all of the storylines on our show is that we don’t want people to ever feel like they’re alone. Everything that’s happened to people on our show are happening to people for real out there, a lot of people, and if we can sort of shine a light on some of these issues, with the caveat that like, “Hey, here’s a number you can call” or “Hey, check in with your friends.” Always check in with your friends. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Don’t wait until you get a phone call that you never saw coming. Open your eyes, be aware, be an empath, and be there for the people that you love. It sounds easy, it sounds like it’s something that we should all know to do, but the truth is, we get pretty immersed in our own lives and our own little bubbles. Not because — I mean, they’re important, right? It’s the machination of our existence. But if we all sort of left a little bit of room for what others are going through, I think it would be a lot better and I think collectively we would do better. So, don’t forget to check on your friends is a good one. And for anyone watching, you’re not alone, you’re a text or a phone call away. You just have to let the people who love you, bring you the love. And neuter your dogs, probably. [Laughs] Spay and neuter.

I do want to piggyback off that a little bit because I imagine with a show like this one, dealing with all of these very real topics that so many people relate to, whether it’s on social media or maybe meeting fans in real life, they’ve told you what they’ve personally related to or thanked you for something specific. Is there a fan experience that sticks out to you or has really moved you?
Several, we all have different ones based on our characters and what we’re going through, but Allison, DJ, and I took — I think we flew there and back on the same day, we went down to the states and delivered one of Maggie’s pink cancer wigs to a big fan of our show, who had just beaten breast cancer. You still don’t realize — I think sometimes you take for granted the effect that you can have on someone who’s going through something like that. Not just our show, every show that’s out there. There’s more responsibility and obligation involved than I think we think there is sometimes and when you have those types of experiences, it’s a real gut check of like, wow, you should do better. All of us should do better because we actually do have the ability to affect others. There’s no better motivation to make great work than knowing that if you do and you put it out there, it can help somebody. It’s a lesson I wish every showrunner could experience firsthand because it’s one thing to have someone tell you that and it’s another to feel it and see it in real-time, in the flesh. But I think there’d be a lot more good TV shows out there if everybody gets that lesson.

ABC/Jack Rowand

Yeah, I agree with you. I don’t think people realize how impactful this form of media can be honestly, especially for audiences. That’s a really beautiful story, so moving. I started tearing up, honestly.
We got to meet her friends and a couple of her family members, and you realize, it’s a whole community that goes through this when someone gets sick and they have a support system. A lot of lives are affected. I think a lot of people sort of treat what we do as a job and a job that pays very, very well. You should put more into it, you really should.

Lastly, is there a storyline or scene that really pushed you acting-wise, that was a challenge for you to take on, or something that you personally related to when you saw that script and read those words that you were touched by?
Yeah, I’m a big animal person. So the episode where you think Gary’s gonna have to give Colin back, that whole storyline was really rough for me because it’s impossible not to sort of apply it to your own life and “Oh my God, what if this happened? What would I do?” So that one was very personal and very easy for me to tap into probably more than anything else that we’ve done on the show. Having to say goodbye to a dog is something I’ve had to do way too many times, and so that one hits real hard. The stuff with Gary’s dad was adjacent to my own personal experience. So that one was not tough. I mean, that one was pretty easy to tap into as well, felt that one. Honestly, I’m not a big — I’m not a cry-on-a-dime type of actor. I marvel at people who can do it, then do it over and over and over and over again for as many takes. That’s not me, that’s never going to be me. So anytime there’s like a lot of overt emotion, it’s always a challenge for me. Not because I can’t feel things, but because I don’t know, I’m just not a crier. So it’s not like I can draw from stuff because I don’t do it in real life either. So that’s always an interesting acting challenge for me. And luckily, if you did the math, Gary probably has to do it the least, or at least on the lower end of what some of the other cast members have to do on the show. So I feel thankful for that.

I have to say, I remember that episode so vividly with Gary having to say goodbye to Colin. My mom and I were just heartbroken and devastated. I held my dog a little tighter while watching.
Yeah, and the take that’s in there, where I say goodbye to him, that one was actually real. I told them afterward, I was like, “Okay, so that wasn’t acting, that was just me. I was able to get myself to a place where like, ‘what if I was having to do this with my own dog?’ I hope nothing was wrong. I hope everyone was happy with the lighting because now it will be acting.” You get exactly one of those. I was like, “so if I were you guys, I would just go with that take,” which they did, luckily.

And when Colin got out, that was another one that was heartwrenching. We were yelling at the TV.
That was another one that was tough. Such an awful, helpless feeling.

But I’m glad Colin’s okay!
He’s good, man. He’s chilling.

One thought on “James Roday Rodriguez on His ‘A Million Little Things’ Journey

  1. Really enjoyed your interview. James Roday Rodriguez is my favorite actor of today. It’s lovely how caring he is. What I’ve always liked about him is his humor, what makes something funny is that it surprises you. James has a unique approach and delivery that is endearing. I would watch anything that he is in.

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