by Gary Long
Hard work is paying off for Francisco J. Rodriguez, a Brownsville-raised actor with ties to the Camille Playhouse who’s living out his dreams in Los Angeles and has a film recently in theaters, now on Paramount-plus, about a coupon-reselling scam that spins out of control.
In the movie “Queenpins,” Rodriguez works opposite lead stars Kristen Bell and Kirby Howell-Baptiste, two down-on-their-luck women who quickly and comically repair their poor finances through the coupon-reselling scheme that gets too illegal to avoid detection and is based on a true story.
Rodriguez plays Alejandro, an exploited maquiladora worker in Mexico with a pregnant wife who financially can’t quite make ends meet.
“Kirby had an amazing ability to improvise. She was so funny. She’s quick-witted and her ability to use accents is uncanny,” Rodriguez said of filming the comedy during COVID and finding out later that Howell-Baptiste is British even though on-set she spoke with a natural, relaxed American accent. “Kirsten Bell was professional, polished and knows how to carry a show.”
Growing up in Brownsville, Rodriguez got his earliest exposure to his eventual profession by going to the Camille Playhouse as a little kid.
Rodriguez loved the class and ended up spending four summers at the Camille, teaching its summer classes.
After high school, Rodriguez decided to pursue an acting career and applied to the theater and dance school at the University of Texas at Austin. He said originally he planned to later transfer to “something more sensible” in the Red McCombs School of Business, but ended up graduating with a bachelor’s in Theater and Arts from UT-Austin.
After graduation, he helped found the Debutantes and Vagabonds Theatre Company in Austin, but said that over time he was becoming more of a producer. “As my company got better at what they did, they got bigger and I guess I took on a lot at that time.”
The result was a mini-stroke, which Rodriguez said crystalized his commitment to acting.
“I remember thinking I haven’t acted in a year, two years. I’ve been directing. I’ve been writing. I’ve been doing everything but acting,” and he started looking for graduate programs in acting. He entered the Florida State University Asolo Conservatory for actor training, where he spent three years preparing for his next step.
“Literally, the moment I graduated I got in my car, I packed up all my things and I drove straight to Los Angeles,” Rodriguez said.
“There was a moment before I went to grad school where I said I’m either going to grad school or I’m going straight to LA. If I go to LA, I’ve got to be good because otherwise it’s not going to go well, and so that’s why I invested in my craft. But I already knew from the first day I walked into grad school that the next part of my journey was going to be Los Angeles.”
Rodriguez arrived in Los Angeles in 2013, and he’s had some success. He’s had roles in “Future Man” in 2017, “Curb Your Enthusiasm” in 2020 on HBO Max, and “Queenpins,” until last week in Cinemark Theaters and now on Paramount-Plus.
He also has three current TV commercials, one for TXU Energy running regionally in Texas and two nationally.
“I have a CARMAX commercial where I’m working opposite my girlfriend, and an Aarons commercial where I work opposite Mr. T. That one’s a lot of fun. They’ve been cycling through,” he said.
Rodriguez grew up in an acting family. His uncle was the renowned Mexican clown, actor and singer Ricardo González Gutiérrez, known as Cepillin, who passed away in March at 75.
“He would give me unsolicited advice. He would tell me things like if you want to do well in this business you have to be ambitious. … One time when I was 17 or 18 he asked me what does it take to succeed in this business? I said you just have to be in the right place at the right time, you’ve just got to be lucky. He was like there’s no such thing as luck, it’s all hard work, it’s drive, it’s tenacity, it’s practice, you’ve got to put in the hours. He’s like there’s no such thing as luck and if there is, that’s something you can’t control. What you can control is the hours you put into it. That stayed with me.”
Rodriguez sees himself as an actor-writer. He plans to “keep working in film, keep working in television and keep working in advertising,” with the goal of eventually landing on a regular TV show.
“If I were to speak strictly acting, I would love to be a series regular on a TV show. That’s my goal. I think I’d thrive on a comedic TV show or as the comedic character in a drama or dramedy, but as a series regular, that would be the goal, and I think creatively be able to write my own material and essentially star in it, work on it.”