Actress Diany Rodriguez talks ‘The Valet,’ being a force for representation in entertainment and more

Diany Rodriguez
Photo: Kellen Houde

Diany Rodriguez grew up as a self-described “Army brat,” with her parents and family members serving in the military or working on a military base. Born in Fajardo, Puerto Rico and raised in Jacksonville, Alabama, she grew up going to The Soldier Show, which is essentially a variety show put on by soldiers on the base.

“I didn’t think of it as going into entertainment but knew I was going to be in the military, go to school and graduate an officer, become a JAG officer, and when I wasn’t trying cases I would do the soldier show for a couple of months,” said Rodriguez.

Rodriguez embraced the arts in high school as a member of the choir and band, playing clarinet, and deciding to participate in the school musical her senior year. When it was time to go to college, Rodriguez originally planned to join the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program but ended up studying art with a concentration in political science and Spanish, minoring in theatre at the University of Alabama.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts, Rodriguez moved up to New York City to pursue a career in public service. On a whim, she auditioned for a national tour of “Dora the Explorer” and booked the tour, performing on road for nearly two years. She sustained an injury on tour and while recuperating at home in Alabama, Rodriguez booked another job in Atlanta, Georgia and she has been pursuing entertainment ever since.

“It was a series of happy accidents,” said Rodriguez. 

Rodriguez has since landed a number of roles, including currently starring in the NBC hit crime-drama series, “The Blacklist” with James Spader as Weecha Xiu, Raymond ‘Red’ Reddington’s (Spader) new bodyguard. She has racked up a ton of acting credits, including NBC’s “Law & Order: Organized Crime,” Netflix’s “Night Teeth,” Warner Bros.’ “The Suicide Squad,” CBS’ “Bull,” BET’s “Bigger,” and Showtime’s “Ray Donavan.”

For Rodriguez, she knew she wanted to continue to act when she saw what sort of impact her performances had not just on her friends and family, but also the public, particularly during a performance when she was in the cast of the musical “Hands on a Hardbody.”

“In ‘Hands on a Hardbody,’ I was the character that everyone roots for. It’s based on a documentary where people put their hands on a truck and everyone falls out, if your hand is on the truck you win. I had not anticipated how much people would be affected by that. I had a distinct feeling when my character was praying for guidance, she takes her hands off the car to clap, and the bottom dropped out of the audience,” said Rodriguez. “There was gasping and sobbing, it was like 500 people and it was overwhelming on opening night. People would see it over and over and be in tears, I remember thinking, I’m affecting people, we’re going through this together and gaining empathy. I had similar experiences in ‘In The Heights,’ it was my people, a bunch of Latine people, a bunch of beautiful people of color in a show but not playing gangsters or drug dealers.”

Another role that really hit home for Rodriguez was during a guest spot on NBC’s “New Amsterdam.” She played a woman who had to have a stillbirth, and a close friend of Rodriguez’s in real life had just had a stillbirth before the episode aired. Though Rodriguez told her friend she didn’t have to watch it, her friend saw the episode after seeing how groups of grieving parents online found the episode helpful and was able to find some solace in the episode herself.

“It was one of those holy s–t moments. It was since then that I was really intentional about the things I do. I’m too woke to be happy, I do this in honor of my people, stop the world from othering us,” said Rodriguez. “It’s not the norm, but that was something I realized — I had great responsibility and power, that’s still a big deal for me. This specific job is not just a means for me to buy a house, it means something to people.”

For Rodriguez, being that representation, particularly in her role on “The Blacklist,” is incredibly important, especially for young people who may not see a lot of people who look like them in American television and movies.

“It means so much to have the opportunity to get it right every time and speak on intentionality. We want to see ourselves and create equity,” said Rodriguez. “To know if one tiny brown girl or boy sees me and thinks, ‘I can do that, she’s a mother, she has a family, she’s well-spoken,’ matters so much. I try not to let them see me as a maid or a drug dealer without this whole other world that the character might encompass.”

On May 20, you can see Rodriguez in Lionsgate and Hulu’s multi-cultural comedy film, “The Valet,” opposite Eugenio Derbez, Samara Weaving and Max Greenfield. The film is a remake of the 2006 French film “La Doublure” and follows Antonio, played by Debrez, a valet who is enlisted to pose as an actress’s boyfriend to cover up her affair with a married man.

Rodriguez plays Natalie, the owner of a neighborhood bike shop where Antonio is a regular, and is outspoken on issues close to her like the impending gentrification of her neighborhood and its effect on local businesses.

“I get to play a community organizer who organizes the community against gentrification and keeps local businesses afloat. She has a lovely friendship with the lead,” said Rodriguez. “This movie and my little role in it is a real gift.”

Rodriguez says that she is happy to be a part of the cast of “The Valet” because the film is serving as a vehicle to showcase more actors in Latin American communities.

“After seeing [the crew] work with Eugenio, who is one of the most famous and well-known actors in the Latin American community, he gets to showcase his communicability in a way we don’t see often,” said Rodriguez. “Plus you see him shift from Mexican movies to American movies, and I get to be a part of it.”

For those who tune in and watch “The Valet,” Rodriguez hopes that viewers get a little bit of respite in their day, but also realize that people in all communities are just trying to live the best life they can and raise up what matters to them.

“It’s a lovely fun movie that will help you forget about the worries of the day. Subversively, it’s letting you see every culture live lives that matter to them, and that should matter on a grander scale, no matter what color or race they are,” said Rodriguez.

Stay up to date with what’s going on with Rodriguez by following her on Instagram @dianysaurusrex.