On the whole, actor Freddy Rodriguez doesn’t have much in common with basketball star LeBron James.
But Rodriguez points to one important similarity: At a young age, he, too, faced the potentially life-changing decision of whether to “go pro.”
In 1994, just a year after graduating from a Chicago high school, Rodriguez found himself with three options. He could enroll in college, he could finish the audition process for a local production of “The Merchant of Venice” or he could take a role in the Keanu Reeves-helmed period film, “A Walk in the Clouds.”
He chose to do the film.
“LeBron went straight out of high school into the professional basketball world, and that was the choice I had to make, whether I was going to go pro or go to school,” Rodriguez said. “I guess my justification was I could go to school to learn drama, where here I could do it firsthand and be in the professional world, so I chose to go pro.”
He has never looked back.
Best known for his Emmy-nominated turn as ambitious mortician Federico “Rico” Diaz in HBO’s “Six Feet Under,” Rodriguez has successfully bounced between TV and film throughout his 20-year career: His lengthy IMDB page lists at least one project every year since his 1994 screen debut.
Rodriguez’s newest TV show, NBC’s “The Night Shift” (10 p.m. Tuesdays), which premiered No. 1 in its time slot, according to the network, and has maintained an audience of about 6 million per episode, follows doctors who work the night shift at San Antonio Memorial. Rodriguez plays the exceedingly complex Michael Ragosa, the nighttime hospital administrator charged with keeping the budget balanced and the resident bad boy doctor in check. The series’ sixth episode, which will air Tuesday, deals with a company of soldiers that is rushed to the hospital after a horrific bus crash.
Rodriguez, 39, oozed swagger recently as he walked into the executive lounge at the Drake Hotel. Dressed in jeans, a black T-shirt and a black leather jacket, his jet-black hair parted just so, he looked like a reincarnation of the Fonz.
He’s happy with his life and his career, he said, and on this gloomy, rainy morning he was inclined to reminisce.
“Every day I feel blessed and incredibly grateful,” he said with a wide, toothy smile. “Especially now that I’m coming up on the 20th anniversary of ‘A Walk in the Clouds’ and ‘Dead Presidents’ and my first round of films, which has really put things into perspective and has been an incredible reality check for me. It makes you grateful.”