Interview: Jai Rodriguez on ‘Buyer & Cellar,’ Barbra and Celebrity
Most TV fans don’t know that Jai Rodriguez, best known as the Culture Vulture from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, actually started his career in theater. And now he is hitting the stage once again in Toluca Lake, California, in a one-man show called Buyer & Cellar.
In a recent one-on-one interview with the Pop Culture Passionistas, Jai described the show’s premise, which he said is exposed by his character in the first few moments of the play. “It’s essentially based on one fact inside of Barbra Streisand’s book… My Passion for Design. In there she mentions having a basement mall that she had built to store all her lovely things — from a doll store to a sweet shop complete with frozen yogurt dispenser. It’s like a little French market.”
But that’s where the reality ends. He continued, “The fake part is what would happen if she decided to hire someone to man said shops. And therein lies the play. I play the person that she hires.”
Jai loved the show when he saw it in New York in 2013 starring his friend Michael Urie (Ugly Betty). When he heard the Falcon Theatre was casting for it, he never dreamed he would ever be able to play the part, thinking they would never go “outside the box” and hire a Latin actor to play the young shopkeep from Wisconsin. But when his agent urged him to go meet with legendary producer, and Falcon founder, the late Garry Marshall, he thought, “What have I got to lose?”
He told himself, “Just have a good time with it. So much of the show is play and fun and storytelling, which is kind of my passion. I’ve been doing one-man shows for 10 years now and that John Leguizamo, Lily Tomlin, live on stage storytelling thing is everything I’ve ever wanted to do. And so I just did that in the audition. And I was really surprised that Garry was thrilled.”
He got the call a few days later that he got the part. He has been preparing ever since because the one-man show is 40 pages of solid, memory intensive monologue.
Jai has also been working on trying to get his head around playing the other parts. In the storytelling aspect of the show, Jai acts out encounters with four or five other people. His goal is to play fully realized characters without being gimmicky. So he gives them depth using the tone of his voice, his movement and the articulation of his words. “I get a visual of who they are and think about what they sound like.”
One of the characters he needs to bring to life is, of course, Barbra herself. But he is quick to point out, “One of the great things about this play, and it takes away so much stress, is there isn’t a moment when I have to ‘do’ Barbra. I’m recounting a story, so I’m playing Barbara. But I’m not imitating her.” He added, “It takes away the pressure, so you can just story tell and Barbra becomes his memory of her.”
One of the main themes of Buyer & Cellar is that of the price of celebrity and fame when someone is as legendary as Ms. Streisand. While Jai began his career in the theater with a five-year stint on Broadway in Rent, he didn’t hit the household-name level of fame until Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.
He commented, “There’s one word that I never subscribe to and that is celebrity. I don’t feel like a celebrity. A lot of my work has been televised but it’s a job like any other. I get the opportunity to entertain and that is a privilege.”
Jai, who is very grounded and down to earth, prefers to use his star-quality to help others. “With any celebrity there is a level of responsibility. You have to put forth positivity and try to make the word a better place… With the world being what it is, it’s interesting to put entertaining into perspective and to know that we can offer some level of joy to people during this crazy time.”
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